Thanksgiving day is a time for family not shopping – National Consumers League

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights Black Friday – the term alone can strike fear and excitement in even the most seasoned shoppers. But what consumers often don’t see or understand is what happens on the other side of the counter. Many stores have announced that they will be open on Thanksgiving to maximize consumer’s Black Friday enthusiasm. They have determined that shoppers are willing to curb their Thanksgiving festivities and traditions to start their holiday shopping on a day that is supposed to be centered on family and giving thanks for the blessings in one’s life. Stores like Costco, Nordstrom, Dillard’s and T.J. Maxx have resisted the urge to open on the holiday, however, many stores including Walmart, Macy’s, Toys “R” Us, and Best Buy will be open to shoppers on Thanksgiving day with some stores opening as early as 6am.

 But what does that mean for the workers who have to man the registers and stock the shelves? Many can’t show up to work at 6am on Thanksgiving – they have to get to their stores at least an hour before the doors open. What happened to their holiday? What happened to their time for family festivities and traditions? These workers tend to be low-wage earners that struggle to make ends meet. If a single mother with two children is making the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and is working full time, she’s only earning $15,080 a year – well below the poverty rate for a family of three. If she’s making $10 an hour, she’s only earning $20,800 a year – still below the poverty rate and she would qualify for public assistance.

Consumers need to be aware of the reality facing these retail workers. Below is John Paul Ashton’s story of his constant struggle to put food on the table and support his family with meager wages. Ashton happens to work for Walmart, the largest private employer in the US, who also has a proven track record of using illegal retaliation and firings to intimidate and curb worker’s collective bargaining actions. Walmart, is also one of the most profitable retailers in the world. This holiday shopping season, Walmart workers will be taking a stand and protesting the company’s abusive labor practices, including poverty-level wages, stingy benefits, and irregular work schedules that make it impossible for their families to make ends meet.

John Paul Ashton: Scraping By on Less Than $25K John Paul “JP” Ashton, is a 31-year old Walmart maintenance worker who makes around $20,000 a year. Originally from Colorado, Ashton now lives in Washington. He is the father of two and has worked at Walmart for more than five years to support his family. “When I first started at Walmart I was told that it was a place where I could grow and have opportunities. I soon discovered that was not the case,” said Ashton. “People take being able to buy lunch for granted. I don’t need a fancy job, but what I do need is a job that allows me to provide for my family and to be able to speak out without fear of retaliation.

It would also be nice to have more than $2 in my bank account after I pay my bills.” Ashton, who must walk 45 minutes to work, prides himself on being a provider for his family. As one of the many Walmart workers who earn less than $25,000 a year, during his time with the mega-retailer Ashton has had to, at times, rely on food banks to feed his family.

Currently, he receives food stamps in order to put food on the table. “No one wants to have to rely on food stamps to live (and trust me I know how to budget the little money I make), but at the end of the day because of what Walmart pays I have no other choice. It’s hard for me to understand how a company that makes all that money and a family that has over $144 billion can justify what they pay workers,” he said. Ashton, who enrolled in Walmart’s healthcare plan in order to provide insurance to his two children, brings home on average $1200-1400 a month.

Often he is unable to pay his rent in full because his bi-weekly paycheck does not cover the full amount. Ashton joined OUR Walmart because he wanted to have a voice on the job and the ability to speak with management about working conditions without fear of retaliation. When asked what $25,000 a year would mean for him Ashton’s remark was simple, “Freedom…freedom to do more things for my children.” “I don’t need or want much. Yes, it would be nice to have a car or maybe a house. It would even be nice to have more than $10 in my bank account. Sam Walton said ‘you treat employees right, treat customers right and we all make money.’ Walmart does not does not live up to that and I am going to keep fighting until they do.” Read about more workers like JP each week as we release more stories from the majority of Walmart employees who struggle to get by on less than $25,000 a year.

