Many Americans are concerned about the safety of the food and health and beauty products that they consume. These concerns are justified. It is terrifying to think of the number of unsafe products Made in China that have been recalled or rejected by U.S. government agencies. The list includes toothpaste, dog food, toys with lead paint, fish, juice with unsafe additives and on and on and on. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has recalled around 270 products just so far this year, about 60 percent of which were made in China. Some are caught upon entry but other unsafe products make it to the market where American consumers are at risk.
What can consumers do to protect themselves from these dangerous products? First and foremost they can read the label. Check the ingredients and country of origin. Rely on trusted brands with stable formulas/ingredients that have been time tested for safety. Unfortunately this will not always work. Some products do not list all the places that are involved in the manufacturing process. For instance, the product could be made in China but assembled or packaged elsewhere with only the packaging country listed. Other products from overseas are outright counterfeits. Therefore, relying on the traditional brands only is not always enough as a counterfeiter can, for instance, put a false label and package on toothpaste. This was recently discovered in toothpaste sold in many dollar value type stores that were selling falsely labeled, but essentially poisonous, toothpaste. The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced it is preparing proposals that could mandate broader inspections of imports and stiffer penalties for ignoring safety rules. That will help but consumers also need the tools to protect themselves.
According to a recent poll from Consumer Reports 92 percent of Americans want imported foods to be labeled by country of origin. Of course we do. When we purchase a toy or a bed we know where it was manufactured why would we not demand that the food we ingest identify the source? There have been many published reports of rampant pollution in China. Industrial waste, chemicals and bacteria are present in many places in China to a degree that is shocking. Is it unreasonable to assume that some of these noxious substances will enter our food supply? We should be given the freedom to choose whether or not we want to pay a little more for domestic food or risk the safety of food manufactured in China.
We can voice or concerns to our government to apply safety standards to products sold in the United States. There may be some progress here as the CPSC recently announced that proposals are in the works that could result in broader inspections of imports with penalties for unsafe products.
Another step we can take is to call on retailers to take greater steps to ensure the safety of the merchandise they select and sell. Retailers, after all, are in the best position to investigate and ensure the quality and safety of the goods they sell before they get to the shelf. Product liability laws in many states also help to ensure that all entities in the distribution line of a product are held accountable for the safety of the goods they sell. In many states, including Florida, a retailer is liable along with the manufacturer and distributor of the defective product if that prodcut harms a consumer. This makes perfect sense. Often times a remote Chinese manufacturer may not be able to be identified by the consumer. The retailer and distributor, however, can make sure that the manufacturer stands financially behind the safety of the product by demanding that they purchase insurance and comply with safety standards. If retailers do not take precautions to verify the safety of the products they sell or to make sure that they are dealing with responsible manufacturers then the retailer will be held financially accountable. After all, the product would never make it to the shelf in the retailer did not buy it and put it there for sale to the public.
For more information on this subject, please refert o our section on Defective and Dangerous Products.