Klobuchar scheduled the forum in response to the safety recall of two dozen toys imported from China. Klobuchar highlighted 1.5 million Thomas the Tank Engine toys that were recalled because they were coated with lead paint.
Klobuchar said toys assembled in China now account for 80 percent of the U.S. market, yet the agency that's supposed to make sure they're safe has less than half the staff it had in 1980.
"We're seeing a dramatic increase in toys from China, and at the same time we're seeing a dramatic decrease in the number of people regulating these toys," said Klobuchar. "So perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that we're getting toys that are unsafe and very dangerous from our kids."
Klobuchar also said there are only 100 field inspectors to monitor and inspect the $22 billion of toys coming into the U.S. She says she will introduce legislation this summer that will enable the Consumer Product Safety Commission to hire more staff.
Klobuchar also wants to give investigators more power to enforce toy safety laws and allow the agency to issue mandatory toy safety recalls. She says it's the federal government's role to ensure that toys and other imported goods are safe.
"The burden should not fall on the parents or the kids to do something about this," Klobuchar said. "If a toy train is coated with paint that contains lead, or a toy has been assembled so shoddily that it suddenly breaks apart in a kid's mouth, a parent isn't going to know that when they buy the toy."
Congress has increased its scrutiny of Chinese imports after federal regulators put pet food, defective tires, seafood, toys and toothpaste on a list of restricted or recalled items this year.
most people are surprised to learn that this country has no requirement that products, whether they be toys or cribs, be tested for safety before they are sold,”Nancy Cowles, children's safety advocate
Joining Klobuchar at the hearing were an expert in lead poisoning, a consumer products attorney, several state lawmakers and the head of a Chicago-based safety group called Kids in Danger. Nancy Cowles, executive director of the group, says manufacturers should be required to test their products before they sell them.
"I think most people are surprised to learn that this country has no requirement that products, whether they be toys or cribs, be tested for safety before they are sold," said Cowles. "There are voluntary standards and there are mandatory requirements, but there is no requirement that the manufacturer prove that they tested that product before they put it on the store shelves."
There were no toy manufacturers or members of the Consumer Product Safety Commission at the hearing.
Julie Vallese, senior spokeswoman with the CPSC, said her agency has seen budget cutbacks but she takes credit for a record number of 466 voluntary recalls last year. She said that's proof the agency is effective.
"Could we do more with more? Absolutely. But in terms of maintaining and protecting consumers, the CPSC -- the job that we are doing right now -- we are an outstanding value for the American taxpayer," said Vallese.
The Toy Industry Association issued a statement saying toys in America are some of the safest in the world.
The statement also said the U.S. toy industry has worked with the Chinese government and the Consumer Product Safety Commission to educate Chinese factory managers on the most current toy safety standards.