The End of the Toymaker – UPDATE

The large toy manufacturers, particularly the toys made in China, have been contaminating toys with lead paint for the past several years.  As a result, the mom and pop toymakers and retailers may be forced out of business due to a change in the law that will require them to test for lead paint.

Without changes to strict new safety rules, they say, mom-and-pop toy makers and retailers could be forced to conduct testing and labeling they can’t afford, even if they use materials as benign as unfinished wood, organic cotton and beeswax.

“It’s ironic that the companies who never violated the public trust, who have already operated with integrity, are the ones being threatened,” said Julia Chen, owner of The Playstore in Palo Alto, which specializes in wooden and organic playthings.

Lead paint spurred the recall of 45 million toys last year, mostly made in China for larger manufacturers. Parents flocked to stores like The Playstore in the recall’s aftermath searching for safer alternatives.

Lawmakers also responded. In August, President Bush imposed the world’s strictest lead ban in products for children 12 or younger by signing the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

Small toy makers strongly back the restrictions in the bill, which they say reflect voluntary standards they have long observed to keep harmful substances out of toys. But they never thought their products would also be considered a threat.

Under the law, all children’s products must be tested for lead and other harmful substances. Toy makers are required to pay a third-party lab for the testing and to put tracking labels on all toys to show when and where they were made.

Those requirements make sense for a multinational toy manufacturer churning out thousands of plastic toys on an overseas assembly line, said Dan Marshall, co-owner of Peapods Natural Toys and Baby Care in St. Paul, Minn.

But a business that makes, for example, a few hundred handcrafted wooden baby rattles each year cannot afford to pay up to $4,000 per product for testing, a price some toy makers have been quoted, he said.

Marshall and nearly 100 other toy stores and makers have formed the Handmade Toy Alliance to ask Congress and the federal agency that enforces the law to exempt small toy companies or those that make toys entirely within the U.S. from testing and labeling rules.

Failing that, they want the Consumer Product Safety Commission to preemptively declare unfinished wood, wool and cotton and food-grade wood finishes such as beeswax, mineral oil and walnut oil to be lead-free.

Read the rest here.

If these small toymakers go out of business, what are we to do?  Can we and should we trust the toys made in China?  I’m not pleased with buying goods from China.  There have been way too many dangerous products coming from China all in the name of the self-regulating, free capital market.

Stores like WalMart send their buyers to China to place orders with manufacturers and will only purchase items from the cheapest bidder.  The American shopper is the loser.  If the item is cheap, then there is the risk of poor quality.

This is how toys are made in China.

Personally, I like to know that the toys that I purchase for my grandchildren are safe and free from lead paint.  Maple Landmark in Vermont makes safe toys.  The small, local toy store also sells safe toys and the owner can tell me about the companies that make the toys that she sells.  If the small toymaker and the small toy store disappear, who will be there to protect us from the dangerous materials that the “it’s all about big profit” corporations use on our children’s toys?  Besides, when you buy toys made in the USA, you are providing a job for an American which will help rebuild our economy.  Enough with this sending our dollars overseas.  We need jobs here.

Links to some resources:

Peapod Natural Toys and Baby CareHandmade Toy Alliance, Craftsbury Kids.