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The Latest Children’s Clothing & Crib Recalls: By Definition, Insanity

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Although the quote has been attributed to Einstein, no one knows who said it first. But, whoever it was, their words were indeed genius:

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Case in point: In the month of May, alone, nearly 25,850 defective children’s sweatshirts and jackets have been recalled, because their drawstrings created a strangulation hazard. In April, there were 24,300. In March, a staggering 50,295. But February wins the prize for insanity, with 227,200 of these sweatshirts and jackets recalled.

Actually, this goes beyond insanity. Consider this: In 1994, in response to 17 child deaths and 42 serious accidents, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) presented evidence to the garment industry that these drawstrings, “could kill children.” The neck drawstrings could — and had killed children by strangulation, when the drawstrings got caught on slides and fences where children played, or on their crib rails. The waist drawstrings could — and had killed children by getting unknowingly caught in school bus or car doors, then dragging the children until they fell under the wheels of the moving vehicle. These drawstrings could — and had killed children whose drawstrings got entangled and pulled them into death matches with escalators, farm machinery, ski lifts….

The garment industry “promised that garments without these drawstrings would be available to consumers beginning with the Spring or Fall 1995 clothing lines.” What they didn’t promise, however, was to stop making them entirely.

In 1996, the CPSC again presented their evidence to the garment industry, only this time, they provided written guidelines (see the hood/neck guideline, below), hoping that the garment industry would voluntarily comply and stop using drawstrings. The following year, in 1997, the ASTM (the American Society for Testing and Materials, in charge of testing children’s clothing for safety) adopted the CPSC guidelines as part of their “voluntary consensus standard” titled, ASTM 1816-97, for the clothing industry. Mind you, neither the CPSC or the ASTM ever breathed the words, “ban” or “mandatory” in their guidelines and standards. They left it to the discretion of the garment industry to stop making clothing that “could kill children.”

Consumer Product Safety Commission Guidelines, issued in February 1996

Nearly 10 years later, and in the wake of more deaths and serious injuries, the CPSC decided in 2006 to post a letter on its website “to the manufacturers, importers and retailers of children’s upper outerwear, citing the fatalities and urging them to comply with the industry standard, ASTM F 1816-97. The letter explained that the CPSC staff considers children’s upper outerwear with drawstrings at the hood or neck area to be defective and to present a substantial risk of injury under section 15(c) of the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA), 15 U.S.C. 1274(c).” To give teeth to their pleas, the CSPC also advised that they would slap these manufacturers, retailers and importers with civil fines if they continued making defective clothing. Of course, the CPSC has rarely followed through on this threat.

Is it any wonder, then, that in the year 2010, these drawstring garments continue to be manufactured by the billions and recalled by the millions each year? Is it any wonder that, since the CPSC issued its first warning in 1994, another dozen children — ages 2 through 14 — have been strangled or maimed or pulled into machinery or dragged under the wheels of moving vehicles in accidents caused by these drawstrings?

Here, it’s difficult to know who to blame. Do we blame the manufacturers (dozens of them in 2010, alone, hailing from all over the globe, from China to Mexico, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Peru, Pakistan, India and the U.S.) who have spent the past 16 years thumbing their nose at the evidence that their garments “could kill children”? Or should we blame the CPSC and the ASTM for their milquetoast response to these deaths? Or should we blame the retailers (e.g. various department stores & boutiques, but especially Burlington Coat Factory, which carries the bulk of these recalled garments) for repeatedly stocking their shelves with these sweatshirts, jackets and coats? Or do we blame the consumers, who keep the law of supply and demand alive by continually buying these defective clothes?

Whoever is to blame, the fact remains that — in 2010 alone — there have been 327,645 children’s garments recalled because they were made with built-in hangman’s nooses. Granted, the short-term remedy is simple enough. Remove the drawstrings or, if they’re sewn in, cut the strings off before allowing the child to wear the garment. But this really isn’t enough. After all, this same insanity has been playing out for years with other children’s products — from toys to jewelry to furniture & accessories.

During the first 5 months of 2010, for instance, there have been over 1.5 million cribs recalled due to suffocation and strangulation hazards. This is just a fraction of the 7 million that have been recalled over the past 5 years — a toll that doesn’t even take into account the number of recalled Simplicity brand cribs sold over the past decade or so, whose numbers are unknown and, according to the CSPC, can’t be counted. Since 2000, forty-six children have been killed in defective cribs. Many more have been injured, some suffering permanent brain damage.

