Lawmakers call for clear toy safety standards
Small businesses testify on unfair challenges in meeting regulations
Gerri Hunt -- Kids Today, 5/15/2009 8:34:00 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Small business owners told Congress Thursday that tougher safety standards passed in the wake of 2007 lead-tainted toy recalls have been mismanaged, with confusing regulations resulting in steep financial losses that threaten to bankrupt their businesses.
At a hearing of the House Small Business Committee’s Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, chaired by U.S. Congressman Jason Altmire (PA-04), business owners criticized the Consumer Product Safety Commission for failing to provide clear safety requirements and guidance, leaving small firms struggling to comply with muddled regulations. To view the hearing, click here.
“The wave of product recalls in 2007 highlighted the need to update our safety standards to protect consumers, especially our children,” said Altmire. “Unfortunately, now many small businesses, including those that sell products that do not pose a health risk, are facing significant losses as they struggle to meet a host of new, and often confusing, regulations.”
After more than 17 million toy units were recalled because of excess lead levels, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, strengthening children’s product safety standards for toys, clothes, and books.
However, witnesses at the hearing criticized the CPSC for laying out inadequate guidelines detailing when and what products need to undergo testing, which can often be costly, especially for small businesses. They also charged that CPSC, which can exempt products from testing that do not pose a threat to consumers, has moved slowly in granting these exceptions, forcing businesses to unnecessarily pull goods off their shelves and hurt their bottom lines.
“As entrepreneurs struggle in the current economic climate, the vagueness of important CPSC guidelines have left businesses in limbo,” said Altmire. “The unnecessary losses incurred by small businesses because of CPSC’s ineffective leadership have hurt entrepreneurs’ efforts to lead our nation out of the economic downturn and ultimately create new jobs.”
Suzanne Lang, owner of Starbright Baby Teething Giraffes, advocated for small businesses.
“A few of the major problems that this law presents to my business are unit testing, the tracking and labeling requirement, and the fallacy of assuming everything is toxic until proven safe,” she said.
Lang makes very small batches of fabric stuffed teething giraffes, which will be required to be tested for both lead and phthalates as of Feb. 10, 2010. She sells them for $14 to $18 each.
“The total cost of lead and phthalate testing my items (in 2008) would have been $64,800 to $81,000,” she said. “I made $4,500 gross last year. The deficit the testing creates would more than put me out of business, it would bankrupt my family.”
Laurel Schreiber, owner of Lucy’s Pocket, agreed. An appliquéd bib and bloomer set she makes sells for $20 – but testing will cost from $900 to $1,275.
“Sadly if the redundant testing requirements do not put me out of business, then the comprehensive labeling mandates will,” she said.
Schrieber explained that every item leaving her workroom must have a permanent label containing information such as the source of the product, date of manufacture, and batch or run number.
“For a business that creates one-of-a-kind items – and less than 5,000 or so a year – this is an unnecessary hardship,” she said. “Procuring permanent labeling supplies is an expensive proposition, and one without a value added to my customers and which does nothing to increase the safety of my product.”
Schrieber said she wants to be safe, and wants to be legal.
“It saddens me, terrifies me, and disheartens me that my ability to build a business creating safe items for children can be taken away by the unintended effects of the CPSIA.”
While the CPSC has delayed enforcing testing and certification standards until 2010 to provide more time for compliance, President Barack Obama’s administration has taken steps to revitalize the overstretched safety agency, boosting its FY 2010 budget by 71% compared to 2007 levels.
In addition to clearer testing guidelines and broader non-harmful product exemptions, witnesses at the hearing called for a comprehensive education and outreach program by the CPSC to help entrepreneurs manufacture and sell safer merchandise for all consumers.
“I am hopeful enhancing resources for the CPSC will lead to a smoother transition to these new regulations for manufacturers, retailers, and consumers,” said Altmire. “Small businesses can help lead the effort to ensure children’s products are safe, but only if they are given the common-sense guidance they need to compete fairly under these new standards.”
Suzanne Lang - 2009-05-27 16:46:00 EDT
I testified at the hearing and am quoted in this article. I was not criticizing the CPSC or how the law has been implemented by them. Their hands are tied. No amount of funding or "smooth transitioning" to these measures written in the law will keep my business afloat. It's the law that is hurting my business, not the way it is being implemented. I wish the reporter who wrote this piece would have contacted some of the people who testified or watched the whole hearing instead of just taking Altmire's press release at face value.
Laurel Schreiber - 2009-05-26 11:20:00 EDT
I was one of the witnesses at this hearing. My prepared remarks very plainly state that Congress needs to pass legislation that will allow relief. This mess was not created by the CPSC- but by the law which was written, voted on, and passed by Congress.
deputyheadmistress - 2009-05-16 17:41:00 EDT
I suspect this reporter got the impression that small business owners were criticizing the CPSC (which is NOT the target of their ire) rather than Congress (which actually IS what they were complaining about) because the reporter relied more on the misleading and inaccurate press release from the office of Chairman Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania. Anybody actually WATCHING the video can see that small businesses were far more concerned about Congress than the CPSC.
Sarah Natividad - 2009-05-15 12:03:00 EDT
I can see how somebody would get the impression that the small business owners who testified were complaining about CPSC if one only watched alternate thirty second intervals of each video. The parts the author of this article evidently missed were the parts where the small business owners complained about the law itself as it was written by CONGRESS. Congress tied CPSC's hands, so it has to take part of the blame for the situation.
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