Monday, December 10, 2007

Cost and safety: the case for toys 

In the comments on this post about an anti-China-toy piece in the local paper last week, the question seemed to come down to whether or not parents could and would pay enough attention to toy safety. Would they be able to make choices on safety versus cost. This morning from the WSJ's Holidaysales Blog:
Nielsen said cost consciousness emerged in nearly 20% of online discussions. Ten percent of discussions mentioned toy recalls, Nielsen said, with many parents seeking out American-made products to �play it safe.
Alas, even your Lincoln Logs are made in China. But the fact remains that cost does matter.

But what's the substitute? Ruth Mantell reports that the Consumer Product Safety Commission is just overrun, with too few inspectors and ... wait for it ... underfunding.
The CPSC has about 15 investigators to monitor all U.S. ports of entry, while billions of products enter America's market every year. When it comes specifically to toys, there is no single designated "toy tester," according to the agency. Rather, there are about 80 professionals -- toxicologists, field inspectors and others -- with toys as a primary, though not sole, responsibility.
Yet there is Underwriters Laboratories, which provides a private market, third-party certification program. It is quite easy to look for these marks on products, as prominent display is the reason firms would volunteer to testing. How much more safety would we get if we relied on a quintuple-sized CPSC rather than having consumers look for UL labels?