Wednesday, November 10, 1999 Published at 14:12 GMT
Europe to ban PVC toys
PVC is feared to be potentially dangerous to children
By Karen Bowerman, BBC Consumer Affairs Correspondent
Soft PVC teething toys will almost certainly disappear off shelves in Europe by Christmas after the European Commission recommended a ban on Wednesday.
Safety campaigners have always said such toys are dangerous as the chemicals are linked to cancer and infertility.
But the British government insists toys sold in the UK pose no health risk.
Thousands of soft PVC toys are sold across the UK each year - contributing to an industry which is worth nearly £2bn.
Many of the toys contain phthalates - chemicals which make PVC pliable.
The softeners have been used in toys for the past 50 years.
But there are fears they could be linked to cancer, liver problems and infertility.
Safety campaigners have wanted the chemicals banned for years - they claim if babies or young children spend a lot of time chewing or sucking toys which contain them, the phthalates could leak out and cause toxic effects.
Tests on the effects of phthalates have produced varying results.
Action has been taken
The Belgian health minister Magda Alvoet said: "Given the fact that we are talking about health risks for babies and very small children I think we have to apply the precautionary principle, and not allow a situation in which children's health can be put at risk."
The European Consumers' Association (ECA) asked the EU to impose a Europe-wide ban on the use of softeners in all toys for children under the age of three.
The Commission has recommended a ban on all teething toys for children under three, but stopped short of similar action on other toys.
Instead, it suggested that health warnings be put on these.
Both the warnings and the proposed ban on teething toys have to be approved by experts. If they are, the proposals could come into effect before Christmas.
EU consumer protection Commissioner David Byrne said: "The ban is to protect the youngest and most vulnerable among us. We received scientific advice that phthalates pose a serious risk to human health and decided to react immediately when scientists concluded that the available control tests on these products do not provide a reliable guarantee of protection."
Jim Murray, ECA director, said: "We think the proposal does not go far enough because it is restricted to objects intended to be put in the mouths of children under three, and of course children under three do not know what they are supposed to put in their mouth, and what they are not."
The British government and manufacturers in the UK claim toys sold here are unlikely to release dangerous levels of phthalates.
They say they are safe, and have undergone rigorous tests which show that while chemicals are released, they are well below danger levels.
Some toy manufacturers, including the makers of Tommee Tippee and Chicco baby products, are trying to use alternative plastics anyway.
Other companies are beginning to bring out toys which they're labelling 'PVC free'.