Chinese Products in First Place on EU Blacklist

March 24, 2015 Updated: April 17, 2015

From flammable toys to poisonous shoes, most of the dangerous nonfood products identified by a European Union agency last year were made in China, a March 23 European Commision press release stated.

The proportion of harmful goods imported from the world’s most populous nation—64 percent of the European total—reflects the huge Chinese presence in the European market. The figure is also consistent with past years, despite efforts by European authorities to cooperate with Chinese quality control agencies and help Chinese manufacturers understand the EU’s safety standards.

“The numbers and the situation is not improving,” said Věra Jourová, European commissioner for consumer affairs, at a press conference in Brussels.

In contrast to the high Chinese numbers, just 14 percent of the 2,435 dangerous product notifications concerned goods produced in EU member states, a sharp decrease from the 27 percent logged over a decade ago in 2003.  

More than a quarter of the products noted were toys, such as stuffed animals. Another quarter were clothes of various sorts. Electrical appliances and cars each made up about 10 percent.

Dangerous toys were identified for hazards such as loose stuffing or easily detachable pieces that could could lead to choking or swallowing. Some items were in fact lighters that resembled toys.

“For me, as a mother and already a grandmother, the high number of harmful products among toys is alarming, so please beware of what you give your children to play with,” Jourová said.

Hazardous chemicals, such as the allergen Chromium VI, were found in some leather and footwear articles on the list.

The most notifications were reported in five EU states—Hungary, Germany, Spain, France, and Cyprus, accounting for about half of the total.

Thirty-one countries are taking part in the European Union’s rapid alert system for dangerous products. The system, according to the website of the European Commision, ensures that reports about hazardous products withdrawn or recalled anywhere in Europe are made available across the EU, facilitating comprehensive action.

‘Made in China’ Around the World

Chinese industrial quality standards often lag behind those in developed countries, and even where they exist on paper, may not be followed by manufacturers.  

This February, a hepatitis A outbreak in Australia was linked to a Chinese producer, according to local authorities. Nine people who had eaten frozen berries from China sold under the Nannas brand were diagnosed with the disease, the outbreak of which was linked to poor hygiene and water supplies in a Chinese food packaging plant.

In the United States, the number of suspect products stopped by Customs annually is in the millions. Statistics published for the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years showed that the overwhelming majority of violations involved Chinese manufacturers.

China is the only country for which the U.S.’s quality control agency, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, produces an exclusive monthly report, titled “China Product Hazard Monthly Summary Bulletin.”

American Customs prevented nearly 650,000 merchandise items that did not meet federal standards from entering the country in the first quarter of 2012 alone, according to the agency’s website. Of 114 seizures recorded, 104 were of products originating from China. A total of 4.8 million items were seized that year, a figure that jumped to 12.5 million in 2013, according to a statistical report produced by the commission last May.

Chinese industrial quality standards often lag behind those in developed countries.

Food and medical products originating in China have also been a long-standing source of concern, especially since the 2008 scandal involving melamine-tainted powdered milk, in which over 50,000 children were hospitalized.  

In 2012, 11,000 German schoolchildren suffered from diarrhea in a case that authorities tracked to strawberries of Chinese import. The findings were predictably denied by official Chinese representatives.  

A 2009 report by the International Journal of Clinical Practice mentioned China as a leading source of counterfeit pharmaceuticals, particularly Viagra, a medication used to treat erectile dysfunction. Such drugs, of which 8.3 million doses were seized that year, often contain harmful substitutes or filler ingredients that can lead to a wide range of undesired symptoms in the unfortunate consumer.