Consumer Safety

October 12, 2007 • Volume 17, Issue 36
Do government regulators need more power?
By Peter Katel

Introduction

Batman action figures and millions of other defective toys, mostly from China, have been recalled in recent months, along with contaminated pet food, hamburger and other products.  (Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla)
Batman action figures and millions of other defective toys, mostly from China, have been recalled in recent months, along with contaminated pet food, hamburger and other products. (Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla)

Americans have been alarmed by recent product recalls, including toothpaste containing an ingredient found in antifreeze, tainted pet food and millions of Mattel toys containing toxic lead paint. The recalls — all involving Chinese-made products — prompted government hearings that spotlighted problems at the underfunded and, critics say, overwhelmed Consumer Product Safety Commission. Meanwhile, inspectors found contamination in imported seafood as well as millions of pounds of U.S.-produced ground beef, triggering concerns that the two agencies responsible for food safety — the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture — were also understaffed and underpowered. While food and product safety scares are not new, the skyrocketing growth of Asian imports has forced even industry groups to call for stepped-up consumer protection. Consumer advocates salute the trend but warn that some industries may be seeking to regulate themselves in an effort to preempt Congress from passing tougher laws.

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