Stuffed toys often make popular Christmas gifts, but buyers need to look carefully at product labels to determine whether the joy they are bringing to the recipient is likely to be accompanied by vermin, dirt or mould.
Disappearing provincial legislation on upholstered and stuffed articles is transferring oversight to federal legislation – which has different labelling and enforcement – and to consumers themselves.
Ontario repealed regulations that once required retailers, importers or manufacturers selling plush toys and other stuffed articles (mattresses, winter coats) to label the toy with a tag bearing their government registration number and a statement that the filling inside the toy is clean, new material only. The impact of this change was analyzed in a Consumers Council of Canada December 2018 report.
That report noted that Ontario inspectors would no longer be able “to enter premises, inspect products and write correction orders – including ordering the destruction of an article believed to pose a danger to public health.” It also noted that inspections may encounter bed bug infestations, unclean waste products, vermin, fungus and mould, dangerous contents such as glass and metal shards, and other items that can present choking hazards.
Ontario cited the broad protections under its Consumer Protection Act (such as prohibiting misleading descriptions such as claiming new material when used material has been used) and the federal Consumer Product Safety Act, which has specific sections governing the stuffing in dolls and plush toys.
That federal legislation does require that stuffing in a doll, plush or soft toy must be clean and free from vermin, free of hard or sharp foreign matter, and within toxicity and irritant thresholds. However, there is no labelling requirement. Enforcement is often triggered by consumer complaints, as well as periodic inspections by Health Canada – typically every few years.
The net effect of these changes is that there is a lot to learn about the labels of the toys being purchased.
- Toys that are registered with Quebec or Manitoba tags still have stuffed article regulations in effect.
- Most U.S. states have similar regulations, so labels from those jurisdictions may convey some protection.
- If there is a tag that cites Ontario regulations, the message is less clear. it may be an older toy, produced when the older rules were in effect. It may also be a newer toy with a tag designed to mostly give comfort to consumers who expect a tag about contents. But that tag offers little protection, and consumers could be at risk of being mislead.
- Plush toys without registered labels present no guarantee that the product is compliant.
More information about the impact of the changes on mattress labelling was included in a previous report.