NCL Consumer protection symposium on Congressional priorities announced – National Consumers League

You are invited to an informative discussion about Congressional priorities regarding three key consumer topics:



Food Safety | Sequestration | Privacy


Wednesday, November 14, 2012, 11:30 am – 3:30 pm, Lunch served at 12:45


Rayburn House Office Building, Room B369 (basement level) | 45 Independence Ave, SW, Washington, DC 20515


The symposium is open to the public and will feature expert panelists from the Executive and Legislative branches, consumer groups, media, and industry.


Expert Panelists


Food Safety
Moderator: Sarah Roller, Kelley Drye & Warren LLP
Mia Dell
, United Food and Commercial Workers Union
Sandra Eskin
, The Pew Charitable Trusts
Monica Sakala, Wired Momma blog
Michael R. Taylor
, Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, FDA


Moderator: Moses Boyd, Integrated Solutions Group
Steve Bell,
Bipartisan Policy Center
Patrick Lester, OMB Watch
Anne Northup, CPSC

Keith Wrightson
, Public Citizen


Moderator: Tony Romm, POLITICO
Commissioner Julie Brill, FTC
Justin Brookman
, Center for Democracy and Technology
Chris Calabrese
Daniel Sepulveda, Office of Sen. John Kerry


Join us!
There is no cost to attend, but registration is required. Please RSVP by Nov. 7
or call NCL’s Amy Sonderman, (202) 835-3323, x829


Follow the event on Twitter: #ConsumerCliff



Special thanks to Kelley Drye and Warren, LLP for helping to underwrite this event.


Read about our event at the International Association of Privacy Professionals

Spooky subsidies – National Consumers League

By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow

Halloween and all of the sweet treats American families buy at this time of year are a reminder of one of many critical issues Congress must address: U.S. sugar program reform. Costing American consumers an extra $3.5 billion a year in higher grocery bills, the sugar program, which began during the Great Depression, is in dire need of reform.

The National Consumers League (NCL ) has a history of opposing agricultural subsidies. We have opposed both the sugar program, which benefits a small number of growers, and dairy subsidies. The main reason we oppose these programs is that they result in higher prices for consumers. The U.S. sugar program costs the average family of four $40 per year. This may seem like an insignificant amount, but when multiplied by 300 million Americans, the total cost to U.S. consumers is $3.5 billion every year.

By artificially raising the U.S. price of sugar, the program acts as a hidden tax on consumers, impacting all products that use sugar. These items include the obvious things like candy, cookies and other treats, but also less obvious products such as bread, tomato sauce, peanut butter and frozen veggies.  Furthermore, this “hidden tax” is also regressive, because low-income consumers spend a higher percentage of their income on food.

NCL is a proud member of the Coalition for Sugar Reform. The Coalition is made up of a diverse group of companies and organizations, which are united in opposing the costly U.S. sugar program and are urging policymakers to reform it.

The Coalition for Sugar Reform has been working hard to reform the program through the farm bill, an important piece of legislation that is generally updated every five years.  This year, the bill was not rewritten due to partisan squabbling on the Hill.  There are indications that it will be addressed either in the “lame-duck” session or early on in the new Congress.  Either way, NCL hopes that Congress will take a hard look at the sugar program and enact much-needed reform.

NCL: Grain silos are death traps on farms; Efforts to protect workers, especially teens, must be stepped up – National Consumers League

October 30, 2012

Contact: Reid Maki, (703) 801-3338,

Washington, DC–Yesterday’s New York Times story “Silos Loom As Death Traps on Farms” stands as a stark reminder that U.S. and state governments must do more to protect workers, toiling in dangerous workplaces. “The Times piece by reporter James Broder highlights several teen worker deaths and violent injuries suffered by teens in agricultural grain facilities,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League (NCL) and a co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition, 28 organizations committed to protecting children from exploitative or dangerous work. “Unfortunately, last April, the Obama Administration, under intense pressure from the farm lobby, withdrew regulations that would have protected teens from the dangers associated with work in agriculture, including these very dangerous facilities. Under the proposed rules, teens would not have been allowed to work in them.” 

Each year, the National Consumers League (NCL) publishes an extensive report, The Five Most Dangerous Jobs for Teens. “Agriculture is by far the most dangerous industry that large numbers of teens are allowed to work in,” said Reid Maki, NCL’s Director of Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards. “Nearly 100 kids are killed performing hazardous farm work each year. The reality is that agricultural work for teens is extremely dangerous and no job is more dangerous than working in a grain facility.” 

In 2010, 51 adult and teen workers became engulfed in grain during accidents at grain facilities. Twenty-six workers died, including Wyatt Whitebread, 14, and Alex Pacas, 19, whose deaths were described in the Times article. In August 2011, Oklahoma teens Tyler Zander and Bryce Gannon, both 17, each lost a leg in a grain auger accident. This accident would have been prevented by the withdrawn safety rules. Since 2007, 14 teen boys have died in grain facility accidents. 

