The Washington Post today reported on some of the what should have been expected consequences of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, that is, that the additional testing costs, legislated chemical ban (phthalates), and nearly impossible to meet lower lead standards, will drive products off the markets and manufacturers out of business. A balanced and worthwhile story, which admittedly comes out too late to do much in terms of shaping the public debate other than to reinforce the sense that “consumer activists” and their congressional allies will always overreact in the suspicion that business is a bad actor.
Selecta, a German toymaker, carves whimsical cars and characters from native woods, colors them with vegetable dyes and coats them in silky beeswax. No lead, no toxic varnishes. Not even waste — the company heats its factory with leftover woodchips. Just the kind of toymaker in demand after scares about tainted playthings from China.
But this holiday season, Selecta is preparing to pull out of the U.S. market. Its problem, executives say, is consumer legislation that is adding crushing costs to selling toys in America.
The law, which takes effect Feb. 10, was passed by Congress in response to recalls of lead-laced toys and growing health concerns about chemicals in plastics. The $22 billion toy industry says the requirements have created confusing bureaucratic layers and startling new costs that will decimate a business already struggling through a punishing recession.
The reporters also cite the example of Learning Resources, a manufacturer of educational toys, which reports that one lab wants $24,000 to test a children’s telescopes. Unfortunately, the law’s not so clear about what has to be tested, or how.
“This business is being ruined, and it has nothing to do with safety,” said Rick Woldenberg, chairman of Learning Resources. “It has to do with mania.”
The law goes into effect on February 10th, and the prospects of Congress bringing an element of common sense and regulatory reason to bear are not good. The House Energy and Commerce committee will oversee implementation of the law, and its new chairman is the anti-business Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA). A committee hearing on the law scheduled by the previous chairman, Rep. John Dingell, has been postponed so the new chairman can wield the gavel, pick the witnesses, and run the show.
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