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 user 2007-08-08 at 11:33:00 am Views: 46
  • #18550

    As health concerns mount, shoppers are asking: What isn’t made in China?
    Chances are, most of your home’s furnishings, electronics, clothing and food are all thanks to China.
    That’s what I discovered when I attempted to forgo purchasing anything that was assembled or manufactured in China – even if it included just an ingredient from China.Concerns about buying products made in China have mushroomed lately, with tales of contaminated dog food, toothpaste and shrimp spooking some shoppers. Mattel yanked 1.5 million China-manufactured toys last week after some of the toys, including Sesame Street characters, were found to contain lead. And some Chinese seafood, which typically accounts for 80 percent of seafood imports in the United States, was recently barred from importation after farm-raised eel, carp, shrimp and catfish were found to be contaminated by antimicrobial agents.
    To be fair, American products are not immune to contamination. In July, the Food and Drug Administration warned that some bags of Robert’s American Gourmet brand Veggie Booty contained a strain of salmonella, and Castleberry’s Food Co. shut down a Georgia production facility after several cans of its chili sauce were contaminated with botulism-causing bacteria.But China’s products are still swiping the spotlight, thanks to negative public perception, patriotism and concerns over unfair labor practices. Of the more than 330 products that have been recalled this year, 60 percent of them were manufactured in China, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.China has received a lot of scrutiny and criticism for its massive influx of exports to the United States, said Mark Vitner, a senior economist with Wachovia.”The reason why it’s so disconcerting to a lot of folks is the sheer magnitude of products and the growing reliance on China for raw goods and key components,” he said. “There is also a great deal of state control of their economy, and some regard China somewhat suspiciously. There are a lot of concerns that have some validity to them.”
    But avoiding China-manufactured goods can be a daunting task, as the sheer ubiquity of China-manufactured goods is staggering: China exports make up 40 percent of all consumer goods imported to the United States, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. That magnitude of imports may leave domestic manufacturers and farmers feeling the squeeze, Vitner said.”There are always going to be winners and losers from free trade,” he said. “But we have a great deal more purchasing power because of international trade when we spend less of our money on clothing and televisions, we have more to spend on travel and leisure.”A glimpse in a kitchen cabinet alone usually yields several items from China – and some products may surprise you. For example, 50 percent of U.S. apple juice is from China.The allure of Chinese labor? It’s simply more cost-effective: On average, wages are lower, translating to lower prices overall, according to Vitner.The same notion holds true for Dale Christenson, founder of the Surf Source, an Atlantic Beach company that sells surfboard materials to manufacturers and surf shops. Several molded items, such as surfboard fins, are manufactured in China.”I’ve found it to be pretty lucrative to source things abroad,” he said. “But there are some caution flags that go up when doing so, mostly matching the quality that you require. That’s one of the biggest hurdles, since there’s a language barrier and there can be a difference in business ethics.”Christenson says the outsourcing means a hefty savings over domestic manufacturers (more than 50 percent), and that looking to China is essential to keep prices competitive.”It helps us maintain our prices without having to increase them,” he said. “By counteracting inflation, we can maintain our pricing structure.”

    What are the alternatives
    With such an influx of affordable manufacturing, how difficult would it be to swap out China-made products and switch entirely to items made elsewhere? Turns out, avoiding China-manufactured products – and sticking to it – isn’t easy, or cheap. We did it for a week and broke it down to show how wide-sweeping China’s reach is:TOOLSIt was nearly impossible to find any hammers, nails, screwdrivers or much of anything else in the hardware sections that wasn’t made in China. Light bulbs, gloves and the like were also made in China. According to the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, $2 billion worth of tools (a figure that includes cutlery) were imported from China in 2006.

    CLOTHINGThis may be one of the easiest categories in which to avoid China-made items. At Wal-Mart, the available clothing’s tags were a veritable cornucopia of countries: Indonesia, Lesotho, Jordan, Bangladesh. But there was a wide swath of China-made garments: a $9.77 Henley sweater, $15.92 jeans, and men’s boxers dotted with metallic dragons. Meanwhile, those looking for shoes made elsewhere are in for a long hunt. From sneakers to high-heeled wedges and sandals, nearly every pair was made in China. The same goes for pairs at Target and Payless Shoe Source. Looking for American shoes? Prepare to spend a lot more. Mukluks, a brand of leather boots made in Minnesota, go for $250, for example.

    TECHNOLOGYCustomers would be hard pressed to find technology not made in China. At one local Wal-Mart location, every stereo, remote control, air filter and calculator came from China. One ink jet’s label said it was “re-manufactured” in China. In fact, of all of China’s U.S. exports, technology and electronics were the biggest piece of the pie, totaling 22.6 percent ($287 billion’s worth) of all of U.S. imports from China, according to research from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. Coffee makers, waffle irons and sandwich presses were all made in China at the discount retailers spot-checked by the Times-Union. For those willing to splurge, you can find espresso machines and the like from Australia and France – but they can cost much more. A Wal-Mart coffee maker from China can fetch anywhere from $20 to $109. But at Williams-Sonoma, coffee makers made in other countries can go for nearly $300.

    HOME FURNISHINGSThis particular segment can be tricky. Many times, a build-it-yourself shelf will have American wood, but screws and the like made in China. Look carefully at the box – but be warned that some of the pieces (handles, etc) will be labeled as China-made on the plastic bags hidden inside the box. Other items, such as faux houseplants, include leaves and plastic stems that were manufactured in China, but were assembled in a U.S. factory.

    GROCERIESUnlike with computers, furniture and clothing, it can be much trickier to unearth the origin of food. While the government ruled in 2002 that every food item’s country of origin should be clearly labeled, the law’s implementation has been postponed due to a Congressional motion, said Steve Cohen, a spokesman for the United States Department of Agriculture.In that case, finding out where your food comes from will take some digging, but here are the basics: Roughly one-third of food imports are from China, and less than 1 percent of that is inspected, according to the USDA.I had to do some squinty-eyes reading of labels to figure out where much of my grocery list came from. Produce at Publix was easy enough, as most of the fruits and vegetables have stickers pointing out their birthplaces. (Plums hail from Peru, avocados from Guatemala.)Seafood was similarly simple: Just look at the price signs posted, and the name of the country is toward the bottom. Winn-Dixie was one of the retailers who purchased seafood from Chinese manufacturers, but Robin Miller recently insisted in an e-mail that their supply was not affected.However, the origins of a box of Visine at Publix remained ambiguous. The box listed only the distributor’s location (Pfizer in New Jersey), but not the origin of the ingredients. I tried to call companies – such as General Mills – to ask, but most would not divulge where their products were made, citing the knowledge as “proprietary.”Online, I scoured for Web sites dedicated to American products. One, http://www.BuyAmerican.com, seemed promising, but the items were not so useful. Why would I ever need a $10 jar of mesquite bean jelly?

    TOYSSeventy percent of toys imported to the United States come from China – and every toy that has been recalled thus far this year has been manufactured there. A now-notorious line of toy trains that were coated in lead paint were recently yanked off shelves, for example. Even so, it doesn’t seem as though the number of China-made toys will decrease anytime soon. In 2001, China toy imports were valued at $12 billion. In 2006, that number shot to $20 billion. Indeed, these toys are fairly ubiquitous, from Playmobil figurines to Barbie dolls. (Legos, however, are made in Europe.)