AdvoCare settlement highlights FTC’s importance in protecting consumers from pyramid schemes

October 2, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—Today, the National Consumers League, the nation’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization applauded the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for its successful investigation and settlement with multi-level marketing (MLM) company AdvoCare. The settlement, in addition to providing $150 million in relief to victims, implements a lifetime ban preventing AdvoCare from ever rejoining the MLM business.

The following statement is attributable to John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud at the National Consumers League:

Today’s settlement once again highlights the central role that the FTC plays in protecting Americans from illegal pyramid schemes. The FTC has a 45-year track record of winning favorable settlements and court judgements against pyramid schemes. In spite of this, many leading members of the direct selling industry continue to push a discredited bill that would dramatically undermine the Commission’s ability to protect consumers against companies like AdvoCare. 

Under the Orwellian name of the “Anti-Pyramid Promotional Scheme Act,” the bill would create a series of carve outs and safe harbors that would prevent the FTC from protecting consumers and entrepreneurs from all but the most blatant pyramid schemes.

Today’s actions by the FTC demonstrate the need for  continued  consumer protection under its existing authority. NCL opposes pyramid scheme legalization bills like the Anti-Pyramid Promotional Scheme Act, which is even now being peddled by industry lobbyists. We hope this bill will once again be stopped from gaining momentum by members of Congress.

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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 www.nclnet.org.

NCL opposes harmful proposed rule that will expose more to hunger

September 23, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—Today, the National Consumers League (NCL) submitted written comments opposing the USDA’s Proposed Rule: Revision of Categorical Eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), arguing that the proposed policy change would impact millions who qualify for the federal program that is the nation’s first line of defense against hunger.

“Our organization is deeply concerned that the proposed changes would deprive an estimated 3.1 million people of access to this vital program and cause 500,000 children to lose their automatic eligibility for free or subsidized school lunch. This proposed rule may potentially worsen hunger among low-income households, harm local economies, and increase SNAP administrative costs,” wrote NCL in the comments.

Low-income households receiving cash assistance from Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or General Assistance have long been considered automatically (or “categorically) eligible for SNAP, which means they do not separately have to pass SNAP’s asset or gross income tests.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the proposed rule change is intended to close a “loophole” that states have misused to “effectively bypass important eligibility guidelines.” However, that’s simply not the case. Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE) allows states to cover the gap between income and need by considering cost of living, wages, and other local economic conditions when determining people’s eligibility for SNAP.

The National Consumers League strongly opposes the proposed rule that would expose even more people to the arbitrary food cutoff policy.

NCL’s written comments are available here (PDF).

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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 www.nclnet.org.

I’m going for the kids’ portion!

With overweight and obesity stats in an upward trajectory, the National Consumers League and the Georgetown School of Business are partnering up for a survey on a simple topic: what do Americans know about portion sizes, calories of average foods, and how many calories we can eat each day without packing on the pounds? 

We have a health crisis in AmericaFrom 2015-2016, 39.8 percent of American adults were considered obesewhich means the body mass index (BMI) measurements of more than 129 million of us are considered obeseThe annual medical cost of obesity is estimated at $147 billion because heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancers are tied to obesity. What is particularly concerning is that more than a third of younger people, ages 20-39, are obese.  

In fact, the New York Times reported that roughly a fifth of our soldiers are obese! The military is trying to combat this problem by replacing sweet drinks with water and cutting out fried foods, but it’s not working. 

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines recommend that the average person should consume about 2,000 calories a day. Do most of us know that if you exceed 2,000 calories day regularly, you pack on the pounds? (That’s unless, of course, you’re getting a lot of calorieburning exercise or have a great metabolism.) Is that number too high for many of us? (It is for me. If I eat more than 1,650 calories, I know I’m going to put on weight.That’s what we want to find out with our research: what do Americans really know about this guideline? 

We will also be asking whether most Americans know how many calories are in average serving of common foods such as yogurt (150), hamburgers with bun (350), pizza (350 per slice), bagels (325), muffins (425), 4-piece fried chicken dinner with all the fixings (850-1,200), a 30oz. steak (1,400), a piece of cheesecake (650)big chocolate chip cookie (450)and an ice cream cone (300-400.) 

