WASHINGTON (AFP) — The world's largest toy maker Mattel has announced its third mass recall in weeks amid fears that 848,000 Chinese-made Barbie and Fisher Price toys could be tarnished with lead-tainted paint.
The latest recall, announced Tuesday, comes as Mattel continues to investigate the safeguards of its Chinese toy production.
The European Commission meanwhile said Wednesday it may ban some Chinese-made goods unless Beijing demonstrates it is effectively dealing with dangerous products.
Top Mattel executives rallied to stress the US toy giant was working around the clock to ensure its toys were safe, as the company said it had cut relations with some Chinese subcontractors.
"We apologize again to everyone affected and promise that we will continue to focus on ensuring the safety and quality of our toys," said Robert Eckert, Mattel's chairman and chief executive.
Many US companies have switched their production lines to China in recent years where wages are lower. However, concerns about Chinese manufacturing standards are causing political heat for the likes of Mattel.
US lawmakers voiced fresh criticism over the latest toy recall stemming from Chinese-made products.
"It is simply unacceptable that in America in 2007, parents should have to fear for their child's safety every time they buy a toy," said Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.
Rival Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards also waded into the matter, claiming Mattel had "lost control" over the quality of the its Chinese-made toys.
"President (George W.) Bush must order Consumer Product Safety Commission inspectors to Mattel's warehouses and collect samples of its full product lines and test each and every one of them for lead paint," Edwards said.
The US toy maker, known for its iconic Barbie dolls, announced the global recall of hundreds of thousands of toys a day after China's top safety official blamed Mattel's designs for its prior recalls of Chinese-made toys.
Li Changjiang said Chinese factories could be relied on to make safe products as he sought to reassure foreign firms and global consumers that the "Made in China" label was safe.
Mattel's recalls come after the company had steadily built a decades-long reputation on its well-known Barbie dolls. The dolls were not affected by the recall.
The toy maker said the recall affected 530,000 toys sold in the US and 318,000 toys sold overseas. The recall covers 11 toy products, including eight pet and furniture playsets sold under the Barbie brand and three Fisher-Price branded toys.
Mattel cited "impermissible levels of lead" in initiating the recall.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission said paint on the recalled toys contained "excessive levels of lead which is prohibited under federal law."
No incidents or injuries have been reported to the US safety watchdog so far from the affected toys which were sold at retail outlets between November 2006 and August of this year.
Concern has also mounted in Europe after Mattel last month recalled 18 million Chinese-made products worldwide over high lead levels and small magnets that have seriously injured at least three children.
European Commission spokeswoman for consumer issues Helen Kearns said Wednesday that Brussels has not been satisfied by Beijing's response when alerted about dangerous Chinese-made goods.
"Frankly if we don't see a very substantial improvement by the end of October ... then we will look again" at the possibility of bans, Kearns said.
Mattel said its probe had found that Chinese subcontractors painted the affected toys with lead-tainted paint between March 2007 and August of this year, but said it was recalling toys sold prior to these dates out of an abundance of caution.
The toy group, which traces its history to 1945, has also initiated a series of new safety checks to ensure paints used on its toys are safe.
Its stock closed up one cent at 21.98 dollars in New York.
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