Let’s all get out and glean – National Consumers League

The Bible is replete with calls for it, our glut of food in America calls for it, and yet few of us do it. I’m not talking about praying! I’m referring to the term “gleaning.” NCL has an active campaign to reduce food waste, since Americans toss out 40 percent of the food we produce. That takes a huge toll on our farmers—who work so hard to grow our crops—and on the environment, when wasted food stuffs landfills, and it leaves the 60 million food-insecure families in America behind, when we could be feeding millions more.

But in Belle Glade, FL, it turns out, they are heeding the call to glean. Thousands of people from November through July get up at the crack of dawn and drive to local fields to package up unused crops—butternut squash, bok choy, cabbage, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, green beans—and ensure they get to the distribution centers at the local food banks. According to Susan Salisbury, who wrote about the cleaning efforts for the Palm Beach Post, an estimated 20 percent of crops never make it to our tables. It’s either “ugly” or doesn’t meet retailers’ standards. Another 20 percent is thrown away at home or in restaurants, something the National Consumers League has worked to reduce.

Amidst a lot of abundance and wealth, there is another side of Palm Beach County. If you drive off the main roads you see it, but few of us make those detours. It turns out that 200,000 people in the county are food insecure, according to the head of the Palm Beach County Food Bank.

In fact, 90 percent of the crops that are gleaned come from Palm Beach County, with up to 3,000 volunteers working closely with growers. Last year they recovered 497,000 pounds of produce. A whopping 3.7 million pounds, statewide, has been saved. Kids come with their parents to participate in gathering produce. What a great lesson for them.

I was surprised to learn that this food recovery program may be the only one of its kind in the nation. Kudos to the farmers who work with the community to ensure this donated food—millions of pounds of it—gets to those in need. This program should go national.

And by the way, this notion that I hear so often that you can’t give food away because if people get sick, you’ll get sued, is a red herring! Ever heard of the Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act? It’s the federal law that protects those who donate, recover, and distribute excess food from fear of lawsuits.

Three hours later, volunteers fill up bins that provide food to the many in Palm Beach County who don’t have enough to feed their families. This is the side of America that I love. Forget military parades— let’s get Americans out gleaning fields across the country. Palm Beach County has taught us how.

Cancer death rate is falling, but we still have work to do – National Consumers League

Janay JohnsonHave you or someone you love been affected by cancer? Chances are the answer is yes. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in men and women in the United States, and knows no boundaries of age, race, ethnicity, gender, or wealth. More than 1.7 million people will be diagnosed with the disease this year alone, while over 600,000 people are estimated to die from it.

Nonetheless, the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) new report, Cancer Statistics 2018, shows that the cancer death rate in the United States has maintained a steady rate of decline, plummeting 26 percent since its peak in 1991 – translating to 2.4 million fewer cancer deaths over the last quarter century. This progress is largely driven by sharp declines in mortality rates in the four most common types of cancer – lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate. Conjointly, innovations in cancer treatment, better early detection and management practices, and a societal reduction in tobacco use have also played a role in this statistical shift.

Despite this good news, ACS’ report also reveals that, though narrowing, disparities in cancer mortality rates with respect to gender, race, and age still exist. Fundamental differences in the types of cancers men and women develop, and higher rates of smoking, excess alcohol consumption, and other cancer-related factors in men have created a huge gender gap – with the death rate for men 40 percent higher than that of women. Racial disparities are even more pervasive. Though the overall racial disparity in cancer death rates is decreasing, blacks still have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial group in the United States for the majority of cancers. Black men have an overall cancer death rate 24 percent higher than that of white men, and in fact, have the highest death rate of any other group. Black women, despite having lower cancer incidence rates than white women, have a cancer death rate 14 percent higher than their white counterparts. Beyond that, the racial disparities for some cancers, notably breast, are actually increasing. When accounting for age, the disparity in the death rates of blacks and whites 65 and older is significantly smaller than the disparity in death rates of blacks and whites under 65 – which is likely attributable to a higher proportion of insured Americans in the Medicare population.

Socioeconomic disparities, reflecting a lack of access to health care, work opportunities, wealth, education, and social support networks, are at the root of many of the disparities in cancer mortality. These social determinants of health are all indicators of whether an individual might have access to cancer prevention resources, early detection, or quality cancer treatment. Lack of health insurance, or underinsurance creates a barrier to comprehensive healthcare and increases the likelihood of later stage cancer diagnosis, when treatment is often more intense, costly, and frankly less successful.

