BEIJING China knew about problems with magnets on toys as long ago as March, an industry official said on Wednesday, following a second massive recall of Chinese-made Mattel toys due to hazards from small, powerful magnets.
China has been struggling to convince the world its products are safe after a series of scandals over everything from tainted pet food and drugs to tires, toys and toothpaste.
Mattel Inc., the largest U.S. toy company, recalled millions more Chinese-made toys on Tuesday due to safety risks from the magnets and lead paint and warned it may recall additional products as it steps up testing.
"We knew about the situation, because since March some toys had been recalled due to magnetic parts problems," said an official with the China Toy Association, who declined to be identified.
She did not explain why it had taken so long for something to be done.
The new recall involves 18.2 million magnetic toys globally, including 9.5 million in the United States, with magnets or magnetic parts that can be dislodged.
About 253,000 Pixar Sarge die-cast toy cars with lead paint were also recalled. Lead has been linked to health problems in children, including brain damage.
The China Toy Association would meet the Commerce Ministry and quality watchdog later in the day to discuss the recall, the official said.
The recall will likely only add to U.S. consumer worries about the made-in-China label. According to a poll last week, nearly two-thirds said they would support a boycott of Chinese goods.
"There is a very kind of widespread sense in America now that there may be something defective with a number of Chinese products," said James Fallows, a lecturer in U.S. foreign policy at Shanghai's Fudan University.
"I think it won't be so big an item in actual government-to-government negotiations, but in terms of normal commerce, it will be a factor."
Last week, China banned two factories from exporting toys following the previous week's high profile recall of Mattel products, including Big Bird and Elmo.
The China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Light Industrial Products and Arts and Crafts, another group which represents toy makers, said it was asking members to publicly sign a pledge to improve quality.
"We feel deep pain at the irresponsible behavior of some companies," it said in the pledge letter.
"We cannot let the actions of a small minority of firms hold back the pace of the march forward of the whole industry, and must use this lesson as an opportunity to raise management standards for everyone," it added.
Companies must not accept orders which are "low priced and with unclear quality demands" nor those which "demand delivery of a large amount of goods in a short space of time and obviously exceed the production capacity of companies", it said.
A statement on the association's Web site (www.toy-cta.org) repeated the standard line that Chinese-made toys were overwhelmingly safe and that the government takes the issue very seriously.
"The Chinese government and industry have all along attached great importance to the issue of toy quality safety, and taken a series of measures such as strengthened authentication," it said.
Of about 300,000 batches for export, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission had only made about 29 recalls, it added.
"The general safety level of Chinese toys is worthy of trust," the statement said.
(Additional reporting by Royston Chan in Shanghai)