Congress not toying around on imports

A toy dog that was recalled by Mattel due to high amounts of lead in the paint.


KAI RYSSDAL: In this celebrity obsessed culture of ours, maybe this next item was inevitable. Mattel issued its third major product recall this week, as you know. It was the first, though, pulling Barbie doll accessories off store shelves. And so we learned today Congress is getting involved. Lawmakers will hold hearings later this month into why so many tainted Chinese imports have been showing up. Mattel CEO Bob Eckert will be on the hot seat, of course. But the feds could also feel some pain. Specifically, the government agency responsible for consumer safety. From North Carolina Public Radio, Marketplace's Janet Babin reports.

Janet Babin: The hearing is expected to delve into Mattel's system for reporting hazardous toys to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. There are questions about exactly when Mattel knew about its lead-paint problem. Mattel did not respond to a request for an interview.

And lawmakers are wondering why so many toys contain lead. Most of this summer's recalls centered on lead paint. It's banned in the U.S., but is legal elsewhere. Paint consultant Rick Granito says lead paint does have certain advantages:

Rick Granito: People like leaded pigments because they have very good hiding power, good coverage. And as opposed to the organic pigments, there's a big economic advantage.

But cheaper isn't always better for a company's bottom line. Crisis manager Jonathan Bernstein says Mattel could have done a better job with the recall that he says took too long.

Jonathan Bernstein: They're missing the compassion component of this, which is unfortunately a very common corporate mistake. I'm kind of surprised that a corporation their size doesn't have better advice than they appear to be receiving.

But Bernstein says the Consumer Product Safety Commission is notoriously slow on recalls too. Consumer groups complain that the Commission has been understaffed for years, and doesn't get enough federal money to properly do its job.

Rachel Weintraub is with the Consumer Federation of America:

Rachel Weintraub: Our ultimate goal would be to restore the commission's budgetary authority to what it was when it was created in the 1970's.

That would be around $140 million, but the agency's allocation this year was less than half that.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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