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Brussels, 28 February 2008

EU requires "magnetic toys" to carry a warning label

Toys containing magnets look set to carry a mandatory warning label across the EU, under a Commission proposal approved by Member States in the General Product Safety Directive (GPSD) Committee today. The proposal for a draft Commission decision will cover all "magnetic toys" - toys that contain or consist of loose or detachable magnets, or magnetic components of such size and shape that they can be swallowed by children. The warning label will be carried on the packaging or be otherwise attached to the toy. Magnets are an emerging risk, in the course of the last few years they have become smaller, more powerful and more easily detachable. There have been, over the past two years, a number of accidents worldwide with children swallowing magnets detached from toys, as well as hundreds of consumer complaints, incident reports and several RAPEX notifications. The draft Commission decision is part of the follow up to the stocktaking on toy safety controls undertaken by the Commission in Autumn 2007, following a series of high profile toy recalls. It is in line with similar measures being taken by Member States such as France and Germany since the end of last year. The draft decision will be submitted to the European Parliament before being put to the College of Commissioners for a decision in early April. Member States then have a 3 months period to ensure that all magnetic toys carry the warning label.

European Commissioner for Consumers, Meglena Kuneva said: "Tiny magnets in toys are often no bigger than the size of a pencil eraser, but they have become very powerful. There is mounting evidence of the real injury that can be caused when tiny magnets end up in children's mouths if they come loose and are swallowed. This warning label is a temporary measure while the EU-wide standard is being revised. The warning label will spell out clearly for parents the potentially serious risks and ensure extra vigilance."

The current situation

Currently there are no specific rules or standards covering magnetic toys. They are only governed by the general EU requirement that toys placed on the market pose no health or safety threat.

The problem

Besides a fatal accident reported in the US in 2006, dozens of occurrences of children swallowing at least two magnets or a magnet and a metal object and requiring major surgery (the magnets are attracted to each other and may cause lacerations of the digestive tract) have been reported since 2006 worldwide. Hundreds of consumer complaints and incident reports have also been reported, and several RAPEX notifications of measures concerning magnetic toys submitted.

Several toy manufacturers have recently issued major recalls of toys containing magnets, most prominently Mattel which, during the summer of 2007, recalled about 18 million toys on a global scale.

The new proposal

The Commission has asked the European Standardisation Committee (CEN) to revise the relevant European standard (EN 71-1) in order to cover the specific risks related to small magnets in toys. The CEN was given 2 years to do so and should return a revised standard, with proper constructional solutions for manufacturers, in summer 2009. In the meantime, through the Decision approved by Member State experts today, the Commission is proposing that warning labels are put on all magnetic toys which could pose a risk to children. The warning is a temporary solution to bridge the gap until the CEN produces the revised standard.

The draft Decision agreed today covers "magnetic toys". This means toys that contain or consist of loose or detachable magnets, or magnetic components of such size and shape that they can be swallowed by children. In order to be marketed in the EU, such toys will have to be marked with an adequate warning. This will detail the risks linked to the presence of magnets or magnetic components that are accessible to children

Member States will have to ensure that magnetic toys on the EU market display the wording: “Warning! This toy contains magnets or magnetic components. Magnets sticking together or becoming attached to a metallic object inside the human body can cause serious or fatal injury - seek immediate medical help if magnets are swallowed or inhaled” (or equivalent wording). The warning must be clear and readable, and visible to the consumer.

A number of Member States, including France, Germany have already introduced voluntary recommendations introducing these warnings from the start of 2008.

The next steps

The proposal will now go to the European Parliament, which has a right of scrutiny, after which it will be formally adopted by the Commission. The Commission has already initiated the 60-day notification process required through the WTO, which should finish at the end of March. Within three months of the Commission adoption of the Decision, Member States must ensure that all magnetic toys which are marketed in the EU are compliant with this measure, and that those which do not comply are blocked or withdrawn from the market.

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