Thursday, December 10, 2009

CPSIA - Sean Oberle Takes a Pot Shot

How dare I express anger at irresponsible or incompetent consumer groups! I guess I am not a right thinking individual . . . like Sean Oberle, owner of the Product Safety Letter.

Today, Mr. Oberle made an oblique reference to me in his editorial entitled "Zhu Zhus: Who Loses?". In this essay, Mr. Oberle expresses the view that, like negative sales spillover effects from recalls, consumer groups may suffer some reduction in reputation from the actions of the inaptly-named "GoodGuide", famous for attacking Zhu Zhu Pets this week. [Courtesy of the fast action of the CPSC over the weekend in defense of the victimized Cepia LLC, the product was promptly cleared.] After snuffling up a few tears for the consumer groups, nobles one and all, Mr. Oberle carries on with a reference to my recent essay on this sad episode:

"But the current doesn't stop at humor. It runs into hostility. Indeed, one anti-CPSIA advocate this week went so far as to use publicly the irresponsibly offensive (yet laughable) slander, terrorists, to describe consumer groups when reacting to the Zhu Zhu story."

I don't mind being singled out, or even insulted in a condescending manner, for the content or choice of words in my essay on Zhu Zhu Pets. It is hard to interpret the concerted (in fact, coordinated) efforts of many consumer groups to destroy our industry as anything other than terrorism. The annual spectacle of consumer groups frightening the public by spreading fear and misunderstanding about toys is revolting and deserves public shame. Consider the recent successes of CEH in getting shoes and sandals recalled by the CA AG for having too much lead in soles and insoles. Wow, we really are safe now. That's quite a public service, isn't it? [Mattel's fines paid for CEH's sleuthing.] Likewise, Illinois PIRG's failure to find much to complain about in current toys on the shelf didn't stop them from making up a new safety standard (lead in the toys are below the federal standard but above ZERO!). In another case, the "Trouble in Toyland" report this year hauled in a bounty featuring as its big catch a zipper pull. Still, it was a great opportunity to go on TV and make out like the problems were still dire. Hey, it's a living. . . .

And the media is biting down hard, swallowing hook, line and sinker. Consider the WSJ and the Washington Post coverage of the "GoodGuide" episode:
  • WSJ: "The developments underscore the role that consumer groups can play in helping the government regulate children's products, but also the confusion they can bring." [Emphasis added] Helping? By doing what, spreading misleading information and causing a massive emergency by incompetently attacking the year's leading toy? That kind of help I think the CPSC can live without.
  • Washington Post: "A ratings Web site, GoodGuide, reported Saturday that it had found high levels of antimony in the Zhu Zhu Pets' 'Mr. Squiggles' model. Antimony is used as a fire retardant in textiles and plastics, and chronic exposure to it can cause heart and lung problems and other health effects. Federal laws require that toys contain no more antimony than 60 parts per million. GoodGuide reported that it had tested Mr. Squiggles and detected antimony between 93 and 106 parts per million." High levels? What exactly constitutes "high levels" of antimony, anything over the limit? Is that because even one part-per-million of antimony over the federal limit on the product's nose is deadly? I dare say NOT. How many slices of filet-of-nose-of-Zhu-Zhu-Pet must be consumed before you get "heart and lung problems and other health effects"? My opinion: the Washington Post has absolutely NO IDEA. However, what's the story if a paper can't use strong words to describe minor issues?

Don't worry, the Washington Post hasn't lost its edge. It tried again the very next day to help stir the pot some more.

Despite Mr. Oberle's indignation over my choice of words to describe the saintly consumer groups, most Americans are getting sick and tired of the stunts the self-appointed advocates pull annually. A little bit of this is a good thing, a mass terror campaign not so much . . . .

If we are ever to pull ourselves out of this miasma as a society, we're going to have to get away from consumer education through fear mongering. The issue confronting us is safety. Safety . . . not compliance, these are two different things. Perhaps there is something more to the virulence of the campaign than meets the eye. There are those among us who have a political agenda, in addition to an interest in safety. Let's not confuse the two. Revving up in Congress is an effort to recast the Toxic Substances Control Act. This next phase of the CPSIA descent-into-hell aims to make all chemicals suspect until proven safe. Sounds good to you? Well, consider what this approach to regulation has done to all aspects of the children's products industry over only TWO such chemicals (lead and phthalates). The same luminaries who brought you this mess have a mega mess to sell next.

Don't let it happen.


bchiasson said...

Thank you for exposing the consumer advocate groups for what they are. They claim to be fighting for consumer safety, however, as the boy who cried wolf, they have desensitized the average consumer from all the warnings of nasty toxins lurking around every corner. What they have done for the consumer is divert the CPSC's attention from educating the public on how to prevent accidents due to things like improper use of car seats; incorrect fitting of helmets; proper use of flotation devices, etc...Thank you all you advocates out there. You know who you are.

Happymom4 aka Hope Anne said...

Don't let the bullies quell you. SPEAK THE TRUTH--LONG AND LOUD!!! Some of us appreciate it!

Notechaser said...

Glad you said something about Mr. Oberle. I looked for somewhere to leave a comment on his article, but that forum dislikes direct response.

Anonymous said...

I also read and listened to TV reports about this insane group's claim. I found it interesting that the goodguy site did not mention that the manufacturer quickly presented them the test reports proving compliance, and stood their ground for NOT voluntarily recalling this product. It was simply a PR move for this group and their website.
One other humorous sound bite I heard was a woman who bought a Zhu Zhu and was not phazed by the claim of the toy being toxic. She said...and I laughed, and I quote "Since it would take a long, long time to have this chemical take effect, I am not worried - that is why we have immune systems". Enough said!