Federal Regulation vs. Artisanal Industries
This is a story about artisanal cheese and hand-polished wooden toys, organic spinach and exquisitely smocked baby dresses — the burgeoning small-scale economy so beloved by members of the "creative class." But it's also about another, much-discussed growth industry: the production of political cynicism among formerly idealistic Americans.
The story begins in 2007, an unusually good year for Peapods Natural Toys and Baby Care, in St. Paul, Minn., and many similar mom-and-pop businesses. Frightened by news that toys made in China contained unsafe levels of lead, customers were looking for alternatives to the usual big-box offerings. Just as organic farmers gain market share whenever there's a food-safety panic, the lead scare boosted sales of artisanal children's goods. "People wanted made-in-USA products, and we were the only place in town that had them," says Dan Marshall, the owner of Peapods. Vendors offering organic materials and a personal touch seemed poised to prosper. But the short-term boon soon turned into a long-term disaster. In response to the lead panic, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, or CPSIA, by an overwhelming majority. The law mandates third-party testing and detailed labels not only for toys but for every single product aimed at children 12 and under.
"It's everything from shoes to hair bows, Boy Scout patches and bicycles — it's everything," says Mr. Marshall. But few people producing or selling artisanal kids' products even realized that the CPSIA applied to them until months after President George W. Bush had signed it. By then it was too late.
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