Also, dAmericans know what an average serving is? A Cheesecake Factory salad is not an average serving! Each of their salads have more than 1,300 calories. That’s too much for one meal. Unfortunately, restaurant serving sizes have increased a lot over the last several decades. 

Which brings me back to my headlinekids portions! I’ve begun sampling my local downtown DC upscale food spots popular with millennials like Roti, CAVAChoptThe custom is that you order a bowl of lettuce or spinach as a base and put lots of pretty healthy but also pretty caloric toppingsadd a protein for a few bucks extra, and crowned with shredded cheese and salad dressing. When you’re done, you have a big portion and lots of good food but also lots of caloriesalbeit not from hamburger and fries but still, calories! 

So try the kids’ portion! They are cheaper by a thirda lot less food, a lot fewer calories, and completely filling. My CAVA kids meal had a small white bread (unfortunately) pita, yogurt spread, two small spicy meatballs, cucumber salad, tomato salad, three pieces of fried breadand scoop of brown rice. In other words, a lot of food! I figured it was about 550 calories. Voila! A third of my 1,650 allowable daily intake of food. And I was stuffed. I’ll be trying other food outlets to check out the kids portions. And we recommend that other consumers do the samehelps to limit calories and prevent food waste when you’re eating out!

NCL to USDA: Portion control must be key strategy for fighting America’s highest-ever obesity rates

July 11, 2019

Media contact: National Consumers League – Shaunice Wall, MS, RD, shaunicew@nclnet.org, (202) 835-0331, Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242, or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) presented oral comments to the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee today in Washington, DC, urging the committee to focus on portion control as a key strategy to address the rise of obesity.

“Unfortunately, while the current version of the Dietary Guidelines mentions portion size – it appears to be mostly an afterthought among the various strategies to improve diets and fight obesity,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “Portion balance is not mentioned in the guidelines’ executive summary; this is despite the fact that larger portion sizes have greatly contributed to the problem of overweight and obesity.”

Nationally, 39.6 percent of adults and 18.5 percent of children were considered obese in 2015-2016, the most recent period for which NHANES data were available. These figures represent the highest percentages ever documented and obesity rates are projected to affect half of all adults, or 115 million adults, by the year 2030. There are also substantial economic losses associated with obesity. The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion in 2008 U.S. dollars; the medical cost for people who have obesity was $1,429 higher than those of normal weight. 

“One promising, and we think underutilized, strategy for tackling the obesity epidemic is helping consumers understand and implement appropriate portion control,” said Greenberg. “This simple step to improving public health should not be marginalized in the forthcoming edition of the Guidelines; rather it should be one of the key points stressed by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and form a cornerstone of the Dietary Guidelines.”

NCL’s full testimony is available here (PDF).

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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 www.nclnet.org.

Three reasons scientists believe bugs are the next beef

Shaunice Wall is NCL’s Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

There’s a thin line between hunger and disgust when deep-fried tarantulas and smoked barbeque crickets are on the menu. Many scientists argue that animal protein is not environmentally sustainable, so alternatives–like bugs–may be the answer to the perils of global warming. Recent research supports eating bugs as a way to maintain a protein-rich diet while benefiting the environment.

Infographic comparing the water, feed, and land needs of cattle against the same needs for bugs farming

Why bugs are slowly crawling into our everyday diets

As the world population continues to grow, so will demand for animal protein. By 2050, we’ll be eating more than two-thirds the animal protein we do today, causing a strain to our planet’s resources. The surge in demand for animal protein has also contributed to an increase in greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide). These gases lead to extreme weather conditions, ozone depletion, increased danger of wildland fires, loss of biodiversity, stresses to food-producing systems and the global spread of infectious diseases. Even today, climate changes are estimated to cause over 150,000 deaths annually.