In addition to the gruesome suffocation deaths noted in the Times article, workers at grain facilities are at great risk because of toxic and flammable gases produced by the grains. There have been more than 600 explosions at grain elevators, killing more than 250 people and injuring more than 1,000, over the past four decades, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 

NCL asks that immediate steps be taken to protect works in facilities:

  • Teen work inside or on top of grain compartments and silos should be prohibited; 
  • For adult workers, all identified mandatory protective measures, including the use of safety harnesses should be followed by facility owners; 
  • No worker should enter when grain congeals and is “bridged” or “crusted” on the sides of the silo; 
  • Air monitoring equipment should be in place to ensure air is breathable and hold no flammability danger; 
  • All power equipment, including augurs and loaders, must be shut off before workers enter a silo; 
  • An observer must monitor workers in silos at all times; 
  • State and federal departments of labor should increase fines when violations occur. Current fine levels are insufficient to act as a deterrent. 
  • Safety procedures should be implemented by the owners of small facilities, not covered by federal protections. 

More than 150 groups supported the DOL’s proposed agricultural occupational child safety rules, which would have prohibited teen work in grain facilities. A list of those organizations can be found at

About the National Consumers League: NCL, 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 joins amicus brief to Supreme Court on behalf of low paid workers – National Consumers League

October 26, 2012

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

Protecting low-wage workers and providing a fair means for them to vindicate their rights are core purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act. NCL joins amicus brief to the Supreme Court with SEIU, National Partnership for Women and Families and several other groups on behalf of low paid workers. Read the here. (PDF)

Seasonal workers: avoid wage theft this holiday season – National Consumers League

‘Tis the season of temporary holiday work. As unemployment continues to hover around eight percent, many Americans will be on the lookout for seasonal work this year. But before starting any new job, workers need to familiarize themselves with the potential pitfalls of seasonal or temporary employment to avoid becoming a victim of wage theft.

One of the most important things new hires need be aware of is their worker classification–whether they are labeled as an employee or an independent contactor in their job description and tax forms. A worker classified as an independent contractor is not entitled to employee rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). FLSA rights include the right to the minimum wage, the highest rate available between the federal ($7.25 per hour), state, city, and county minimum wages, anti-discrimination protections, workers compensation, and overtime pay. During tax time, an independent contractor receives a 1099 tax form in place of a W-2 form. Employers don’t pay payroll taxes for independent contractors, so contractors are on the hook for the back taxes to both the IRS and the state tax board.

According to the FLSA, full-time employees are legally entitled to overtime after working more than 40 hours a week for the same employer; overtime compensation is defined as 1½ times the regular hourly rate. By federal law, the workday begins immediately upon entering the workplace and includes the time it takes to don a uniform or set-up. Work time ends when one leaves the workplace and includes the time it takes to clean up or restock inventory.

Knowing the law and keeping proper records is critical for workers to ensure that they are being paid the amount they are owed. Workers should save any and all payroll stubs and double-check that the number of hours worked, rate of pay, paycheck deductions and that the official/legal name of the employer is correct. To help American workers calculate how much they should be earning, the U.S. Department of Labor has created a free app for smartphones to help track workers track their hours and determine the exact amount employers owe.  The tool is exceptionally useful when there are any paycheck discrepancies.

Remember this holiday season that it’s important to arm oneself with as much information and tools as possible to ensure that one does not become a victim of wage theft. For more information on ways to prevent wage theft please visit the National Consumers League’s Wage Theft Web pages, the U.S. Department of Labor Wage & Hour Division, one’s state labor department or a local workers’ center.

Get ready for Frankenstorm scams – National Consumers League

By John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud

Many consumers on the East Coast are battening down the hatches in preparation for the so-called “Frankenstorm” that is on track to pummel the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states this weekend and early next week. Once the storm passes, however, a new type of threat is sure to pop up – scam artists.

After practically every natural disaster, fraudsters pop up with cons ranging from charity scams to bogus home-repair offers.  Before your power goes out, be sure to check out our consumer guides on these two scams:

Top 10 red flags of home repair scams

Tips for spotting charity scams

Bonus! If you’re considering escaping to somewhere with normal weather for a little R&R, check out our consumer guide to travel scams before you leave.

