Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cheap Equals Risk - Caveat Emptor

Perhaps not always does inexpensive result in shoddy merchandise or, on occasion goods that can result in danger. Too often, though, that's just the case. Particularly with goods manufactured in China. Take, for example, knock-offs of reliable products, parading themselves as the real goods but in reality cheap imitations. If you rely on a product for safety in its use and it's been built merely for facade, to imitate the real thing, but without the mishap-preventive interior, then you're in for trouble. And this can be something as inexpensive to begin with as electrical parts, or extension plugs or power bars, to name but a few.

When they're put to the test of actual experience they can cause fires, and at the very least equipment failure. These are the cheap, imitative items that we can pick up at ubiquitous Dollar Stores or our local supermarkets. Emulators of the real thing are so adept at their trade that they even copy symbols indicating that the product has been approved by a country's health and safety oversight authorities. Throw in human nature, where we're always looking for a 'good deal' or alternatives that will cost us less while promising us the same goods, and we're suckers for adventures in risk management.

We do the same thing with name brand goods, falling victim to the allure of knock-offs of designer items whose regular price is beyond our means. Otherwise-reputable, and often not-so-reputable purveyors of socially-cool goods advertise and hawk these product look-alikes and eager consumers fall prey to their purchase, be they handbags, DVDs or children's toys. The toys may contain constituents that are banned in North America, like lead, but consumers purchase them in all innocence unless and until a warning is announced.

China, that emerging economic giant, sees nothing amiss in taking short-cuts to achieve market dominance. Its oversight of the quality of products sent abroad is as lax as it is for similar items meant for domestic consumption. There have been instances where pharmaceuticals sold over the Internet as replacements for name-brand products are so inefficient or even dangerous because they don't contain the elements of the brands they emulate that they constitute a danger for the unwary.

Latterly, pet owners, veterinarians, pet-food producers and governments in North America were alarmed over reports of unauthorized ingredients imported from China as protein-fillers in pet-food having severely deleterious effects on peoples' pets. China steadfastly denies knowledge of forbidden ingredients incorporated into otherwise-innocent products destined for export, and blames 'rogue' manufacturers, promising to crack down on such producers. But China acts with casual indifference for the most part because they understand that public health and security systems in some importing countries are simply disinterested in adequately performing their public functions.

They become galvanized into action when they feel the outcry is sufficiently outraged and strident as to present an imminent danger to their producers' ability to export and bring profit to the country. Toothpaste imported to North America from the Chinese market has been implicated in yet another illicit-ingredient scandal. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration is quick to take action when these issues surface, and they warned recently that frozen fish from China marketed as 'monkfish' could contain elements of the deadly puffer fish, in the wake of several people found to have ingested morbidly dangerous levels of tetrodotoxin, poison found in puffer fish.

Honey imported into North America from Chinese sources has been discovered to contain pesticide residues in amounts unacceptable for human consumption. Despite the cautions issued from government sources from time to time with respect to foodstuffs derived from China, imports to Canada and the United States, as elsewhere in the world, are steadily rising. For as with any other consumer items emanating from China, the costs are far less, despite additional costs associated with shipping far distances.

Preserved food, edible fruits and nuts, prepared meat and fish, and vegetables from China are all reaching markets abroad as trade booms. The Chinese domestic market is no better served by its short-cut manufacturers than is the foreign market. They too demand quality, but often find themselves with goods that express anything but. The most egregious examples being baby formula which contained inadequate nutrition so babies died of malnutrition. Reminiscent of African mothers watering down expensive formula to make it last longer, and in the process killing their babies.

One supposes that China doesn't deliberately set out to ship shoddy and contaminated goods abroad, much less provide them for home consumption. It is just so eager to expand its market potential as swiftly as possible that it gives short shrift to the obligation to ensure what leaves its shores is reliably safe and expresses quality. If they can get away with sending harmful ingredients contained in their foodstuffs abroad, then they will, blissfully ignoring the fall-out - until they're brought up short by the threat of potential export cut-offs.

It is quantity, not quality that consumes China's exporting interests. It is cheap and plentiful goods that attract importing agents and the consuming public abroad. Until things go awry and cheap translates as dangerous to one's health.

Buyer beware.

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