CPSC Gives Mattel Another Exemption from Toy Safety Rules

Last year we wrote about a move that had some toy makers reeling when the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) very quietly gave toy maker giant, Mattel, some leeway in mandated testing requirements.

Now, this country’s largest toymaker is receiving yet another exemption on federal toy safety rules, said the Associated Press (AP), noting that smaller toy makers continue to face challenges with testing costs implemented after the massive toy recalls in 2007 that were linked to Mattel. The law, imposed after the Mattel recalls, mandates that children’s product manufacturers must now perform independent third party testing “for lead, lead paint, and other potential dangers,” said the AP. Despite this, the CPSC just unanimously voted to approve the toy maker’s request to use at least two of its own laboratories to conduct the third party testing on its own toys, noted the AP.

The law involved—the CPSIA—followed an unprecedented number of toy recalls, many of which were over lead, and six of which involved toys made by both Mattel Inc. and Fisher-Price, a Mattel subsidiary, said the AP, previously. No small issue, by the way, because, as the AP reminds us, those six recalls—which took place in 2007, alone—involved over two million toys.

Now, the CPSC said it approved the move because Mattel could prove that its in-house testing could provide equal, if not improved consumer safety versus an external laboratory, said the AP. “It’s a little bit like the fox guarding the henhouse,” said consumer advocate Don Mays, senior director of product safety at Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, quoted the AP. “There is the potential for conflict of interest,” Mays added.

The CPSIA does contain a provision that allows CPSC to consider requests for these “so-called ‘firewalled laboratories’” from those toy makers seeking to use internal facilities to accomplish external testing, said the AP. The labs must contain safeguards that prevent internal pressure to enable the clearance of a dangerous product, explained the AP.

Smaller companies, not in a position to man such internal facilities, are unhappy with the agency’s move. Jill Chuckas, owner of Crafty Baby, a small toy business, said, “It’s extremely frustrating and not fair,” speaking of Mattel, quoted the AP. “Their labs were the ones that didn’t catch the problems to begin with,” Chuckas pointed out. According to Mattel, said the AP, the recalls from 2007, did not occur because of a Mattel lab failure, but were due to external vendors. Chuckas said the testing requirement could decimate her business, said the AP.

Meanwhile, the agency and Congress—which has delayed the mandates until early 2011—are looking to implement moves to help out small businesses, such as Crafty Baby.

The last CPSC exemption given to Mattel involved seven of its labs, the majority of which are not in the United States, noted the AP, which added that, last week, two more of the toymakers’ labs located in China and Thailand were approved. China is a country long associated with the influx of defective, lead contaminated toys and products into the United States.

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