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Unsafe by definition: Voluntary recall

Consumer Reports News: February 15, 2010 01:08 PM

What it is: Most recalls of defective products are characterized as "voluntary," a confusing term that can lead consumers to believe that the recall is optional. But voluntary recall is just government-speak for a deal that a manufacturer or retailer of a hazardous product has negotiated with the federal agency in charge of overseeing the safety of that product category. Voluntary recall would also seem to indicate that there are “mandatory recalls” that can be issued by the government should manufacturers or retailers refuse to cooperate, but nearly all the recalls announced last year were voluntary.

Why it's news: While voluntary recalls have been—for all practical purposes—the only means by which the government can get dangerous and defective products off the market, that's about to change. Last month the Consumer Product Safety Commission unanimously approved a new rule setting guidelines and requirements for mandatory recalls and those rules are set to go into effect on February 22. A mandatory recall can be ordered by the CPSC or a U.S. District Court. The requirement for the new rules was part of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act and was originally proposed by President Barack Obama when he was a Senator. At this point it remains unclear how often and under what circumstances the CPSC might turn to a mandatory recall instead of a voluntary one when the new rules take effect.  

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