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Defective Products: Warnings about ATV, CPSC Powerless

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Stafford, TXLately, a plethora of defective products have been linked to China - everything from tainted wheat gluten showing up in pet food to diethylene glycol in kiddie toothpaste.

(Diethylene glycol, by the way, is a toxic chemical used in the production of anti-freeze.)

diethylene glycol in kids toothpasteGiven the responsibility manufacturers and marketers carry for the safety and performance of their products, prudence must be the watchword when it comes to the origin of the product, and the parts that go into making them.

The latest troubled import and troubling commentary to hit the news is another product aimed at children. Among the safety defects of the Meerkat 50 Youth All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV), are a lack of front brakes and the ability to start the ATV in gear. The latter could easily throw a child off the unit, risking head or neck injuries from an unexpected fall.

In an announcement that carries ominous overtones but few, if any regulatory teeth, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warned during the first week of June that children are at 'severe risk of injury or death' due to multiple safety defects inherent with the Meerkat 50 ATV.

Imported by Kazuma Pacific Inc. of Stafford, Texas - the Meerkat 50 also has no parking brake, lacks a neutral indicator light, and carries incomplete information regarding safe operation and maintenance in its' owner's manual.

The CPSC recommends that owners of the ATV should stop using the product immediately, and return the unit to the point of purchase. Due to the unsafe nature of the ATV, anything less than a full refund of the purchase price is not acceptable, in the Commission's view.

The Meerkat 50 retails for between $525 and $825, depending on mode of sale. Many have been sold on-line, and the Meerkat has been in circulation since 2003.

Lame-Duck CPSC

The Consumer Products Safety Commission has been attempting to persuade Kazuma Pacific to address the identified safety concerns since December of last year, but indicate that Kazuma has resisted. Requests by the CPSC for complete incidence data or injury reports have not proven successful, shutting the Commission out from knowing how many children, if any, have been injured.

At minimum, 2,700 Meerkat 50 ATVs have been sold, and the CPSC indicates that Kazuma Pacific is continuing to vend the products despite the safety concerns.
The ATVs are marketed to children between the ages of 6, and 11.

At this stage, all the CPSC can do is continue articulating its concern about the ATVs, and lobby the importer for co-operation. Beyond that, it is powerless.

That's because the Commission has been without a quorum since July of last year, when former Chairman Hal Stratton resigned. President Bush's nominee for replacement, Michael Baroody (alleged to be no friend of product safety), withdrew from the nomination just one day shy of the scheduled vote in late May. It was suggested that there was too much opposition for his nomination to go forward, so he withdrew.

The Consumer Product Safety Act, which governs the CPSC, strips the two remaining commissioners of their regulatory powers if they have been without a quorum for longer than six months. As such, the CPSA has no authority to requisition data, or levy fines until a third potential commissioner is nominated and approved, and if past experience is any indication that could be a slow process. The Safety Commission has been without a quorum since last summer.

It can be assumed that manufacturers are well aware of this situation, and relish the opportunity to keep unsavoury and potentially damaging information away from the public conscience. For its part, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is doing everything it can legally do, in the face of an impossible limitation, by issuing the stern warning about the Kazuma Pacific Meerkat 50 Youth ATV.

It also serves as another verse in the now-familiar refrain, lamenting the quality of many products coming out of China, and points to the need for ongoing assurances that both the manufactured products, and/or the raw materials that present such an attraction to the bottom line, do not also pose a risk to health and safety. The upcoming summer games in Beijing notwithstanding, China has been taking the heat in the quality department ever since the Menu Foods tainted pet food scandal broke this year, and importers may want to tread carefully when inking deals with the developing nation.

In the end, China may get the blame, but the importer gets the bill.

And all it takes is one lawsuit, and one grieving parent profiled in the media, to effectively sway public opinion.

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