NEW YORK (AP) - Sen. Charles Schumer says American consumers are in greater danger than realized from food and other products from China, and an ''import czar'' is needed to make sure hazardous shipments do not slip through a maze of agencies and inadequate safety checks.
Responding to recent disclosures about tainted seafood, toothpaste and automobile tires, the New York Democrat told a news conference on Sunday that more than 100 shipments of Chinese goods have been blocked from entering the Port of New York and New Jersey this year so far, but called that ''only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to contaminated and dangerous Chinese goods coming to the United States.''
Schumer said neither the U.S. nor Chinese governments conduct sufficient safety inspections on a myriad of imports, ranging from veterinary drugs to jewelry and toys with lead paint to chocolate that contained undeclared peanuts as an ingredient and aflatoxins, a carcinogen.
The hazards from Chinese imports first came to public attention when dangerous ingredients were found in pet food and toothpaste. More recently, more than 1 million Chinese-made tires were found to be faulty, along with 1.2 million ceramic space heaters with faulty power cords and 68,000 folding chairs that tend to collapse. In addition, certain kinds of seafood were found to be tainted.
''There is no question that too many Chinese manufacturers and food producers put the bottom line ahead of safety,'' he said in a statement. ''Agencies regulating the safety of imported goods need to do more to address this worsening crisis ... the fact that every week we have to frantically pull Chinese goods off store shelves shows that our safeguards are failing.''
Chinese officials have said the nation's exported products are safe and have criticized U.S. countermeasures as unnecessary.
Schumer said a half dozen agencies, including the Federal Drug Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Agriculture, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Consumer Product Safety Commission and U.S. Trade Representative, have oversight or inspection roles concerning imports.
He said a U.S. Department of Commerce ''import czar'' should be appointed to ''get control of the wide-open U.S. monitoring system'' by coordinating all agency efforts to protect consumers. Calls to the Commerce Department seeking comment on Sunday went unreturned.
Schumer also urged tougher labeling standards requiring the listing of all non-domestic ingredients in foreign food, vitamins and cosmetics. He also called for a stop to what he said was the FDA's practice of giving advance notice of upcoming inspections.