Winter wellness tips – National Consumers League

There’s something about the winter holidays that can make a person feel uniquely enthusiastic and exhausted. We spend weeks planning, but when the holiday season arrives, it’s all-too-common to feel completely unprepared. When you consider that the winter holidays coincide with cold and flu season and the time of the year with the least sunlight, it’s no wonder that general anxiety levels are high for many people at this time of year.

Here are a few winter holiday tips to help minimize stress so that you can best enjoy this wonderful time of year.

Plan ahead of time, and be flexible. Planning ahead can reduce stress during the holiday season. Try deciding ahead of time how much to spend on gifts, what to pack for travel, and what to cook for a large meal. Getting as much prepared before the winter holidays arrive, so that you have that much less to do and think about, is a great way to de-clutter your brain and minimize anxiety. For those things that cannot be planned, or for uncontrollable circumstances, give yourself a break and do your best to roll with the punches.

Prioritize sleep. It is amazing how much more overwhelming things can seem when you are tired. A good night’s sleep (or nap!) rejuvenates, helps reduce stress and keeps your immune system in fighting shape. While there is no “magic number” for number of hours to sleep, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute recommends between 7-8 hours for adults.

Get fresh air! An invigorating walk outside can do wonders for your health by getting your blood flowing and clearing your thoughts. While getting some sunshine would be an added bonus, even an evening stroll can have some remarkable psychological benefits. While outside though, be careful if it is icy and slippery.

Be mindful with eating. Healthy eating is a great way to stay healthy and combat holiday stress. Enjoy your holiday feast, and certainly enjoy a few holiday treats. Here are some holiday eating tips that will improve your diet, , without making you feel like you are denying yourself during winter festivities:

  • Follow the suggestions from, and fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables.
  • Try eating more whole grains by switching out white rice for brown rice. And eat some oatmeal for breakfast or use whole-wheat toast. Whole grains have a lower glycemic index, help reduce your risk of chronic disease, and aids weight management.
  • Snack during the day on fruit, veggies or nuts. This way when it is time to sit down for the family holiday meal, you won’t be tempted to eat more than you need.
  • Stay well hydrated throughout the day. Sticking with water as much as possible throughout the holidays is a good idea in general, both to make sure that you are well hydrated as well as to make sure that you aren’t drinking too many empty calories.
  • Use alternative cooking substitutes. Instead of butter, use healthy oils, like olive oil for cooking meals. Less saturated fat is good for your heart. Check out this article for some healthy cooking ideas.

Stay active. Take a cue from the First Lady, Michelle Obama, and get moving. Physical activity is an essential part of healthy living. Along with healthy eating, it can help prevent a range of chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Adults should get moving for 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week and children should be active for 60 minutes a day.

Practice taking deep breaths. Breathing exercises have been shown again and again to be a powerful tool that helps reduce stress and clear your mind. They aren’t even hard to do! Simply step away to a quiet space and take a few minutes to close your eyes and concentrate on deep, cleansing breaths. This can be a very effective way to manage winter holiday stresses. You can do this as many times as you need to throughout a day, especially during exhausting and overwhelming moments.

  • Prevention, prevention, prevention. The last thing you need during the winter holidays is for you or your family members to get sick. There are some common-sense steps to boost your chances for illness-free holidays.
  • Make sure you are up-to-date on all your immunizations, especially flu shots. For more information visit the CDC.
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Don’t hesitate to go to a healthcare provider if you feel depressed. You could just be overwhelmed with all of the activities, or you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder, a depression related to exposure to sunlight tends to hit around this time of year. Whatever the cause, it’s always best to get some advice from a medical professional.

Remember to take your meds. The holidays can be hectic, but it’s important to keep up with any medication or therapy schedules. Setting reminders on your phone is a quick, inexpensive way to remember to take your meds. Don’t forget to be sure to keep your meds up and away and out of sight, especially when travelling and staying as a guest.

