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EU parliament toughens toy safety rules

STRASBOURG – The European parliament on Thursday toughened rules on toy safety, banning the use of toxic substances and requiring more visible warning signs.

However the measures did not go far enough for consumer rights activists.

The new text "reflects more the interests of the toy industry than those of children," said Monique Goyens, director-general of the European Consumers Association BEUC.

The legislation was adopted by the parliament in Strasbourg by an overwhelming majority of 481 for and 73 against.

The move follows a string of scares and product recalls last year and will affect manufacturers in the EU and elsewhere, notably China, which is the world’s top toy exporter, selling 22 billion toys overseas in 2006.

US giant Mattel recalled more than 21 million Chinese-made toys last year.

The new law bans carcinogenic and toxic substance and restricts the use of heavy metals and fragrances.

The MEPs also clarified and strengthened the rules regarding warnings on packaging and on toys themselves.

They must be preceded by the word "Warning" and must be visible and understandable for shoppers

Toys aimed at the under-threes will be subject to even stricter rules.

In a boon to children, parents and neighbours alike, new standards will also be set to prevent the sale of "deafening toys".

Other amendments toughened up the clauses seeking to reduce the risk of suffocation or strangulation by small detachable parts or toys contained in food such as chocolate eggs.

The new rules "put the bar very high on the issue of consumer protection," said Belgian conservative MEP Marianne Thyssen, the parliamentary rapporteur for the bill.

However, while the consumer association BEUC recognised that the new measures "will certainly bring some improvements to the safety of children in Europe," there has been a "sad lack of ambition from the EU institutions".

Many dangerous chemicals will still be allowed in the manufacture of toys, the association said.

Also it complained that most toys will not have to be checked by an independent third-party before being placed on the market, "not even toys that have caused serious accidents in the past" including magnets which have led to stomach perforation and death.

"Given the remaining risks, in particular due to dangerous chemical substances, such as allergens, carcinogenic and hormonal disrupting chemicals, another revision will soon be necessary and unavoidable," said Goyens.

[AFP / Expatica]