Consumer group urges quick FDA action on deadly cantaloupe outbreak – National Consumers League

September 30, 2011

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323,

Washington, DC- The National Consumers League is calling on the FDA to act swiftly to warn consumers about deadly cantaloupes and speed the release of guidelines and regulations regarding the safe production of produce.  A recent deadly outbreak of listeria – a foodborne pathogen – has been linked to the “Rocky Ford” brand coming from Jensen Farms in Colorado. The root cause of the contamination has not yet been determined.

“This is a deadly outbreak that has already killed 13 and sickened 72 people. The FDA must act immediately to alert consumers and get these cantaloupes out of our food supply,” said Teresa Green, NCL’s food safety expert. “We have no time to waste.”

The cantaloupes are contaminated with the pathogen Listeria monocytogene, a serious and sometimes lethal foodborne illness. The elderly, those with weakened immune systems and pregnant women and their babies are especially vulnerable to infection.  Listeria monocytogene has a mortality rate of 16 percent.

Jensen Farm cantaloupes were recalled on September 14, 2011 and FDA is working with state and local partners to ensure that all contaminated melons are removed from commerce. Nevertheless, due to listeria’s long incubation period, which ranges from two weeks to two months, new cases may continue to arise.

“NCL urges consumers to check with their supermarkets to learn whether their cantaloupes are from Jensen Farms. We also urge restaurants and stores with salad bars or otherwise selling cantaloupes to ensure that they are not serving the melons from Jensen Farms,” said Green.

“Consumers, restaurants or anyone else serving cantaloupe must check to see where the fruit came from. If they discover they have Jensen Farms’ melons, dispose of them immediately.”

NCL also urges consumers to thoroughly clean and sanitize any kitchen and refrigerator surfaces that might have come into contact with infected melon.  Any other food that may have come into contact with a contaminated cantaloupe should also be disposed of.  Consumers should be aware that the cold temperatures of a refrigerator do not kill listeria.

In light of this outbreak and the devastating toll it has taken, the National Consumers League urges FDA to speed up the release of guidelines and regulations for the safe production of cantaloupe and other produce.


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

Reebok’s toning shoes: $25 million dollars worth of false benefits and injury – National Consumers League

By Mimi Johnson, NCL Director of Health Policy

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t welcome a shortcut to better health and a trimmer physique.  For the past few years, several different companies have marketed shoes to help women, men, and even children, more quickly drop pounds and gain muscle.

You won’t see such claims any more, says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Reebok has just settled – for $25 million dollars – with the FTC over what they claim were unsubstantiated claims of benefits.  Reebok made very specific product promises, claiming that their line of their toning sneakers would produce 28% more muscle tone in the glutes and 11% more muscle tone in the calf and hamstrings than regular sneakers (see the ad below).


Other brands who might soon follow suit include Sketchers and New Balance, both of which are currently under investigation or part of class-action lawsuits over false benefit claims and injuries. The Consumer Produce Safety Commission (CPSC) has more than 36 complaints in its database, ranging from reports of stress fractures to pain.  While a $25 million dollar settlement might seem like a big deal, the toning shoe industry raked in about $1 billion last year alone and Reebok spent more than $40 million advertising the shoes benefits since the beginning of 2010

If you bought Reebok toning shoes or EasyTone apparel on or after December 5, 2008, you are eligible for refunds.  For more information about the settlement and to submit your claim, visit

Strong food safety regulations are common sense – National Consumers League

Teresa Green recently joined The National Consumers League as the Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow.  In her role, Teresa deals with a broad array of food issues including food labeling, truth in advertising, alcohol, child nutrition, food fraud and food safety. 

By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

In the midst of a serious outbreak of Listeria, which has killed at least 13 people and left more than 70 others seriously ill, Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann visited a meat packing plant and called for fewer government regulations on the food industry. “We want to have safety,” Ms. Bachmann said, “but at the same time we want to have some common sense.”  When it comes to foodborne illnesses, safety and common sense is often the same thing: government oversight helps ensure a safer food supply.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that every, year roughly 48 million people, or 1 in 6 Americans, contract foodborne illnesses. Of those who get sick, 128,000 will be hospitalized and over 3,000 will die.  And for those who get better, foodborne illnesses can be far more than a stomach ache; they often result in long term health consequences, such as arthritis and kidney failure.

While some in the industry claim that regulations stifle growth, a powerful argument at a time when many Americans are struggling to find work, the truth is much more complicated. The cost of food recalls is high, averaging around $5 million. The resulting loss of consumer confidence in a brand can be equally devastating, not just to the brand in question, but to the whole food industry. Strict food safety rules will never create a perfect system, but they can ensure that as few outbreaks as possible occur.

