Celebs are not omnipotent – on China’s new law that holds spokespeople accountable for products’ safety

October 25, 2010Jing GaoOne Comment, , , , , , , ,

A few recent incidents on food safety has brought celebs under fire for their endorsement. China is now drafting a law that holds celebrities liable for the safety of products they endorse.

(caption: Deng Jie on Sanlu milk powder: “I trust.”)

(caption: Jackie Chan on Bawang Shampoo: “Every man should own one bottle.”)

Via Global Times:

Pop stars and celebrities will also be held liable if the products or companies they endorse are found defective or guilty of false advertising under the revised law, said a senior official.

The draft had been submitted to the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council, which will examine the draft before it is submitted to the National People’s Congress for further scrutiny.

Deng Jie, an actress who came to fame through the 1980s classic TV opera Dream of the Red Chamber, was blamed in 2008 for representing the melamine-tainted Sanlu milk powder in TV advertisements, causing about 300,000 babies to develop kidney stones.

Jing Gao: What a class act! The Chinese FDA feeds on taxpayers’ money, approves any manufacturer that shows up with a deep pocket, winks at the product that hits the market. Finally one day, the product is found to be unsafe or substandard. Instead of any form of self-criticism, the authority halted the milk powder production, punished the unscrupulous manufacturer, and made the spokeswoman scapegoat for leading customers into the decision to purchase.

So the Chinese authorities expect celebs to be quality inspectors. Let’s be honest: even among those who have received formal higher education in sciences, the majority hasn’t even heard of melamine before, let along its adverse effect on human health, unless they are chemistry majors. Wouldn’t that be out of line if the law requires celebs, many of whom do not even hold a college degree, to know ahead of time what hazardous substances are contained in the product they endorse?

One thing needs to be pointed out: all of the victims of the contaminated milk product are babies. According to scientists, adults are unlikely to have any kidney damage after intake of melamine unless a whopping amount because the normal function of kidney can break down the toxicity. Moreover, milk is never the major source of food for adults. Infants, by contrast, have fragile kidneys and consume milk as one of the only food, and are therefore much more susceptible to contamination.

That is to say, even if Deng Jie, as a very responsible and cautious spokeswoman, tried the milk product herself for a period of time before endorsing it, she wouldn’t have discerned anything wrong. Likewise, Jackie Chan, who was slammed for representing an herbal shampoo that claims to have anti-hair loss properties, has no way to trace 1,4-Dioxane, a cancer-causing agent classified by the US Department of Health and Human Services, unless he himself sends this product for lab tests.

Basically, the new law being drafted shifts the burden of proving the product safety from regulatory bodies to celebs. Imagine who will have the nerve or interest to represent a product. Money is an incentive, but it’s not worthy of legal liability and danger to the reputation.

I am not saying false, misleading, or reckless commercial statement should not be punished. But the line between outright lie and being involuntarily involved in a deception, however fine, is clear. If the actress says a slimming pill can help you shed ten pounds a week, while she has never tried the product; or if the star guarantees you a 100% success rate with a job-hunting web site, whereas in fact you haven’t been contacted by any hiring agent, that would be an outright lie, and you can sue their pants off. Each case should be decided on a case-by-case basis. If there is going to be a law that wants celebs to take the blame across the board, what justifies the payroll of quality control or product safety departments?

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1 comment to “Celebs are not omnipotent – on China’s new law that holds spokespeople accountable for products’ safety”

  1. Betsi | November 8, 2010 | Permalink Reply

    First of all, great Web site, and VERY informative and interesting. Nice layout, and excellent writing.

    I am not sure that China holding the celebs legally responsible is a good way to go…but I think that celebs *should* do their research ahead of time as much as they possibly can. As one who lives in Celeb Central, I see a lot of wanna-be celebrities doing irresponsible things, and hear about a lot of celebrities doing irresponsible things, simply because they don't take the time to stop and think before they sign their names to something. They see the dollar signs and act on that above all else. It is not too much to ask that they educate themselves about the product that their face is selling. In fact, it's ridiculous that they don't hold THEMSELVES accountable to do this.

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