Bush OKs Tough Product Safety Rules

President Bush, right, accompanied by Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, makes a statement on import safety, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2007, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington
The federal government would toughen its policing of products from abroad under steps proposed by President Bush on Tuesday after a rash of recalls of dangerous toothpaste, dog food and toys.

Bush said the United States benefits from having an open market and a huge variety of products from across the globe.

However, he said, "We need to do more to ensure that American families have confidence in what they find on our store shelves. They have the right to expect the food they eat, the medicines they take or the toys they buy for their children to be safe."

Acting on recommendations from an advisory panel, Bush proposed that the Food and Drug Administration be empowered to order mandatory recalls of unsafe food products. Currently, the FDA lacks the authority to order recalls, but works with producers on voluntary recalls. "Specifically, the FDA would be empowered to order a recall when a company refuses to recall their product voluntarily, or moves too slowly in removing the unsafe product from the market," the president said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said the United States has "among the safest food supplies on the planet. It's not perfect. We can get better. But we're very fortunate to live in a place where these problems are discovered quickly and responded to."

Bush also proposed increasing the presence of U.S. inspectors from Customs, the Border Patrol, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and other agencies in countries that are major exporters to the United States.

Other proposals would strengthen CPSC's authority by making it illegal for companies to knowingly sell a recalled product; by authorizing the CPSC to issue follow-up recall announcements, and by requiring recalling companies to report supplier and delivery information. Further, CPSC would be able to impose asset forfeiture penalties for criminal offenses.

A third recommendation calls for establishing a certification program - likened to a seal of approval - for companies with a proven track record for meeting safety standards. The Bush administration sees that as a powerful tool because it presumably would make certified suppliers more attractive to big retailers.

In addition, regulators would be able to concentrate on countries and companies that don't have a reputation for meeting certification standards

"For many years we've relied on a strategy based on identifying unsafe products at the border," Bush said. "The problem is that the growing volume of products coming into our country makes this approach increasingly unreliable."

He said federal regulators now will focus on stopping dangerous products from reaching U.S. borders in the first place.