Sugar contents in popular cereals not so sweet – National Consumers League

Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive DirectorBy Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Hats off to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) for its unmasking of the atrocious amounts of sugar that cereal makers are putting into their products. EWG found that servings of three cereals—Kellogg’s Honey Smacks, Post Golden Crisp, and Wheaties Fuel—contain more sugar than a Hostess Twinkie! Another 44 contain more sugar than three Chips Ahoy cookies. Sugar is more than a third of cereal by weight in more than 36 types.

This is particularly galling since the industry came down like gangbusters on a mere voluntary series of guidelines proffered by four federal agencies (FTC, CDC, USDA, and FDA) in a report that suggested reducing levels of sugar in cereal would be a healthy move by the manufacturers. The guidelines are, in fact, pretty moderate. They would allow 13 grams of added sugar per 50 grams of cereal, amounting to one-quarter of the sugar by weight. Two in three of the cereals EWG tested exceed that level. The cereal industry hired lobbyists galore, and the authors of the report were forced to revise it.

Industry’s response to the EWG report? Once again, manufacturers cry that the report is unfair because only two of the 10 worst cereals are marketed to children. So their argument is that eight of the 10 are marketed to adults—2/3 of whom are overweight as it is? (Obesity rates have doubled for children age 2-11 and more than tripled for teens 12-19.) By industry reckoning, I guess its okay to throw the whole bowl of sugar into cereal as long as it’s being marketed to those of us who should know better. No, we Americans need to be weaned from our expectation that everything we eat needs to be extra sweet or extra salty (see NCL’s recent comments on FDA’s proposal for sodium reductions). Excessive amounts of sugar and salt contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke and industry clearly won’t reduce those levels on its own.

Thanks to EWG for its report, and shame on the cereal industry for pandering—indeed helping to create—the American sugar addiction. I hope this study serves as a further wake up call to an industry needs to reform its ways.

Food stamp program crucial in times of need – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

It’s a mark of the terrible economy that more people are using food stamps, but the good news is that more than half of those newly benefiting are children. NCL’s founders would have said “hurrah” that the program is available at really tough economic times just like these, especially for kids.

When you look at the numbers—46.3 million people received food stamps—they represent a huge percentage of Americans: one in six, with a jump in the food stamp rolls of 8 percent over the past year. The Obama Administration says the program is more efficient than previously since benefits are provided electronically to recipients.

The Administration has cracked down on abuses, as it should. Benefits like these should be reserved for those who truly need them. We should have no patience for those who use a federal program to put money in their own pockets—including retailers who sell the prohibited cigarettes or alcohol using food stamps and take a commission for themselves. The Administration should throw the book at these folks, and they have—disqualifying 8,300 retailers from taking food stamps. And those who sell the food stamp benefits in exchange for cash on Craigslist should lose their access to the program permanently.

But these abuses shouldn’t diminish the critical importance of the program, which puts food on the plates of millions of the Americans in greatest need. Indeed, the food stamp program is one of the most successful of any of our government benefits. Our friends at the Food Action and Research Center, who work with hungry families and kids, note that “in the midst of one of the worst recessions this country has ever seen, food stamps kept very large numbers of families from going hungry. The program performed as it was intended to—it expanded to meet rising need, and the increased benefits helped millions afford enough nutrition for their households.”

Florence Kelley and Frances Perkins would be saddened by the fragile financial state of so many families, but they would be cheering the availability of this essential safety net for the poor.

So what’s the answer to the sodium problem? – National Consumers League

By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow

The verdict is in: Americans consume far too much salt. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommend no more than 2300 mg of sodium per day. For nearly 50% of us, including those over 50, African Americans and those with chronic health conditions such as kidney disease or diabetes, the recommended amount is even lower, at 1500 mg per day. In reality, the average American consumes around 3400 mg per day, well above recommended levels. This heavy consumption can have consequences.  Excessive sodium consumption has been shown to increase blood pressure which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Clearly, the solution is to reduce the amount of sodium we consumer,  a move which can reverse these health consequences.  To accomplish this, the FDA should step in and regulate how much sodium is allowed in foods. Currently, sodium is classified as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). Removal of GRAS status would allow the FDA to set more limits on the amount of salt allowed in food. (Read NCL’s recent comments to the FDA regarding sodium’s GRAS status here.)