If we are to continue the progress we have made in lowering the death rate of this horrible disease, we must recognize that it is as inextricably linked to policy as it is to one day finding a cure. The National Consumers League continues to advocate to preserve the consumer protections established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including preventing discrimination based on preexisting conditions, ending annual and lifetime limits on essential health benefits, and removing co-pays for key cancer prevention and early detection services like mammograms and colonoscopies. NCL also advocates to protect Medicaid, which puts health coverage within reach for the most vulnerable and disenfranchised among us. We all have a critical role to play in saving lives from cancer – and it starts with promoting good health in our communities, ensuring every consumer has access to quality and affordable health care, and improving the quality of life for every consumer and their families.

President’s Day: A time to celebrate two great men and modern medicine – National Consumers League

Happy President’s Day! Given who is currently sitting in the White House, let’s change the subject and celebrate modern medicine as it affected the two American Presidents we are celebrating this holiday. Reading the news this week about the flu virus, I was reminded about how lucky we are in 2017 to avoid the scourge of infectious disease that afflicted both Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, two of my favorite presidents and the two this holiday is named for. 

As the flu season is in full tilt and a deadly one this year, if I had a nickel for every person who said, “I don’t get a flu shot because I think it gives you the flu,” I’d be a millionaire. No, flu shots don’t make you sick; and though they say the flu shot this year is only 36 percent effective, I’ll take those odds. According to reports, an estimated 4,000 people have died this year. The vast majority haven’t been vaccinated.

A headline in The Washington Post this week was overly grim. The article was great but the headline was misleading, focusing on the 36 percent statistic.

Read deeper and you find that administering the flu shot in children younger than 9 offers much greater protection to them, reducing by more than half the risk of becoming so sick that they need to see a doctor. That data comes against the backdrop of at least 63 kids dying from flu since October 1. As in past winter flu seasons, about three-quarters of children who have died were not fully vaccinated, officials said. That is critically important information for parents! My headline would have read:

Flu shot provides unusually high protection to children this year

This tracks with history. A new analysis of seasonal flu deaths in U.S. children in the six seasons since the 2009 pandemic found that children ages 2 and younger are most at risk. Of the children who died during those years, less than a third had been vaccinated. In other words, vaccination gives your kids a much better chance of fighting the virus.

But back to my favorite presidents—George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Washington would have lived longer—and Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd Lincoln would not have been so terribly broken by the deaths of their young children from typhoid fever—had they been living today. Now, thanks to modern medicine, we get a shot that protects us from typhoid fever. NCL history tracks similar tragedy. Florence Kelley, NCL’s first general secretary, wrote often about the deaths of her siblings in the late 1800s, calling them the “dark days of diphtheria.” Today we get a shot to prevent diphtheria.

George Washington, it turns out, suffered from a host of infectious diseases in his lifetime. “There are many points before and after the Revolutionary War when he could have died,” said Dr. Howard Markel, director of University of Michigan’s Center for the History of Medicine. “He was really quite ill, even when he was president.” Today, Washington would have had a preventive shot for diphtheria and taken antibiotics for the tonsillitis that likely killed him at the ripe old age of 67; his body was weakened by fending off infectious disease after disease.

So consumers, don’t let anyone tell you NOT to get the flu shot—and don’t believe the urban myth: it will NOT give you the flu. There’s nothing the shot will do but increase your odds—and those of your children—from succumbing to the virulent virus. The Presidents we celebrate this week would have relished this chance to stave off disease. Let’s appreciate all that they did for America and at the same time thank modern medicine for the leaps and bounds we’ve made in fighting deadly infectious diseases.

Collaboration to educate consumers: ‘Always a treat’ – National Consumers League

As conversation hearts and boxes of chocolates start to appear across America this week, we’re reminded that candy plays a very special role in our celebration of Valentine’s Day.

We found some recent developments in the confectioner industry worthy of note this Valentine’s Day.

The National Confectioners Association (NCA) has joined with the Partnership for a Healthier America to provide consumers with more information about their favorite treats. Known as the Always A Treat Initiative, this is a 5-year collaboration to focus on transparency, portion guidance and choice, and consumer education.

NCA says that, over the next few years, consumers will begin to see more chocolate and candy options in smaller pack sizes, along with new products and more front-of-pack calorie labels. And, they tell us, many of those choices will be 200 calories or less. That’s a positive development. 

The data show that consumers enjoy candy about two or three times per week and average around 40 calories per day from chocolate and candy items. Sounds about right. I’m an “everything-in-moderation” believer myself, and as someone with a serious sweet tooth, a little candy goes a long way in satisfying my craving for sweets.

Providing more information and adaption to consumer demand makes sense for the industry. 