Enter the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which was signed into law by President Obama on January 4, 2011. In the face of a globalized and increasingly technological food supply, FSMA provides a much-needed modernization of the food safety system in this country by shifting the emphasis away from responding to foodborne illness outbreaks. It does this by focusing on enhanced partnerships, import safety, prevention, and inspections, compliance and response. This means that the FDA will have greater authority to force a company to issue a recall and will be better able to trace an outbreak back to its source.

FSMA is good news for American consumers. When it is fully implemented, we will have a new food safety system that focuses on the prevention of, rather than the response to, foodborne pathogens.  This approach will mean a safer food supply and, as a result, fewer sick Americans.  Sounds like common sense to me.

Frustration in the halls of Congress – National Consumers League

By Michell K. McIntyre, Project Director, NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft

Instead of calling for a vote or hearing on President Obama’s Jobs Plan, we are disappointed that the House Committee on Education & the Workforce chose to hold the fourth partisan hearing last week that focused on weakening the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a federal agency tasked with maintaining balance and promoting collective bargaining between workers and employers.

The GOP majority in the House Committee on Education & the Workforce seems decidedly pro-employer and anti-regulation, to the detriment of American workers. Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) has been an especially vocal and partisan critic of NLRB, especially the NLRB ruling against Boeing for moving its factory from Washington to South Carolina.

As President Obama recently noted, we have 14 months until the next election and Americans can’t wait that long for Congress to do something.  It’s time to stop promoting corporate profits alone and focus on ensuring the safety and prosperity of American workers.

The House Committee majority seems to take issue with all of NLRB’s rulings, even the most seemingly benign. For example, the NLRB recently issued a requirement that businesses post a free notice outlining the basic rights and responsibilities of workers and employers under the National Labor Relations Act—and critics responded by accusing NLRB of “over-reaching.”

“The president unveiled his jobs bill two weeks ago and it was introduced in Congress this week by Congressman Larson. Yet we’re here talking about a poster,” said Congressman Rob Andrews (D-NJ).

As outgoing NLRB Chairman Wilma Liebman noted in a recent NY Times article, the goal of the NLRB is still a sound one: to “further the policy of this statute, which is to further the practice of collective bargaining, obviously collective bargaining freely chosen.” Liebman concluded: “Some say collective bargaining is antithetical to the economy. I don’t buy that at all. This was a statute that worked. It created the middle class. It created good jobs.”

In an effort to start the conversation on the President’s Job Plan, ranking minority member Congressman George Miller (D-CA) announced the creation of an eForum on Jobs and has invited Americans to submit their stories about how the recession and economic downturn has affected their lives. The eForum on Jobs will initially run until Monday, October 3 and concentrate on gathering stories from the public on education, construction, and long-term unemployment, with selected stories to be published on the Democratic committee’s website.

For more information on how to submit your story to the eForum on Jobs, please visit

Saving fingers and pushing for safer table saws – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

I spent yesterday morning at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) listening to a report from the Commission’s staff on Table Saw Blade Contact Injuries – this is the culmination of many years of study and deliberation and even a favorable vote toward a mandatory safety standard in 2006 that never materialized. Table saws are inherently dangerous devices to anyone who comes within 10 feet of one. A blade spins on a table at 100 mph and cuts through thick pieces of wood, even metal.  Even watching the saw in action is scary, knowing what it can do to fingers or hands upon contact is even worse.

But table saws are a staple in any woodshop, no woodworker can operate efficiently without one.  And these saws are also among the most dangerous devices, inflicting nearly 67,300 injuries a year, half of which land victims in the emergency room. Many of the injuries are severe and cause lifelong pain and trauma  – amputations from table saws occur 10 times a day, according to CPSC data.

However, today we have a technology, invented by Oregon scientist and patent lawyer Steve Gass, that all but removes the danger of table saws. It operates with a sensor that can distinguish between human flesh and a piece of wood, stopping the blade in a millisecond and preventing injury when it senses flesh. The company Gass runs – which now makes table saws because no manufacturer would license his technology back in 2001 or 2002 when he first developed the prototype – is called SawStop. 30,000 SawStop saws are in operation today, many in shop classes and cabinetry workshops.

The CPSC staff – which is made up of lawyers, scientists, engineers, actuaries, statisticians, and human factor experts – gathered all the relevant information in order to brief the five CPSC commissioners and make a recommendation that the commission move forward with an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. That’s the first of three steps – the last of which would be a final rule or regulation requiring safe table saws.