Thanksgiving: A time for family, good food, and exploiting workers – National Consumers League

By Larry Bostian, Vice President, Development Isn’t it a little strange that the day after Thanksgiving should come to be called Black Friday? Black implies dreariness, oblivion, death. Odd that we’ve come as a nation to believe it’s our duty, almost before the turkey’s cold, to rush out and buy stuff, maybe to help retailers compensate for lost sales on the holiday itself. Now we learn that many retailers, not content to open early on Black Friday, are throwing tradition and the holiday out the window entirely and opening for business on Thanksgiving Day. Before we rush to the mall, however, let’s pause a moment and consider.

Have these retailers given their workers a choice about coming to work on Thanksgiving? Are they offering holiday pay, even for the legions of their employees who are stuck working part-time? When Walmart is placing baskets in its stores for “associates” to contribute to their needy fellow associates, well, isn’t there something wrong with this picture? Working people need time with their families, not just to give thanks once a year, but regularly. It takes time to nurture connection, to rest and recover from the stress and strain of work that, for too many Americans, doesn’t pay well enough for them to get by. There are many people and organizations who decry the breakdown of the family. Let’s invite them to join us worker and consumer advocates in saying to the big retailers: Enough! Stand down and let your “associates” have an uninterrupted day with their families. If you must open for business on Thanksgiving Day, give them a choice, and compensate them fairly. And for us all, whenever we’re out looking for a bargain, let’s thank that hardworking and underpaid associate and remember he or she likely has a family too.

Travel plans need to change? Airlines see dollar signs – National Consumers League

A central fact of life is that sometimes things happen that consumers can’t expect or plan for. This can make planning for a vacation or other travel a tricky endeavor for even the most careful consumer. An unexpected family illness or injury, for example, could mean that flights to Disney World need to be rescheduled or cancelled altogether. What is a consumer to do? Consider travel insurance? Not so fast.

Unfortunately, over the past few years, the airlines have discovered lucrative new ways to profit from these events by raising cancellation and change fees. These fees now stand at $200 per ticket for the four legacy U.S. airlines. For a family of four, if a child breaks an arm at soccer practice or a loved one goes into the hospital, needing to rearrange travel plans could quickly lead to $800 in fees. These fees are big business for the industry. In 2012, the airlines collected more than $2.5 billion in cancellation/change fees, a 176% increase since 2007, according to the Department of Transportation.

What about refundable tickets, you ask? While these tickets, also known as “unrestricted fare” tickets give travelers more flexibility they come at a significant premium over. A NCL analysis of refundable and non-refundable ticket prices found that the cheapest refundable tickets were on average 350% more expensive the cheapest non-refundable ticket for the same flight. Given this disparity, it’s no surprise that the overwhelming majority of consumers opt for restricted, non-refundable. Since 1993, according the DOT, refundable-fare tickets have never accounted for more than 20% of all tickets sold in the U.S.

Given rising cancellation fees and unaffordable refundable tickets, consumers may look to travel insurance as a way to hedge against the risk that travel plans could change. Consumers are likely familiar with these policies thanks to add-on offers at the end of the online ticket-buying process. Unfortunately, the marketing of these policies tends to include misleading language (e.g., “peace of mind is just a click away”) that does not adequately disclose the significant limitations and exclusions of many policies. For airlines, however, selling these policies is almost pure profit. Commissions range from 10-40%. In a $1.9 billion market (including travel-related services), this can mean significant revenue for the airlines.

Caught between rising cancellation fees, unaffordable refundable tickets and misleading travel insurance marketing, consumers are finding that the deck is stacked against them. NCL’s new report, $tuff Happens: Airlines Benefit Handsomely From the Unexpected … and Consumers’ Fears About It, examines these issues and calls for a series of reforms to make the travel industry friendlier to consumers whose plans change unexpectedly.

