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It Is Time to Clamp Down andPunish Makers of Dangerous Toys

Posted Sep 12 2008 10:21am

Skullandmagnet_071507 The more I read about defective, dangerous and poisonous toys, the more I believe that capitalism is an abysmal failure in this arena. Let’s face it, America’s toy industry is replete with unscrupulous manufacturers, retailers and corporate owners.

Take for example the Magnetix set, which I first mentioned here. The powerful magnets in these sets allegedly have caused severe intestinal damage to children who swallowed them.

“They are neat, inviting and look like candy,” said Alan E. Oestreich, pediatric radiologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, tells The New York Times.

MEGA Brands, which is the company that currently owns Magnetix, has done everything in its power to keep dangerous and defective products on the shelf, write The Times and The Chicago Tribune.

The problem, however, is not MEGA Brands alone. It’s not even China or India where many of these products come from.

The problem is companies and retailers that sell toys in this and other countries. Like other industries, toy makers keep prices down and profits up by seeking cheaper and cheaper manufacturing deals.

If Chinese firms can make a product more cheaply than in the United States, toy makers go there. If India or Mexico is cheaper, then they go there.

The key to this working seems to be a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. In other words, toy sellers all too often don’t want to know HOW prices are kept so low.

Child labor? Fingers in ears, “La-la-la-la.” Lead used in paint? “La-la-la-la.” Choking hazards? “La-la-la-la.”

The Consumer Products Safety Commission is by federal law complicit in this scam. “The agency can announce a recall only through a news release that it negotiates with the company involved,” writes the Times. Rules governing the agency make it essentially a tool of toy and other manufacturers, not the other way around.

If President Bush had his nomination – a former lobbyist at the National Association of Manufacturers – to head the agency, it would be even worse. Fortunately, the nominee withdrew in May. The agency has been rudderless since July 2006.

The result of such a weak agency? Toys are recalled long AFTER problems are found and innocent children are injured or killed.

Don’t believe me? Read this post on what I found combing through some of the CPSC recall site’s different categories: toys, non-toy children products and household products. Major companies that you and I have grown to trust and others we never heard of are repeatedly putting dangerous products on the market.

The CPSC reveals that there are millions of recalled toys in American homes that contain choking and lead dangers. Magnetic-toy recalls are increasing. Less often, you see toys recalled because of laceration hazards, toxic chemicals and battery-related problems.

Dresser_071507 But the problem is much bigger and more complex.

Consider this item: The Land of Nod® Recalls Furniture Due to Lead Paint Hazard

These aren’t schlocky looking kids toys. This is a recall of handsome, high-end children’s furniture. How many parents do you think will ever hear about this recall? How many of the already-sold units will be returned? How many of the remaining sets will be resold on E-Bay or handed down to family and friends?

Recalls DO NOT WORK for the simple reason: THEY ARE TOO LATE. No, the only real solution is to stop dangerous products from EVER hitting the market.

Capitalism does not trump the well-being of our children here. Caveat Emptor – “let the buyer beware” – rings hollow to any parent whose child died from choking or had to care for a son that had repeated bowel surgery after swallowed magnets ripped through their intestines.

It’s time to create an agency that truly polices toy makers and holds toy firms fully accountable. No more of this excuse: “It’s not my fault some Chinese factory put lead in the paint.” If a company repeatedly fails to own up to its responsibility to sell SAFE products, shut it down.

Until then, our kids can read books or play outside – on arsenic free playgrounds.

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