By  on September 21, 2007

WASHINGTON — Facing intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill over the safety of imported lead-based toys and jewelry, retail and jewelry industry representatives said Thursday they would support a national lead standard for children's products, but cautioned against a total ban because it would place burdens on companies and their supply chains.

Lawmakers have stepped up pressure to overhaul the underfunded, understaffed Consumer Product Safety Commission in the wake of a growing controversy over contaminated Chinese imports. They are examining how U.S. business models allowed the tainted products to end up in stores and in the hands of consumers.

The House subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection wrapped up a two-day hearing during which business groups testified about their testing and quality control measures for children's lead-based products.

"To be sure, China is not without blame," said Rep. John Dingell (D., Mich.). "But regulatory deficiencies, shoddy business practices and the forces of globalization all play a substantial role in this catastrophe. In short, there is enough blame to go around."

Dingell said the committee should explore the structure of future U.S. trade agreements to strengthen product safety enforcement, what quality control practices U.S. businesses in China should use to ensure "supply chain integrity" and how the cost pressures large U.S. retailers put on manufacturers "diminish quality control."

U.S. retailers and importers are growing more anxious about the Congressional scrutiny amid several recalls of contaminated and defective products from China, and concern over injuries and deaths of children, as in the case of a four-year-old in Minneapolis who died after ingesting a piece of lead-painted jewelry that was sold with a new pair of shoes.

Lawmakers paid close attention Thursday to testimony from Dana Best, a pediatrician representing the American Academy of Pediatrics, who testified there are no safe levels of lead exposure for children.

"There is no reason lead should be used in any products," Best said. "If it is used, it's because it's cheaper than any other product."

But business groups and toy company executives said they are instituting new inspection, safety and quality control guidelines and defended the use of limited amounts of lead in products.

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