The fact that the CPSC has moved forward on its own – without being specifically required to do so by congress –is unusual in itself. What’s even more unusual, though, is that there is a near total fix to a major safety hazard – one that causes 40,000 plus injuries a year. NCL wrote a letter in November to the Commissioners asking them to adopt a mandatory safety standard with this flesh detecting technology. NCL has been front and center in pushing the CPSC to jumpstart an otherwise dormant process.

Finally, one of the most hopeful signs that we will get an effective safety standard were the comments by Republican appointee, Commissioner Anne Northup, at yesterday’s presentation. No liberal, Northrup had this to say about the proposed ANPR and possible federal safety standard: “Thanks for putting this on the agenda. I’ve wanted this on the agenda for a long time. If you’ve ever known anyone who was injured by a table saw, it’s debilitating and expensive to treat. This is the kind of work I came to the Commission to do.”

We are hoping that within a year – give or take – we might well have a new mandatory safety standard from the CPSC, requiring flesh detecting technology, perhaps starting with the larger saws and eventually required on all of them.  The CPSC was established to address just this type of hazard. We are pleased to see them moving forward so decisively.

Fee-for-service health care system deserves scrutiny – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

A new study reveals that doctors’ fees and salaries – especially those of medical specialists – in the United States are much higher than they are in other western countries. That actually shouldn’t come as a surprise. As Atul Gawende has written in a New Yorker magazine piece entitled “The Cost Conundrum,” a fee-for-service system of health care means that doctors get paid per procedure, so the more procedures they do, the more they get paid. There’s every incentive, then, for them to recommend medical procedures even when they may not be needed.

What surprised me about this study, done by Columbia University professor Sherry A. Glied (who now works for HHS), and one of her Columbia colleagues, was that the average orthopedic surgeon in the United States earns an average of $442,450! That means figuring in all of the doctors across the country, in expensive and less expensive communities, that’s the average. That’s a lot of money to earn in one year. In other countries, the average for orthopedic surgeons is more like $210,000.

Even American primary care doctors earn 1/3 more than their counterparts in places like Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and the UK. The study concludes that the inflated cost of physician salaries in the United States is driving up the cost of health care without corresponding benefits to patients overall health.

I respect and admire doctors, and I understand that they are highly trained professionals who save lives and that most are deeply committed to their patients. But the payment model of fee-for-service for doctors must not be exempt from scrutiny as we seek to reduce the cost of health care in the United States.

NCL Fact Sheet on Saw Safety – National Consumers League

Table saws cause tens of thousands of serious injuries every year, costing billions of dollars.

Approximately 40,000 Americans go to hospital emergency rooms every year with injuries sustained while operating table saws.  About 4,000 of those injuries – or more than 10 every day – are amputations.

Table saw injuries cost the United States approximately $2 billion every year. 

Current table saw safety standards have proven ineffective in protecting consumers.

The primary technology used by the majority of table saw manufacturers to prevent table saw injuries is a plastic blade guard.  This technology has remained essentially the same for over 50 years.  Yet, blade guards have proved to be ineffective in reducing the 40,000 serious table saw injuries that occur every year.

Guards must be removed in order to perform many tasks on a table saw, such as cutting a notch in a board.  Users find them cumbersome and many simply remove the guards from their saws.  According to the most recent CPSC injury report, in approximately two-thirds of table saw injuries, the guard had been removed. And even when guards are in place, blade contact injuries can occur.  The CPSC report found that almost one-third of table saw injuries occur with the blade guard in place.

Technologies exist that prevent serious injuries if a person comes in contact with the blade.

One of these technologies, called SawStop, stops the blade within milliseconds of contact to minimize injury.  It is on the market already and has demonstrated its effectiveness with over 1000 finger saves.  Another technology was developed by a consortium of table saw manufacturers.  It retracts the blade within milliseconds of contact to minimize injury.  It has not yet been brought to market.

The benefits of improving table saw safety clearly outweigh the costs. 

It would cost approximately $100 per saw to put automatic safety technology on every table saw sold in the United States. According to Dr. John D. Graham, head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for President George W. Bush, an average table saw equipped with an automatic safety system will deliver $753 in benefits due to reduced injuries. The $753 benefit per table saw is many times greater than the $100 cost per saw to equip table saws with automatic safety technology, which means this safety requirement would be very cost-effective.  And those monetary benefits don’t even take into account the benefits of eliminating pain, suffering and emotional trauma that serious injuries impose on victims and their families.

The table saw industry is using many of the same arguments that auto manufacturers used to delay airbag requirements for 20 years.  In that time, an estimated 162,000 people died unnecessarily.

