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China Says Mattel Apology Overdue

State media hopes toy maker's apology will help restore export reputation, but says it's 'too early to say we are happy.'

BEIJING (AP) — China's state media on Monday welcomed U.S. toy maker Mattel's apology over its recalls of Chinese-made toys, saying that although overdue it should help restore the country's sullied export reputation.
 
Mattel apologized in Beijing on Friday for recalling 21 million toys this summer, the majority of which had small magnets that could fall out and be harmful to children if swallowed.
 
Mattel admitted the problem was a design flaw — not the fault of Chinese manufacturers.
 
However, the recalls also included hundreds of thousands of toys found to be decorated with hazardous lead-tainted paint. Mattel said the company pulled more of those toys off shelves than necessary and made Chinese manufacturers look bad.
 
Mattel, the world's largest toy maker, said it understood and appreciated the ''issues that this has caused for the reputation of Chinese manufacturers.''
 
''The apology, though delayed, should help dispel the suspicion American customers harbor against Chinese-made products and clean up the stain the recalls left on the innocent Chinese workers who make a living doing honest labor,'' the official English-language China Daily newspaper reported.
 
The state-run Guangzhou Daily said in an editorial Monday that Mattel's apology was a little late ''but at least it redressed injustice against toys made in China.''
 
But the paper added: ''It is still too early to say we are happy.''
 
Thomas A. Debrowski, Mattel's executive vice president for worldwide operations, made the apology Friday during talks with Li Changjiang, who heads one of China's major product safety watchdogs.
 
Chinese food, drugs and other exports ranging from toothpaste to seafood are under intense scrutiny because they have been found to contain potentially deadly substances. At home the problem occurs regularly.
 
The Beijing Times newspaper reported Sunday that eight types of mooncakes sampled in a major supermarket chain contained ''excessive bacteria.'' The sweet, hockey-puck shaped confections are a traditional gift during this week's important Mid-Autumn Festival.
 
In the far western region of Xinjiang, authorities seized 2,597 bottles of fake Maotai — a famous distilled liquor — from a hotel in the country's largest such haul ever. The report said the alcohol was not Maotai, although it carried the Maotai label, but did not give details of the actual contents or if anyone had become ill after drinking.
 
China has bristled at what it claims is a campaign to discredit its reputation as an exporter. It accuses foreign media and others of playing up its product safety issues as a form of protectionism.
 
The International Herald Leader, a subsidiary publication of China's official Xinhua News Agency, said in an editorial that the ''American media should also apologize'' for the way it handled the Mattel recalls.
 
Beijing insists that the vast majority of its exports are safe but has stepped up inspections of food, drugs and other products in response to the concerns.
 
China said Monday it had increased checks on agriculture products nationwide to cut the use of banned pesticides and the overuse of animal feed additives and fertilizers. The move was part of a four-month campaign spearheaded by the State Council — the country's Cabinet — to improve the overall quality of Chinese goods.
 
Ten people have been arrested and almost 100 offending companies shut down since August, Vice Minister of Agriculture Gao Hongbin said.
 
Gao said the ministry was targeting 100 percent surveillance of wholesale agricultural product markets in large and medium-sized cities in the hunt for illegal pesticides and feed additives.
 
Authorities were also targeting the illegal production, sale and application of five types of pesticides, he said.
 
''It is precisely because of the existence of loopholes that we have gone all out to correct the problem,'' Gao said at a news conference. ''This four-month campaign ... is indeed a special battle we have to fight. If we are fighting a battle, we have to have an enemy. And this enemy is the loopholes.''
 
China's food chain is tainted at many levels by the overuse of pesticides and additives. While the problem has been common in China for years, it aroused international concern this year because of complaints about contaminated Chinese exports, such as farmed fish in which U.S. and European authorities have found high doses of a carcinogenic antibiotic.
 
Gao also said that about 290,000 pigs in China have been sickened by blue ear disease since the start of the year, but that ''we are exercising the strictest controls over the epidemic to prevent further spread of the disease.''
 
Blue ear, also known as porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, has been the cause of skyrocketing prices of pork, the country's staple meat.
 
Earlier this month, Agriculture Ministry officials said that China has already vaccinated 200 million pigs.
 
''In the past, the Chinese people eat to have a full stomach. But nowadays people eat to satisfy their taste buds, and to have a safe and healthy life,'' Gao said.
 
''So the quality and safety of agricultural products in China is indeed a matter of primary importance and we should continue to pay attention to this question,'' he said.
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