Cheap Foreign Goods May Have Hidden Costs

For the past few decades, American consumers and American businesses have enjoyed serious economic benefits by utilizing overseas labor. Clothes, toothpaste, pet food, ceramics, cosmetics, and just about every conceivable everyday purchase are manufactured at low cost in China, Taiwan, Thailand, India, and several other countries. Since labor costs are much lower, the goods can be sold at a much lower rate. This is taken advantage of by discount retailers such as Wal-Mart or Target, who pass on the savings to the consumers. There are, of course, many pros and cons to this arrangement, all of which are currently being debated in both the public and private sectors. It is certainly possible to see the bright side in lower costs for consumers, even as it is possible to see the negative effects of the loss of manufacturing jobs for Americans.

As personal injury attorneys, we’ve seen firsthand that there can be severe consequences when manufacturers cut corners in order to boost profits. Poorly manufactured products can come with inherent flaws that can cause severe injuries and even death.

To its credit, the United States has federal agencies that routinely tests products in order to make sure that American made goods are safe for consumer use. Both the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Food and Drug Administration take this job very seriously, issuing dozens of recalls every month.

Chinese made products, which are sold copiously by Wal-Mart, Target, Big Lots and other so-called “big box” retailers, have no such government agency testing the quality of their products. And due to the sheer amount of goods that American Corporations are purchasing from China, India and other foreign countries, the ability of our regulatory agencies to keep up with it all has been severely challenged.

The end result of this “buy low, sell cheap” strategy has resulted in American consumers being subjected to products that are poorly made and, at times, quite dangerous.

These past few months have seen some very high profile consumer safety recalls involving Chinese goods:

Seafood: "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is launching a broader import control of all farm-raised catfish, bass, shrimp, dace (similar to carp), and eel from China, the agency said. The FDA said it will start to detain these products at the border until the shipments are proven to be free of residues from drugs that are not approved in the United States for use in farm-raised aquatic animals." – , 6/28/07

Toothpaste: "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Monday announced the nationwide recall of DentFresh Fluoride Mint Toothpaste because of possible contamination. The recall of the product distributed by Dent Fresh U.S.A. Inc. of Miami was initiated because the China-manufactured toothpaste sold in 9-ounce tubes might contain the poisonous chemical diethylene glycol, or DEG, which is used as a solvent and in antifreeze." – UPI , 7/16/07

Ceramic Heaters: "About 1.2 million Lasko ceramic heaters are being recalled. The heater’s cord can overheat where it enters the base of the unit, which could pose a fire hazard to consumers. Lasko has received 28 reports of failed power cords, including six reports of minor property damage. No injuries have been reported." –, 6/28/07

Toys: "The nationwide recall of 1.5 million Thomas & Friends red or yellow wooden railway toys may not be broad enough. Lead paint also has been found in some metal Thomas toys, the Tribune reported Sunday. Metal toys have not yet been included in the recall." – Chicago Tribune, 6/29/07

Tires: "The company that imported Chinese tires at the center of a recall demand by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will recall the tires and replace them until the company, Foreign Tire Sales (FTS), has run out of funds. A lawyer for FTS said the company will begin notifying owners of the tires on Monday and will continue the recall until the company has run out of money." – CNN Money, 6/28/07

Pet Food: Inspectors are now allowed to detain vegetable-protein imports from China because they may contain the chemical melamine. Melamine, used in the manufacture of plastics, was found in the wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate that has led to the recall of 5,300 pet food products. – USA Today, 4/30/2007

American business has become so accustomed to the use of foreign products in their day to day manufacturing and retailing that one would be hard pressed to find any products in this country that didn’t have at least one part or ingredient that came from China, India or Taiwan.

Convenience or low prices are a poor substitute for safety. If quality control is too much to ask from China, then it is only natural for us to expect those that make enormous profits off of the use of these cut rate products to bear the responsibility when things inevitably go wrong.

As a consumer, you have the right to expect that the purchase of an everyday item is not the equivalent of a game of Russian roulette. You also have the right to compensation if you or a family member is injured due to a poorly made product.

If you or a loved one has received an injury due to a product that you bought in good faith, contact our offices for a free legal consultation today.

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