Saturday, June 30, 2007

Story of the Week -- June 25-29

China Buffet - um, don't eat that. Or that. And drive safely, your tires may explode. And careful when you brush your teeth tonight.

I've had some serious flashbacks lately to freshman year and this class I took on globalization.

There was this assignment we had to do. We were supposed to go through our closets and find out where all of our clothes were made, and then write how we felt about it.

I remember thinking it was kind of neat how my pants were made in Malaysia and my sneakers came from Guatemala or something, how the shirt I was wearing had, to that point, had many better travel adventures than I (not to mention all those trips through the wash) It didn't really bother me that the shirt was probably made by a 9 year old girl. Hey, for a nine year old, she did a pretty good job.

One thing that also surprised me was that not everything I owned was made in China. I had just assumed most stuff was. Growing up, "made in China" was one of the first phrases I learned to read (maybe, I don't really remember, but for argument's sake, let's say it was. It could have been) It was stamped on lots of toys, especially the ones that came in happy meals.

It still is. Lately, though, "made in China" isn't as trustworthy as it used to be. 24 different toys have been recalled so far this year in the United States. All of the recalls are for toys made in China. In one of the worst cases, Thomas the Tank Engine Trains - you know, the little wooden trains the toddlers tend to chew on as much as they play with - were recalled when the company that sells the trains discovered that the Chinese factory was using lead-based paints to paint the toys.

We also found out that the same chemicals China uses to make its plastic toys might be finding its way into a number of brands of pet foods. Oh, and 450,000 tires that they've exporting to New Jersey don't meet safety standards. And your toothpaste might be mixed with a chemical usually found in antifreeze.

And that shrimp fried rice you have there, you can keep eating it, but it might give you cancer later. This is the latest one - after a nearly 6 year investigation, the FDA concluded that fish farmers in China are giving harmful additives to the fish, and ordered a ban on at least four types of Chinese seafood, including catfish, eel and shrimp. The additives have caused cancer in lab animals, and the FDA doesn't want to take anymore chances. But this isn't a recall situation, it's just a precaution.

What we're going through with China isn't mad cow, but there is potential. If what they put in the pet food finds its way into human food (not unlikely considering the deadly chemical was added to wheat gluten), we might start to see some terror on some faces at the grocery store unless something is done. Good thing we're doing something, and we're not worried about pissing off China in the process. Because, we're pissing off China in the process.

But American companies are being responsible for a change, thanks to the wave of recalls that doesn't seem like it will stop any time soon. Companies like Toys R Us, Kellogg's and General Mills, are stepping up scrutiny of Chinese products.

The only question I have is, why haven't we been doing this all along? And the answer is that you don't ask a lot of questions when food is cheaper, toys are cheaper, and tires are cheaper. And big companies don't ask a lot of questions when profits are higher. The beauty of globalization is that things are cheaper and people make more money. The reason I don't care that my t-shirt was made by a 9 year old girl is it cost me $9 instead of $20, and now I have $11 to spend on faulty tires and tainted seafood.

So, I'm sorry Fido and Rex and little baby Timmy who likes to put toys in his mouth had to suffer before we did something about it, but I'm glad we're doing something about it.

Now I'm glad I did that globalization excercise. It's good to know not everything was made in China.

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