Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on September 17, 2008
The scandal surrounding China’s tainted milk once again is calling attention to the shoddy state of consumer protection in China. During the big Made-in-China scares last year surrounding tainted Chinese-made toys, foods, and drugs, when a week didn’t go by without another scary story about poisoned goods showing up on U.S. store shelves, it was easy for lots of people to lose track of the biggest victims of shoddy Chinese production and lax Chinese regulation: Ordinary Chinese people. I certainly don’t mean to minimize the tragedies that took place when people in other countries fell ill or died from dangerous Chinese-made products, but it’s worth remembering that probably far more people in China have died from poisonous Chinese products than anywhere else.
Yes, multinationals from the U.S. and other countries have problems enforcing standards on their suppliers in China, and the scandals last year have forced the foreigners to pay more attention to safety and health standards at their Chinese factories. The milk scandal has come to light thanks in part to the efforts of the New Zealand company that is a shareholder in the Chinese company alleged to have produced the tainted milk. But what of all the Chinese factories that don’t have foreign investors, that don’t have a big Western toymaker or food producer knocking on the door? That’s where the government is supposed to step in. After the drug scandals last year, the head of China’s FDA lost his job and was executed, leading many people to believe Beijing was determined to regulate industry properly. Clearly there’s still a lot of work to do.