In the eight years that the Power Tool Industry (PTI) has been opposing automatic safety technology for table saws, an estimated 320,000 serious table saw injuries have occurred, including 32,000 amputations.

The PTI argues:

  • The requirement would be too costly.

But statistics show that it is cost-beneficial to prevent 40,000 serious injuries every year with this proven technology.  Auto manufacturers also argued that airbags would be too expensive for many cars and that consumers would not want to spend more money for the additional safety.

  • Blade guards work if people will use them.

Blade guards must be removed for many kinds of cuts made on a table saw, so they cannot be used all the time.  Automatic safety devices on table saws, in contrast, can be used for virtually every cut of wood and other non-conductive material. Also, people don’t use blade guards because they are cumbersome and often interfere with the work. Automatic safety devices, in contrast, are invisible to the user and they don’t interfere with the work.

Automobile manufacturers argued that seat belts were sufficient to protect drivers and passengers. Airbags and seat belts are similar to automatic safety devices and blade guards.  Many people don’t use seat belts.  And unlike seat belts, airbags are automatic devices that are invisible to the user and they don’t interfere with the operation of the car.

And just like airbags and seat belts, the safest way to operate a table saw is to have both an automatic safety device AND a blade guard.

  • If consumers want to pay extra for safety, they can buy the safe table saw that is now on the market.

It is wrong to say that consumers will pay more if safer saws are required because society is already paying $2 billion per year due to preventable table saw injuries.  Society will save money if safer saws are required.  In addition, safety should not be available to only those who can afford it.  What if we sold cars with seat belts and airbags only to those who could afford them?  Or only made safe food and water available for those who could pay for it?  Safety shouldn’t only be for the affluent.  All members of society have a right to expect that the products they use will be safe.

It is time for the Consumer Product Safety Commission to act quickly to enact a performance standard that would require table saws to mitigate injuries when blade contact occurs or is about to occur.   Table saws that would meet such a performance standard are already operating successfully in the marketplace; the benefits far outweigh the costs; and injuries have not been reduced under the current voluntary safety standard.   Every day of delay means another 100 serious injuries – that is too high a price to pay.

Advocates force ouster of Uzbek official from Fashion Week over child labor issues – National Consumers League

By Reid Maki, Child Labor Coalition Coordinator and NCL Director of Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards

It’s not every day that you get your message through to one of the world’s most notorious dictators, but some of us in the child labor advocacy community think we may have just done that last week during New York City’s Fashion Week.

For several years, the Child Labor Coalition, 28 organizations working to end the labor exploitation of children around the world, has been deeply concerned about the forced use of child labor in Uzbekistan, where Islam Karimov has ruled with an iron fist for 21 years. Each fall, Uzbek school children and their teachers are forced to leave their classrooms and perform arduous hand-harvesting of cotton for up to two months. The children—estimates of their numbers range from several hundred thousand to almost two million—receive little or no pay and often perform this back-breaking work from young childhood and through college. The workers are charged for shelter and food and by the time those expenses are deducted their compensation is so small it would be fair to say they worked for little or no pay or “slave wages.” The profits of this labor tend to flow to Uzbekistan’s ruling elite. Unlike child labor in most countries, Uzbekistan’s occurs as a result of national policy filtered down to local government authorities.

Recently, members of the Cotton Advocacy Network and the Child Labor Coalition, led by the International Labor Rights Forum and other CLC members like the American Federation of Teachers and the Human Rights Watch highlighted this issue by targeting advocacy at Karimov’s daughter Gulnara, who in addition to being Uzbekistan’s ambassador to Spain is a fashion designer who was participating in Fashion Week, where designers from around the world hold shows to reveal their new clothing lines.

Since Gulnara Karimov has bragged about the use of “high quality” Uzbek cotton and is a member of Karimov government, the advocacy community felt that she could fairly be used as an advocacy target.

As ILRF and the Cotton Advocacy Network planned its protest, IMG, Fashion Week’s organizer, washed its hands of Gulnara’s controversial show by cancelling it. Gulnara then moved her fashion show to the stylish Manhattan restaurant Cipriani on 42nd Street for a private show on September 15th. About two dozen of us followed the show to let attendees know about Uzbekistan’s child labor problem. It appears that our efforts scared away Gulnara, who according to media reports, was nowhere to be found.

