Nanny State

Feds in Toyland


It is a stone heart indeed that fails to warm to the sight of a wooden choo choo train. But federal regulators have remained unmoved by the pleas of choo choo train makers and distributors across the country, who woke up yesterday morning to find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

Yesterday, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which was signed last August, went into effect. It requires extensive testing of any toy, book, or item of clothing intended for kids under the age of 12. The law was passed in response to the recent scare over leadalicious Chinese toys for tots. 

But makers of small batch or handmade toys and goods—who have long seen themselves as providing a homegrown solution to the Chinese toys trouble—can't afford the kind of testing mandated by the new law. The law requires each model to be tested in its final form. Nevermind if all the components have already been tested, or if the toy consists only of wood and ink, or organic cotton. Testing must be redone for each batch of each model. For makers of one-of-a-kind items, that's a lot of testing.

Ironically, while the U.S. has nothing near the third party testing capacity required to keep all toy manufacturers in compliance, testing can be obtained cheaply and quickly in China. A law passed as an anti-Chinese manufacturing measure may wind up requiring homegrown super-crunchy crafters and sewers to send their good halfway around the world to get someone to certify that they're not like those awful, dirty Chinese toys.

Rep. Jim DeMint has a bill to tweak the law, and I bet there's a bunch of hipster crafters out there right now freaking out a little the idea that they live in a world where they must make common cause with a Club for Growth-endorsed Republican.

Toy makers and distributors have been give a one year grace period to sort out testing, but they must technically conform to the lead standards now. Essentially, they have the good word of the feds that no one will come after them at the moment. Probably. That's cold comfort for crafters whose livelihood depends on untested (but obviously safe) toys.

Reason will be covering this issue in depth in an upcoming article by yours truly for print magazine, so keep an eye out!

Via Virginia Postrel, who documents the perils of regulatory glamour.