To buy or not to buy, that is the question.


The holidays are just around the corner, but last summer’s massive toy recalls have left parents wondering what is safe to buy for their children.


Toy recalls reached a record level in the U.S. this year, according to the Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports magazine. With nearly 80 percent of toys now made in China, recalls affected major manufacturers such as Mattel and Fisher-Price, and some of the most popular toys, including Barbie accessories and Thomas the Tank Engine.

To buy or not to buy, that is the question.

The holidays are just around the corner, but last summer’s massive toy recalls have left parents wondering what is safe to buy for their children.

Heather McCarron of North Attleboro doesn’t know what her 18-month-old daughter Kathryn will find under the tree this year. Reports of Chinese-made toys with high levels of lead paint in major brands have given this mother, as well as many other parents, cause for concern.

"Unless it's made of cloth, the 'Made in China' stuff has gone back onto the shelf, and I make a mental note to see if I can find any recall information online before I give any serious consideration to buying it," she said.

Toy recalls reached a record level in the U.S. this year, according to the Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports magazine. With nearly 80 percent of toys now made in China, recalls affected major manufacturers such as Mattel and Fisher-Price, and some of the most popular toys, including Barbie accessories and Thomas the Tank Engine.

This has left parents to decipher what toys are safe to purchase this holiday season.

“I do look where toys are manufactured, but I haven’t stopped buying the ones made in China,” said Colleen Riley of Wakefield who recently purchased die-cast metal trains made in China for her 3-year-old son. “I know that Thomas Trains were recalled for lead paint levels, but I believe it was the wooden trains, so maybe to put my own mind at ease, I feel more comfortable buying the metal ones. I do think these manufacturers in China will be closely scrutinized, so they will be doing their best to make a safe product, I hope.”

According to toy manufacturers and retailers, the industry wants parents to know that toys are being tested at a level like never before, and steps are in place to ensure safe holiday shopping this year and in the future.

Frank Clarke, a spokesman for the Toy Industry Association, said, “Everyone in the world is testing, toy retailers, licensees, everyone is testing everything. With all the attention drawn to all the recalls, this is probably the safest (holiday season) ever.”

Smaller recalls recently reported are the result of the stepped-up testing, Clarke said, and any toys found to be unsafe are being immediately taken from the store shelves.

David Hesel, owner of The Toy Shop in Concord, which for decades has been a favorite destination for those looking for toys not “found on television,” advises parents not to have a “knee jerk” reaction over the recalls.

“Just because something is made in China doesn’t mean it has lead, and just because it is made in America, is no guarantee of its safety,” he said. “We’ve been here since 1942 and have had recalls over the years, even from reputable manufacturers.”

Hesel suggests shopping at local stores rather than at mass market retailers, in order to buy from people with a vested interest in children’s health and development.

“Not to disparage the mass market stores, but if they find lead, they just take it from the shelves and put on something else,” Hesel said. “Shop locally, ask questions, be selective about what you say yes to, and make intelligent decisions,” he said.

Clarke said that for coming holiday seasons, federal testing standards, currently being developed, will help assure parents that the toys they buy are safe, as soon as next year. The industry is currently working with the American National Standards Institute to develop not only testing standards, but also the means to certify labs so that tests will be carried out correctly, Clarke said. Up to now, testing was voluntary, but the new procedures will mean that all toys brought into the United States will be held to the same safety standards, he said.

For now, McCarron said she plans to be vigilant as she heads into the holiday season.

"I am absolutely considering the recalls when I look at toys, and I've already been busy trolling the Web for American-made toys. Better safe than sorry. I've got a baby bear to keep healthy and safe, and this question about the safety of toys from China has certainly brought out the protective mama bear in me."

For a complete list of toy recalls, please go to www.recalls.gov.

SIDEBAR Massachusetts Father and Founder of www.usmadetoys.comSees Business Grow

During a 2001 visit to a well-known national amusement park in Florida, Tim Cook found himself in a sea of souvenirs and toys.

“I noticed none of these products were made here in the U.S.,” said Tim. “At the same time I was taking a class on business, and between the two I decided to launch this online business…as an economic protest if you will.”

From his Southbridge home, Cooke launched www.usmadetoys.com, which today offers more than 125 toys from popular sellers such as Big Wheels to wooden blocks and puzzles.

“I guess the silver lining in all this (toy recalls) is that consumers are starting to look at labels and beginning to understand that it is being made in a certain place for certain reasons,” he said. He reports of 40 percent increase in business since this past summer.

Generally, Cook says U.S. made toys are more durable and parents can feel confident that materials used to make the product are safe.

“I’m trying to give consumers a choice,” he said. “If you can buy locally, why not do it?”