More of the Scary, Scary Chinese Products saga.... Now it seems New Zealand is jumping on the toxic toothpaste bandwagon, too. What irritates me, though, is the irresponsible journalism that's driving this scare:
While the ministry stopped short of telling people to avoid all Chinese-made toothpaste,
Of course the ministry stopped short of telling people to avoid all Chinese-made toothpaste. There's a very, very good reason for that. "Made in China" is not some codeword for "Great Chinese conspiracy to poison the world". "Made in China" does not mean toxic. Simple fact is that although China does have serious problems with product safety and quality control, MOST Chinese products are perfectly safe. The ministry did not tell anyone to avoid all Chinese-made toothpaste because most of it is safe, and to tell people to avoid something simply because of its country of origin would probably be illegal- if not against New Zealand law, than against WTO rules, certainly.
Now let's take a quick look at the symptoms of diethylene glycol poisoning:
The chemical can harm some people, particularly young children and those with liver or kidney disease.
Symptoms associated with minor exposure include nausea, vomiting and headache.Severe exposure can cause liver, blood and kidney disorders, seizure and coma.
Since October 21 1999, apart from six weeks in Norway and six months in New Zealand, I've been living in China. That's seven and a half years. And in that time I've been using Chinese toothpaste. Funny that- live in China a long time, use Chinese toothpaste. Anyway, none of the toothpaste I've used in that time has given me any of those symptoms. Nor have I ever met anybody who has had reason to believe their toothpaste poisoned them. So I guess anti-freeze-laced toothpaste just isn't that common.
And of course the NZ Herald has a horrible green little button inviting people to share their views, with the question "Are you worried about Chinese imports?" That's right, kiddies, the correct answer is "I'm terrified of Chinese imports cos the NZ Herald told me I should be." I'm sifting through the comments now, and most of it is the usual hysterical rubbish, the sheep mindlessly repeating what they are told to think. Then there are those who've been paying enough attention the last few years to repeat all the Dickensian horror stories of Chinese manufacturing- and of course, you'd have to be on some pretty powerful weed to deny these stories, but the reality of China, as always, is far more complex. And of course a lot of the comments are bordering on racist, with some overstepping the bounds, like this one from page 3:
AndyYes I am worried because their poverty-country is still in make-a-dollar-or-die mode, and that means that to them, we are just "cattle to be processed" for a profits sake. Desperate countries will crap on us without a second thought if they think that it's to their advantage. We must keep a close eye on them and what they do - half of them would probably steel our kidneys if they knew that they could get away with it.
Uh, right, back in the real world: I was pleasantly surprised to see several commenters standing up for Chinese products and pointing out a few home truths.... home truths that were ignored, of course, because it's always somebody else's fault. There was one commenter- I don't really want to paste her comment here, because it was so astoundingly stupid- who wrote about buying perfume for her daughter from the $2 shop and then being horrified when her daughter's skin reacted really badly to it. And then we have a breath of fresh air and reason:
Richard (Auckland)I've lived in China for many years. One interesting phenomenon is that in supermarkets in China, for instance, Carrefour, Lotus, Hualian, Park n Shop, Kmart, the goods there are of a much higher quality than those in the Warehouse here. And the goods in those Chinese supermarkets are made in China as well. The Warehouse stuff resembles something you'll find in street markets or rural towns in China. It's safe to say that, in terms of commodity goods, Kiwis have a lower living standard and pay a much higher price. I suspect that blame goes to the Warehouse who sources goods for the lowest possible prices and push up the margin.
That was from page 3. And then over on page 4:
Stop it (Auckland)In fact, who imported them, 90% goods selling at The Warehouse are Chinese junks. To be honest, if put them in Chinese local market, nobody will give them a look. Why? Please remember that how much you pay is how much you get. So zip your mouth if you have bought one or some of them.
But my favourite was on page 1 when I first opened up this comment thread, but has since been shifted back to page 2 as more comments have been added:
Who else should you blame? (Hamilton)As a Chinese been in NZ for six years now, I haven't bought any clothings from the Warehouse or K-mart yet. The reason is simply, those low quality clothings are not sold in any local markets in China before, now and not future, Chinese are not used to these cloths.However, how on earth those clothings end up in NZ? Who brought them there, I don't think Chinese did, but kiwi enterprises. Because there is a market here that demand cheap clothings. So these kiwi enterprises went to China, opened up those factories in China (so, they made in China). Because that NZ market segment demands cheap clothings, so these kiwi importers won't use good materials to make them, of course don't make them probably to meet Chinese quality stardard (so, they can't be sold in China), not to meet NZ stardands either, now somethings happened, they all blame China-made. Even, China was only did what Kiwi importers asked to do.
Exactly. Who is really to blame here? Sure, the Chinese manufacturers of dodgy, toxic, or otherwise substandard products should be forced to lift their game, and I hope they get what's coming to them, but in New Zealand we have these retailers such as the Warehouse and the $2 shops that specialise in cheap shit. And I haven't been in New Zealand for several years, but from what I remember those commenters are right when they say that the products on sale in those shops are of such low quality you'd struggle to sell them in China. And people shop there. And they can't figure out why the products are of poor quality or even dangerous. Come on people, wake up. The problem is not China. The problem is in New Zealand. Grow up and take responsibility for your actions.
So what is really happening? New Zealand retailers are deliberately importing cheap shit and selling it at low prices, and New Zealand shoppers are deliberately buying that cheap shit because it's cheap, and none of them, retailers or shoppers, are thinking that the products are so cheap because that cheap shit is of such low quality (or toxic) that Chinese retailers won't stock it. And then they act all shocked and start crying about how China is poisoning them, when it's their own bloody fault. And the media is not just feeding, but driving the mass hysteria that results.
So anybody ready for a revival of the Yellow Peril? Well, fasten your seatbelts, it looks like it's going to be a wild ride.
Oh, and before I finish this rant, and in the interests of fairness and balance, I would like to quote the second and third sentences of that NZ Herald article:
A ministry spokesperson said many of the Chinese-made brands had been brought into the country illegally and were still being tracked down.
The Institute of Environmental Science tested 52 toothpaste products believed to have been manufactured in China and found 16 with unacceptable levels of diethylene glycol.
So, first of all, a lot of the toxic toothpaste was imported illegally- see, the importers and people stupid enough to buy their shit are the ones to blame. And secondly, 16 out of 52 brands had unacceptable levels of diethylene glycol. 16 out of 52. 31%. Less than one third. Too much, for sure, but still, that leaves most Chinese toothpaste safe to use. And I still can't help but think the amount is so high because of the importers.