To address these issues, NCL is recommending the following industry reforms:

  1. Travel insurance policies sold through airline Web sites or online travel agencies should be marketed in clear, non-misleading language – Wording on travel Web sites for travel insurance policies should disclose in large font and plain language important limitations to policies. Consumers should be told where they can find insurance coverage details and informed of the timeframe to purchase travel insurance. Consumers should not be pressured into purchasing travel insurance while shopping for airfares and should not be led to believe that these insurance products are only sold through the ticket checkout process.
  2. Travel insurance loss ratios should be reported – According to the UStiA, 17% of consumers who have purchased travel insurance file a claim at some point. But we do not know how many consumers are ever compensated when they file a claim. The industry should be required to publicly report the loss ratios of their policies, i.e. the percentage of premium dollars paid out in claims.
  3. Tiered cancellation/change fees based on proximity of travel date – The ability of an airline to sell a seat vacated due to a cancelled or changed ticket is greater with more lead time before a particular flight. This should be reflected in a tiered cancellation/change fee policy. Flights cancelled or changed more than 5-10 days prior to the departure date should incur no fee.
  4. Consumers should be able to transfer their tickets without incurring a fee – While some airlines accommodate consumer requests to transfer their unusable ticket to another traveller, this is not standard industry practice and is rarely easily done. With reasonable timeframes in place, consumers should be able to transfer their ticket to another person easily and without incurring a fee.
  5. Congressional oversight hearings should be convened to examine the growth in cancellation fees, disparities in the price of refundable and non-refundable tickets and misleading marketing of travel insurance are needed. The development of an official record regarding the industry practices detailed in this report will help shape necessary legislative or regulatory reforms to establish much-needed basic consumer protections.
  6. Standby fees should be eliminated for missed flights. Consumers who elect to fly standby on the same day in the event of a missed flight should not be required to pay an additional standby fee, which is currently required by many airlines, since it costs the airlines virtually nothing to fill an empty seat.

Child Labor Coalition press release: Ban Child Labor in US Tobacco Fields – National Consumers League

November 22, 2013

Contact: Reid Maki, (202) 207-2820,

Washington, DC—In the wake of child labor exposés by The Nation magazine last week, the Child Labor Coalition is calling on the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to immediately ban child labor in tobacco fields—something the department had proposed to do in 2011.

In “Why Are Children Working in American Tobacco Fields?,” Gabriel Thompson’s reporting describes the alarming health risks young tobacco workers face. He tells the story of three young sisters age 12, 13, and 14 whose tobacco harvesting made them ill from “green tobacco sickness” or nicotine poisoning. Despite their health problems, the girls went on to work four summers of 60-hour weeks in the tobacco fields, absorbing the nicotine from the equivalent of 36 cigarettes each day, according to a study cited by The Nation.

“We don’t let 12-year-olds buy and smoke cigarettes,” noted Sally Greenberg, co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition and the executive director of the National Consumers League. “Why would we let them perform dangerous work in tobacco fields beginning at the age of 12? It simply isn’t right.”

“Children should not be allowed to perform dangerous work, especially in the tobacco fields,” said Norma Flores López, Chair of the Domestic Issues Committee for the Child Labor Coalition and the Director of the Children in the Fields Campaign at the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs. “Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of nicotine, pesticides and heat stress they are exposed to in the tobacco fields. We urge the Secretary to put the health of farmworker children over the interest of tobacco companies, and strengthen the protections for children working in agriculture.”

Thompson’s reporting cited a study that one in four tobacco workers contract green tobacco sickness.”Symptoms range from dizziness and vomiting to difficulty breathing and heart rate fluctuations requiring hospitalization,” reported Thompson. “The pain can be so excruciating that some workers call it ‘the green monster.’ A tobacco farmer in Kentucky said the sickness ‘can make you feel like you’re going to die…’”

Thompson notes that the known hazards of tobacco work have led countries “like Russia and Kazakhstan to ban anyone under 18 from harvesting tobacco,” and that the US “has played a role in such global efforts, recently spending at least $2.75 million” to eliminate child tobacco labor in Malawi.”

The US Department of Labor had called for a ban on tobacco harvesting by individuals under 18 in proposed “hazardous occupations orders” issued in 2011. These proposed occupational safety rules would have limited or prohibited teen work in 15 areas that are known to be dangerous for teen workers—unless the young individual was working on their family’s farm. Sadly, the rules were withdrawn in April 2012 after months of intense pressure from the American Farm Bureau and many members of the farm community. Many health and safety advocacy groups, including the CLC, felt the campaign against the proposed rules, which would have exempted children working on their own family farm, profoundly misleading.

