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EU eyes ban on toys containing lead paint

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s industry chief is proposing a crackdown on toys containing lead paint or carcinogens across the bloc and wants to stop toys being used as gifts in food items such as confectionary and cereals.

Workers carry toys to be destroyed in Apaxco November 28, 2007. REUTERS/Henry Romero

The draft proposals are part of an overhaul of EU toy safety standards to be published next week by Enterprise Commissioner Guenther Verheugen and seen by Reuters.

But the much-touted idea of a new mandatory EU-wide standard to replace the self-regulated “CE” mark is not included in the document. The proposal will be addressed later this year as part of an overall review by Brussels of the bloc’s internal market.

A shake-up of Europe’s toy safety rules -- first agreed in 1998 -- has been in the pipeline for years, but was fast-tracked after the recall of over 20 million Chinese-made toys last year due to excessive lead paint and other unsafe parts.

“The (European) Commission is proposing significant reductions in lead paint, carcinogens and other products which can cause allergies,” a source at the EU’s executive arm told Reuters, citing the document.

While exact levels for each component have yet to be formally agreed, the source said the move would all but eliminate substances such as lead and nickel from toys, much to the annoyance of industry.

Toy Industries Europe -- representing toymakers such as Mattel, Hasbro and Hornby -- say any reductions must be backed up by scientific proof.

“We accept that there will be changes and there has to be compromise. But all we are asking for is that the thresholds set are done so with a scientific explanation,” a spokeswoman for TIE said.

“The rules need to be updated as they are 10 years old, but in principle they have been working well and our companies take toy safety very seriously, which is reflected in the recalls.”

EASTER EGGS

A proposal to ban many toys included with food will also be tabled by Verheugen next week.

His initiative will target free toys in some packets of potato chips or cereals along with a ban on any toys contained in confectionary. Such items include fake jewellery in cakes consumed in Britain and Ireland to celebrate Halloween or sold in other parts of Europe around Christmas and New Year.

The source said the ban on toys given away in food products would not be aimed at the popular “Kinder” chocolate eggs but could affect larger Easter eggs, depending on how the toy is packaged.

“This has to be ironed out, but it will depend on the type of product and how the toy is covered or if you have to bite into the product or not to get the prize,” the source said.

European consumers organisation BEUC welcomed the EU executive’s proposals on dangerous substances, but said it hoped to see “stronger rules” on toys contained in foods.

“We want a total prohibition on lead, nickel and other allergenics such as perfumes and substances that promote cancer,” BEUC general secretary Monique Guyens told Reuters.

“We also want stricter rules on the packaging of these toys, particularly looking at the issue of plastic bags leading to suffocation or choking.”

Verheugen will unveil his final proposals on January 25. They would require agreement from the EU’s 27 member states and the European Parliament before coming into force.

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