More dangerous goods removed from EU shelves

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Record numbers of dangerous goods were removed from EU shelves last year, Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli said yesterday (15 April), presenting the European Commission's annual report on product safety in Brussels. But consumer organisations said far too many dangerous products were slipping through the net and onto the market place.

The number of dangerous consumer products withdrawn from EU markets rose by 7% in 2009 compared to 2008, according to the latest annual report on the bloc's rapid alert system for non-food dangerous products, RAPEX. 

The EU executive said the rise was the result of more effective market surveillance by member states.

"What's happening is that the net is getting narrower and narrower and the system tighter and tighter, so we're catching more and more of the goods coming in," said Maltese Commissioner Dalli, presenting his first RAPEX report since assuming the portfolio from his predecessor, Bulgarian Meglena Kuneva, in the new year.  

"As member states continue to develop their expertise, market surveillance can only get better," Dalli added.

The improved performance is also a sign that European businesses are taking their responsibilities regarding consumer products more seriously and are increasingly ready to recall unsafe products from the market, the EU executive explained.

Last year's report had shown that the number of dangerous products withdrawn from EU markets rose by 16% in 2008, and was also seized upon by the Commission as proof that the bloc's product safety standards were improving (EURACTIV 21/04/09).

Indeed, the EU executive insists that the increase in the number of notifications this time around "does not mean that there are more dangerous goods on the European market".

Instead, "the constant growth in the number of notifications over the past six years is due to an increased awareness and the attention given to product safety by national authorities and the business sector, more frequent and more effective [checks] of consumer products on the market and joint market surveillance actions carried out by national authorities," reads the RAPEX report.

Consumer groups nevertheless warned that more needed to be done to ensure that Europe's consumers are adequately protected and called for safety to be kept "high on the agenda" of Europe's decision-makers.

"Once again, the number of alerts in the past year has increased and although this shows that better surveillance is taking place, it undoubtedly shows that there are still far too many dangerous products that are slipping through the net and making it onto the marketplace," said European consumers' organisation BEUC in response to this year's report.

Chinese toys top black list

The Commission received 1,993 notifications of dangerous goods last year, up from 1,866 the year before.

Toys (472 notifications; 28%), clothing and textiles (395; 23%) and motor vehicles (146; 9%) accounted for 60% of the recalled products, while electrical appliances (138 notifications) constituted the fourth most problematic category. 

The entry into force last year of EU legislation to enhance market surveillance activities regarding cords and drawstrings in children's clothing prompted a sharp increase in the number of hazardous items of clothing detected.

Chemical hazards (493 notifications; 26%, injuries (405; 21%) and choking (261; 14%) were the most common risks to consumers identified by the report.

60% of the notifications relate to Chinese-made products compared to just 20% for goods manufactured in the EU, reflecting the fact that 80% of the toys in Europe are made in China.

Asked what the EU executive was doing to address the huge volume of dangerous Chinese goods entering the EU, Commissioner Dalli said "we believe there has already been progress vis-à-vis Chinese products coming into Europe. We're putting much more emphasis on ensuring that importers talk to their suppliers in China".

"I'll be speaking to the Chinese authorities to see what they're doing on respecting standards, which is a must for entry onto the EU market," Dalli said, adding: "We want them to continue with the progress they're making and we're going to increase vigilance here in Europe". 

Spain tops notification charts

Spain was the country that recorded that highest number of notifications in 2009 (220; 13%), closely followed by Germany (187; 11%) and Greece (154; 9%).

"Spain is top because [the Spanish authorities] have invested more resources in surveillance," not because it is gateway for dangerous goods entering the EU, said Commissioner Dalli.

Asked about the possibility of introducing punitive measures on manufacturers and importers alike, Dalli claimed EU legislation already contained the necessary sanctions.

"It is up to the member states to implement them. The Commission can only make sure that sanctions are effective," he said.

Presenting the 2009 RAPEX report yesterday, EU Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli said "this report serves as our annual reality check of the safety of products on the EU market for EU citizens".

"Safety is of critical personal relevance to member states, and in the past six years RAPEX has become an example of the effectiveness of EU cooperation in this area," Dalli added.

Commenting on the results, Monique Goyens, director-general of European consumers' organisation BEUC, said "we must aim for a situation where dangerous products are virtually non-existent in the market place. This will only be done when national authorities are given more resources for market surveillance".

"The EU is only as strong as its weakest member, after all, and it only takes one dangerous shipment to go unnoticed for catastrophe to strike," Goyens warned.   

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 (EURACTIV 19/12/08). 

The new legislation, which was first tabled by the European Commission in January of that year (EURACTIV 28/01/08), 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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