Training a puppy can be difficult, so I make sure I have a lot of tasty treats available to reward my one year old, 65 Lb. black lab, B.B. But I was astonished to find a notice on the package for an over-sized rawhide "bone" I bought for his birthday that read, in all caps: WARNING: NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION."
That seemed fairly obvious to me, so much so that I can't imagine anyone picking up this dog bone and even, as a joke, putting it in their mouth. But one has to assume that someone did just that, and probably sued the dog food makers, necessitating the warning label that's now prominent on each package. Thanks, plaintiff's bar!
When did we get to the point that we no longer allow common sense to dictate how we use products for our home, family and pets? Why do we need specific labels to tell us things that should be obvious to all?
Last week, the makers of the Bumbo Baby Seat announced they were adding a restraint belt to the popular foam baby chair, to prevent kids from wiggling out of it. While they had already added warnings on the packaging and the chair itself – making clear that it should always be used on the floor and with parental supervision – parents were still placing their kids in it on high surfaces, and unfortunately, a small number of babies fell and got hurt. So now, in an agreement with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Bumbo is adding a belt to add an extra layer of safety.
With more than 7 million sold worldwide, Bumbo evokes strong affection among mothers of young children. It would have been sad to see a product that is loved by so many be taken off the shelves because some parents have used it inappropriately. Therefore, it's great to see the CPSC pursuing common-sense solutions, rather than knee-jerk product banishments.
Some consumer groups are too quick to assume the only safe alternative to a problem is to ban a product, and they are not receptive to any innovative fix a manufacturer may develop. And too often, it seems, CPSC has also made the short-sighted choice to completely recall a product, to garner headlines and appease those consumer groups. It was just a few years ago that the CPSC banned ATVs and motorcycles built for youth – not because they were dangerous to ride, but based on it's fear that the children would lick the lead on the batteries. It didn't exercise an exemption that would have allowed for a common-sense application of the law.
So a lot of credit for CPSC's new common-sense approach should go to CPSC member Nancy Nord, who has urged the CPSC to work with industry more, rather than fighting it every step of the way.
If the CSPC really wants common-sense solutions, it should now differentiate between true recalls and the product improvement announcements, like the one Bumbo had this week. We have been programmed to react a certain way to the term "recall," and assume that anything "recalled" has the potential to explode at any moment. By calling everything a recall, the CPSC runs the risk of crying wolf too often, and losing our attention when we must discontinue using products immediately. Using another term, like "safety enhancement," for changes like the one Bumbo is making, would allow consumers to understand the difference between products that should be avoided and those that need to be upgraded or fixed.
We need to focus less on scaring the public and demonizing innovators, and more on arming consumers with the tools to keep themselves, and their children, safe.
But at the end of the day, the onus should be on parents and consumers to use products in a smart way. I shouldn't have to be told, repeatedly, that it's unwise to place a wiggly child in a seat, on a table and then walk out of the room. And if some people do it, it shouldn't cause a recall that will wreak havoc for parents using the product responsibly.
I should just know to use products with common sense, just as I know eating the bone I bought for B.B. wouldn't end well.
At some point, we have to rely on parents to make smart decisions for their families and not rely on the government to provide warning signs for any conceivable danger.