When the proposed rules were withdrawn, the CLC estimated that not implementing them would result in the death of 50 to 100 working children on farms over the next decade.

“In withdrawing these badly needed safety rules, the Obama Administration yielded to industry lobbyists, but this new information about exposure to tobacco raises new warning flags,” noted Greenberg. “The Nation’s reporting makes it clear that the US government has a responsibility to protect 12-year-olds toiling in the fields. It must pick up the process it started and protect child workers from the known dangers of tobacco harvesting.”

In an accompanying piece, “Regulations are Killed, and Kids Die,” researcher Mariya Strauss notes that at least 12 young farmworkers under the age of 16 have died since the proposed regulations were withdrawn. “At least four of them died doing the hazardous tasks those rules would have prohibited them from performing,” said Strauss.

Federal data on youth occupational injuries and fatalities is glaringly incomplete, suggested Strauss: “It’s impossible not to conclude that incidents are being missed.” The CLC calls on the federal government to correct the numerous data flaws cited by Strauss. “Without accurate data collection, health and safety experts cannot design appropriate prevention strategies,” said Reid Maki, coordinator of the CLC.

“We owe it to our children to give them every opportunity to thrive, and to keep them out of harm’s way,” said Lorretta Johnson, Secretary Treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers and Co-Chair of the CLC, “It is our responsibility to educate the whole child and look after their well being in and out of the classroom. Congress must raise the age at which children can work for wages in agriculture from the current age of 12 to the same minimum age of all other industries—15 or 16. Legislation currently in Congress, the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE), H.R. 2342, addresses the inequities and harsh conditions faced by many child farm laborers, it would close the child labor loopholes for kids not working on their family’s farm. We cannot afford to let political pressure keep us from fulfilling our collective responsibility of providing all children with equal access to high quality public education.”


About the Child Labor Coalition

The Child Labor Coalition is comprised of 30 organizations, representing consumers, labor unions, educators, human rights and labor rights groups, child advocacy groups, and religious groups. It was established in 1989, and is co-chaired by the National Consumers League and the American Federation of Teachers. Its mission is to protect working youth and to promote legislation, programs, and initiatives to end child labor exploitation in the United States and abroad. For more information, please call CLC Coordinator Reid Maki at (202) 207-2820 [].

National Consumers League statement on decision by major wireless carriers to cease commercial PSMS billing – National Consumers League

November 22, 2013

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

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League, the nation’s pioneering non-profit consumer and worker advocacy organization, today applauded the agreement between 45 state Attorneys General and three major wireless carriers – AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile – to end billing for commercial Premium Short Messaging Services (“PSMS”). The decision addresses a major source of cramming – the unauthorized placement of third-party charges on consumers’ cell phones. The carriers will reportedly continue to provide billing services for charitable donations.

The NCL has led a campaign to reform third-party billing and address the threat of cramming. Last year, in response to pressure from consumer groups, the class-action bar, Congress and federal and state regulators, the nation’s major landline telephone carriers agreed to cease billing for so-called “enhanced” services, which had been a major source of cramming. Yesterday’s announcement is a major step towards addressing the migration of cramming fraud to wireless phone bills. A NCL analysis earlier this year estimated that cramming on wireless phone bills costs American consumers $887 million annually.

“This announcement is a major victory for consumers,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “As we have long argued, third-party billing on phone bills is an inherently insecure payment method. We are glad to see that the wireless industry is committed to protecting its subscribers from fraud while preserving legitimate uses of this technology, such as text-to-donate.”

While this is welcome news for millions of consumers, the agreement is reportedly only a voluntary commitment by the three carriers. Second, the nation’s largest wireless carrier, Verizon Wireless, is not part of the agreement. However, according to a statement from the company, the carrier is also planning to end premium messaging. We believe that regulation is still necessary to give these voluntary agreements the force of law and to ensure that cramming fraud doesn’t migrate to smaller rural and regional wireless carriers.

