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Safety Agency: Importers Must Meet U.S. Standards

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is on assignment. I'm John Ydstie.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Here's what's at the heart of the latest recall by the world's largest toy maker. Toy cars, painted green with a coating of toxic lead paint; Barbie toys with dangerous magnets that, if swallowed, can damage a child's insides. Those are some of the millions of toys recalled yesterday by Mattel. Mattel is the latest company to be embarrassed by defective products, dangerous tires and tainted food from China.

We're joined on the line by Nancy Nord, acting chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That's the government agency responsible for regulating the safety of 15,000 kinds of consumer products.

Good morning.

Ms. NANCY NORD (Acting Chairman, Consumer Product Safety Commission): Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Your agency recalls many products every year, manufactured not just in China but everywhere. But it really does seem that there is an excessive number of problems with imports from China in this last year. I mean, this is, as I've just said, the second recall in a month from Mattel. What's going on?

Ms. NORD: Well, we do recall products on a regular basis. This year, we've recalled over 400 products. Of those, 44 of those recalled have been of toys. Frankly, Renee, that is a lower number than the number of toy recalls we did last year and the year before. Nevertheless, there is something that is of concern to us. We look at it very, very closely. With respect to what's going on, as I'm sure your listeners realize, much of our manufacturing has moved out of the United States, and much of it is in China. So if that is where products are being made, it's not unexpected that that is where the recalls would be occurring.

MONTAGNE: Now, just very briefly, there have been no injuries connected to this particular recall.

Ms. NORD: No, there have not. But we were concerned enough about the fact that these magnets were becoming dislodged. The problem with magnets is, if you swallow one, well, that's not good, but it's especially bad if a small child swallows two of them. They can come together in the intestinal tract. And the hazard really is for toddler-aged children who crawl around in the ground, might see one of these things that has fallen out. The parent...

MONTAGNE: Right.

Ms. NORD: ...might not have noticed it.

MONTAGNE: Now, consumer groups do say that Mattel is one of the most conscientious and rigorous toy manufacturers in the country. So, does this mean that if their products have problems, all toys from China could be suspect?

Ms. NORD: Toys are one of the most heavily regulated products in our economy. And by and large, toys are very, very safe. Obviously, we don't like to see any recalls. A nine million piece recall is, although it seems to be big, is certainly not the biggest recall that we have done. And when you put it in perspective of the hundreds of millions of toys that are sold in the United States every year, frankly we want to make sure that the market place is safe. But consumers really shouldn't be panicking and thinking that somehow everything in their toy chest is unsafe for the children.

MONTAGNE: Now, we just have a few seconds, but I'd like to ask you one last question very quickly. Next month, you'll be meeting with Chinese officials about product safety, but what can the U.S. government say to China's, or any other country's officials, to make them enforce our safety standards?

Ms. NORD: Well, I think it's very important that Chinese manufacturers who are making products for export to the United States, and the Chinese government who issues the export licenses, to understand that we do have these very strict standards. And our expectation is that if something is manufactured for export into the United States, it meets our safety standards.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much.

Ms. NORD: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Nancy Nord is the acting chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. And you can get information about the specific toys being recalled at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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