The EU has toughened rules on toy safety, but consumer advocates complain the regulations don't go far enough.
New EU rules aim to protect children -- but will it be enough?
Shortly before she signed an accord to improve toy safety last week, European Union Consumer Affairs Commissioner Meglena Kuneva noted that Europeans count on the government to assure access to safe, reliable products.
"Children are our most vulnerable consumers, and there can be no compromise when it comes to ensuring their well-being," Kuneva said. "The agreement with toy importers and retailers is a very positive sign of the industry's commitment to toy safety."
Focus on low-end toys
The agreement, signed last week, bans the use of toxic substances and requires more visible warning signs. It also aims to provide education and training on safety standards, with a particular focus on the "lower end of the market" where the vast majority of non-compliant toys are found. Moreover, it aims to ensure compliance among retailers and importers with EU and national legislation.
Kuneva knows consumers count on regulators
The new law bans carcinogenic and toxic substance and restricts the use of heavy metals and fragrances, and in a boon to children, parents and neighbors alike, new standards will also be set to prevent the sale of "deafening toys."
Other amendments toughened up the clauses seeking to reduce the risk of suffocation or strangulation by small detachable parts or toys contained in food such as chocolate eggs.
The new rules "put the bar very high on the issue of consumer protection," Belgian conservative MEP Marianne Thyssen, the parliamentary rapporteur for the bill, told AFP news service.
Toy industry before consumers?
However, consumer-rights activists complained the measures did not go far enough.
The new text "reflects more the interests of the toy industry than those of children," Monique Goyens, director-general of the European Consumers Association BEUC, told AFP.
While the BEUC recognized that the new measures "will certainly bring some improvements to the safety of children in Europe," it said there has been a "sad lack of ambition from the EU institutions."
Many dangerous chemicals will still be allowed in the manufacture of toys, the association said.
The measures target low-end toys, especially
It also complained that most toys will not have to be checked by an independent third-party before being placed on the market, "not even toys that have caused serious accidents in the past" including magnets which have led to stomach perforation and death.
Advocate sees revision ahead
"Given the remaining risks, in particular due to dangerous chemical substances, such as allergens, carcinogenic and hormonal disrupting chemicals, another revision will soon be necessary and unavoidable," Goyens said.
The legislation was adopted by the parliament in Strasbourg last Thursday by an overwhelming majority of 481 for and 73 against, with the changes to the 20-year-old safety to enter into law very swiftly.
The move follows a string of scares and product recalls last year and will affect manufacturers in the EU and elsewhere, notably China, which is the world's top toy exporter, selling 22 billion toys overseas in 2006.
US giant Mattel recalled more than 21 million Chinese-made toys last year.