WASHINGTON (AP) — Customs, border protection and other agencies within the Homeland Security Department will do more to ensure the safety of imported food and other products, Secretary Michael Chertoff said Friday.
The work will complement — but not degrade — the department's higher-profile efforts to protect against terrorism, Chertoff said.
''They're all dimensions of the same responsibility,'' said Chertoff, adding that the effort builds on traditional responsibilities that elements of the agency have had for decades.
A fact sheet provided Friday said Customs and Border Protection officers already are performing ''extensive tests'' on imports to ensure they meet safety standards, including examining toys for lead. No further details were provided.
Just this week, Mattel Inc. recalled millions of Chinese-made toys because of lead-tainted paint and tiny magnets that could come off and be swallowed by children.
Chertoff spoke to reporters alongside Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to provide an update on the work of President Bush's Import Safety Working Group.
Bush gave the group 60 days to provide recommendations on improving the safety of imported goods; Friday marked the halfway point in that effort. The group will provide an action plan in mid-November.
The group's formation came amid a slate of recalls and health scares involving imported food, toys, tires and other products, many of them made in China.
The volume of imports could triple by 2015, adding to what's already an overwhelming amount, said Leavitt, the group's chairman. He visited 14 cities over the last two weeks, checking on ports, customs offices, postal inspection facilities and other sites.
''What I have learned from that is the option of inspecting everything is eliminated by the scope and vastness of the amount,'' Leavitt said.
Instead, Leavitt and Chertoff suggested companies should do more to account for the quality and safety of their products. In the case of China, it would be incumbent on the U.S. to let manufacturers there know what standards their exports are expected to meet, Leavitt said.
''The way we assure food, medicine and other products are safe is that you have to build quality and safety into the process at every step of the way,'' Leavitt said.