“Voluntary commitments are a good first step towards ending wireless cramming once and for all,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “However, regulations are still necessary to protect all wireless, landline and VoIP users. Consumers shouldn’t be less protected from cramming just because they don’t get service from one of the biggest carriers.”


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 issues holiday travel advisory: Think twice before purchasing travel insurance this season – National Consumers League

November 22, 2013

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

Washington, DC – The nation’s pioneering consumer advocacy organization has issued a warning to consumers planning air travel this holiday season to avoid wasting money on travel “protection” insurance policies, which are often worthless to consumers.  The Washington, DC-based National Consumers League (NCL) found, in a report published this fall, that while online travel Web sites offer insurance as “peace of mind” for the consumer, some of the most popular policies give little actual protection if something unexpected necessitates and change in travel plans.

As the nation enters the beginning of the holiday travel season, and with one of the busiest travel weeks of the year just ahead, NCL is warning air travelers to think twice before making travel insurance purchases and read the policies over carefully before buying. According to the industry trade group Airlines for America, an estimated 25 million passengers will fly over the 12-day Thanksgiving travel period.

“With the rising cost of airfare, and the inability for most consumers to afford truly flexible, refundable tickets, consumers reasonably fear that the need for a last-minute change to air itineraries could break the bank. Enter air travel insurance, which consumers are buying to hedge against the risk of paying hefty change or cancellation fees,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “The unfortunate reality is that these ‘protection’ policies bring in big bucks for the airlines each year but offer very little real value for consumers.”

Airline travel insurance is typically marketed as a small add-on after consumers buy tickets. The fee is typically based on the price of the ticket. These small fees are big business for the airlines industry. Travel insurance sales ballooned to a nearly $2 billion industry in 2012. It is unclear how much travel insurance policies actually pay out in benefits. Based on the high commissions travel insurance agents advertise receiving, advocates suspect that it is significantly higher than commissions earned for more traditional auto, home, or life insurance.

The NCL study focused on trip-cancellation insurance, which is aggressively marketed during the airline ticket-buying process. For example, the checkbox to buy travel insurance is sometimes pre-checked, meaning consumers must actively decline insurance they may not want in the first place.

NCL has issued a number of recommendations for reform, including a requirement that insurance sellers be transparent about the percent of claims they actually pay out. This would enable consumers to better judge the value of travel insurance. For example, relatively low premiums for travel insurance may not be a good deal if there is a track record of paying out few claims.

NCL’s close inspection of the fine print in these travel insurance policies revealed a long list of exclusions, including some of the most common scenarios an air travel consumer could reasonably anticipate. For example, common exclusions include losses stemming from:

  • Illness involving an existing medical condition
  • Pregnancy or childbirth
  • Termination of employment
  • A business meeting being cancelled
  • A student’s test date being changed

“While airline travel insurance may seem like a modest price to pay to protect yourself from bigger costs later, the reality is that this insurance may not pay out,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud and author of NCL’s report. “Travel insurance gives consumers a false sense of comfort that they will be covered in the event they need to change their flight. In reality, these policies are riddled with exclusions and exceptions and are likely a bad deal for consumers.”

To read NCL’s full report, click 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

The USDA plan to “modernize” poultry inspection is a step backwards – National Consumers League

The post originally appeared on By Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH of George Washington University School of Public Health & Health Services 

The Obama Administration’s USDA continues to insist that their proposed rule to “modernize” poultry slaughter inspections will improve food safety. Just last week, Secretary Vilsack’s office said it is sticking with their plan, saying: “comprehensive effort to modernize poultry slaughter inspection in ways that will reduce the risk for American families.” For the last 18 months, however, the USDA Secretary has heard loud and clear that his agency’s proposal is certain to do much more harm than good.

