Globalization: I don’t buy it


From fish to Fisher-Price, the recalls of Chinese products in the U.S. this year have been big news. It’s difficult to imagine anyone has not heard about them by now. I, for one, have started paying a lot more attention to where things are produced.

For example, after reading about the recalls of Chinese fish, I made a point of reading the fine print on the frozen tilapia I was about to buy, even though it was not on the recall list. It was labeled “Product of China.” I don’t buy it anymore. Why should I, when there are plenty of other options?

And the toys. What’s a grandmother to do? Eighty percent of the toys sold in this country are made in China. Yes, a bunch of them were recalled—those that failed the safety tests. But what about the others? Were they all tested? If not, why not? If not, why should I believe they are safe? How could U.S. manufacturers (er, distributors) be so arrogant as to reap profits by distributing goods made overseas—and not ensure those goods are as safe as the ones they used to make here?

I’ve become increasingly conscious of labels, and I am no longer a happy camper. I recently discovered after my purchase that Kroger brand ranitidine (generic Zantac) is marked “Product Made in India.” Hmm. How safe is a non-prescription drug made in India? What sort of quality control do they have in place? Are there Kroger representatives there overseeing the manufacturing process and ensuring my safety? Aren’t there laws in the U.S. restricting the purchase of foreign-made drugs? Ranitidine is no longer a prescription drug, but it used to be. Is the government only going to protect me from foreign-made prescription drugs? Next time, I’ll pay the higher price and buy the brand name. Unless, of course, it too is made overseas.

Have you noticed how many of the things you buy are marked “Imported?” Not “Made in Sweden” or “Made in Kenya.” Just “Imported.” That’s because this week that polo shirt L.L. Bean sells may have been made in Bangladesh; next week the same shirt will be from Haiti. It all depends on where the Bean buyers found the best deal this week. Having to change those annoying little labels every time the source changes would add to the overhead. Or something. So why bother, especially when, apparently, our government doesn’t require it. Besides, what the public doesn’t know won’t hurt them, right?

Enough! If I’m going to buy something, I want to know where it was made. That’s as important to me as the ingredients, increasingly meaningless “brand name,” quality, and price. I think I have a right to that information. (It would also be nice if I could find that information without having to read through six different languages looking for the English version, but I digress.)

I have a proposal. Let’s require that everything—everything—sold in this country be clearly labeled with its specific country (or countries) of origin. (We are ever so proud of our globalization efforts, aren’t we?) Then we can stand back and let fully informed American consumers decide which products to buy. If Chinese toys or Haitian shirts or Indian drugs lose out to U.S.-made products, so be it. Isn’t that how a free economy is supposed to work? I’ve been accused of being less than facile with economic theories, but it sure seems to me that anything less than full disclosure in labeling is just another way to protect big business and so-called brand name “manufacturers” and distributors.

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