Brussels ramps up protection from hazardous products

Toy recall Tajani.jpg

The European Commission has moved to reduce the number of hazardous products entering the EU market with new regulatory proposals.

Antonio Tajani, the European enterprise and industry commissioner, and health and consumer Commissioner Tonio Borg, announced the proposals in Brussels this week.

The double package contains measures aimed at shoring up product safety and market surveillance.

“We’re talking about a market, consumer products, worth about €1 trillion per year, excluding food”, Tajani told reporters on Wednesday (13 February).

“The vast majority of these products are safe but not always,” he said.

Every year hundreds of hazardous products, including those with banned chemicals and toys presenting a choke risk to children, enter the EU market.

In 2011, consumers activated the European rapid alert system, RAPEX, 1,556 times to indicate the presence of dangerous products on the market, Tajani said.

Some 27% of the cases concerned clothes and textiles, 21% toys, 11% motor vehicles, 8% household appliances, and 7% cosmetics.

The proposal contains measures for improved traceability. Should the European Parliament and member states adopt the proposal, manufacturers will be obliged to state the country of origin, name, and address on the packaging of all consumer products.

Currently around 10% of the unsafe goods found on the EU market are of unknown origin.

“With the new requirement, dangerous products can be more easily traced back to the source, and cooperation with the market surveillance authorities of the country of origin can help stop dangerous products from reaching the market,” Borg said.

Import risks

Much of the risk derives from goods entering the EU from third countries.

“Better coordination of product safety checks, especially at the EU external borders, will eliminate unfair competition from dishonest or criminal rogue operators”, Tajani said.

Currently, if one member state approves the sale of a product the manufacturer is free to distribute it throughout the EU.

“If an unsafe consumer good enters the single market, it can be freely sold to more than 500 million people”, the director-general of the European consumer group BEUC, Monique Goyens, said in a statement.

“This is a prime example of European action being necessary to properly protect consumers in all 27 member states. National measures alone are not coping with the scale of risk. A consumer’s passport should not determine whether the product one buys is safe or not”, she said.

While the new regulatory proposals do not concern food, product regulation and traceability is a hot issue amongst EU regulators since tests revealed that many meat dishes on the EU market are mislabeled.

“Today’s plans include valuable improvements. Manufacturers will be required to improve the traceability of their products. The Commission will be able to take specific actions against products including a permanent sales ban. This chance to make products sold in Europe safer should not be missed by Member States and the European Parliament”, said BEUC Director-General Monique Goyens.

RAPEX, the EU's rapid alert system for dangerous products, has its legal basis in a 2001 directive on product safety and a January 2010 regulation on accreditation and market surveillance.

A regulation extended the application of RAPEX as of 1 January 2010 to both 'consumer' and 'professional' products - and to new risks like the environment, health and safety in the workplace and public security – to complement its original remit of protecting the health and safety of consumers.

Participants in the scheme include all 27 EU member states as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

In December 2008, the EU adopted a revised version of its Toy Safety Directive, updating European safety law to take into account developments in the modern toy industry.

The new legislation, which was first tabled by the European Commission in January of that year, replaced a 1988 directive on the issue in the light of new product development and improvements in scientific knowledge of chemical substances.

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