Monday, December 7, 2009

CPSIA - CPSC Clears Zhu Zhu Pets . . . But The Damage Can't Be Repaired

Last week, in the heat of the post-Thanksgiving holiday buying crush, yet another unscrupulous or incompetent consumer group, so the so-called "GoodGuide" out of San Francisco chose to launch an attack on a high-profile toy, the "Zhu Zhu Pet", specifically "Mr. Squiggles". The Zhu Zhu Pet product line is this year's Must-Have Toy, a perfect target for selling papers and promoting fear. Mr. Squiggles' "crime" was purportedly the presence of microscopic amounts of tin and antimony above the absurdly cautious CPSIA standards for those elements. GoodGuide (for purposes of this blogpost, let's call them "MisleadingGuide") cited Mr. Squiggles for having "elevated levels" of the elements in its hair and on its cute little nose. The offending levels: tin (I can't find the data anywhere) and antimony, 93 ppm on the hair and 103 ppm on the nose. The federal limits under the CPSIA is 60 ppm.

The MisleadingGuide report was issued on Saturday Dec. 5, and to the CPSC's credit, it acted promptly today by announcing its intention to swiftly investigate, and later (on the same day), cleared the toys. In response to the storm over its accusations, MisleadingGuide acknowledged that it used a XRF gun to test the surface and did not use the federal wet test methods. Oopsie-daisy! MisleadingGuide apparently regrets its error. Interestingly, the retraction/correction of MisleadingGuide is nowhere to be found on its review of Mr. Squiggles. The MisleadingGuide rating is also unchanged as are the misleading results that MisleadingGuide says it "regrets" but hasn't gotten around to correcting. Notably, in the small print of one of its disclaimers, MisleadingGuide notes that much of its data comes from consumer group luminaries regularly heralded in this space such as and the ever-present Center for Environmental Health. Now that's some fine company!

This very sorry and sickening episode is the latest instance of consumer group terrorism playing up to an easily panicked and understandably rattled American public. Using the imprimatur granted by their self-appointed role as protectors of public welfare, consumer groups nowadays shoot first and ask questions later. An unskeptical media republishes their garbage without comment, other than to whip up the flames of fear. The cost and the consequence is the random devastation of businesses for "crimes" that are very often imaginary. In this case, the tiny company responsible for this monster hit has only 16 employees. Not exactly a Mattel with a large in-house legal department or the other resources of a mega-company accustomed to being kneecapped by Naderites. A real U.S. success story - brought low by consumer group incompetence and irresponsibility. As everyone knows, there is no recourse for these entrepreneurs as their franchise is damaged mid-Christmas selling season. Dreams dashed, and the consumer groups hardly even blink. Of course, MisleadingGuide does "regret" its error. A bit of cold comfort for the 16 employees at Cepia as they examine the lumps of coal in their Xmas stockings.

Part of the consumer group M.O. is to stoke fear by tossing around figures that no one understands. In this case, they chose some new, unfamiliar elements to create the illusion of irresponsibility by a toy company. Tin? Antimony? I thought the culprits these days were lead and phthalates? No, when those items fade, new threats are manufactured to spread fear and distrust. I should point out that MisleadingGuide is arguing about being 33 and 43 PARTS PER MILLION over the new federal limit.

Tin and antimony are not radioactive, these ultra-amounts are basically undetectable. There is no indication anywhere that exposure to an incremental amount of these elements at this level would be dangerous. However, the new standard is misleadingly portrayed by these unscrupulous or unsophisticated consumer groups as a human health exposure limit, reasoning that anything above the limit is a sign of DANGER. The press is all too willing to make their claims seem legitimate: "Tests in animals have attributed a series of ailments large-scale consumption of antimony, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease says. Yet the DHHS also says it does not 'know what other health effects would occur to people who swallow antimony.'" Ah, the seeds of doubt! Notably, unless you gorge on Zhu Zhu Pets regularly, large-scale consumption of antimony is irrelevant in this case. This kind of reporting hands a "win" to the consumer groups. The losers outnumber the winners by a wide margin.

