What if They Gave a Recall and Nobody Came?

March 22, 2002

Although recalls of consumer products have risen sharply, Americans are increasingly responding with a yawn. Experts say that a majority of products recalled at the government's behest are never returned by the purchasers -- even products that can injure or even kill children.

There are now so many recalls it's difficult for both average consumers and sophisticated users -- hospitals, for example -- to know about and act on all the warnings.

  • At the Food and Drug Administration -- which regulates products that account for 25 cents of every consumer dollar spent in the U.S. -- recalls jumped 24 percent last year from the year before.
  • Recalls issued by the Department of Agriculture jumped 14 percent -- and are up more than threefold since 1996.
  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission had more recalls in 2001 than in most years since 1990 -- and the total number of individual units recalled exceeded the number recalled in any year but 2000.

One worrisome, longstanding recall involves cedar chests made by Lane Furniture. In 1996, Lane recalled 12 million chests made between 1912 and 1987, because over the last 25 years 12 children died after accidentally locking themselves in the chests while playing.

Of the estimated 6.5 million chests still in use, only 115,600 owners have responded to the recall to have the locks replaced.

A direct-mail system to notify buyers of faulty products could help. According the Consumer Product Safety Commission, recalls without some sort of direct-mail are in the 25 percent range; with them, they can reach 90 percent. But even when companies notify owners of recalled products, recovery rates can lag.

Source: Chris Adams, "Product Recalls Are Rising Amid Concern That Public Ignores Them," Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2002.

 

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