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The USA label doesn’t play around

Wooden color trains from toy maker Maple Landmark. The company touts a "Made in the USA" label on its products.

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Doug Krizner: Toy makers are estimated to sell about 60 percent of their products for the holidays. The lion’s share — made in China. Product recalls of the past year have many parents wary about Chinese-made toys. As Stacey Vanek-Smith reports, that’s created an opportunity for some patriotic marketing in the U.S.

Stacey Vanek-Smith: Some toy makers are dreaming of a red, white and blue Christmas. Holiday shoppers can expect to see “Made in the USA” stickers adorning more and more toys.

At Maple Landmark Woodcraft in Burlington, Vermont, toy fire trucks are being sprayed with finish. Walking through his factory, owner Mike Rainville says sales of his natural, locally-made toys have jumped about 70 percent since the recalls began. Rainville says he’s been spending a lot of time on the phone, assuring parents and retailers that his company uses no toxic chemicals or lead.

Mike Rainville: You know, we have customers calling concerned to make sure that our finish is safe and what do you use.

Maple Landmark’s website now features a picture of China with a slash through it, and assures consumers that the toys are made locally.

Industry analyst Sean McGowan says the recent recalls have toy makers on high alert.

Sean McGowan: At this stage, you know, Barbie’s been tested more than Barry Bonds. I think this maybe in fact, you know, the safest holiday ever from the standpoint of what’s actually on the shelves.

But McGowan says a Made-in-the-USA claim won’t be easy for most toy makers — about 80 percent of the toys on U.S. shelves are at least partly made in China. That hasn’t stopped some companies from fudging the truth, making the Made-in-the-USA claim because their toys are assembled stateside, and not mentioning that individual parts are being made in China.

McGowan says this kind of thing makes the whole industry look bad. And, he says, it’s part of the reason toy makers actually want more regulation.

McGowan: They want a bit more government involvement so that there are standards that they can point to and say, look, this is what we did. The good companies and the safe products want to be able to tout that.

But McGowan says the increased popularity of the Made-in-the-USA label maybe just a blip. He says parents who try to buy natural, or domestically-made toys will face a formidable obstacle:

McGowan: It’s the rare parent that can withstand, you know, the kid in the corner holding his breath until he turns blue because he wants Sponge Bob.

But for now, Rainville, the Vermont toy maker, says business is booming. And he’s happy to get a bigger chunk of the $20-plus billion toy industry.

I’m Stacey Vanek-Smith for Marketplace.

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