Tuesday, May 26, 2009

CPSIA - Tracking Labels Op-Ed in Journal of Commerce 5-25-09

The Journal of Commerce published an Op-Ed I wrote on May 25 on the important subject of Tracking Labels. The Journal of Commerce is a widely read magazine on Capital Hill.

The toxic issue of Tracking Labels could be the poster child for absurdity of the current notion of a "precautionary" law. First of all, the very idea of "precautionary" should be carefully reconsidered. The new law is, at best, a different form of precautionary safety law. The recalls in 2007-8 make clear that in the vast majority of cases, recalls are imposed before any injuries are reported. This is certainly "precautionary" and is one reason why injuries from children's products remain low. In that epic period of notorious recalls from lead-in-paint, the number of reported injuries were . . . one. Compare this to DEATHS from swimming pools which AVERAGED 283 PER YEAR in 2003-5. We were already enjoying the benefit of STRONG precautionary laws in children's product safety BEFORE the CPSIA.

Second, tracking labels themselves are precautions taken to an absurd, dangerous extreme. As I have stated publicly, our recall rate over 25 years is 0.00001%. Put another way, of all the units we have sold in the last 25 years, 99.99999% were compliant with law. These statistics are really not far off industry standards (they are better, of course, but not by much). The famous lead-in-paint recalls of 2007-8 (a two-year period) was for far less than 0.01% of all different toys being offered for sale in the United States (99.99%+ safe). If you expand the market definition to include all children's products, like shoes, apparel, pens, etc., the recall percentage is more like Learning Resources'. Think of it - we are going to expend VAST and DEADLY amounts of money to apply tracking labels on EVERYTHING because less than 0.0001% of all children's products might be recalled in any given TWO-YEAR PERIOD. Oh yeah, that makes sense.

We are only beginning to implement tracking labels at our company. If the law is not stayed, as I hope it will, we will be compliant. HOWEVER, the way we will become compliant is the way everyone will become compliant - we will start dropping products or changing our product mix to avoid this law. The items which will die are not only economically viable today but they are also valuable and useful. They must be - we continue to sell them with a profit incentive and they keep selling. Tracking labels ALONE will kill them off. Section 103 will cause a massive die-off of products and companies - all to purportedly improve recall rates on 0.0001% of all children's products in a given year. [As I stated in my testimony at the CPSC on May 12 (second panel), even the contention that tracking labels will improve recall rates is HIGHLY suspect.] Would you EVER plan around a risk as low as one-out-of-a-million in your daily life (aside from periodically buying a lottery ticket)? If the answer is yes, you presumably remain under the covers in your bed all day long, the only place you feel totally safe.

One last, disgusting fact about Section 103 Tracking Labels - the right to impose tracking labels was already among the CPSC's powers. Tracking labels, in fact, have been required by the CPSC as part of certain standards in the past, and only required the month of manufacture, not as many probing, confidential and ridiculous data as required by the CPSIA. Presumably, if the professional staff at the CPSC thought that tracking labels would better protect the American public, they would have used their power to impose them more broadly. Thank heavens Congress knows what's best for us!

We as a society need to make sure we do not slide down the slippery slope of national blindness. Provisions like Section 103 have the potential to KILL. I am not Cassandra - this is a real issue.

Is anyone listening?


Anonymous said...

Great article and post, Rick! Thank you for continually speaking out about this and the CPSIA!

trinlayk said...

I've never gotten an answer to my question (emailed when they were requesting questions) of how, exactly, I was supposed to put a permanent (non-hangtag, non-sticker)label on my one of a kind small textile item.

My product doesn't provide a surface large enough, or printable to print on, and as a textile can't be molded in...

I don't want to provide waste material in the form of packaging, just to provide tracking information...at that's likely to get thrown away.

At this point, even though 80-90% of the time, my product has an adult end user. It's something that might appeal to a person 12 or under. I haven't been able to get a straight simple answer.

Lucky Pebble said...

Great article, as always.

cmmjaime said...

You speak so much sense. But as usual, that sense doesn't seem to make it to Congress.

I watched the videos of your appearance before the Congressional committee, and the other small business folks that appeared before them (later that week, I believe).

And then I read the Committee Chair's Press Release. I felt like the Congressmen were sitting there like little kids, with their fingers in their ears: "We can't hear you." Nothing you or the others said, as logical and sensible as it was, seemed to make one bit of difference to them. I just don't get that!

Surely at some point, common sense will be returned, but unfortunately much damage will be done in the meantime...

Pam said...

Thank you for going to bat for common sense. As a kitchen table manufacturer, I really have no clue as to what they really want me to do come August. For right now, I'm making notes of ideas and just as quickly, crossing them off because they won't work with my items.

Please keep fighting for us all.