Just this month, the CSPC again issued a “warning” to parents against using drop-side cribs (a warning that encompasses just about any crib brand or manufacturer you could name: Storkcraft, Graco, Simplicity and Fisher Price, along with a slew of “boutique” brands). The parents got a warning, while the manufacturers still have carte blanche to keep making them until the proposed ban on the sale of these cribs takes effect at year’s end.

In response, some, but not all crib manufacturers have promised to stop making drop-side cribs real soon, no kidding. Of course, drop-sides are not the only dangerous flaw to crib designs. The manufacturers know this, and so do the CPSC and ASTM. One design flaw, which I personally found present among the inventory of every single crib retailer I recently visited (from elite boutiques to department stores, and from $150 cribs to $1500 cribs) were corner posts and design elements on the upper crib rail that extended over 1/16″ in height — a potentially deadly flaw that is nothing short of criminal on the part of the crib manufacturers. They know better.

For their part, the ASTM has announced plans to introduce tougher guidelines on cribs by year’s end, which will hopefully be tougher than their existing standards and testing, which gave a green light to most of the 7 million cribs that have been recalled over the past 5 years. Not to mention the millions of drawstring garments that have been recalled since the ASTM issued their voluntary standards 13 years ago.

On a related note, the CPSC is still hard at work on those drawstrings. Sixteen years ago, the CPSC described their efforts to stop the sale of these garments as a “fiery determination and creativity to solve the problem.” Today, the CPSC is poised to make a rule that will “enhance understanding in the [garment] industry about how the Commission views such garments.” Reading that line, I can almost hear Scarlett O’Hara breathing those words into Rhett’s ear, using her sultriest southern accent.  The CPSC’s goal is modest. They simply want to rephrase their earlier plea to the garment industry, changing the verbiage to reflect this truth: children’s clothing with drawstrings “constitutes substantial product hazards.”

Granted, the wording isn’t quite as strong as it was 16 years ago, when the CPSC advised the garment industry that such clothing “could kill children.”  But, heck, maybe the CPSC is onto something. Maybe that’s the key: tone down the verbiage, and quit prattling on about dead children. Try that, and see if those manufacturers don’t stop making products that could kill children.  If that doesn’t work, heck, ten years down the road, you can always consider a law to ban the things outright.

There’s a word for people who do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. It’s called insanity. But I wouldn’t necessarily accuse manufacturers of dangerous children’s clothing, cribs, jewelry and toys as being insane, just soulless. They’ve done the math. The payout in potential lawsuits for wrongful deaths and injuries pales in comparison to the killing they can make selling defective items. And apparently business is good enough that — even with billions of recalled products each year — there’s still big money in manufacturing dangerous products. The retailers, such as Burlington Coat Factory, have done the math, too. They know that —  even with the occasional $600,000 civil penalty for selling hazardous products — there’s a killing to be made retailing defective goods. For their part, the CPSC and the ASTM are, at best, impotent to fulfill their roles as the vanguards of product safety; at worst, they’re in the pockets of industry, just like everyone else.

But the consumers who knowingly buy these defective products over and over and over — they’re the ones who sustain the demand for defective products. Whether it’s a hangman’s noose, a death trap disguised as a crib, a pretty trinket laced with cadmium and lead, or a toy with small parts that even a monkey could see would choke a child, the consumers keep buying them.

The sane thing would be to stop buying defective products. Stop buying drop-side cribs, clothing with drawstrings, cheap children’s jewelry from China, toys with small parts. Then, like magic, the manufacturers would stand up and do the right thing. They’d stop making them faster than you can say show me the bottom line. They might even roll out a campaign, patting themselves on the back for taking the initiative to stop selling dangerous products for children. Let them do this. The important thing is that the children — past, present and future — who are killed by these products do not die in vain.

For more information or to take action:

CRIB SAFETY: For more advice on crib safety, and how to assess if your crib is safe, visit the CPSC pages, Safe Sleep Part I: The Crib and Crib Safety Tips.