Setting more healthy sodium limits would lead to the next step: product reformulation.  This process is essential because Americans get a staggering 77% of their sodium from prepackaged and restaurant foods. This means that simply lightening up on the saltshaker will not result in significant decreases in sodium for most Americans. In order for consumers to be able to easily reduce the amount of sodium in their diets, it is essential that manufacturers make products that have lower sodium levels.

Reducing sodium can seem like a daunting task. Enter Jessica Goldman, whose Web site, “Sodium Girl,” gives cooking tips for those looking to eat a reduced sodium diet. By reducing her sodium intake to between 500 and 1000 mg per day, Goldman, who has lupus, has been able to come off dialysis and is no longer on the kidney transplant list.  Her website provides helpful recipes and tips for others who want to follow a low sodium diet.

Jessica Goldman has shown that sodium reduction is more than possible. Reformulation and government regulation will make it even easier, allowing Americans to make healthier choices that will reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke, a goal we can all agree is worth achieving.

What’s next for mine safety standards? – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

The sad aftermath of the tragic and terrible explosion that killed 29 miners in April 2010 at the Upper Big Branch Mine (UBB) in West Virginia came down recently in the form of a  $209 million fine. Federal prosecutors settled with Alpha Natural Resources – the company that bought Massey Energy, the owner of the mine at the time of the explosion.  UBB was the worst mine disaster in 40 years and the fine is 40 times the size of any previous one. But, of course, nothing can bring back the 29 miners–they had families, were part of their community, they worked grueling jobs each and every day, and they were fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles and sons.

Dean Jones, one of the miners who died, had warned the company of the dangerous conditions before the disaster and was told to get back to work or he and the other miners would be fired. The owners refused to allow the United Mine Workers to organize UBB, thus removing any leverage the workers had to negotiate for safer conditions.

Under the settlement, Alpha will pay $1.5 million each to of the 29 families; the company has also agreed to spend at least $80 million on prevention reforms that will help to avert another disaster, including better air monitors in their mines and new devices to prevent suffocation.

The same week federal prosecutors announced the fine, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) released a 1,000+ page report that described UBB as lacking the basic modern safety measures: coal dust and poor ventilation is what caused this explosion, the same conditions that killed coal miners 100 years ago. The UBB mine’s ventilation system wasn’t working properly, causing a build up of flammable coal dust and the hazardous conditions that lead to the explosion. $34 million of the fine is for Massey’s violations of safety requirements.

Don Blankenship, the arrogant former Massey Energy owner who was sent packing after the disaster, was notorious for flouting safety requirements. Massey kept two sets of books – one for regulators, and one for internal purposes. Blankenship was preoccupied with how much money the mines were making, sometimes checking production every few hours, and always at the expense of safety.

This historic $290 million fine and report certainly brings some closure to the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. The question is – will safety in the mines finally become a true priority, will mine owners finally see the value in having their workforce represented by the United Mine Workers which puts safety and health at the top of its demands, and will the lives of coal miners begin to be truly valued after this sad chapter in coal mining and labor history? We certainly hope so, but only time will tell.


Consumer group calling on Walmart, Cooper Tires to improve treatment of workers – National Consumers League

December 19, 2011

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

Washington, DC—The nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization, the National Consumers League (NCL) is calling on Walmart and Cooper Tire & Rubber Company to reform the way they are treating their employees. According to NCL, Walmart and Cooper Tire reap hundreds of millions of dollars in profit through the hard work of their employees, yet both companies continue to curb employee rights and benefits.

Walmart recently announced that it will soon increase the burden of health care costs for its employees. NCL is concerned that those affected associates are already struggling to make ends meet and, due to Walmart’s system of scheduling, many will be unable to predict how many hours they will work each week and how they will budget for these increased costs and reduced health insurance eligibility for themselves and their families.

In a recent letter to the mega-retailer, NCL’s Executive Director Sally Greenberg wrote: “We call on Walmart, a company that has made billions in profits in the United States, to pay its fair share of health care costs for all its employees.  As many Walmart associates currently struggle with poverty-level wages and unpredictable schedules, we ask Walmart to reverse its decision to cut this vital benefit. We ask Walmart to disclose the full increased burden the proposed changes would have on associates, consumers, the taxpayers and communities.”

