Friday, July 13, 2007

Open letter to US Senator Amy Klobuchar re: Toy Safety

Dear Senator Klobuchar,

My wife Millie and I own Peapods Natural Toy store in St. Paul, MN. We are very pleased to hear that you will be investigating the issue of toy safety, an area that we have been concerned with since we started our business 10 years ago.

As you know, over 80% of toys sold in this country are now made in China. And, the largest seller of toys is Wal-Mart, which often uses their toy department as a loss leader to bring customers into their stores. The result has been an industry-wide race to the bottom, as other toymakers have sought to reduce costs in order to be picked up by Wal-Mart or compete against them.

In our time as toy sellers, we have seen prominent brands like Brio and Radio Flyer close their home factories and move to China. Newer toymakers don't bother to ever set up production at home but go directly to China.

The problem with outsourcing to China is that these companies are also outsourcing a great deal of oversight and control over how their toys are made. As in the case with RC2 and Thomas the Tank Engine, the toy companies become merely importers instead of manufacturers and are unaware when leaded paint is substituted for lead-free paint.

From the beginning, we have been attempting to find alternatives to toys made in China for our store. In some categories, we have found excellent alternatives. For example, when Radio Flyer moved to China, we switched to Berlin Flyer wagons, which are still made in Ohio. For many whole categories of toys, however, there are no domestic alternatives available for less than twice the price of imported toys. Wood puzzles, board books, stuffed animals, and dolls are a few examples.
As for solutions, we would like to see a few changes.

First, we'd like to see the CPSC take a more proactive role in testing new toys and preventing problems before they occur. Every toy should be tested by the CPSC or an accredited third party before being imported.

Second, the CPSC should be more thoughtful about evaluating risk. We've seen many recalls on toys where a problem such as a small part breaking off was identified and a recall initiated even though no children had been injured because the toymaker was being proactive and wanted to correct a production problem. These recalls, however, get lumped together with toys that are actually causing serious injury or death, such as the dual recall of Rose Art's Magnetix toys. The CPSC needs to create a red flag alert program for toys like Magnetix that gets toys off of retailer's shelves AND out of consumer's homes. Magnetix toys remained on sale for over a year after the first child died from swallowing its powerful tiny magnets.

We've also seen the CPSC issue warnings in order to benefit the manufacturers they regulate. For example, the CPSC has been working with the Juvenile Products Manufacturer's Association to warn parents against the culture practice of co-sleeping. This campaign has been a marked attempt to promote crib and mattress companies and has been based on very flimsy science. The CPSC should not involve itself in promoting the use of any product.

Finally, we would like to see global disclosure of country of origin. When we buy for our store, it is often impossible for us to determine where a toy is made until we actually receive it and can read the label on the box. Every wholesale catalog, every consumer website, and every consumer catalog should be required to identify country of origin. This would enable both retailers and consumers to better evaluate products before purchasing them. In the internet era, requiring country of origin labels only on the physical product itself is no longer sufficient.

We would be pleased to help with your investigation of this issue in any way we can. Thank you for your time and interest in this subject.

Thanks and best wishes,

Dan Marshall
Peapods Natural Toys & Baby Care
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