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Public Statements

Product Safety

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

PRODUCT SAFETY -- (Senate - September 10, 2007)


Mr. BROWN. Mr. President, last week, Mattel, the maker of Barbie and Elmo and Barney toys, issued its third recall of tainted products from China just in the last month. Toothpaste, tires, toys--when ``made in China'' becomes a warning label, something is very wrong. Our trade policy should prevent these problems, not invite them. Clearly, our trade policy has failed. Yet anyone who disagrees with America's trade experts is labeled a protectionist, as if that is a bad word. It is not only our moral obligation to protect our communities, protect our families, protect our children from contaminated, possibly deadly products, as Members of Congress it is our duty to protect them.

Last year, the United States imported from China $288 billion worth of goods, much of it food and toys and vitamins and dog food. Not only is China weak in unenforced health and safety regulations, as the Washington Post revealed again today, it aggressively foists on vulnerable nations contaminated food and products.

China sends formaldehyde-laced children's candy, mercury-laced makeup, and fungus-infested dried fruits to unsuspecting consumers in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Hong Kong--a part of China--nations largely reliant upon Communist China for trade and for aid. Our country has worked hard to build safe working places, to build a reliable, healthy food supply, and to ensure that our drinking water is pure and safe. For 100 years, workers, community leaders, elected officials, advocates, labor union activists, people of faith in their synagogues and in their churches, took on some of the world's most powerful corporations to make sure our food and our products were safe. Unrestricted, unregulated free trade with China threatens these gains and jeopardizes our public health. Why would we expect otherwise? China doesn't enforce food safety, doesn't enforce consumer product safety, doesn't enforce worker safety in its own country for its own people. Why would we expect--with this wide-open trade arrangement with the People's Republic of China, why would we expect that Communist government, which cares little about its own citizens--why would we expect them to ship us uncontaminated vitamins? Why would we expect them to ship us products that are safe? Why would we be surprised when toys are coated with lead-based paint or vitamins are contaminated?

As of now, there is little interest among the Chinese in changing the way we and they do business. Our trade deficit with China exceeded $250 billion last year.

So what is to be done? Since the Chinese Communist party forbids third party inspectors on Chinese soil, we either buy less--much less--from China, or we hold importers responsible for the safety of the products they bring into our country. First of all, we must increase the number of food and consumer product safety inspectors. Less than 1 percent of all imported vegetables and fruits and seafoods and grains are inspected at the border--less than 1 percent.

Mattel is to be commended for taking the proactive step of an internal investigation into the recall of products. But such action should be the rarity, not the norm, which is why we cannot in our Nation's best interests focus solely on consumer threats from China.

The real threat is our failed trade policy that allows--and in fact encourages in some ways--recall after recall after recall. The real threat is our failure to change course and craft a new trade policy. The real threat is this administration's insistence not just on continuing these trade relationships, but on building more of the same: More trade pacts that send U.S. jobs overseas, more trade pacts that allow companies and countries to ignore the rules of fair trade, and more trade pacts that will lead to more recalls.

The administration and its free trade supporters in Congress are gearing up for another trade fight. They want to force on our Nation--a nation that in November demanded change in every State in the Union--they want to force on our Nation more trade agreements with Peru and Panama, Colombia and South Korea, all based on the same failed trade model.

FDA inspectors have rejected seafood imports from Peru and Panama. Yet the President is suggesting trade agreements with Peru and Panama. Yet the current trade agreements--as written--limit food safety standards and continue to ignore real border inspections. Adding insult to injury, the agreements would force the United States to rely on foreign inspectors who aren't doing their jobs to ensure our safety. We have seen how well that worked in China.

More of the same in our trade policy will mean exactly what we have seen now with China: more contaminated imports; more unsafe, dangerous toys; more recalls. It is time for a new direction in our Nation's trade policy.

As my friend from North Dakota says, we want plenty of trade. We want trade--plenty of it--but we want it under different rules. It is time for a trade policy that ensures the safety of food on our kitchen tables and toys in our children's bedrooms.

Everyone agrees on one thing: We want more trade with countries around the world, but our first responsibility in the Senate is to protect the safety and the health of our families first.

Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, would the Senator from Ohio yield for a question?

Mr. BROWN. I would love to.

Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, the Senator from Ohio has spoken often about trade issues, and I have as well. We have talked a lot about the issue of workers, the impact of free-trade agreements on workers in this country, and the downward pressure on their income and the outsourcing of American jobs. We have talked a lot about its impact on the environment; being able to produce, for example, in China and pump effluents into the air and chemicals into the water and encouraging corporations to move to produce where they can hire people for 20 cents an hour, 30 cents an hour, and pump their pollutants into the air and the water unimpeded.

We have not talked previously much about this issue of protecting consumers. I would just say to my colleague that I spoke last week about a young boy, a 4-year-old boy, who swallowed a little heart-shaped charm--a little heart-shaped charm--and died. Why? Because that heart-shaped charm was made of 99 percent lead coming from China. Well, we know the impact of lead on human health. Ben Franklin described that. It is not something that is new. Yet we have these products now coming into this country with lead because it is cheap. It is bright. So we have all of this lead coming in.

My colleague describes the circumstance now as a ``race to the bottom'' with respect to consumer standards. We have always known that is what is going on with these free-trade agreements with respect to labor standards and environmental standards. But is it also the case--I would ask the Senator from Ohio is it also the case that this is a race to the bottom with respect to consumer standards, by passing these free-trade agreements and doing nothing to insist that the conditions abroad are the conditions that we require at home with respect to what is used in the production is safe for consumers, and so on?

Mr. BROWN. Mr. President, Senator Dorgan is exactly right. The tragedy of the young boy who swallowed the little toy made of lead is that it is less expensive to use lead. It is easier to paint. The paint dries quicker. All of that when you use lead. So when we have this race to the bottom, when our companies go to China and are looking for the cheapest way to make products, and then to import those products, export them from China, import them back into the United States, you are going to see that race to the bottom.

We have seen it with contaminated toothpaste, we have seen it with vitamins, we have seen it with inulin in apple juice, and we see it in toy after toy after toy made by Fisher Price, made by Mattel, some of the most respected companies in our country.

Until we change the trade policy when we are dealing with a country that doesn't protect its own consumers, doesn't do much for its own clean water, its clean air and safe drinking water, doesn't do much for its workers, we know this race to the bottom will continue. That is why the Senator's efforts on trade issues and our efforts jointly on trade issues are so important. We want more trade, and we want plenty of it, but we want it under different rules that protect American families.

Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, if the Senator would yield further for a question, it was, I believe, about a century ago when Upton Sinclair wrote the famous book that launched an effort in this country that decided to protect consumers. He was describing conditions in the slaughterhouses. Once people read what he described, they insisted--they demanded--protection for consumers. He talked about the rats in the slaughterhouses and how they would take pieces of bread, loaves of bread, slices of bread, and lace them with poison and lay them around so that the rats would eat the poison and die, the bread would poison the rats. It was all shoved down the same hole, and out the other hole came meat to be sold to the American consumer. There was a demand on behalf of the consumer to stand up for the protection of the American consumer.

So over a century, we lifted standards in this country to protect Americans, to protect consumers. Oh, I know some consider it regulation which is, in their minds, something we should never do, but we regulate to protect people. It is the case with the global economy.

I would ask my colleague from Ohio, it is the case, is it not, with the global economy that if you don't have rules that keep pace with the galloping global economy, you see downward pressure on American wages? Because it is unfair to workers--to ask a worker from Ohio or North Dakota to compete with someone who will work in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, or China to work for 20 cents an hour; it is unfair to those of us who care about the environment--and there is only one fishbowl. We all live in the same fishbowl, and we breathe the China haze in the United States--and it is also unfair to consumers who believe that for over a century we raised standards to protect them and now we discover we have been engaged in a race to the bottom to obliterate those standards by those who are able to produce abroad.

Is this not the case?

Mr. BROWN. Exactly. As we weaken those standards, as we have this wide-open trade arrangement with a country that doesn't respect those standards and has a history of undermining any standards like that, it is intensified by the fact that we have seen in our own country a weakening of consumer products, safety laws, and we have seen a scaling back of the number of food inspectors at the U.S.-Mexican border and in other places. So the first job--and I know the Senator thinks in North Dakota, and I think in Ohio that U.S. Senators protect our families. And the best way to do that is stronger consumer product laws, stronger health and safety laws, and not to allow them to be undercut and not to allow them to be unenforced.

So I thank my friend from North Dakota for his interest, and I also want to lend support for his amendment that he is about to introduce that deals with the same kinds of issues; in this case truck safety, and how important that is to all of us.

I yield the floor, Mr. President.


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