CLOTHING SAFETY: Read CPSC’s documentation and proposed new rule, dated May 17, 2010 and titled, “The Determination That Children’s Upper Outerwear in Sizes 2T to 12 With Neck or Hood Drawstrings and Children’s Upper Outerwear in Sizes 2T to 16 With Certain Waist or Bottom Drawstrings Are a Substantial Product Hazard.”

  • From this same webpage, you can also access the Federal eRulemaking Portal, where you can submit your own comments on the CPSC’s proposed rule. To leave a comments, simply follow the link to the Federal eRulemaking Portal, then enter the CPSC document number CPSC-2010-0043 into the keyword/ID space on this page and click “search.” This will take you to a page where you can leave a comment. A sample comment might read: As a member of the American public, which your agency serves to protect from dangerous products, I would demand that the CPSC set aside this latest effort to urge voluntary compliance with the garment industry. I would ask that you put an immediate end to 16 years of ineffective CPSC guidelines and, instead, institute an outright mandatory ban on the types of drawstring garments you describe in your proposed rule. To do any less pays a grave disrespect to the painful lessons left by the children who were killed by these dangerous products.

PRODUCT RECALLS: To keep up to date on current product recalls, make regular visits to the CPSC Recall pages, where you can also observe an insane pattern, as the same types of dangerous products get recalled over and over and over again. While you’re at it, you may as well also visit the FDA Recalls pages, where you can see the latest food and drug recalls. Here, you will also observe a similarly insane pattern, as the same types of dangerous products get recalled over and over and over again.

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The Latest Food & Product Recalls (Fool you twice, shame on you)

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The latest food recall, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), involves “140,000 pounds of fully cooked assorted meat products because they contain an undeclared allergen, wheat starch.” My gripe today isn’t so much with the “undeclared” ingredient, even as this could pose a serious health risk for someone with wheat allergies. I”ve pretty much come to accept that most of the food we eat comes with “undeclared” ingredients, with China winning the prize for frequency and the level of danger.

No, my gripe today is with the utter absence of mention in the official recall notice of the country of origin on these meat products:

  • 14-ounce packages of “GIO LUA TAY HO PORK MEAT LOAF WRAPPED IN BANANA LEAVES FULLY COOKED.”
  • 13-ounce packages of “BO VIEN TAY HO BEEF MEAT BALL FULLY COOKED.”
  • 14-ounce packages of “DOI GIO HEO TAY HO CURED PORK HOCK SAUSAGE WITH ONION WRAPPED IN PORK SKIN FULLY COOKED.”
  • 15-ounce packages of “CHA CHIIEN TAY HO FRIED PORK PATTIE FRIED IN VEGETABLE OIL FULLY COOKED.”
  • 13-ounce packages of “BO VIEN GAN TAY HO BEEF MEAT BALL WITH BEEF TENDON FULLY COOKED,”

We know this much: this meat was distributed by Westlake Food Corporation, which is variously listed as being “based in” or an “establishment of” Santa Ana, California. But where in the hell were these 140,000 pounds of meat actually processed?

A little digging tells me that Westlake Food Corporation is actually called West Lake Food Corporation. A little more digging tells me that West Lake Food Corporation does not actually process this meat, but is merely an importer/buyer of meats and other meat-like products (including something called “artificial chicken flavor powder”) from Taiwan and China . A little more digging tells me absolutely nothing. My hunch is that, even I held one of these packages of meat in my hands, I’d still not know where it came from, even as I can pretty much bet the bank that the meat was raised and processed in China or Taiwan.

Usually, questions about country of origin can be resolved by contacting a company directly and asking them straight out, as this info is almost never given on their website. In the case of West Lake Foods, however, there is no website. I’ve written the USDA and asked that they begin noting the country-of-origin (who actually made the crap?) with their recall notices. That and a dollar will get me a cup of coffee.

My final gripe on the West Lake recall is that the USDA lists the West Lake meats as being “produced” between April 15 of last year and April 14, 2010. That could very well be true, but I doubt it. Chances are slim to none that the same meat frozen last Wednesday in China has already arrived in port, via a slow boat to USA, and been distributed in the course of 4 days. Would a little better accuracy be too much to ask from the USDA?

