By Michael Lelah, Ph.D., Technical Director, NOW Foods
There have been a number of scares reported in the press regarding China made products. Recalls range from pet food to fish to children’s toys. China is the largest exporter of products to the U.S. Food exports from China to the U.S. have doubled in the past 3 years. I’d like to focus on one category of concern, children’s toys, and then discuss how this relates to dietary supplement ingredients, and what NOW Foods is doing about it – our very different “toy story”.
You may be very aware that Mattel has recently recalled over 20 million toys. The focus has been on China, with issues ranging from lead in paints to small magnets. But did you know that an executive from Mattel recently went to China and apologized to China for this. What he said was that 2 million of these recalled toys were for lead and thus China is at fault, while the other 18 million toys were not China’s fault. What does this mean?
First the 2 million toys with lead. Chinese manufacturers have used leaded paint to make shiny colored toys cheaply. This is totally unacceptable and the Chinese manufacturers are irresponsible. However, Mattel and other American toy manufacturers obviously did not test their toys, otherwise they would have found problems before these toys ended up in kids hands. Or if they did test and did nothing, that’s bad too. So we must not lose sight of the fact that American manufacturers are at fault as well.
Now let’s discuss the 18 million toys with small magnets. Whose fault is that? The Chinese manufacturers that make the toys for Mattel, or the Mattel designers that designed the toys with small size magnets? It appears that there is a design issue here, and Mattel appears to have recognized this and thus apologized to China. Mattel designers should have known that small magnets would be swallowed by children. They should not have designed toys with such small, powerful magnets.
So what do we learn from this? Although China bears responsibility for lead in the toys, and we will not accept anything less, many of the responsibilities also fall on the American toy companies, and they seem to have neglected their responsibilities.
Now, what does this mean for natural supplements and health ingredients? All ingredients from China are now suspect. In many cases our industry has no options but to purchase ingredients from China. The Chinese have cornered the commodities market for ingredients such as Vitamin C, the B vitamins, Stevia and xylitol. Although some of these ingreidents may be available from other countries, the vast majority in terms of tonnage, come from China. At NOW Foods, we have been aware of this, and have taken measures to control the quality and ensure the safety of these ingredients.
Our quality control procedures involve the setting of specifications and testing to these specifications for all ingredients, no matter where they come from, but especially from China. It’s our responsibility to ensure a safe supply of products to you. We take this responsibility for good design and testing seriously. We have invested huge amounts of money in a GMP facility and expensive testing capabilities. We audit our ingredient suppliers to ensure hygiene, quality and safety. We test for identity, purity and potency, and we look for contamination and adulteration, no matter where the ingreident comes from.
If we look to the toy industry, it’s obvious that even the most reputable toy manufacturers are not doing safety testing. At NOW Foods, our toy story is different – we are proud of our quality efforts. You may not be aware, but because of our diligence, our rejection rate for Chinese materials is actually lower than for ingredients from other countries, confirming that our strict adherence to quality control procedures is working to bring you high quality, safe products, no matter where in the world they originate from.