Effect Measure

Consumer safety: you connect the dots

Here are two separate but related stories. One is about lunch boxes (h/t Melanie of Just a Bump in the Beltway fame). One is about cronyism and sucking up to business in the Bush Administration. First lunch boxes:

Story #1, lunchboxes:

In 2005, when government scientists tested 60 soft, vinyl lunchboxes, they found that one in five contained amounts of lead that medical experts consider unsafe — and several had more than 10 times hazardous levels.

But that’s not what they told the public.

Instead, the Consumer Product Safety Commission released a statement that they found “no instances of hazardous levels.” And they refused to release their actual test results, citing regulations that protect manufacturers from having their information released to the public.

That data was not made public until The Associated Press received a box of about 1,500 pages of lab reports, in-house e-mails and other records in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed a year ago. (CNN)

The CPSC explanation is that while the lunch boxes do contain undue levels of lead, if you wipe the outside of the lunch boxes you find very little lead comes off. Thus the amount of lead on the hands or the food of children is negligible and not a hazard. Of course if you wanted to dispose of the lunch box, you’d have to consider it a hazardous waste.

The FDA attitude is not quite so laissez faire:

Although these test results are only now being aired publicly, the CPSC did provide them to the Food and Drug Administration last summer. The FDA’s reaction was completely different from the CPSC’s. In July 2006, after receiving the test results, the FDA sent a letter to lunch box manufacturers warning them that their lead levels might be dangerously high and advising them that the FDA might take action against them because the lead would be considered a food additive if it rubbed off onto kids’ lunches.

Some retailers have stopped selling the lunchboxes and some manufacturers have changed their processes to eliminate the lead. Not necessary, according to CPSC.

Story #2, cronyism:

Since January, the third seat on the CPSC Commission has been vacant. Until a third commissioner was named, CPSC couldn’t vote on new safety standards or take any action on civil penalties against firms that failed to report defective and hazardous products. The good news is that Bush has now named a new Commissioner and Chair. That’s also the bad news:

President Bush is expected to nominate the chief lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers, Michael Baroody, to chair the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The CPSC has left semi-neutered status, opting for the full procedure. ConsumerAffairs.com writes:

“Because of Baroody’s Republican ties and history of opposing strong safety regulation, his appointment is unlikely to be popular with the Democratic-controlled Congress.” (Consumerist)

How the Congress feels about it is irrelevant for the moment. This is another Bush recess appointment (like the John Bolton beauty at the UN). It doesn’t have to face congressional approval until after the adjournment of the 110th Congress in 2008. What are Baroody’s qualifications?

Baroody’s less than impressive pro-consumer biography is steeped almost exclusively in public relations work for major Republican figures. He served as Bob Dole’s Speechwriter and Executive Assistant, and later as a flack for the RNC and the Reagan White House. Baroody has served as the chief spokesmen for the National Association of Manufacturers, a group the San Francisco Chronicle described as “an industry group that opposes aggressive product-safety regulation and punitive fines.” (The Consumerist)

Story #1. Story #2. You connect the dots.


  1. #1 v
    February 22, 2007


  2. #2 albatross
    February 22, 2007

    So, what is a good approach to live with this kind of corruption? It’s not a new phenomenon, after all, nor really even a partisan one. One lesson seems to be to have some skepticism about the willingness of regulatory agencies to protect the public, when it costs influential people a lot of money. But while tests of safety of consumer products can be done by private organizations like Consumer Reports or the Insurance Institute, a lot of public health and environmental protection stuff simply can’t be done without government power.

  3. #3 revere
    February 22, 2007

    albatross: No, it’s not new nor is it completely partisan. But some administrations are better (or worse) than others and this one is very bad. Solutions? One is the one you and I are part of: information dissemination. In the past it wasn’t as easy to let a lot of people know what was going on. I found out about it on the internet. You found out about it from me, on the internet. Etc. There are now means of information dissemination that will make it harder and more costly for administrations to do this kind of thing. They will still want to, but it will be harder. And when it enters into the sphere of public discourse, as it is at this very moment, the costs go up further.

    It’s not a complete solution. I don’t think there is a complete or foolproof solution. But it is a mechanism to discourage this.

  4. #4 pogie's mom
    February 22, 2007

    Free dissemination of information is necessary for a free populace. However, I am becoming increasingly worried that it may be possible for the wealthy and connected to control the internet venue as well.
    Just as China has made it impossible for their citizens to post most information without fear of discovery and punishment, I really believe that it is just as possible that our ruling class is increasingly able to control our internet.
    For instance, the young and somewhat thoughtless youtube posters have been recently warned that posting of certain informaton could very well be hazardous to their
    careers, their parents jobs, their general wellbeing.
    I am certain that webcrawlers are developed that could easily, for a fee, track down all postings, e-mails, comments and criticisms, purchase orders, and so on that have been sent from any given computer/location/isp and be used by large companies in job evaluations, promotion planning, and even whether to do business with a person at all. Companies regularly check worker’s credit ratings etc. and many people are shocked and surprised when they find out it is done on them.
    Enough corporate leaders have lost jobs and gone to jail over e-mail information discovered in audits, and their experiences have been so painful, I am sure that it has made an impression on most corporate types how well they are able to use computer comunication to take down any opposition.
    Encryption an answer? I don’t know —

  5. #5 crfullmoon
    February 23, 2007

    Oh boy, what an interesting time to change the rules about meat inspection –

New comments have been disabled.