WASHINGTON (AFP) — US lawmakers vowed Wednesday to enact stricter legislation to prevent potentially dangerous Chinese-made toys from being sold in America, as leading toy firms said safety checks were being boosted.
Lawmakers voiced concern during a congressional hearing on recent mass toy recalls by Mattel and other toy companies affecting millions of Chinese-made toys tarnished with lead paint or other safety defects.
"'Made in China' has now become a warning label," Republican Senator Sam Brownback said at a Senate Financial Services and General Government subcommittee hearing.
"Our toy safety system is not as strong as it should be," said Democratic Senator Richard Durbin.
Senators said stricter laws were being drafted, as Mattel chairman and chief executive officer Robert Eckert apologized for multiple recalls initiated by the world's biggest toy maker related to toys tainted with lead paint.
"I want to reiterate my personal apology on the behalf of Mattel," he said.
The US toy industry is vying to ward off a mounting political storm and increasing public fear about the safety of Chinese-made products following a series of mass recalls in recent months.
Some lawmakers expressed disbelief that toys bearing lead paint could potentially end up being sold in US retail stores.
"This just simply shouldn't be happening in America," said Democratic Senator Bill Nelson.
Eckert also pinned blame on Chinese manufacturers.
"Our systems were circumvented and our standards were violated," he said.
The hearing occurred a day after the US and Chinese governments struck an agreement in Washington aimed at stopping any more Chinese-manufactured toys painted with lead paint reaching US shores.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said China's General Administration of Quality Supervision had agreed to boost safeguards on Chinese-made toys exported to the United States.
Li Changjiang, director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, said last month that Mattel's recalls were due to company design faults. Other officials claim Washington is being protectionist.
The United States banned the use of lead paint on toys in 1978 on health grounds and lawmakers grilled the industry executives over what was being done to stop dangerous Chinese-made toys being imported.
Eckert said Mattel had implemented new protections at its Chinese plants to ensure toys were not coated in lead paints. Plant operators will now have to purchase paint from a certified vendor, he said.
Mattel has cut relations with some Chinese subcontractors and the toy maker is investigating safety procedures at its Chinese facilities.
Concerns have also spiked overseas. The European Commission said last week that it may ban some Chinese-made goods unless Beijing demonstrates it is effectively dealing with potentially dangerous products.
Other executives said the US toy industry would not compromise safeguards.
"We will not acquiesce," said Gerald Storch, the chairman and chief executive of Toys "R" Us, Inc., saying his firm had "strict and nonnegotiable" safety protections to guard against rogue toys.
CPSC acting chairman Nancy Nord told lawmakers the safety agency had requested increased funding to boost its operations and said toy companies had to comply with US law.
Sally Greenberg, an attorney with the Consumers Union, said the CPSC's toy testing laboratory "looks like an old college friend's dorm room," saying the agency lacked the resources to carry out its duties.
Mattel has recalled hundreds of thousands of Barbie and Fisher Price branded toys over lead paint fears and 18 million Polly Pocket play sets with loose magnets.
In June a US importer was forced to recall 1.5 million "Thomas and Friends" wooden toy trains because they were finished with lead paint. Chinese made car tire and toothpaste recalls have also unsettled consumer groups.
Of more than 86 million items made in or containing parts that originated in China, which were recalled in the United States over the past two years, nearly 26 million, or 30 percent, were children's toys, according to an AFP count.
China produces most of the world's toys and operates around 20,000 toy-making plants, according to some estimates.
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