More than 60 percent of the recalls issued this year and 79 percent of toys recalled last year by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission were from China. But those products were just a tiny drop in the flood of 17 million shipments of everything from Chinese organic produce to medicines to housewares to toys.
The flood of consumer goods from China has nearly tripled since 1997, and the number of recalls has grown proportionately. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is deluged by this flood. The FDA has only 1,317 field investigators for 320 ports of entry. The agency inspects just 0.7 percent of all imports, half of what it did a decade ago. David Acheson, an assistant commissioner for food protection at the FDA, points out that it would be impossible to test all imports from China. "It's got to be based on risk," says Acheson.
And risky it is. Just ask the 100 Panamanians who lost their lives using cough syrup made in China with diethylene glycol (mislabeled as glycerin). Or the people who were injured from ingesting tainted seafood, slipping on faulty swimming pool ladders or in auto accidents caused by shoddy Chinese-made tires. Even worse are the homes lost to fires caused by faulty electrical wiring in Chinese-made lighting, extension cords and heaters. China has even reintroduced lead poisoning to American children through paint and metal on cheap toys.
FDA inspectors report tainted food imports from China are being rejected with increasing frequency because "they are filthy, are contaminated with pesticides and tainted with carcinogens, bacteria and banned drugs."
In addition, our communities suffer financially when we buy imports over locally made goods. When we opt for a cheaper import, our dollars flow out of our community and fund a system that degrades people and the planet. Our small businesses suffer, manufacturing jobs leave, and we find ourselves with boarded-up storefronts in our downtowns. This economic exodus further devalues our currency and increases the demand for "cheap."
A recent economic study conducted in Austin, Texas, found that if each household in Travis County redirected just $100 of planned spending from chain stores (carrying cheap imports) to locally owned merchants, the economic impact would reach approximately $10 million. Imagine what $10 million could do for your community.
If you are getting fed up with cheap imports flooding our stores and damaging our economy, and dangerous products slipping through the holes in our safety nets, here's a few simple actions you can take today:
— Visit local artists, crafters and artisans for gifts. Look for items that are made using local products, as well — like wines from local grapes and jams from local fruits.
— Boycott anything made in China, even for only a week. It will make you aware of how over-dependant we are on imports and may protect your family from unsafe products.
— Look for local substitutes for those cheap imports. It may be a challenge to find any local manufacturers in your area. Find them, and support them, even if it costs more money than buying imported.
— Make it illegal to sell defective goods, and hold every business in the supply chain legally responsible for what they sell.
Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning columnist and founder of the Wallkill River School in Orange County, N.Y. You can contact her at [email protected]