Armed with pruning clippers, a worker in a white lab coat snips a plastic Hello Kitty play set into lentil-sized bits that will be bathed in chemicals simulating gastric acid.

Down the hall, teddy bears are torched to clock how fast they go up in flames, dolls are dropped to the ground from varying heights and tiny green toy soldiers are jammed into metal cylinders with the circumference of a child's esophagus.

The product safety testing business is in overdrive in the wake of a string of high profile recalls of made-in-China toys, including Barbie doll sets by industry giant Mattel Inc recalled earlier this month due to excessive lead in paint.

We've worked extra shifts (since) the day after Mattel started putting out their notice, said Ian Anderson, the Asia-Pacific director of testing for toys and similar goods at Swiss inspection services firm SGS.

The recalls have come amid a string of safety scandals in China fanning worries across the board -- among consumers fearful of lead in their kids' toys, among major brands concerned about their reputation and share price, and among contract manufacturers in China who rely on those big brands for business.

To the companies that make their money from product safety testing -- such as SGS, Intertek and France's Bureau Veritas -- the safety scandals, most due to faulty design rather than substandard craftsmanship, have translated into a windfall.

Cardboard boxes full of toys stacked along the walls of SGS's lab in Hong Kong attest to the huge opportunity, especially as toy factories in China work at full capacity to fill and ship orders to the West in time for the Christmas season.

It's good for the inspection and testing business, yes. Anything that comes with additional tests is good overall for our type of business, Anderson said.

At Intertek, an official said toy testers had been extremely busy lately.

But the manic testing is squeezing already wafer-thin margins for the factories in China that supply 80 percent of the world's toys -- with no guarantee that every defect will be caught.


China is battling a torrent of warnings and recalls that have shaken international markets' confidence in the made-in-China label on products from toothpaste and tyres to candy and catfish.

Mattel made an unprecedented apology to China last week for damaging China's reputation after its recalls. It admitted that most of the problems didn't originate in factories but were due to design flaws.

Nevertheless, China's Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine ordered stronger supervision and now requires toy exporters to provide lab test reports from recognized labs with each shipment.

For manufacturers of toys in China, working on such narrow margins, that's an extra cost they can't afford.

Leona Lam, CEO of Leconcepts Holding Co Ltd, a Hong Kong firm that manufactures toys for export in the southern Chinese city of Dongguan, said the marginal cost of each extra item tested to meet the Chinese government's new rule was not particularly high, but it could add up over time.

They are asking for every one, she said. Before this maybe once a year, randomly they would have such procedures.

If it's just for a few months it should be OK, she said, adding that the more costly aspect was in shipment delays.

SGS's Anderson said there were about 10,000 toy factories in China, most in Guangdong province near Hong Kong, and that increased testing was already leading to a crunch.

Some of the people now are finding that they cannot possibly do all of the testing within the timeframe and still ship their goods and get a good return for it. Remember that this is the peak period of the year, he said.


Major toy companies sourcing in China are asking for more samples to test, too.

And governments around the globe, including the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Japan and Australia, are either considering, or enacting, new measures to guarantee quality standards, which could lead to even more testing.

China faces huge challenges in enforcing adherence to U.S. safety standards in products it exports to this country, said Donald Mays, senior director of product safety planning and technical administration for the U.S.-based Consumers Union.

However, we are encouraged by the fact that U.S. toy manufacturers and retailers have indicated that they want federally mandated third-party testing of children's products.

Does the testing binge keep quality up?

It makes people more aware. You have to be good; don't play tricks; people are watching you, Lam said.

But Dane Chamorro, regional general manager for Greater China and North Asia for the consultancy Control Risks, said there were no quality guarantees if factories are picking what they want to be tested.

Anybody can say: 'I took my products to the lab and they came back with a clear bill of health,' he said. If it is self-selected, you are not going to solve the problem.

And despite increased testing, the amount of products in the toy market is so huge that it's unlikely the industry will ever be completely problem free.

With ... up to 30,000 different toys in the market at any one time, you've got to believe that there's going to be a few of them that may not be up to standard, Anderson said.

Right now it's convenient to beat up China, which is wrong. It doesn't deserve it.