NCL likes the confectioner industry’s collaboration with PHA and the investment they are making in programs to help consumers to make better and healthier choices for themselves and their families. So enjoy the sweet treats that come with this holiday, and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Child Labor Coalition joins calls for cleaner, more responsible jewelry supply chain – National Consumers League

February 8, 2018

Contact: Reid Maki, Child Labor Coalition, (202) 207-2820, reidm@nclnet.org 

Washington, DC–The Child Labor Coalition (CLC) today joins nearly 30 NGOs and trade unions from around the world in calling on the jewelry industry to ensure responsible sourcing of precious metals and gems. One million children toil in mines, often extracting metals, including gold and silver, and gems like jade, emeralds, and diamonds. The work is extremely hazardous, putting children at risk of serious injury and death. Many child miners use toxic substances such as mercury that can cause severe damage to their developing neurological systems. Mining also causes profound ecological damage in many communities, polluting waterways and soil and endangering the health of communities.

“Consumers purchase nearly $300 billion in jewelry each year,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League (NCL) and co-chair of the CLC, whose 38 member organizations have worked to reduce child labor around the world for nearly three decades. “It’s time for jewelry companies to do more to provide consumers with jewelry that isn’t tainted with the scourges of child labor and forced labor. Existing mechanisms to clean up this supply chain have not gone far enough. It’s time for greater transparency. Jewelry companies must take responsibility for their supply chains.”

“The prevalence of child labor in the jewelry supply chains is a major concern,” said Reid Maki, NCL’s director of child labor advocacy and coordinator of the CLC. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, child labor is found in gold mining in 21 countries. Child labor is also used to produce silver in Bolivia, rubies and jade in Burma, and diamonds in six African countries. In the Philippines, children do compression mining of gold, submerged under muddy water while they breathe air through flimsy plastic hoses.

Today, the NGOs and trade unions are issuing a Call to Action to the jewelry industry calling on companies to:

  • Put in place and implement a robust supply chain due diligence policy;
  • Ensure full chain of custody over gold and diamonds by requiring evidence of business transactions and their transport routes from their suppliers;
  • Assess and respond to human rights risks throughout their supply chains, and ensuring that workers have a right to unionize and access to effective remedy;
  • Use independent third-party audits;
  • Publicly report on their human rights due diligence on an annual basis;
  • Publish the names of gold and diamond suppliers and their independent third-party audit mechanisms;
  • Actively seek gold and diamonds from artisanal and small-scale mines that are not associated with human rights violations and willing to formalize;
  • Improve human rights conditions in artisanal and small-scale mining communities;
  • Support multi-stakeholder initiatives designed to strengthen responsible minerals sourcing and work with mining cooperatives and trade unions.*

“Through this ‘Call to Action’ and the accompanying campaign, we hope to see real engagement and transformation of the jewelry industry,” said Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum and chair of the CLC’s International Issues Committee.

The CLC also applauds Human Rights Watch’s new report, “The Hidden Cost of Jewelry: Human Rights in Supply Chains and the Responsibility of Jewelry Companies,” which examines the sourcing of gold and diamonds by 13 major jewelry and watch brands that generate more than $30 billion in annual revenue in the United States.

*The campaign action steps are spelled out in greater detail by Human Rights Watch on its web site.

About the Child Labor Coalition

The Child Labor Coalition, which has 38 member organizations, represents consumers, labor unions, educators, human rights and labor rights groups, child advocacy groups, and religious and women’s 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. The CLC’s website and membership list can be found at StopChildLabor.org.


NCL critical of CFPB’s decision to stop protecting consumers from massive data breaches

February 6, 2018

Contact: NCL Communications, Carol McKay carolm@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2831

Washington, DC–Consumers should be extremely troubled by reports that Mick Mulvaney, acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), has stopped investigating the Equifax breach, which affected 143 million consumers’ accounts. Equifax’s mishandling of consumers’ most personal data increased the risk of identity fraud for millions of consumers.

The following statement is attributable to John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud: 

“The mission of the CFPB is simple: to protect consumers. In the wake of one of America’s most damaging data breach, 143 million Americans are now at increased risk for becoming a victim of identity fraud. Victims of such crime can have their ability to borrow, get a job, or rent a home damaged for years. The idea that protecting consumers from data breaches and identity fraud is somehow beyond the scope of the CFPB is ridiculous. It’s time for the acting director of the CFPB to stop protecting businesses that harm Americans and fulfill the mission of its Congressionally-mandated mission. The CFPB must continue its investigation to make sure that a data breach like Equifax’s never happens again.”


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 https://nclnet.org.