Along a similar vein, NCL is also encouraging Cooper Tire & Rubber Company to bargain in good faith with its workers during current negotiations for a new contract as well as end the current lockout of its employees in its facility in the United States. Cooper Tire locked out its workers, just days after Thanksgiving, while in contract negotiations, and after its workers gave up $31 million in wages and benefits in 2008; actions that are completely at odds with Cooper Tire & Rubber Company’ statement of its commitment to social responsibility.

According to the United Steelworkers, since 2009, Cooper Tire & Rubber Company enjoyed an operating profit of $448 million and compensated its executives with millions in bonus and raises and even purchased a new corporate jet.

“We believe that shareholders shouldn’t be the only beneficiaries of these profits,” said Michell K. McIntyre, Project Director of NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft.  “It is in Cooper Tire & Rubber Company’s best interest that the company shares these financial rewards equitably and fairly with its highly productive employees – the very same workforce that kept them afloat in hard times and contributed to making these significant profits possible.”

“NCL urges both companies to do the right thing by the many members of their loyal workforce and provide fair compensation, affordable healthcare, and the respect their workforce justly deserves,” said McIntyre.

NCL’s letter to Walmart is available here.

NCL’s letter to Cooper Tire & Rubber is available here.


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

Give union-made this holiday – National Consumers League

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

As we’re all scrambling to finish our holiday shopping, we tend to grab things convenient and easy. However, we should put some thought into the companies that we buy from. Are they good to their employees? Are they using child labor in the production of their goods?

Our friends at American Rights at Work, along with the NFL Players Association, recently produced a holiday gift-giving guide for union-made products and services. The guide breaks down recipients into various categories: sports fans, do-it-yourselfers, holiday lovers, foodies, booklovers and word freaks, families with small children or the young at heart, bargain shoppers, jetsetters and entertainers. Once you locate your recipient’s proper category, you’ll find a helpful list of union-made gifts to fit their interests. Some of the unions highlighted in the guide include: USW, IAM, UFW, UFCW, ILWU and many others.

For the candy lovers in your life, be sure to check out the list of union-made sweets from the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union. Being a conscientious shopper never tasted so good.

And, if you’re in the market for a carpet or rug, please look for products with the GoodWeave label. GoodWeave, an organization dedicated to ending child labor in the carpet industry, certifies certain carpets and rugs as child labor-free. In an industry littered with child workers, GoodWeave takes a stand to stop child labor and give children in Nepal, India, and Afghanistan an opportunity to an education. So during this gift buying holiday season, please take the extra five or ten minutes to look into the companies you’re buying from.

NCL statement on NLRB nominees – National Consumers League

December 16, 2011

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

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) applauds the nomination by President Obama of Sharon Block and Richard Griffin to fill the vacancies at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Block is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional Affairs at the Department of Labor and has recently served as the Senior Labor & Employment Counsel to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee under Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Griffin is the General Counsel for the International Union of Operating Engineers and serves on the Board of Directors for the AFL-CIO Lawyers Coordinating Committee.

“NCL urges the Senate to confirm these qualified nominees,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “We look forward to a full quorum at the NLRB, allowing it to continue in its historic mission of safeguarding employees’ rights to organize and promoting civil and efficient union-management relations and collective bargaining.”

“There is a common misperception that the NLRB is ‘pro-labor.’ The reality is that the NLRB is an impartial independent agency designed to foster open, productive dialogue between employers and employees on fair labor practices, including collective bargaining, elections, and union representation—common sense intended to benefit both labor and management.”


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

NCL, consumer groups oppose a rider that defunds lighting efficiency standards – National Consumers League

December 15, 2011

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

NCL, along with Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumer Law Center, and Public Citizen have joined to write Congress a letter urging the opposition any rider to the House Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012 (H.R. 3671) that would prohibit the Department of Energy from implementing or enforcing the energy efficiency standards for light bulbs that Congress enacted on a bipartisan basis in 2007.

Click here to view the letter.


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

Consumer group urging FDA to drop sodium’s status as ‘safe’ – National Consumers League

December 15, 2011

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

Washington, DC—In comments filed with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), the nation’s oldest consumer organization is strongly urging the government to revoke sodium’s long-standing status as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), a strong action geared toward reducing expected to reduce Americans’ sodium consumption.

