August 15, 2007 / 4:07 PM / 12 years ago

European parents face dilemma over China toy scare

LONDON (Reuters) - Safety concerns are prompting some European parents to avoid buying Chinese-made toys following two high-profile recalls but competitively-priced alternatives can be hard to find.

A customer looks at toys at a store in Shanghai August 15, 2007. Safety concerns are prompting some European parents to avoid buying Chinese-made toys following two high-profile recalls but competitively-priced alternatives can be hard to find. REUTERS/Aly Song

U.S. toy giant Mattel Inc. launched its second major recall of Chinese-made toys on Tuesday, citing hazards from magnets and lead paint. The recall of 18.2 million toys came just two weeks after its Fisher-Price unit recalled 1.5 million toys, also because of worries about lead in paint.

A string of scandals from unsafe tyres to tainted toothpaste has left Beijing struggling to reassure world consumers about the quality of its products.

“It’s very serious. I won’t buy toys from China, even if it’s more expensive,” said Fabrice Montigaude, a French tourist shopping for his daughters at Hamleys, London’s landmark toy store, which opened in 1760.

“It’s possible to find toys from other countries but it will be hard,” he added.

But other parents said the frustration of scouring stores for replacements for made-in-China toys was enough for them to ignore any niggling doubts.

“I don’t care because we have no choice,” said Manuela Soncini from Parma, Italy, also shopping at Hamleys. “I look at the label and every product is made in China.”

Inspecting the rubber puzzle she had just bought for her two-year-old, Soncini discovered its provenance was China.

BEST PRICE

There is also the matter of price. Avoiding products from China means giving up many of the cheapest dolls and trucks on the shelves.

This presents a real dilemma, said Catherine Hanly, editor of raisingkids.co.uk, a Web site that gives advice to parents.

“Parents are going to have to think about what they want, whether they want to buy things that are cheaper, or whether they are going to have to buy less toys for their children but make sure they come from reliable sources,” she said.

In the United States, according to a poll last week, 82 percent of Americans said they were concerned about Chinese goods and nearly two-thirds said they would support a boycott.

Hanly said the safety scares would be “front of mind” for her when gift shopping for her child’s fifth birthday. As a rule of thumb, she plans to steer clear of plastic toys.

But parents who opt for wooden toys may well find that their purchases still originate in China.

This is even the case at Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, a London store that specialises in traditional toys from theatre dioramas to jumping jacks.

“A lot of our stuff is made in China,” said sales assistant Chloe McCormack. “We’ve got some British and European things but they tend to be a lot more expensive, which is the big problem.”

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