The last two years have produced countless recalls of toxic products and contaminated foods. Evidence continues to mount that some common chemicals are harmful, and criticisms have mounted that the government watchdogs appointed to police consumer goods and food are unwilling or unable to do the job.
Congress has passed legislation to bolster the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Food and Drug Administration. The Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, has repeatedly been accused of favoring corporations over citizens, and the USDA has struggled to keep contaminated meat out of stores.
Neither major party has made consumer product and food safety a central part of its agenda for the next administration. Neither major party candidate has any information on his Website about the issue. (Barack Obama did, in the primary campaign, discuss the need to better regulate the factory farms that have contributed to the outbreaks of E. coli-tainted beef.)
Tackling this issue would likely mean increasing the size of government, given the international nature of commerce, the complexity of the science of toxicity and the enormity of the task of inspections. That's not a platform most politicians think will win them votes. Neither John McCain or Obama were present for the Senate's vote on a historic overhaul of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which also banned the use of most lead and phthalates in children's products.
But few issues came home to Americans like the revelations around Christmas last year that thousands of toys were laced with toxic lead. For now, there's little to distinguish the two major party candidates on the issue, except to say that Democrats have traditionally been more apt to side with consumer advocates and vote for new government regulations.
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