Advocates for and experts on food safety, workers safety, consumers, animal rights, and even USDA’s own inspectors, have provided evidence of this during the agency’s public comment period. They’ve also follow-up with letters and petitions reiterating why the proposal should be scrapped. It’s fallen on Vilsack’s and his staff’s deaf ears. USDA’s response is particularly offensive because it contradicts one of President Obama’s declarations.   The President insists that his Administration wants input from the public. He may say his team wants input, but they’ve demonstrated no interest in being persuaded by it. And the evidence continues to pile up. The USDA’s proposed rule on a new poultry slaughter inspection process must be withdrawn.  The most recent evidence added to the hefty stack includes:

  • An investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluding that USDA does not have evidence from its pilot project to support its proposed new inspection process. GAO found problematic that USDA: “will not complete another evaluation before it issues a final rule.” That’s the final rule that USDA insists it will issue very soon.
  • Legislation introduced in September 2013 by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) would halt USDA’s action. Responding to the GAO report, the Senator wants to ensure USDA gathers the necessary evidence to justify its assertions that the new system will improve food safety.
  • A coalition of 16 civil rights, worker safety, and faith groups petitioned USDA (and the Secretary of Labor) to withdraw the proposed rule, and adopt a rule to protect poultry- and meat-processing workers from the extreme production line speeds which injury and disable them.  These workers—many of them Latino and African-American, and female—are vulnerable to employer abuse and already experience severe injury and disability because of their work.
  • And, food safety experts persist in assembling the most current evidence on defects in the USDA’s pilot project and proposed rule. As new evidence emerges, they provide it to USDA. They have repeatedly asked USDA Secretary Vilsack to revoke the the equivalency determinations because the HIMP model in swine slaughter is flawed. The most recent letter informed USDA (just in case they didn’t already know) that the European Union seems to have rejected the Australian privatized meat inspection model. As Food & Water Watch explained, the EU’s concern is the

“apparent conflict of interest of having company-paid employees inspect meat for safety and wholesomeness. In its zeal to privatize inspection here in the U.S., USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Services may have created a trade crisis by hastily approving its ill-conceived program abroad. It’s time to revoke those equivalency determinations before there is a major international food safety incident.” All of this—combined with the overwhelming rejection of the USDA approach in comments submitted to the agency during the formal public comment period—should be more than enough for the agency to scrap their plan. But there’s more. Icing on the Cake The icing on the cake is stellar reporting by the Washington Post’s Kimberly Kindy. For the last seven months she’s investigated the potential impact of USDA’s proposed changes to poultry slaughter inspection. In AprilKindy wrote about the death of USDA poultry inspector Jose Navarro. The 37 year-old father died from a pulmonary hemorrhage likely related to exposure to chemicals used to disinfect poultry. Navarro’s assignment was inspecting poultry at Murray’s Chicken in upstate New York. Her investigation led to a private report provided by USDA to the House Appropriations Committee. The agency acknowledged that in plants which have already accelerated line speeds, workers have been exposed to larger amounts of chemical disinfecting agents. “The use of powerful antimicrobial chemicals has increased in order to decrease microbial loads on carcasses.” Increasing production line speeds is exactly what USDA is proposing to do. The chemical agents in which the poultry soaks, poses a serious risk of harm to USDA inspectors, as well as the thousands of workers employed in these plants. Jose Navarro’s death is the gravest example of that point. In SeptemberKindy reported on USDA’s failure to control contaminated meat produced at plants that are using the agency’s “modernized” inspection system from reaching consumers. In exchange for adopting the new system, poultry and meat producers can substantially increase lines speeds, use employees to inspect the product throughout the process (which means fewer USDA inspectors) and come up with their own scheme to identify contaminated meat and poultry. The system has been adopted by some oversees producers whose meat is imported to the U.S. Kindy interviewed members of USDA’s own scientific advisory committee. Commenting on the USDA’s pilot and plans to implement it nationwide, one committee member told Kindy: “We should not be putting it out there, saying it is okay for other countries to use, when it has so many flaws and when contaminated meat is coming in.” Last week, Kindy added to her series on USDA’s plan. She reported that the proposed increase in line speed will not only be a danger to workers, lead to increase use of chemicals, and could allow contaminated meat into the food supply, but that the “USDA plan to speed up poultry-processing lines could increase risk of bird abuse.”  [This next part is not for the faint of heart.] “Nearly 1 million chickens and turkeys are unintentionally boiled alive each year in U.S. slaughterhouses, often because fast-moving lines fail to kill the birds before they are dropped into scalding water, Agriculture Department records show.” USDA reacted to Kindy’s Oct 29 story with a post on the agency’s blog. They insist their proposal is just hunky-dory, adding “Experts agree that it would significantly reduce foodborne illnesses – reducing dangerous pathogens like Salmonella to protect American families.  Improving America’s food inspection system will do just that, and USDA is committed to undertaking this effort in a way that ensures even stronger humane handling measures in the future.” As far as I can tell, the “experts who are agreeing” are two individuals on whom the USDA relies. One is Professor Billy Hargis from the University of Arkansas. He is the Sustainable Poultry Health Chair, and endowed position, funded in part, by the Tyson Family (Tyson, as in the mammoth poultry company.)  The other expert is Douglas Fulnechek, DVM, a manager and veterinarian at USDA. Personally, I don’t consider either unbaised experts.  In contrast, many public health experts, who have no financial or professional stake in the outcome, submitted scads of evidence to USDA on the likelihood of grave harm should its proposal be adopted. From contaminated meat and crippled workers, to toxic chemicals and tortured chickens, surely the White House will ask Secretary Vilsack to withdraw this ill-conceived rule. If not, we’ll be asking the Obama Administration, which side are you on?  I take that back, we’ll know which side they’re on.

