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New Product Recall Laws Proposed in Canada

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Reacting to a recent series of toy, food, and drug recalls, the Canadian government pledged tighter regulations on Monday to try to prevent such problems in the future.  “As we head into the holidays, there’s growing concern about the safety of the products on the market, and for good reason,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper told a news conference at a Salvation Army toy depot.  “We’ve all seen the stories in the news—lead-tainted children’s jewelry, tainted toothpaste, toxic toys—and, even worse, are some incidents involving food and drugs,” he said, mentioning contaminated California spinach and Merck & Co’s worldwide recall of the painkiller Vioxx.

Harper said his Conservative government intended to introduce new regulations in the New Year including mandatory product recalls when companies fail to act on safety concerns, making importers responsible for the safety of goods they bring into Canada, increasing maximum fines to as much as C$1 million ($999,000 US) from the current C$5,000 under the Food and Drug Act, and ensuring better safety information for consumers and industry.

Health Minister Tony Clement said not one Canadian child or adult had fallen sick in the last six months as the result of unsafe products “but we cannot rest on our laurels.”  A Salvation Army spokesman said that among the 80,000 toys the Ottawa depot had received this Christmas season, it had found 200 that were on unsafe product lists

Firms take steps to remove recalled products from market, but it’s impossible to police toys sold at thrift stores, garage sales, and Internet auction sites.  Recalls extend to nontoy products and, sometimes, action is not swift.  In the US, the death of an 8-month old prompted the recall of 36,000 racks sold by Jetmax. It took three weeks for the US federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to pick up a faulty Bassettbaby’s crib for review—nearly 9000 were recalled due to construction flaws posing entrapment and strangulation hazards.  Nearly one million Graco and Simplicity cribs were recalled due to a design flaw resulting in three children’s deaths; the CPSC was criticized for its handling of the investigation and the Chicago Tribune claims the recall was only issued after the agency learned the paper was going to press about their neglect.  The CPSC has also been harshly criticized for being influenced by the companies it regulates.  Incomprehensively, high-level officials accepted free trips paid for by the industries they were charged to oversee.

In New York, stores are still stocking toys with unsafe lead levels, according to the state Consumer Protection Board and NY Governor Eliot Spitzer ordered a statewide investigation that revealed some toys with unsafe lead levels were still available; Spitzer also called for retailers to improve their responses to recalls.  Inspectors visited 2,800 stores and found about 620 recalled toys still on shelves.

Over six million toys have been recalled this year because of lead; the highest number ever due to product defects, yet potentially dangerous toys remain in stores.  Spitzer called on the CPSC to draft legislation to punish businesses selling recalled products and tighten recall standards for manufacturers, distributors, and retailers.

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