Recalls of unsafe products continue to escalate

Consumer Reports News: May 15, 2008 03:16 PM

Last year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a record 473 recalls as the marketplace was besieged by unsafe toys and other products.  This year isn’t looking any better.  In fact, for the first half of its 2008 fiscal year, the CPSC announced 307 recalls. At the current rate, we project that by year end the number of CPSC recalls could exceed 800.

The CPSC has held up the high number of recalls as a sign that they are doing their job.  To some extent that’s true; part of their job is to get unsafe products out of the marketplace.  Most retailers are quick to comply with a recall by removing unsafe products from their shelves and/or by blocking the sale of recalled products at their cash registers.

But the CPSC’s job is also to protect consumers from the unsafe products that have already made their way into our homes.  In that regard, CPSC recalls have been highly ineffective.  Mattel, which recalled more than 20 million toys last year, acknowledged that since the mid-1990’s the return rate for toys recalled by the company has been less than 10 percent, on average.  That means that more than 90 percent of the unsafe toys remain in our homes or have since been discarded.  In many cases, news of recalls never reaches consumers, and even when it does consumers may stop paying attention when recalls are announced at a rate of more than one a day.

We need stronger measures to protect consumers from unsafe products.  Manufacturers, distributors and retailers should be doing more to prevent unsafe products from reaching the market in the first place rather than relying on recalls to pull them back once they are already there.  Stronger laws can help.  Legislation recently passed in the House and Senate promises to help revitalize the CPSC, giving it more funding, more staff and more authority to protect the public from unsafe goods.  The legislation also places more responsibility on manufacturers to do the right thing.  Differences between the House and Senate bills need to be reconciled through conference as quickly as possible.  And Congress needs to combine the strongest consumer protection measures contained in each bill.

Much is at stake:  The CPSC has initiated 121 recalls in the first four months of 2008 involving nearly 10 million unsafe products. They include more than 5.9 million toys and other children’s products with harmful, tiny magnets; toxic lead paint; and choking and strangulation hazards. Consumers Union  has compiled a full report on recent recalls called: Still Not Safe: New Recalls Underline Need for Strong Hazardous Product Legislation.

Our children can’t protect themselves.  Congressional leaders need to move forward quickly and prepare the toughest bill possible for the President to sign that will take our children out of harm’s way of dangerous products.—Don Mays

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