Wednesday, June 9, 2010

CPSIA - McDonald's Fallout Continues

The spectacle of the McDonald's cadmium "scare" continued to unfold today.

Let's not forget that this recall was "urged" by the CPSC although the CPSC admits in writing that the glasses are "non-toxic". In other words, the glasses are safe. As the manufacturer notes: "'It could have been any glass company,' said Ron Biagi, an executive with Arc International, which made the glasses. 'We all do the same thing using materials from the same suppliers.'" McDonald's clearly had no choice in the matter, suffering a terrible loss of prestige no matter what the outcome. So the CPSC, Rep. Jackie Speier, one anonymous tipster and a hyperbolic press forced a highly wasteful and destructive recall.

The tumult, chaos and confusion thoughtlessly spawned by the CPSC continues to unfurl in almost predictable fashion: "But the returns [to McDonald's] are just the beginning of the next chapter in the cadmium debate, with the CPSC poised to set new limits on the metal even as it downplays the McDonald's recall and environmental advocates aim to use the episode to build momentum for reform of federal toxics law."

A terrible move deserves an even worse follow-up.

What's the cause for alarm here? The glasses are safe, so says the CPSC . . . as it dramatically lowers the standard for cadmium. Yeah, nobody's worried.

The consumer group talking heads can't resist chiming in: "Don Mays, senior director of product safety for Consumer Reports, said cadmium was being used in some manufactured goods to replace lead, which has been eliminated from many products in response to heavy regulation and widespread health concerns. Many of those goods were once commonly associated with lead, like paint and inexpensive jewelry. 'We’re just starting to see this,' Mr. Mays said. 'It’s starting to creep into a lot of consumer products that never had it before.'”

Does anyone care that the CPSC SAYS THIS ISN'T TRUE? "After an Associated Press investigation first uncovered the high cadmium levels in some children's jewelry, CPSC Chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum publicly warned manufacturers in Hong Kong not to replace lead with cadmium or other toxic metals. Tenenbaum told senators in April that 'we really don't think' companies are deliberately swapping out lead for other hazardous chemicals, 'but we think they're being careless and not realizing that you cannot use these metals in children's products.'" [Emphasis added]

Some in the press aren't persuaded. After all, urban myths are true . . . aren't they? "[David Lazarus of the LA Times] notes that Cadmium has probably stayed off the radar for so long because people weren't widely aware of its use. The focus has primarily been on the danger of lead products, and lead product replacements weren't a primary concern. Chinese manufacturers began using Cadmium insted [sic] of lead to get the same vivid pigments in product colors." Right. David Lazarus knows all about this.

And then there are our Democratic leaders in Congress. It's election season so there's little incentive to be a calming influence. "Congresswoman Jackie Spear [sic], who first received the anonymous tip about the Shrek cups, doubts Europe is the Cadmium culprit due to its strict manufacturing rules. Spear [sic] suspects either a subcontractor or ingredient provider in China; China is one of the leading Cadmium producers in the world. . . . Spear [sic] says she has legislation in the works that would expand the Cadmium ban in U.S., specifying removing its use in any product for children."

And the basis for Rep. Speier's hunch is . . . what, exactly? The glasses were made in a U.S. factory: "In contrast to the Chinese-made children's jewelry recalled earlier in the year, the drinking glasses were manufactured in the United States, by the Millville, N.J.-based company ARC International. Ron Biagi, vice president for North American sales at ARC, said he was surprised by the recall and vouched for the safety of the glasses. While environmental and consumer groups pointed to the importance of identifying the producer of the cadmium-tainted enamel used on the McDonald's glasses, Biagi declined to name ARC's supplier. 'It's not fair for me to pull them in,' he said." OMG, somebody decent is left in the world! I had about given up hope.

Having set off the blaze, CPSC Director of Public Affairs Scott Wolfson again spewed more of his patented mixed signals sure to sow seeds of doubt: "'What's so important is for parents to understand the difference. ... Children are not at an acute risk; the glasses are not toxic,' Wolfson said, adding that 'there are no signs we're looking at a wave here of cadmium becoming the next lead.'" Which is why, Scott, you and your agency acted so promptly to push for a recall of this non-toxic product made of common materials in wide distribution in this country for years without any detectable adverse health effect? Which is why you told America to stop using the oh-so-safe glasses "immediately" in your OnSafety blog? Do I have this wrong? Clear as mud. Very believable, too.

There are terms for this that are too crass for a family publication like my blog. Let your imagination run. How will all this resolve itself? Of course, not very well. Justified by fear of "bone softening" (that sounds HORRIBLE, doesn't it?) and other bizarre maladies that supposedly COULD befall us from unspecified exposure to cadmium, we will get many new and ineffective regulations imposing yet more devastating costs and devastating risk on the children's product industry.

While hatred of government is a necessary by-product of the massive self-inflicted injury of the CPSIA, we will more pertinently be faced with the difficult challenge of protecting our life's work - our businesses. The livelihoods of our friends and associates at our company, the economic well-being of our customers and suppliers (often our close friends, too) and in our case, the economic future prospects of the kids who are being educated with our products, all hang in the balance. I don't know what stops this freight train before it tragically collides with reality. Certainly not leadership or a show of character from our government.

I hate to close these essays sounding like a Tea Partier (not that I resent the label). I don't wish to be marginalized for having strong views about an abdication of leadership and judgment by our government leaders. Say what you will, the McDonald's fiasco was fomented by politicians with agendas. Many companies and people - and our economy - will be severely damaged as a result.

There's nothing to be proud of here.


Tam said...

Well said! I have been linking to your blog posts quite a bit lately... your twitter link is broken... do you have a twitter account still?

Tam said...

nm, found it, you should update your twitter link on the blog though

Rick Woldenberg, Chairman - Learning Resources Inc. said...

Thanks Tam, we have updated the link. Have a great day!