Finally, if you’ve fallen victim to or been approached by any scam artist, be sure to report it to NCL’s Fraud Center at

NCL, FFP stress need for consumer protections for Tigers World Series tickets – National Consumers League

October 26, 2012

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323,
Lauren Zdeba, Truscott Rossman, (517) 487-9320,

Detroit – National Consumers League Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud John Breyault and Fan Freedom Project President Jon Potter today issued the following statement on the need for consumer protections in the secondary ticket market in response to the thriving demand for Tigers World Series tickets:

“Tigers fans need protection against deceptive ticketing practices. The secondary ticket market gives Tigers fans a chance to see their team play even after tickets sell out for high demand events like the World Series. But too often unscrupulous ticket scalpers take advantage of loyal fans to make a quick buck.

“Michigan legislation, HB 5827-28 and SB 1186-87, will insert crucial consumer protections in the secondary ticket market by requiring ticket resellers to provide refunds for fraudulent tickets and operate call centers for questions or concerns. We urge lawmakers to support these bills and ensure Michigan fans can continue purchasing tickets for their favorite teams and artists in an open, safe ticket market.” 


About the Fan Freedom Project

The Fan Freedom Project is a national advocacy organization supported by more than 100,000 sports and music fans nationwide, including 6,700 in Michigan. Fan Freedom’s mission is to preserve and protect the ownership rights and economic interest of season ticket holders, live entertainment and sporting fans. For more information, visit

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 calls on Congress to enact long overdue bill requiring regulation, oversight of compounding pharmacies – National Consumers League

October 26, 2012

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3223,

Washington, DC–The National Consumers League, the nation’s oldest consumer organization, today is calling on Congress to pass long overdue legislation to require rigorous regulation and oversight of compounding pharmacies in light of the recent, devastating meningitis outbreak–resulting from contaminated steroid injections–that has killed 24 Americans, sickened 317, and exposed many thousands more to potentially deadly illness.

“Thousands of helpless consumers and their families who entrusted their health to a clearly flawed system are now rightfully in a panic,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “An estimated 14,000 people are at risk for developing fungal meningitis and left to wonder if they will be the next to get sick. Unfortunately, the issue of compounding pharmacies and the potential risk they present to consumers is not new. NCL has supported legislation to provide regulation and oversight over the past decade and a half, but those efforts have been stymied by industry opposition. Now we have 14,000 patients who are paying, some with their lives. This situation cries out for legislation to prevent tragic health care outcomes like this one.”

The multi-state fungal meningitis outbreak (fact sheet) occurred among patients who received a contaminated steroid injection, distributed to outpatient facilities across the country by the New England Compounding Center (NECC), and used in spinal epidural injections and to treat joint pain. As of October 25, 317 people have contracted meningitis and 24 have died.

Compounding pharmacies have been under scrutiny in the past. In 2007, the bipartisan Safe Compounding Drug Act was introduced by Senators Kennedy, Roberts, and Burr to close regulatory gaps – and NCL and many other patient and consumer groups supported the bill, which did not pass. The current meningitis tragedy exposes dangerous gaps in regulation of compounding pharmacies. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, plans to introduce legislation to strengthen the oversight of compounding pharmacies by requiring such pharmacies to be compliant with basic safety standards, report adverse events to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), use only drugs approved by the FDA in compounded medicines, and label compounded drugs with a warning that it has not been proven safe and effective by the FDA.

Compounding pharmacies provide a unique service to consumers by reformulating medicines for patients with special medical needs that cannot be met by FDA-approved drugs. However, compounding processes can introduce new risk into the health care system, as evidenced by this tragedy.

“In 2012, patients deserve better. If we want to encourage patient involvement in their health and to use and trust the health care delivery system, we must ensure these types of tragedies do not happen by increasing oversight and safeguards,” said NCL Vice President of Health Policy Rebecca Burkholder.”

The legislation introduced in 2007 and legislation that Rep. Markey will introduce are critical patient safety measures that will protect patients from the harm arising from unregulated compounded medicines. NCL will continue to advocate for patient and consumer rights and work with other organizations on strengthening the oversight of compounding pharmacies.

Steps consumers can take

  1. Find out if you have taken a potentially contaminated medicine by checking the FDA list of NECC customers and contacting your health care provider.
  2. If you have received a potentially contaminated injection, monitor yourself for symptoms and contact your health care provider.
  3. Check the FDA and CDC websites for latest information on the outbreak.
  4. Remember to always contact your health care providerif you have questions or concerns about your health.


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

Latest on meningitis outbreak – National Consumers League

A multistate fungal meningitis outbreak has occurred among patients who received an injectable steroid. The New England Compounding Center (NECC) based in Farmingham, MA, distributed contaminated steroid medication, used in spinal epidural injections and to treat joint pain, to outpatient facilities across the country. Upwards of 14,000 patients have been exposed to these contaminated injections, resulting in 328 cases and causing 24 deaths across 23 states.

