Danger on the store shelves
by Guest Blogger, 10/6/2004
Consumer Reports has released two reports on the failures of federal government agencies to ensure that unsafe products are removed from the market.
- Products subject to recall aren't being returned to the manufacturer: Whether the reason is better policing, more diligent reporting of problems to agencies, or worse products, the rise in recalls doesn’t necessarily mean that more faulty products are being repaired or returned to stores. A large percentage of them remain on the road and in the home: almost one-third of all vehicles subject to recall; more than half of toys, clothes, appliances, tools, and electronics gear; and three-fourths of child car seats. Part of the reason lies in the system itself. Despite talk years ago about consolidating recall authority, there is no single recalls czar with the power to banish all problem products from the marketplace immediately--or else. What we have is a complex, decentralized system granting recall authority to six federal agencies, each with its own rules and procedures. . . . When a manufacturer resists a recall, the agencies are empowered to take it to court, but they prefer to gain a company’s cooperation. If many companies were to balk at recalling flawed products, the agencies simply wouldn’t have the money or staff to force them all to do the right thing. . . . But a major reason that products officially declared problematic are still in homes and garages is that word too rarely reaches the people who need to hear. For every Firestone/Ford Explorer media-fest, there are thousands of choking hazards, breaking straps, and contaminated foods that get little publicity.
- Among the regulatory agency weaknesses that contribute to the problem: (1) there are holes in the safety net, so that most products are not certified to be safe before going on the market, and (2) some agencies "announce" recalls in ways designed to ensure that the notification stays under the radar -- such as Consumer Product Safety Commission recall notices that get hidden in the agency website's archive section without ever making it to the front page or the press, or NHTSA's controversial regionally limited recalls.