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Toy recall raises timing questions

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: You can't pin it on Elmo, really, or Big Bird or Dora the Explorer. They're just the big names among the million toys worldwide recalled today by Mattel. Some of the company's most valuable franchises arrived in the U.S. coated in lead paint from a Chinese factory.

There are some questions, though, about the timing of Mattel's recall. Marketplace's Janet Babin reports from North Carolina Public Radio the logistics and red tape involved in getting products off the shelves can be daunting.


Janet Babin: Mattel says it quarantined most of the million-plus tainted toys before they even hit store shelves. But it's hard to say how long the company knew about the lead-painted toys, and how long it took to prepare the recall.

Mattell embargoed the press release on the recall until 1 minute past midnight. So why put an embargo on a safety recall anyway?

Scott Wilson's with the Consumer Product Safety Commission:

Scott Wilson: The company must have a telephone bank, their website up, all the resources in place to give a consumer the remedy. And they must pull products out of retail stores before that recall comes out.

Reporter Maurice Possley is with the Chicago Tribune. He says the commission is supposed to speed things up, but ends up hampering the process.

Maurice Possley: It is an agency that is understaffed, underbudgeted and pretty much hamstrung by some fairly onerous regulations.

Like the rule that requires the Commission to negotiate all recall details and language with the company. That could be what happened with Mattel. The company did not return phone calls.

The press embargo didn't hold anyway. The AP says it filed the story early because of a technical error. Other news outlets ended up running with it.

Larry Kamer is with Fleishman Hillard:

Larry Kamer: Embargoes are kind of seen as an artifact of old media or journalists are gonna decide that there's a higher public interest than the schedule of a federal agency.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

Ryssdal: Mattel CEO Bob Eckert did the apologizing, and it's going to be a pretty expensive one. Eckert said the recall will cost the company $30 million.

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