Panel to recommend FDA be given power for mandatory recalls

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

WASHINGTON -- An advisory commission created in response to concerns about recalls of dangerous toothpaste, pet food and toys will recommend to President Bush that the Food and Drug Administration be empowered to order mandatory recalls of products deemed a risk to consumers, an administration official said Monday.

Currently, the FDA lacks the authority to order recalls, but works with producers on voluntary recalls. The new proposal would give the agency far more clout.

The panel also will urge 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.

The official said the proposals would strengthen CPSC's authority by making it illegal for firms 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 firms with a proven track record of meeting safety standards. The 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.

Another proposal calls for focusing resources on riskier products -- tires, for example.

Bush will receive the recommendations today from the advisory commission established in July to study import safety.

Details of the commission's recommendations were disclosed by an administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the recommendations have not been publicly released.

The Food and Drug Administration, which is part of the Health and Human Services Department, oversees the regulation of medical devices and more than $1 trillion annually worth of food, drugs, cosmetics, animal feed and other products, which account for 25 cents of every dollar spent each year by Americans.

The FDA currently cannot order a recall. Often, the government gets a product recalled by warning the company it could face bad publicity if it does not withdraw the item. The new proposal, which would give the agency the authority to mandate a recall, would have to be approved by Congress.

The CPSC, which oversees the safety of consumer products, has come under fire in recent months amid a string of recalls involving lead in toys made in China. Consumer groups and members of Congress have criticized the agency and its head, Nancy Nord, for not acting more quickly to get the items off store shelves. Like the FDA, the CPSC works with industry to arrange voluntary recalls of hazardous products.

Leavitt has likened the finding of unsafe imports to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

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