National Consumers League: Consumer agency independence vindicated by court ruling – National Consumers League

February 1, 2018

Contact: NCL Communications, Carol McKay carolm@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2831

Washington, DC–The National Consumers League is calling the January 31, 2018 Court of Appeals decision “a vindication of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s structure and mission.”

On Wednesday, in a 7-3 vote, the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia found that “Congress established the independent CFPB to curb fraud and promote transparency in consumer loans, home mortgages, personal credit cards, and retail banking.”

Comparing the independent structure of the Bureau to other federal agencies like the Federal Trade Commission, the court noted, “The Supreme Court eighty years ago sustained the constitutionality of the FTC, a consumer protection financial regulator with powers analogous to those of the CFPB in Humphrey’s Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602 (1935).  In doing so, the Court approved the very means of independence Congress used here: protection of agency leadership from at-will removal by the President.”

The National Consumers League strongly supported the creation of the CFPB, part of the 2008 Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The Bureau was established to oversee the activities of the financial services industry to ensure they abide by basic consumer protections.  The Bureau has returned $12 billion to consumers and has successfully curbed predatory payday loan, debt collection, student loan and mortgage fraud practices.

“We greatly appreciate this vindicating decision by a very influential federal court., said Sally Greenberg, the NCL’s Executive Director. “Indeed, we agree that the CFPB’s independent structure is critically important to keep it removed from political pressures and to allow the Bureau to do its job: protect consumers from predatory industry practices. Consumers have few allies looking after their interests when it comes to complicated financial transactions. The Bureau is one of the few of these institutions. We are very pleased that the court upheld its mission, structure and independence.”


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 https://nclnet.org.

Fraud trends: Bogus Internet sales remain most-reported fraud for fifth year in a row; Fake check, phishing scams making a comeback

February 1, 2018

Contact: NCL Communications, Carol McKay carolm@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2831

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer advocacy organization, has released its annual compilation of the top ten scams reported to Fraud.org, NCL’s flagship project for fraud prevention and education. Based on an analysis of nearly 5,000 fraud complaints submitted by consumers to Fraud.org in 2017, NCL is warning consumers to beware Internet merchandise sales scams.

For the fifth year in a row, Internet merchandise scams topped the list of complaints reported to Fraud.org. The way many consumers first come into contact with these scams is via a “too good to be true” ad on a website, social media platform, or Internet forum. Popular ways scammers catch consumers’ eyes is with deep discounts on goods like iPhones, sneakers, luxury apparel, video game systems and even pets.

“The convenience of online shopping is simply unbeatable for many consumers,” said John Breyault, who directs Fraud.org. “Obviously there are plenty of legitimate companies online, but there are also fraudulent sellers out to cheat consumers—and they are very good at what they do.”

While the top scam didn’t change in 2017, other forms of fraud made sizeable gains. Year-over-year, complaints about fake check scams increased 12.55 percent and phishing/spoofing scams increased by 27.28 percent, respectively. The growth of fake check scam complaints is particularly worrisome, given that the 12.55 percent increase in 2017 followed a 15.16 percent increase in 2016.

In fake check scam scenarios, consumers are paid with realistic looking phony checks for work or for items they’re trying to sell and then are instructed to wire proceeds from the check back to buyer. Ultimately, the consumer is left responsible when their bank tells them the check is worthless. In phishing scams, emails appearing to be from a well-known, trusted source ask consumers to enter or confirm their personal information. Links or attachments lead consumers to equally trustworthy-looking websites that capture their data and use it to commit credit fraud and ID theft.

The increase in phishing and spoofing scams is raising advocates’ concerns that the proliferation of data breaches in recent years could be fueling the fraud.

“With each major data breach—think Yahoo!, Equifax, Uber, and others—our fear that the information criminals glean from such breaches will help them craft convincing phishing and spoofing campaigns rises,” said Breyault. “It’s probably too soon to make a definitive link, but complaints involving phishing and spoofing scams appear to on the rise, and this is a flag for those of us concerned about the long-term effects of data breaches.”

Another trend among 2017 consumer reports to Fraud.org was that Internet and email-based communication are overtaking the phone as scammers’ preferred method of initial contact. The telephone marginally beat out the Internet as the method of first contact for scammers (34.29 percent vs. 34.11 percent), but another 15 percent of consumers said they first heard from a scammer via email. Both web- and email-based methods of contact increased this year.

 “The fight against fraud is constantly evolving, as criminals refine their tactics for separating consumers from their hard-earned cash,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “We hope our annual list of top scams helps consumers know what to watch out for and avoid falling victim, especially since falling victim for one of these scams is apparently getting more costly.”

Read the full 2017 top ten scams report.


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 https://nclnet.org.