As any concerned parent now knows, the general innocence and benevolence of children’s toys has come under some serious fire. I am not referring to toys depicting inappropriate human sexuality or indulging in violent fantasy, no, I am talking about the huge number of unsafe toys and children’s gear that is manufactured and sold with known hazardous materials like lead, phthalates, and obvious choking hazards. This is all ripped from the headlines stuff that, even if you remain confused about it, you are likely aware of the growing problem. With thousands of individual toy recalls (both elective and mandatory) it is no wonder that the government-run Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) would take an obligatory step to curb the flow of bad toys and make child’s play a bit safer.
The shocker here is that the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) as issued by the CPSC, is maybe more than any one bargained for. Passed by Congress last year, and scheduled to take effect Feb. 10 of this year, the CPSIA will no doubt get the lead out, but also, with new stringent rules and standards, the viability and chance of survival for many independent toy manufacturers and purveyors of handmade children’s items comes into question. As the CPSIA has trained its watchful eye, not only on the substandard, mass marketed, and maligned toys from China that have garnered so many red flags, but also those home-spun creators of funky wooden toys and Waldorf-inspired organic cotton miscellany, in the form of mandatory and cost prohibitive lead testing for every product, even if it is an item that would have no possible incidence of lead tainting (organic wool clothing, unpainted wood toys, etc). While many of the larger toy manufacturers will be able to roll with this (with an increased operating cost) many of the aforementioned independently owned companies will not be able to remain in business.
This is one of those situations in where the road to hell is paved with good intentions. No one could argue with the CPSC wanting to clean up a very flawed and frankly hazardous business. However, when consumer safety standards start inadvertently pushing out innovative and quality alternative products, not because these products are dangerous or even flawed, but simply because their operating budgets are not comparable to the likes of the world’s few toy behemoths, well then something has gone seriously wrong.
I would like to think that the new CPSIA standard would assure, even the most concerned parent, that the toys they purchase for their children are safe. However, at what cost? If it means sacrificing countless small businesses and unwittingly homogenizing the toy market, then I think we may need another approach altogether.
Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.