“The fact is, most Americans are taking in far too much sodium, at a detriment to their health. The average American consumes 3,400 mg of salt per day, far above the recommended levels,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League, which filed comments with the federal agencies this week. “While the reformulation of ready-to-eat foods to reduce sodium content is also a crucial step for industry to take, it is time for the federal government to step in and send the message that Americans need to take their sodium consumption seriously.”

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a daily intake of 2,300 mg of sodium. For nearly 50 percent of Americans, especially including those over the age of 50, African Americans, and those with certain chronic health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, the recommended daily amount is even lower at 1,500 mg per day. Heightened levels of sodium consumption can have serious health consequences. A diet high in sodium has been linked to increased blood pressure, which in turn can lead to a higher risk for heart attacks and strokes.

“Consuming too much sodium has real health consequences. Luckily, simply lowering the amount of sodium in your diet can help combat these effects,” said Greenberg.

Unfortunately, with 77 percent of the sodium Americans consume coming from processed and restaurant foods, reducing sodium consumption can be challenging for many consumers. “With so much salt already added into ready-to-eat foods, simply going a little lighter on the salt shaker will not solve the problem,” Greenberg added. “We have to reduce the amount of salt found in processed and restaurant foods in order to decrease overall sodium consumption.” Reformulation of products, so that they include less sodium to begin with, is a critical step in this process.

While reformulation is a step that will be undertaken by food companies, unfortunately the industry has not voluntarily reduced sodium levels in restaurant or prepared foods, thus we turn tot he FDA to help make progress in reducing sodium levels. Wwe do not believe that an issue this important to public health should be left up the industry,” said Greenberg.  “That is why we are suggesting that FDA take action and revoke sodium’s GRAS status.

With the GRAS status of sodium rescinded, FDA would have the authority to determine maximum allowable amounts of salt in processed and restaurant foods. This would serve as a catalyst for industry reformulation efforts.  FDA has stated that it would be willing to revoke the GRAS status of salt if the food industry did not make a “substantial reduction in the sodium content of processed foods.” Since industry efforts have not yet been enough to curb sodium consumption, NCL strongly supports the revocation of sodium’s GRAS status.

“This is a nationwide problem with significant health consequences. Reducing the amount of sodium in our diets will help reduce the incidence of certain chronic, costly diseases. It is essential that the government take action to facilitate this process,” said Greenberg.


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

Tuition hikes, college president salaries, and student debt. Oh my! – National Consumers League

By NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg

One recent piece of news suggests that college students and their parents are getting rolled. College students are borrowing like never before, while finding it harder than ever to land jobs.

College seniors who graduated in 2009 owed an average of $24,000 in student loan debt, up 6% from the year before, according to a report from the Project on Student Debt. At the same time, unemployment for recent college graduates jumped from 5.8% in 2008 to 8.7% in 2009—the highest annual rate on record.

In the meantime, the salaries of college presidents have soared to levels that are  – in a word – unconscionable. The Washington Post reported recently that three college presidents in the Washington area earn more than $1 million, and three more earn more than $750,000. Johns Hopkins president William Brody actually received a $3.8 million retirement package!  Kevin Manning of Stevenson University earned $1.5 million. The salary boom of these college presidents is in line with national trends: 36 college presidents nationwide earned $1 million or more in 2009.

Who pays for these outsized salaries? Sadly, college students and their parents. In the past decade, tuition for state students public four- year colleges and universities rose 54 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars — an average of 4.4 percent per year. Similarly, over the past decade, tuition for full-time students at private four-year colleges and universities rose 33 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars — an average of 2.9 percent per year.

I know many young people who have had to take out six figure loans to pay these high tuition costs; the ones who are lucky enough to have a job in today’s economy often don’t have a lot left over for student loans payments after covering their rent, food and utilities. There’s something just fundamentally wrong with the fact that today’s graduates are swimming in debt while college presidents are taking million dollar salaries out of the till.

I know, I know, there’s the familiar excuses – we have to pay this much for high quality presidents, they raise millions of dollars etc. I’m tired of these flaccid explanations – becoming a college President should be about dedication to the academy, to education, to learning and to turning out fine young men and women who have a strong academic—and hopefully liberal arts—grounding. Unfortunately, for people like William Brody of Johns Hopkins, greed has overtaken the higher principles. Being head of a college is now a path to lifelong riches and student and their families are paying the price. What a shame.