Why Is Congress “Protecting” Children from Books?

Hi, Free-Rangers: Here’s a really thought-provoking (okay, outrage-provoking) guest blog from Rick Woldenberg, a businessman in Illinois who believes in safety, but not in spending millions to protect our our children from nearly  non-existent dangers. Read on!

By Rick Woldenberg 

Readers of Free-Range Kids may not be surprised to learn that Congress has enacted far-reaching legislation to save your children from the dangers involved in reading an old book, riding a new bike or even using a Barbie pen. That is, if after using these items, they generally eat them. 

Feel safer already? The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act  became law on August 14, 2008 and it dramatically changes the way we regulate children’s product safety.  After several toys from China were recalled in 2007/8 for high levels of lead, Congress wanted to do something – anything — so it did. And went way overboard.

Until then, the Consumer Product Safety Commission focused only on products that posed an actual threat to your child’s safety – things like faulty car seats, or toys with small parts that could break off and cause choking. Under the new law, Congress imposes arbitrary standards that require the manufacturers of pens, shoes, t-shirts, ATVs, bikes, books, backpacks and toys to “prove” the safety of their products, and label them a new way.

 It sounds like a good idea to prove your product is safe before it hits the shelves. But because the law now covers every single product made for children up to age 12, many products well-known for being safe –  books! socks! — are being regulated for the very first time. Huge wasteful costs are being imposed on all of these products.

Think about it: Less than 0.01% of all children’s products are recalled in a typical year. But now the other 99.99% will have to prove their safety first.  Guess who pays for this? 

The cost to you will be high – in more ways than one.   Not only are prices inevitably going to rise to pay for all this testing and labeling, but many of the products and companies you depend on may go under or leave the market. Small businesses, yes, including ours – we make math toys for schools — are threatened by these needless new costs.

The law also makes it difficult and risky for Goodwill, the Salvation Army and other charities to sell or give away used children’s products, because merely by selling something with plastic or old ink, they might be breaking the law. Thrift stores are reacting to the new regulations by closing their children’s departments. Some have actually THROWN OUT any children’s books printed before 1985. That’s when printing ink still included lead – which might be a problem if children sat down and ate books, page by page, but is no problem at all if they just read them.

 The law of unintended consequences is certainly at work here.  Small businesses like ours have screamed for relief to no avail.   The cost of pre-sale testing alone may force many out of business. Shoemakers don’t know why children need to be protected from licking the soles of their shoes, and pen companies worry that kids won’t be allowed to use ballpoint pens in the future. After all, there is some lead in the tiny ball that could, conceivably, be extracted and eaten by a child with strange tastes and a pair of microscopic, needle-nosed pliers.

 Meantime, some libraries have even cordoned off their children’s books, presumably to keep kids from licking their Green Eggs and Ham.  And guess who encouraged them? The current Acting Chairman of the Consumer Products Safety Commission!  

This safety controversy has made our country an international laughingstock.

Supporters of the law think it is “better to be safe than sorry.” I suppose if eating your dirt bike is a real risk in your household, they could be right. Sadly, Congress thinks we’d best prepare for any eventuality, no matter how tiny the danger, and how unlikely it is to occur.  If you want to express your concerns to Congress about this far-reaching, ill-thought-out law, click here.

If you are a child: Please do so with your finger – and NO LICKING!

 — Rick Woldenberg, Chairman, Learning Resources, Inc., Vernon Hills, Illinois



P.S. Lenore here. A friend just sent me this great (if long) article about the same topic, and how crunchy, all-natural toy makers find themselves strangely allied with stalwart Republicans in opposing this new, excessive regulation: http://www.reason.com/news/show/133228.html