National Consumers League statement on FDA determination to eliminate unapproved trans fat – National Consumers League

November 21, 2013

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

Washington, D.C. – Today, the National Consumers League submitted comments to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on its recent decision to no longer qualify partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) as safe additives in food.  FDA plans on continuing its efforts to reduce Americans artificial trans fat intake by requiring that all PHO additives be approved. In its comments, NCL, the nation’s pioneering consumer organization, commended FDA on its efforts and encouraged additional labeling be added for approved trans fats.  Current regulations state that trans fats under 0.5 grams per serving don’t need to be included on the nutrition label.

“Overall, we are pleased with FDAs determination to remove this harmful additive from the marketplace and look forward to seeing the determination in action,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s Executive Director. “But the FDA should take another step to require better labeling for products that will continue to contain trans fats. A half gram of trans fat is still a significant amount to a health-conscious consumer, and It’s imperative that consumers are aware of what’s in their food.”

To read the full letter, click here (PDF).


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

RIP trans fats – National Consumers League

kelsey By Kelsey Albright, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow I hope you aren’t a margarine fan because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s announcement to ban trans fats may have marked its death.  FDA plans to no longer qualify partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) as a safe additive for use in food, making foods with unapproved PHO additives illegal.  PHOs are infamously known as the main source of artificial trans fat in processed foods such as frozen pizza, coffee creamer, microwave popcorn and, of course, margarine.

It’s no secret that FDA has had its sights set on reducing Americans artificial trans fat intake for a while.  In 1990, a surgeon general’s report publicized the formerly unknown harmful effects of trans fats in food.  Prior to this report, trans fats were commonly thought of as healthy alternatives to saturated fats from animal products like butter and lard.  Such misconceptions caused numerous food makers to switch from butter to partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Many food manufacturers have voluntarily reduced or eliminated trans fats in their products.  In fact, the average American’s trans fat intake has decreased from 4.6 grams per day in 2003 to 1 gram per day in 2012. 

Even with this drastic reduction in trans fat consumption, the FDA was still concerned, maintaining that current levels of trans fat intake is a public health problem.  It is now well known that trans fats increase the risk of heart disease.  In its statement the FDA said that further reduction of trans fat in Americans diets could prevent an additional 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 heart disease related deaths each year.  The Institute of Medicine concluded that there is no safe level of trans fat consumption. It’s my hope that other consumers see the benefits of FDAs determination and are pleased by the new nutritional requirements.