Fewer dangerous products hitting EU markets

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Fewer dangerous goods are finding their way onto EU shelves, Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli said yesterday (12 May), presenting the European Commission’s annual report on product safety in Brussels. But consumer groups disagreed and said more effort was needed to improve market surveillance. 

The number of dangerous consumer products withdrawn from EU markets rose by 13% in 2010 compared to 2009, according to the latest annual report on the bloc’s rapid alert system for non-food dangerous products, RAPEX.

A record 2,244 unsafe products were banned, withdrawn from the market or recalled from consumers last year, up from 1,993 the year before.  

The Commission put the improvement to member states having "upped their game" and increased commitment on behalf of European businesses to take product safety seriously.

One sign of a "greater awareness among businesses of their obligations" was a 200% increase in the use by manufacturers of a new dedicated rapid alert system known as the ‘GPSD Business Application’.

The improved performance is also a sign that cooperation with third countries, particularly China, was improving, and that resources earmarked for addressing safety concerns are being allocated more effectively, the EU executive said.

"Partnerships are beginning to reap results, both in Europe and in countries that supply us, such as China," said Commissioner Dalli, adding: "This means we can get on with the critical work to be done."

The Commission also said progress had been made by its own networks and training systems.

Consumer groups, however, fear that too many dangerous items are still finding their way onto EU shelves.

"There are still far too many dangerous products slipping through the net. More efforts, and particularly resources, are still needed to improve market surveillance," said Stephen Russell, secretary-general of ANEC, the European consumer voice in standardisation.

Chinese products still top black list

Clothing and textiles (625 notifications) were least year’s most frequently notified products, mainly due to suffocation and irritation risks, pushing into second position toys (488 notifications), which had topped the 2009 black list.

The third most frequently notified category product last year was motor vehicles (175 notifications), while electrical appliances (158 notifications) ranked fourth on account of the risk of electric shock.

58% of the notifications last year related to Chinese-made goods compared to just 17% for products manufactured in the EU, reflecting the fact that 80% of the toys in Europe are made in China.

Indeed, the significance of Chinese manufacturing was emphasised by the fact that this year's edition of the report was fully translated into Mandarin.

A further 15% came from other non-EU countries and 10% were of unknown origin.

Germany tops notification charts

Germany was the country that recorded that highest number of notifications in 2010 (204 notifications; 10%), claiming the crown from 2009 top dog Spain. It was closely followed by Bulgaria (192; 10%), Hungary (191; 10%), Cyprus (178; 9%) and Greece (159; 8%).

In total, 19 EU countries increased their activity in the RAPEX system.

Enhanced market surveillance activities undertaken by national authorities, particularly regarding dangerous clothing and textiles, were singled out by the commissioner as a key driver of the system’s increased effectiveness.

Indeed, notifications on clothing soared from 395 in 2009 to 625 in 2010 following joint surveillance action on cords and drawstrings in children’s clothes conducted by nine countries.

New risk assessment methods, new IT tools and an extension of the scope of RAPEX to professional products are also believed to have been behind the improved performance.

Andrew Williams 

"Safety at source is key to product safety, especially given the new realities of globalisation. Companies must design out safety risks from the start, [while] manufacturers must manage the quality of the manufacturing process, checking the final products coming off the conveyor belt," said Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli, unveiling the report yesterday.

Stephen Russell, secretary-general of ANEC, the European consumer voice in standardisation, said: "Once again, the number of alerts of the past year has increased – a record 2,244 unsafe products were found - and although this shows that the system detects unsafe products, it undoubtedly shows that there are still far too many dangerous products slipping through the net."

"More efforts, and particularly resources, are still needed to improve market surveillance," he added.

"The upcoming review of the General Product Safety Directive should be the opportunity to set up an improved European framework for market surveillance and for better product traceability, requiring for instance manufacturers to mark their products with a batch or serial number," said Monique Goyens, director-general of BEUC, the European consumers’ organisation.

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.

The new 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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