Can You Say “Conflict of Interest…?”

The popular myth in Washington D.C. that has been foisted upon the American public since 1981 is the idea that government is somehow inefficient and incompetent, and that guided by free market forces and motivated by profit, the private sector can do everything better and for less…saving you, the taxpayer, money. Now, on a local level and for many things, this is true. Small, locally-owned, and socially responsible private businesses in partnership with municipal and county governments have done some marvelous things to improve the lives of people. However, turning over the national commons to large, private corporate interests on a national scale has proven to be an unmitigated disaster–in Baghdad, New Orleans, Minneapolis, and even the nation’s capital itself.

Nonetheless, Congress is trying it again, this time with regards to testing products for asbestos content. As you are probably aware, a number of asbestos-containing toys from China as well as other potentially dangerous children’s products found their way onto toy store shelves this past December. Although there was little mention in the mainstream corporate media, a public outcry was nonetheless raised.

In response, Congress has passed bills that would ” plug holes in the government’s consumer safety net that have been letting hazardous products aimed at children slip through.” Sounds great, doesn’t it? Here’s the catch: under both the House and Senate bills, the job of “plugging the holes” by ensuring the safety of these products would be given to the same private laboratories that already work for the importers, manufacturers and retailers that market the defective products! The problem–so obvious that one would think a blind person could see it–is the fact that the tests performed by these labs are focused on confirmation that the products in question are in fact safe, and are paid for by the same importers, manufacturers and retailers.

In addition, these labs are in constant competition with each other for business from these companies. So if the folks at Jen-Erik Testing Labs find out that MegaCo.’s new Whatchamcallit Deluxe–manufactured in China–contains dangerous levels of asbestos, what do you think MegaCo., which has poured millions of dollars in R and D money into the product, is going to do? Louisiana personal injury lawyer John de Gravelles points out that the world’s largest retail chain, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., enjoys a “cozy relationship” with its main product testing lab, Consumer Testing Laboratories, Inc. “How rigorous the testing is… less determined by CTL than it is Wal-Mart,” de Gravelles said.

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