By Jackie Crosby

In a rare joining of hands, retailers and congressional leaders are coming together to improve toy safety standards after an angst-ridden summer in which tens of millions of Chinese-made products have been recalled.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., joined Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., at a news conference in Chicago on Monday to announce efforts to both beef up enforcement by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and to simplify the recall process.

In recent days, the lawmakers have been meeting with representatives of Mattel, Walgreens, Toys 'R' Us and Target, who have indicated support for greater government involvement, Klobuchar said.

"Retailers are clearly interested in advancing legislation that will give consumers confidence again in their toys," Klobuchar said in a phone interview.

Klobuchar, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, said she will present legislation next month to tighten regulations.

The proposal would force toymakers to imprint information such as the batch number and manufacturing date on both the packaging and the product itself, a move that would make it easier for retailers and consumers to identify hazardous products.

Target spokeswoman Brie Heath said in an e-mail that toy safety remains a "top priority" and that solutions to the ongoing issue "lie in cooperation and best thinking between regulators, manufacturers and retailers."

While national chain stores and other mainstream retailers can stop the sale of a recalled toy immediately by putting the information into their computers, too many unsafe products stay on the shelves of smaller stores with less-sophisticated inventory procedures, toy safety advocates say.

Putting such information on the product also would help locate and crack down on what Klobuchar called "bad actors" who continue to sell recalled toys. Currently, it is not a crime to knowingly sell a recalled toy, a loophole the safety commission is asking Congress to close.

Durbin's bill would give the safety commission more money and authority to test products.

Minneapolis-based Target Corp., is among the retailers working to develop some kind of a stamp of approval that would show that the product had been tested by a third party, Klobuchar said.

"One of the things that emerged from the meetings [with retailers] is the need for more testing," Klobuchar said. "Nobody's questioning the testing; it's just that there isn't enough testing. Batches get through untested."

The lead poisoning death of 4-year-old Jarnell Brown of Minneapolis last year caught the attention of local and state lawmakers and has given the toy safety issue greater urgency.

"Parents have the right to expect that toys are tested and problems found before they reach a child's toy box," Klobuchar said.

Meanwhile in Beijing, a top Chinese quality official on Monday blamed faulty American designs and conflicting global standards for the mass recalls.

The comments were the latest in China's effort to show it is striving to overcome safety woes and is a trustworthy manufacturer.

Li Changjiang, director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, said 85 percent of Chinese-made toys recalled by Mattel "were directly designed by the American company and produced according to requirements of the American importer," Li said. "There are serious problems in their design, so they are highly dangerous for children. These types of toys would be recalled in any country."