EU industry chief unveils toy safety crackdown

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The EU industry chief unveiled plans on Friday to revise the bloc’s toy safety standards with a ban on some chemicals and on packaging toys as giveaways with foods such as sweets or cereals.

Gregory French of Process Solutions poses with his latest product, made by a Chinese toy manufacturer, which features a CMOS camera linked to an RC radio with integrated head tracking, at the annual Toys and Games Fair in Hong Kong January 7, 2008. The EU industry chief unveiled plans on Friday to revise the bloc's toy safety standards with a ban on some chemicals and on packaging toys as giveaways with foods such as sweets or cereals. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Toy makers said the plans would “raise many challenges” for them while a consumer group said they did not go far enough.

An overhaul of European Union toy safety rules -- first agreed in 1998 -- has been in the pipeline for years, but was speeded up after the recall of over 20 million Chinese-made toys last year due to excessive lead paint and other unsafe parts.

Enterprise Commissioner Guenther Verheugen said he wanted to limit the quantity of chemicals used in toys, such as lead paint, and wanted a complete ban on toys containing carcinogens across the bloc from 2009.

He wanted stricter rules on packaging toys as gifts with food items, confirming a Reuters report of January 18. The fear is that children could choke on the packaging around such toys.

“Health and safety of children is non-negotiable and cannot be subject to any compromises. That is why we have to ensure that toys put on the market in Europe are safe,” Verheugen told a news conference.

“Companies are now called to live up to their responsibilities to ensure that children can enjoy playing with toys without risks.

The initiative will target toys in packs of potato chips, cereal or sweets and could include the fake jewellery in cakes eaten in Britain and Ireland around Halloween or sold in other parts of Europe around Christmas and the New Year.

The ban would not be aimed at the popular “Kinder” chocolate eggs, but could affect some large Easter eggs.

Toy Industries Europe -- representing toy makers such as Mattel, Hasbro and Hornby -- said the new proposals “will raise many challenges for the industry”. Some companies had said the list of chemicals was too exhaustive.

Verheugen said: “There will be additional costs but safety does not have a price. It will be difficult for some in the industry but they will have enough time to adjust.”

European consumers organization BEUC sought a wider ban on lead and nickel and the removal of the CE mark on goods -- an issue that Verheugen said would be dealt with later this year.

“We need much stricter rules, particularly concerning chemical substances,” BEUC Director General Monique Goyens said in a statement. “We emphasize once again our concerns regarding CE marking, which consumers wrongly believe to be a safety label.”

Some of the practical proposals -- which will now require the agreement of the European Parliament and the bloc’s 27 member states -- include:

- a ban on the use of chemical substances that are susceptible to provoke cancer, otherwise known as Carcinogenic, Mutagenic substances.

- a large reduction in the limits of certain dangerous chemical substances like lead or mercury

- a ban on allergenic fragrances

- more detailed warnings

- ban toys which are firmly attached to a food product at the moment of consumption and which require food to be consumed before getting access to the toy

- make the CE mark on the toy more visible

- stiffer penalties, such as fines or imprisonment for toy manufacturers/importers who produce unsafe toys

Editing by Matthew Tostevin