The Age (Melbourne, Australia) (pg. 16), November 8, 2007

EDITORIAL: NO EXCUSES FOR TOYING WITH PUBLIC SAFETY

[Rachel's introduction: "It is regrettable that it has taken the poisoning of children to remind manufacturers and authorities, including the State Government, of how vital it is to act on the precautionary principle of safety first."]

Product recalls happen all the time, but this one demands attention: a product voted Australia's toy of the year is banned because its "magic beads" contain a substance that turns into a toxic illegal drug when ingested, leading to the hospitalisation of children in NSW [New South Wales] and Queensland. The toy, Bindeez, is produced by Melbourne company Moose and made in China. The company says what should be a non-toxic glue appears to have been substituted without its knowledge. When swallowed, the substitute chemical metabolises into gamma-hydroxy butyrate, also known as "grievous bodily harm", which can be life- threatening.

This incident raises many questions. Given that NSW scientists had identified the danger to health, why did Victoria delay a whole day when other states imposed bans immediately? Even if it was Melbourne Cup day, government responsibility for public safety does not stop on holidays. Moose had begun a recall and is co-operating with investigations. Its acknowledgement of incidents worldwide raises the question: when did it become aware of the problem?

Whether human error or cost cutting is to blame, the Bindeez recall comes on top of recent health scares involving millions of Chinese- made products: toys containing lead paint, toothpaste containing toxins and drug-contaminated seafood. While most of the toys were later revealed to be unsafe because of a design fault, not lead paint, these cases point to the urgent need to ensure all imports meet Australian safety standards.

An Australian Competition and Consumer Commission review of toy standards was already under way. China has been shocked into a regulatory review to reassure the world its products are safe. Companies that use cut-price overseas factories also have a duty to ensure their products are safe and made exactly to design specifications, without substitutions. That requires continual auditing of manufacturing processes and testing of the finished products. It is regrettable that it has taken the poisoning of children to remind manufacturers and authorities, including the State Government, of how vital it is to act on the precautionary principle of safety first.