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(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
Even as retailers around the globe pulled more Mattel products off their shelves after the world's largest toymaker issued its third major recall in five weeks, officials in the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry were unconcerned about the situation, saying the lead levels that prompted the recall of the Chinese-made toys met the requirements of the ministry's Standards Institute.
"In the US as well as in the EU, the maximum limit of lead paint that is permitted to be in toys is lower than the limits in Israel, but we are careful, like the US and EU, to ensure that no paint is transferable off of the toy," said Grisha Deitch, commissioner of standardization in the ministry.
Mattel made its latest move after finding about 848,000 Chinese-made Barbie and Fisher-Price products with paint that may contain excessive levels of lead. The 11 affected toys include Barbie kitchen and furniture items, Fisher-Price train toys and Bongo Band drums, bringing the total number of Chinese-made Mattel products recalled since early August to 21 million. Mattel gets 65 percent of its toys from China. It said Tuesday that no illnesses have been reported.
The recall is a setback for China's attempt to restore its reputation as an exporter after other recalls prompted by drug-contaminated seafood, toothpaste with an anti-freeze ingredient and pet food containing a chemical used in plastic.
Following the announcement from Mattel late Tuesday, employees across Israel removed the tainted products from store shelves.
According to a representative from Sakal, the company responsible for importing the toys from China, Israel's exposure this time around was limited to the Barbie bathtub set and Barbie kitchen set. Mattel had only shipped 1,500 pieces of the product, Sakal said, of which 800 had already been sold when the recall was made.
"Those who have purchased the toys are encouraged to return them to the stores where they will be refunded all of their money," said the Sakal representative. "Those sets that remained in the stores and in the warehouse will immediately be sent back to Mattel world headquarters."
Meanwhile, the Manufacturers Association of Israel told The Jerusalem Post that it has requested more thorough testing on all products imported from China that may contain lead paint, such as textiles and electronics.
"We have asked the Customs Authority to be very careful when checking out the products that come in and for them to check what came in and from where," said the Association.
According to Deitch, all imported products must receive a permit from the Standards Institute, something which the Barbie toys were awarded.
"These products were tested when they came in from China and were given the proper permit from our office - Sakal is only removing them because they were required to do so by Mattel."
Deitch added that the Standards Institute on Tuesday retested products that remained in Sakal's warehouse, with these test results still pending.
"From my experience in the past and with our original tests on these toys, I think that these toys will still comply with Israeli standards."
A Health Ministry representative refused comment on the current situation, saying only that it is the responsibility of the Standards Institute to determine allowable limits of lead paint that can be present in toys and that a Health Ministry official was present at the meetings determining what those levels should be.
Of the more than 20 million toys recalled last month, about 18.2 million were Barbie, Polly Pocket and Batman products with magnets. The rest were Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer and other toys with lead paint.
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating the earlier Mattel recalls and may look at whether the defects were reported to the agency quickly enough. Since 2001, Mattel has been fined more than $2 million for failing to report recalls to the agency in a "timely manner."
Bloomberg contributed to this report.