I think there are many damaged parties in this pathetic episode. Let me list them:
  • You. The American consumer loses EVERY TIME as confidence in our neighbors and in our stream of commerce is nicked again and again by nincompoops who spread salacious gossip and commercial slander without a full and thoughtful investigation.
  • Science. The abuse of science will eventually lead to a mistrust of science. Science misused for the purposes of raising contributions or gathering proceeds from fines or contingent legal fees discredits it as a source of understanding of our world. Our country will lose out to countries not as obsessed with small-minded paranoia.
  • Specialty Markets and Small Business Interests. What kind of crazies want to do business in this environment where consumer group terrorists rule the planet? Business people read these articles and feel an injury to themselves. We all know we could be next. It's random and unpredictable, since junk science can be deployed anywhere and anytime by the evil tandem of an unquestioning press and unscrupulous consumer advocates.
  • Our National Competitiveness. By allowing consumer groups to pick innocent victims without recourse for the tortious devastation they cause, the incentive to innovate or even trade is sharply curtailed. Businesses seek exits, not growth - some jobs program, huh? The costs imposed on healthy businesses to stay ahead of the maniacs will further cripple competitiveness. As a nation, we will gradually sink into an abyss of irrelevance.

How long must we tolerate consumer group terrorists? I think it's time for Congress to create a new cause of action against this kind of irresponsible behavior. Someone needs to be accountable for the spreading of misinformation, damaging innocent and honest American businesses trying to create jobs and provide needed products and services to American families and schools. The torts of the consumer group creeps need a remedy. Let's turn the tables on these fronts for plaintiff's attorneys and take back our country.


Jennifer Taggart, TheSmartMama said...

As I am usually advocating to protect children, I was extremely frustrated with Good Guide's misleading use of XRF testing for total antimony. I was shocked to hear Dr. Dara O'Rourke claim that Zhu Zhu Pets violated the US standard for antimony, when that standard is a soluble standard that cannot be tested via XRF. I blogged about it immediately, after trying to contact Good Guide directly to ask them if I misunderstood the testing or if I was missing something. Not receiving any response, I called Good Guide on it, blogged it and started tweeting and commenting on every post about the misuse of XRF. It makes me wonder what will happen when the consumer product safety database required by the CPSIA comes online. Will companies be held hostage to unsupported alarmist accusations? And it does a great disservice to have such alarmist claims made - because those legitimate concerns, such as lead in vinyl used in mouthing toys, will get overlooked (yes, I know that was addressed by the CPSIA but it illustrates my point).

bchiasson said...

An individual can sue a person for defamation, slander, and libel for spreading false claims. What recourse does a business have to defend itself(and reclaim lost profits) against false or inaccurate claims by irresponsible, so-called consumer groups? The damage is already done. In the case of the Zhu Zhu Pets, there was a report on Good Morning America on the morning of 12/7/09 ( The report actually started off by saying the CPSC is investigating. Shame on Good Morning America for running the story before the CPSC had completed their investigation. That's over 4 million viewers/potential consumers who received misinformation.

jennifer said...

i would not normally have a suggestion for more regulation but I think if we have the CPSIA what must come with it is the the CGIA (consumer group improvement act). honestly these people are crazy.

if they really wanted to do something to help the safety and welfare of children, they would fix big problems. scanning children's products with xrf guns and making claims is too easy. at the very least a "professional" consumer group response would be to go to the company first to tell them of their findings not blast it all over the internet. but again, they aren't professional and they spew out all sorts of misinformation and eventually i hope it all backfires on them - looks like it is starting to.

Anonymous said...

I wish Good Guide would get sued. I doubt they will be but it could be a deterrent to other terrorist (consumer protection) organizations.

kathleen fasanella said...

Oh wow, I found another activist terrorist except this one is so scary she's funny!

Like Eric says, she brought a butter knife to an intellectual gun fight.

Seriously, as amusing as its been, I have to let her alone and get to work but maybe someone else will enjoy her "investigative reporting".

Eric H said...

Oh my God! Antimony!! In a TOY!!!

While we're at it, we need to ban the entire periodic chart from all aspects of our lives!!!! Only then can we truly be safe!!!!! We should start with Sodium, a highly reactive Group I alkali metal with ONLY ONE STABLE ISOTOPE!!!!!! And then let's ban Chlorine, a toxic halogen that has been found to destroy ozone and to make MUSTARD GAS!!!!!!! And surely we need to do something about all of this dihydrogen monoxide that the EPA has been finding in every body of water in North America, not to mention in the bloodstreams of children and in CANCER CELLS!!!!!!!@ (Oh crap, I finally broke my exclamation point key)