NCL has issued a statement calling for increased oversight on compounding pharmacies, in order to prevent similar tragedies in the future. Read it here>>>


Traditionally, drug compounding involved pharmacies preparing specific doses of approved medications based on guidance from a health care professional to meet an individual patient’s needs. However, in recent years compounding pharmacy companies are engaging in large scale manufacturing of prescription drugs. The compounding pharmacies are not regulated by the FDA, but at the state level.

In 2007 Senator Edward Kennedy introduced legislation – the Safe Compounding Drug Act – with two Republican senators – Burr (NC) and Roberts (KS) to establish protections for the public to ensure the safety of compounded drugs, but it faced opposition from the compounding pharmacy industry and was not passed.

What’s being done?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have taken steps to notify the public about this outbreak and potential exposures.

CDC Information:
FDA Information:

About the investigation

  • On September 26, 2012, three lots of steroid compound (methylprednisone acetate) were recalled by NECC due to contamination with a fungus.
  • Fungal meningitis is not contagious. This form of meningitis can not be passed from one person to another through contact; only individuals who received the contaminated injection are at risk for developing fungal meningitis.
  • The CDC continues to investigate the exact cause of the contamination, how many people have been exposed and how to best inform patients at risk.
  • For more information:

What is fungal meningitis?

  • Fungal meningitis occurs when the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord are infected with a fungus. Fungal meningitis is rare and usually caused by the spread of a fungus through blood to the spinal cord. The severity of meningitis and treatment varies depending on the cause of meningitis; it is important to know the source!

Monitoring for symptoms

  • Fungal infections take time to develop. Symptoms can be seen anywhere from 1 to 6 weeks after exposure. However, shorter and longer periods of time between receiving the injection and the onset of symptoms can occur. It is important to know the symptoms and monitor yourself and others, if you think you might be at risk. As always, contact your health care professional right away if you have any concerns or symptoms.

Symptoms of Fungal Meningitis [Adapted from the CDC].

If you had an epidural steroid injection since May 21, 2012, and have any of the following symptoms, see your health care professional as soon as possible (

  • New or worsening headache
  • Fever
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Stiff neck
  • New weakness or numbness in any part of your body
  • Slurred speech
  • Increased pain, redness or swelling at your injection site

Symptoms of Joint Infection

Individuals who received injections for joint pain should monitor symptoms as the CDC is investigating possible contamination with these injections as well. If you have any of the following symptoms, see your health care provider as soon as possible:

  • Fever
  • Increased pain
  • Redness, warmth, or swelling in the joint that received the injection or at the injection site.

Where is the Outbreak?

Other Information Related to the Outbreak

Happy Food Day! – National Consumers League

By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow

Today marks the celebration of the second annual Food Day, a day hosted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). This year, food day will be celebrated by people across the nation who have organized almost 3,000 events. These events will range from cooking classes to food flash mobs to talks on important food topics. Food Day has five main focuses.

  1. Promote safer, healthier diets: Increasingly, our nation struggles with the epidemic of obesity. Two-thirds of adults and one-third of children are considered overweight or obese, and these numbers are only predicted to rise. Every year we spend approximately $147 billion on healthcare for diet-related diseases. Only by promoting healthy diets and educating both children and adults about what healthy eating looks like.
  2. Support sustainable and organic farms: Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, agriculture has become increasingly mechanized and large-scale. The use of pesticides has also increased. These changes have in turn inspired the move towards organic agriculture and sustainability which emphasize practices which utilize fewer pesticides and will cause less damage to the earth. These sustainability measures are particularly important given predicted increases in population over the next couple of decades.
  3. Reduce Hunger: Near constant discussion of the obesity epidemic can obscure the issue that hunger still plays in this country. An estimated 50 million Americans are “food insecure,” meaning they are close to hunger. Additionally, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) provides, on average, only $4.30 per person per day.
  4. Reform factory farms to protect the environment and animals: Confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), large scale farms that house tens of thousands of animals at a time, have an enormous impact on the environment. These establishments produce massive amounts of waste, which is often spread on neighboring fields and can seep into the environment. Additionally, CAFOs often prophylactically treat animals with antibiotics to prevent diseases that result from crowded conditions. The overuse of antibiotics can lead to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria which in turn can be transmitted to humans, causing devastating illnesses.
  5. Support fair working conditions for food and farm workers: While farm work is grueling and difficult, the pay is minimal and individuals who labor in the fields have salaries that vary from $17,000 to $24,000, depending upon the state. These workers are also not protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act, which means they are not guaranteed basic protections other workers are afforded, including child labor protections. It is not uncommon for children as young as 12 to work 10- and 12-hour days, performing back-breaking work, harvesting fruits and vegetables in 100-degree heat.

Food Day should be an important day for all Americans because all of us need food to survive. Food cuts across cultural and economic boundaries, uniting us. The creation of a food system that is more fair and sustainable is something that we should all aspire to.