UPDATE 4/19/2010 (only 1 hour after writing this post): The USDA responded to my query and informed me that Westlake/West Lake Foods is, indeed, the official processor of these meets at their facility in Santa Ana. (I still beg to differ, as I’ll explain in a moment). This same USDA employee also advised me that the country-of-origin of any company can be found via this page on the USDA website by simply looking up the company’s name or their designated establishment number.  Here, I found that Westlake is officially designated as THE processor of the recalled meats. I have yet to be convinced that West Lake/West Lake Foods (also doing business as Tay Ho Foods),an food importer, actually processes these meats, themselves, except to the extent they may buy tons of already-processed meat from China or Taiwan (such as “Cured Pork Ear and Snout” or “Beef Meat Balls with Beef Tendon,” or “Pork Meat Paste”) then RE-package these products at the Westlake/West Lake/Tay Ho facility in Santa Ana. If that’s the case, it seems there should be a distinction between processing and re-packing products that have already been processed. If it’s not the case, I’d love to be enlightened. Any takers?

With this in mind, I have 3 pieces of advice for the American consumer:

  1. Find out where your food comes from. If you can’t find the information, chances are, it came from China.
  2. If it came from China, don’t buy it and don’t eat it. (I know, this really isn’t possible anymore, but it’s something to aspire to. At the very least, however, you should know where it came from.)
  3. By the same token, you can’t really trust stuff from anywhere, including the USA — especially meat. So it’s a really good idea to avoid all meat (Americans eat too much of it, anyway) and to keep yourself updated on the latest recalls, most of which we never hear about.

Keep in mind that less than 1/2 of one-percent of products entering this country (e.g. food, drugs, cosmetics, toys, dishes, furniture, electronics, appliances, fabrics, etc.) are inspected or tested before being passed onto the consumer. An equally miniscule number of products ever undergo testing by the USDA, FDA or CPSC. And — no matter what the country-of-origin — shoddy, dangerous or toxic products are not usually discovered until after the fact, once they’ve already been sold to and used by consumers. Here are two ordinary recalls from March/April of this year — a mere fraction of the contaminated items that may be on our store shelves at any given time:

  • Salmonella in upwards of 20 million pounds of Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein made since September 2009, courtesy of Basic Food Flavors Inc in Las Vegas, Nevada. Although this recall took place in March, it’s not old news just yet, and won’t be for a while. If you’re a consumer of even an ounce of food that you didn’t grow yourself,  you’ll want to take a closer look at this recall, which encompassed a slew of products. And don’t think you’re safe if you’re a vegan, vegetarian or organics-only consumer. This recall affects a complex chain of distributors, which will likely never be fully known. Here is but a tiny sampling of the known brands/retailers: Trader Joes, Kroger, Publix, McCormick, Durkee, French’s, Pringles, Safeway, Weber, T. Marzetti, National Pretzel Company. Have you bought any of these (or anything that contained any of these) in the past 6 months?
    • Bouillon Products
    • Dressing and Dressing Mix Products
    • Flavoring Base and Seasoning Products
    • Frozen Food Products
    • Gravy Mix Products
    • Prepared Salad Products
    • Ready-to-Eat Meal Products
    • Sauce and Marinade Mix Products
    • Snack and Snack Mix Products
    • Soup/Soup Mix and Dip/Dip Mix Products
    • Spread Products
    • Stuffing Products

If so, you’ll want to check out the official roster of brands, products and retailers. Because you might still have some of these products in your cabinets or freezer. That is, if you haven’t already eaten them and wondered, the next day, why your GI tract was all messed up. Perhaps you came down with fever, diarrhea (possibly with blood) nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Or maybe a mysterious heart infection. Or arthritis. Hopefully, this didn’t happen to any elderly people, young children or individuals with compromised immune systems, as it may have killed them.  That Basic Food Flavors, Inc. knew about this salmonella contamination for several months before the actual recall seems criminal, but I’m no lawyer. Here’s another recall:

  • Whole beef heads from North Dakota, which contain a “prohibited” ingredient. It seems that the good folk at North American Bison Co-Op forgot to remove the tonsils. And eating tonsils is as good a way as any to catch mad cow disease. According to the USDA, tonsils are considered a “specified risk material (SRM) and must be removed from cattle of all ages in accordance with FSIS regulations. SRMs are tissues that are known to contain the infective agent in cattle infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), as well as materials that are closely associated with these potentially infective tissues. Therefore, FSIS prohibits SRMs from use as human food to minimize potential human exposure to the BSE agent.” Note the word, ‘minimize.” The fact is, eating any beef from any country is the best way to date for playing Russian roulette with this disease, which will not hit you til years down the road, by which time, you’ll hard-pressed to guess which hamburger, which steak, which soup was the culprit. The only way to truly “minimize” your risk for catching mad cow disease is to not eat any beef at all, period.

