The Consumer Product Safety Commission issued its long-awaited statement of policy on the tracking labels required for all manufacturers of children’s products, under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. New chairman Inez Tenenbaum, as well as commissioners Thomas Moore and Nancy Nord, voted on Monday to approve the guidelines. The tracking label provision, Section 103(a) of the CPSIA, goes into effect on August 14 and affects only products manufactured on or after that date.

The guidelines allow publishers to be flexible in how they comply with the provision, which is what the industry, through the Association of American Publishers, had been pushing for. In a statement about the new policy, Tenenbaum said: “The Commission... has agreed that Section 103(a) does not require a uniform ‘one size fits all’ labeling system. Rather, the only ‘uniform’ requirement is that the tracking information required by statute be ascertainable from the distinguishing marks made on the children’s product and its packaging. How an individual manufacturer chooses to achieve this end is left to the reasonable judgment of each individual manufacturer.”

In other words, publishers can print the “tracking label,” which must be permanent and appear on the product and packaging, anywhere on the book and in any form, as long as it contains the specific source of the product, including the country, city and state where the product was manufacturered, the date of production, and cohort information such as the batch or run number. The information can be printed in full on the product, or a code can be used to allow consumers to find the information online. Click here to read the Statement of Policy and click here to read a list of FAQs about compliance with Section 103(a).

The CPSIA, which was spurred by recalls of lead-containing toys and governs all products for ages 12 and under, is intended to protect children from harm, primarily from lead. It was enacted in August 2008 and its first major provisions went into effect in February 2009. While “regular” ink-on-paper or board books printed after 1985 were granted a stay of enforcement, the Act requires publishers of novelty books to test for lead and phthalates, and libraries, schools and used booksellers to test older books. All publishers of books printed from August 14 forward must include tracking labels on their products, whether or not they must test for lead.

The industry is still hoping for a full exemption for regular books, and libraries and schools are anxiously awaiting guidance on how they can comply with the Act without having to remove older books from shelves. Librarians argue that testing would be prohibitively expensive and impractical, and point to research compiled by industry groups showing that the risk of older books harming children is neglible.