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TOP RETAILERS CRACKING DOWN ON TOYS

Wal-Mart and Toys "R" Us set up stricter manufacturing standards.

After facing recall after recall of millions of Chinese-made items, the nation's biggest toy sellers are imposing stricter measures on their suppliers - including tougher standards for lead content - to get ahead of expected new federal legislation.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Toys "R" Us Inc., the nation's top two toy sellers, are setting a much tighter standard for the amount of lead allowed on surface paint for toys shipped to their chains on or after March 1. The companies are also phasing out chemicals found in PVC, or vinyl, that have raised safety concerns in products for infants and young children.

The measures are meant to meet or exceed new federal standards expected from Congress in the wake of last year's highly publicized recalls of millions of toys because they contained excessive amounts of lead or other hazards.

"We made a commitment to the world that we would push forward toy safety as a top priority," said Gerald L. Storch, chairman and CEO of Toys "R" Us. "This is not the last improvement that we will put in place."

Laura Phillips, vice president and chief toy officer for Wal-Mart, noted that the company is "in the season of writing orders" and needed to make the appropriate changes.

The moves come as the industry gears up for the annual American International Toy Fair, which officially begins Sunday.

Target Corp., the nation's No. 2 discounter, said it was working with its "vendors, industry leaders and the Consumer Product Safety Commission," but did not give specifics.

The toy industry has a lot at stake. Market research firm NPD Group Inc. says traditional toy sales fell 2 percent to $22.1-billion in 2007 from a year earlier, and 5 percent in the October to December period.

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