But BSE isn’t the only danger lurking in meat. Even if you’re not savvy or particularly concerned about issues such as factory farming and the depletion/destruction of the earth’s resources, species and eco-systems, it’s a good idea, from the standpoint of personal safety, to cut out all meat — whether fish, fowl, pork or beast of burden. Either that, or keep your finger poised over the link to USDA recall bulletins as they arrive, because E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria (not to mention the various other unintentional or “undeclared” ingredients) are regular arrivals to the list. And with such a tiny percentage of contaminated products ever recalled, (and this, usually only once the meat has been distributed throughout the country) you are playing Russian roulette with any meat product you eat. Which is certainly your right, if that’s what you want.

Fool you once….

Here’s a list of recalled Current Recalls & Alerts from the USDA website. Includes all recalls from the past year that are still active.

Here’s the USDA’s list of Archived Recalls (recalls that have been officially completed) which is a kind of creepy list, if you compare the number of pounds that were recalled vs. the number of pounds actually recovered.

And while you’re at it, you may as well check out the April 2010 product recalls by the Consumer Product Safety Commission for the list of products recalled due to various contaminations (e.g. lead) or to manufacuring flaws ranging from faulty manufacturing to insanely dangerous. May as well also check out March and February and January. If you’re the observant sort, you might detect a pattern on these lists, as the same products seem to get recalled over and over again.

Fool you twice, shame on you

On this note, EARTH TO PARENTS: Since manufacturers (particularly those in China) can’t seem to learn from the experiences of the many parents who have suffered the most painful heartbreak imaginable from the injury, poisoning or death of their child from dangerous and inferior products, it’s up to you to be the guardian of your children and avoid buying products that, over and over, have shown to be dangerous. Here are a few tips:

  • Quit buying jewelry from China for your children. Very little of it gets tested, and a ridiculous amont of it is tainted with lead, cadmium, radioactive waste and whatever else is in the waste dumps they melt down to make into cheap jewelry.
  • Don’t buy toys, books and clothes from China. They’re likely to include anything from lead to arsenic, cadmium, formaldehyde, phthalates, radioactive waste and a host of other dangerous things.
  • Use your noodle and don’t buy toys for younger children that have small parts (anything smaller than 1-3/4″, aka anything that would fit inside a cardboard toilet-paper tube). These are choking hazards, and there’s no glue, screw or bolt that you can trust with the life of your child.
  • Don’t buy toys, clothes or books with small magnets smaller than the above-mentioned dimensions.
  • Don’t buy cribs with drop down-sides. They’re death traps.
  • Don’t buy any of these new sleeping apparatuses for children that have hit the market, such as playpen-bassinet combos. These are also death traps. Use your noodle. Research cribs, playpens, bassinets and cradles. Buy something safe, and steer away from newly-designed contraptions, which have been inadequately tested for safety, with living children being the lab rats in these experimental designs.
  • Avoid like hell mini-blinds from China and Taiwan, which are nearly always contaminated with lead and other heavy metals, which are dispersed into the air as dust.
  • And, for godsakes, don’t leave mini-blind cords where a child can be hung by them. Cut the damned things off, if that’s what it takes.
  • If you must buy jackets, sweatshirts and hoodies with ties around the neck or waist, cut the cords/strings off before you allow your child to wear them. Do you know that this is an accident waiting to happen? In my own town, within the span of 10 seconds, a 4-year old child went down the slide at his preschool and had his neck snapped, just like that. Dead in 10 seconds, no saving him. Avoid waist cords, too, which can get caught in, say, a school bus door, and become a bizarre accident and a parent’s worst nightmare.

These things and more are accidents waiting to happen. Why wait for a recall? Educate yourself and quit buying things that have been proven over and over and over and over and over again to be dangerous!
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Written by canarypapers

April 19, 2010 at 10:16 am