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White House decides to play it safer

Toys that contain lead paint are displayed during a Capitol Hill news conference on Oct. 31 at which Democratic senators touted a package to reform the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: We spent some time last week on the program talking about the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and how despite Congress' best efforts the commission didn't want any more money. No more authority to order recalls, thank you. Speculation was that the interim head of that agency was acting on White House orders. But today those orders changed for the CPSC, the FDA and a half a dozen other offices that are supposed to keep an eye on what comes into this country. From New York Marketplace's Jill Barshay reports.


JILL BARSHAY: $2 trillion of imports come into the U.S. each year. Government inspectors can't open up every box at the port to catch the bad apples. The Bush Administration wants to send more inspectors overseas, fine violators more heavily and give the Food and Drug Administration the power to recall bad products. Chris Waldrop is a director at the Consumer Federation of America. He says the FDA currently relies on industry cooperation

CHRIS WALDROP: It's a voluntary process, and they have to negotiate with the companies that are implicated in an outbreak or some sort of event like that.

Even industry is backing the proposed regulations. Scott Openshaw of the Grocery Manufacturers Association says the increase in food scares over the past 18 months calls for a new approach.

SCOTT OPENSHAW: Because consumers must be able to trust the brands they buy, which we manufacture and provide to them. And they must be able trust the foods that they eat.

New regulations on their own won't be enough, CFA's Waldrop says. He says the government will have hire people to do the new inspections or impose the new penalties, and that won't come cheap.

WALDROP: You know, it's great to give these agencies more authority and give them greater responsibility. But they need the funding to be able to do it. FDA has been significantly under funded over the past five to seven years. And if they're really going to do their job, they need to have the resources.

Most of the big recommendations require Congressional legislation. Congress is working on its own fix. With the Bush Administration on board, the chances are higher something will get passed.

I'm Jill Barshay for Marketplace.

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