Around 78 percent of Americans worry about the safety of Chinese imports, and a quarter have stopped buying food from China, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.
Almost 35 percent of people polled said they were "very worried," and 43 percent "somewhat worried," about the safety of food and other Chinese goods. The survey followed a series of frightening reports of toys laced with lead paint, seafood containing banned antibiotics, contaminated toothpaste, and other risky products from China, a big U.S. trading partner.
The recall of hundreds of thousands of toys contaminated with lead paint from leading toymaker Mattel have been particularly troubling for parents.
"Essentially, Americans are very positive about ... prices of Chinese products," said pollster John Zogby, but "you see damage" among consumers.
Just 7 percent of Americans said they were not worried at all about Chinese goods, according to the poll, which surveyed 1,011 likely voters from September 13 to 16.
The poll found more intense worry among people with lower income levels, and among women.
Hoping to restore consumers' faith, President George W. Bush has convened a special safety panel to recommend how to improve coordination between government agencies and to ensure products are sound even on the assembly line.
Officials stress that companies and foreign countries must take their own steps, since the U.S. government cannot possibly inspect each item when imports are worth $2 trillion a year.
There is also concern in Congress and some lawmakers, like Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, want to see fees on imports help pay for increased inspections.
Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspected less than 2 percent of the food imports it regulates. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, meanwhile, has just one person responsible for toy safety.
Others want to see an overhaul of a U.S. food regulation system now housed across several agencies.
The poll also found that consumers are already shifting buying habits. "We've learned in the past that it takes a while to regain your confidence when it comes to question of food safety," Zogby said.
In addition to food, 23 percent of respondents said they had stopped buying toys labeled "made in China," especially those consumers with young children.
Around 23 percent are now shunning Chinese-labeled goods like toothpaste, and 16 percent said they now ruled out buying Chinese-labeled products entirely.
Some 36 percent of people polled, however, continue to buy Chinese-made goods, the poll found.
The national telephone survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.