We shouted things like “Hey, hey, ho, ho—Child Labor’s got to go” and “Uzbek cotton is mighty rotten.” We were joined by several Uzbek nationals, including one who had been forced to work in the fields himself as a child. Another Uzbek man said his daughter is a college student in Uzbekistan and that she is forced to harvest cotton every afternoon. He told a reporter from the Guardian that “it is back-breaking work, very, very hard, and most children have to work from sunrise to sunset every day until the harvest is finished. No weekends, nothing, for two or three months.” One protestor, an American woman from Connecticut, carried a sign that said, “Free Abdul,” who she explained was an Uzbek exchange student that she hosted who has subsequently been jailed by the Karimov regime as a political prisoner. Photos of the rally can be found here.


We handed out hundreds of leaflets and our protest received wide coverage about a dozen journalistic organizations including the New York Post, and Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

Members of the CLC conducted a similar protest outside the Embassy of Uzbekistan in 2009. At that time, some of us wondered if word of the protest would filter up to Karimov. With the ouster of his daughter from Fashion Week, we’re pretty sure Islam Karimov got the news this time.

If you would like clothing retailers to know about your concerns regarding Uzbek cotton, please consider adding your name to this petition (one of several targeting specific retail chains).

Airline industry disappoints consumers. Again. – National Consumers League

$25 for one checked bag? Another $20 to choose your seat? Is it any wonder that the airline industry consistently scores the lowest in consumer satisfaction surveys? Earlier this summer, the American Customer Satisfaction index reported that, out of the 47 industries evaluated, airlines tied newspapers for the lowest-satisfaction rating, and airline satisfaction only continues to spiral downward.

The airline industry’s actions over the past few months will do nothing to improve consumer confidence. When the government failed to reauthorize the FAA in July, several federal taxes were discontinued, which could have meant a 15-percent break on airfare for passengers. Instead of passing the money saved from the tax holiday on to consumers, most airlines actually raised prices–allowing them to collect nearly $70 million a day, almost $500 million in total, before the FAA’s taxing authority was reinstated.

NCL, along with a coalition of consumer interest groups, condemned airline executives in a letter to the CEO of the Air Transport Association for their greed and lack of transparency in ticketing fees.

If airlines continue to exhibit this type of anti-consumer behavior, it’s a fair bet that the industry can expect a permanent spot on the bottom of the consumer satisfaction scale.

Consumer groups spotlight airline greed and hidden fees – National Consumers League

September 14, 2011

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323,

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a letter to the CEO of the Air Transport Association, a coalition of consumer interest groups today condemned airline executives for two major anti-consumer moves over the last few months — pocketing tax monies that should have gone to consumers and continuing to obscure their proliferating airline fees.

First, many airlines chose to pocket nearly $500 million during the temporary shutdown of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rather than refund the discontinued excise tax charges and other government fees. The Consumer Travel Alliance, Consumers Union, National Consumers League, Consumer Action, US PIRG,, Association of Airline Passenger Rights and Consumer Federation of America noted in the letter that the majority of airlines actually raised their airfares rather than pass this money onto consumers as savings.

The FAA’s taxing authority expired on July 23 when Congress failed to extend the reauthorization of the agency. At the same time, the Air Transport Association was delivering newspaper advertisements to Senate and House offices, calling for tax reductions in order to provide consumers more bang for their dollar.

The airlines that increased their airfares were able to collect nearly $70 million a day, almost $500 million in total, before the FAA’s taxing authority was reinstated on Aug. 8th.

“This could have been a profound teaching moment,” the consumer interest groups wrote, “regarding the benefits of lower aviation taxes and fees. Instead, we are chagrined that some airlines chose to pocket the substantial windfall created by the expiration of taxing authority. Rather than doing right by their customers, most airline CEOs decided to line their corporate pockets.”

The letter also urged the ATA to insist the airlines adopt greater transparency with respect to airline fees that can add substantial amounts to ticket prices. When the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) latest rules came into effect requiring airlines to inform consumers of the variety of optional fees related to the cost of an airline ticket, many of ATA airline members chose to present the information in ways that do not meet the test for a “prominent” link on the home page. This is despite the DOT’s clear intent to provide transparency for consumers with respect to airline fees that can add substantial amounts to ticket prices.

“Actions speak louder than words,” the groups wrote. “Airlines, like all businesses, should be driven by customer service, price transparency and honest disclosures. Suffice it to say, we are disappointed in most of the airline industry’s response to the new DOT rules.”

The consumer groups are calling for a meeting with ATA and making sure that the Secretary of Transportation and the appropriate congressional committee chairmen and ranking members are aware of these anti-consumer airline actions.

To learn more about these consumer interest groups visit their websites:,

Association of Airline Passenger Rights,

Consumer Action,

Consumer Federation of America,

Consumer Travel Alliance,

Consumers Union,

National Consumer League,

U.S. PIRG, Website:


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit