Bush backs tougher product safety measures

Advisory panel delivers 14 recommendations , including tougher penalties on companies importing unsafe products and giving mandatory recall power to the FDA.

By CNN's Adam Levine

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Tuesday said he backed tougher product safety measures that would give mandatory recall authority to the Food and Drug Administration and increase penalties on companies that import unsafe products into the United States.

The Interagency Working Group on Import Safety delivered a total of 14 broad recommendations and 50 action steps to Bush as part of its action plan to combat the growing number of unsafe products that are making their way to store shelves around the country.

"The sheer magnitude of the import-export enterprise makes clear that our nation cannot inspect its way to safety," the advisory panel said in a statement.

"Last year, the United States imported nearly $2 trillion of goods through more than 825,000 importers. Physically inspecting every item would bring international trade to a standstill. The action steps provide a road map for better protecting American consumers and enhancing the safety of the increasing volume of imports entering the United States," the panel said.

The new proposals include providing the FDA with the authority to require that producers of "high-risk" foods in a particular country certify that their products meet FDA standards in order to export to the United States.

Currently, the FDA must work with companies to encourage voluntary recalls

Bush said the FDA should be granted new authority to mandate a product recall when a company is either slow or refuses to recall an unsafe product.

The group suggested that Congress allow import safety and inspection agencies to strengthen their standards, where needed and increase penalties against both domestic and foreign companies that violate U.S. laws on product safety requirements.

The panel also asked to establish new incentives for importers to maintain stronger safety practices and suggested increasing training for foreign inspection agencies to ensure that safe products are exported to the United States.

The recommendations would necessitate an increase in budget for the agencies involved, including the FDA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, in order to allow for greater oversight, said Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, who heads the panel.

"Our report is quite specific that this will require more resources and calls on us to use the regular budget process not just in one year but ongoing years to make sure it's adequately funded," Leavitt told CNN Tuesday. "That's a very important part of our report."

-CNNMoney.com's Parija B. Kavilanz contributed to this report. Top of page