updated 8/23/2007 3:27:43 PM ET 2007-08-23T19:27:43

A global recall of millions of Chinese-made toys was the result of new industry standards, not poor quality, an official said Thursday, as a high-level panel announced the launch of a nationwide safety campaign.

Earlier this month, Mattel Inc. recalled almost 19 million Chinese-made items, including dolls, cars and action figures. Some were contaminated with lead paint, while others had small, powerful magnets that children might swallow and damage their organs.

Vice Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said 18.2 million of the recalled products — including popular Polly Pocket dolls and Barbie play sets — were pulled off shelves because of a revision of international standards in May involving magnets.

“The U.S. dealer voluntarily recalled the toys that were made and sold before 2007, which at the time conformed to standards. This is a very responsible action for the health of children and consumers,” Gao said at a news conference.

“But strictly speaking, it has nothing to do with the toys’ quality or its manufacturers,” Gao said.

Mattel first announced a recall involving magnets in November 2006, after several Polly Pocket-related injures were reported.

It extended that recall this month following the change in industry standards that required safety warnings for toys with magnets or magnetic components not attached tightly.

Gao said Mattel was partly responsible because it did not conduct “strict examinations” when it received toy shipments. But, he said, China was taking the quality issue seriously.

“Even if there is only 1 percent of products that have quality problems, we will seek to establish the facts and take them very seriously and investigate and punish those companies involved,” Gao said.

Toys are the latest in a long list of Chinese exports that have come under intense scrutiny in recent months because of safety concerns. Toxic chemicals have been found in products ranging from toothpaste to seafood and pet food ingredients.

This week alone, the United States has recalled tens of thousands of Chinese-made SpongeBob SquarePants products because of lead hazards, while New Zealand launched an urgent investigation after children’s clothes imported from China were found to contain dangerous levels of formaldehyde.

The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said it was “highly concerned” about the findings in New Zealand. The quality watchdog said it will notify Chinese enterprises once it agrees on acceptable formaldehyde standards with New Zealand.

Also Thursday, a Cabinet-level panel announced the start of a nationwide safety campaign focused on food and drugs, as well as increased monitoring of exports, underscoring the government’s ongoing efforts to win back the consumer confidence.

“There are still many problems in product quality and food safety in some places, industries and companies,” Vice Premier Wu Yi, who is heading a Cabinet-level panel on product quality and food safety, said at a conference where the campaign was announced.

The program, which runs through December, will ban false advertising, require all food producers to be certified and increase inspections for food, drugs, and agricultural products, Wu was quoted as saying on the government’s Web site.

She also said that production areas for exported food will be examined, and packaging will have inspection and quarantine symbols.

Meanwhile, Chinese state media reported that toy makers will face tougher quality checks in Guangdong province, where many of the recalled Mattel toys were manufactured.

Makers of toys for export will have to undergo “quality licensing” as part of a new inspection system launched this week, the China Daily reported.

“We will keep a closer watch on not only finished products but also on potentially dangerous chemicals and paints,” an unidentified official with the Guangdong Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau was quoted as saying.

He also said authorities will keep records of toy subcontractors and suppliers who sold “potentially dangerous chemicals for toys.”

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