Most westerners prefer beef over bugs

While many of us westerners may gag at the thought of maggots in our sausage, more than 2 billion people throughout the world have been eating bugs as a regular part of their diets for millennia. But historically, for westerners, livestock not only yields meat, but also milk and milk products, their hides or skins provide warmth, they are suitable for plough traction, and act as a means of transport. Because of the use of these animals, the benefits of eating insects in many societies has failed to gain much interest. Also, certain insects are transmitters of disease and are virtually a nuisance.

So, why should we eat bugs?

In 2013, a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, urged global citizens to eat more bugs for three reasons:

  1. They’re healthier for you…and tasty too!
    • Bugs are a healthy, nutritious alternative to mainstream staples such as chicken, pork, beef, and fish (from ocean catch).
    • Many insects are rich in protein, good fats, and high in calcium, iron, and zinc.
    • Insects already form a traditional part of many regional and national diets.
    • Bugs can be used as an ingredient substitute for almost any recipe. Here’s a link with ideas on how to make some delicious bug treats!
  2. They’re safer for the environment
    • Bugs promoted as food emit 75 percent fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs) than most livestock.
    • Insect rearing is not necessarily a land-based activity and does not require as much land as livestock.
    • Because they are cold-blooded, insects are efficient at converting feed into protein (crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less feed than sheep, and half as much feed as pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein).
    • According to the Harvard Political Review, producing one pound of beef requires 10 pounds of feed, 1,000 gallons of water, and 200 square feet of pasture. In contrast, producing one pound of insects only requires two pounds of feed, one gallon of water, and two cubic feet of land space.
  3. They’re lower in cost
    • Bug harvesting/rearing is a low-tech, low-capital investment option that offers economic opportunities to all levels of society.
    • Insect rearing can be low-tech or very sophisticated, depending on the level of investment.

Recent advances in research and development show edible bugs to be a promising alternative to meat for both human consumption and as feedstock. But to make this a reality, regulatory frameworks for safety and nutrition will need to be developed and government, industry, and academia will need to work together.

In the meanwhile, knowing the benefits can help turn disgust to hunger when tarantulas or crickets appear on the menu… Something to think about!

The role of technology in meeting consumer demands for product info – National Consumers League

Entering the grocery store, more than 40,000 products are right at your fingertips. As our Food Policy Fellow Haley Swartz has written about previously, choice overload and the “tyranny of too much” are increasingly common for consumers in grocery store aisles.

In an age when nutrition, health, and product safety are major consumer priorities, it becomes increasingly important to know what are in the items you purchase, and how they compare to the many other options on the grocery shelf.

Transparency itself is in high demand, as some have even called it the must-have ingredient for successful food companies in the modern era. Substantial consumer research data also indicates consumer demand for industry transparency, particularly in food and beverage manufacturing. The 2016 Label Insight Food Revolution Study found that 71 percent of consumers believed product transparency influences their purchasing decisions at the grocery store. A July 2017 survey found even more striking results, that 70 percent of purchases were influenced by transparency content.

A more recent survey from May 2018 found that if consumers were provided with additional information about a product, 80 percent said they would be more likely to buy it. In fact, more than two-thirds of respondents said that their interest about the information on product labels has increased over just the past two years.

Shoppers across the country are hungry for detailed information about what is in a product, why it is there, how it is produced, and what impact it has on the environment and their health. This call for more product information could be a result of the increasing complexity of food manufacturing, occurrence of allergies in the United States, and heightened awareness about the effect food has on our health.

A variety of tools aim to help anxious consumers wade through the noise to find the information they seek. But product packaging is becoming increasingly complex, enough so that some have called it a “competitive piece of real estate.” Only some of the information consumers want can be available directly in sight during grocery shopping experiences or when they are at home making out their shopping lists.

One tool that answers this question is SmartLabel, a digital disclosure tool which makes more information than can ever fit on a label available to consumers. SmartLabel works using a smartphone to scan barcodes or QR codes on food, beverages, personal care, and household products in the grocery store. Once the barcode is scanned, a SmartLabel website page provides detailed information about a range of things: ingredients, nutritional facts, allergens, usage instructions, third-party certifications, such as Kosher, and other information such as whether a food contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The information can also be found by going to www.smartlabel.org on a computer while you’re at home.

As of June 2018, SmartLabel is being used on nearly 28,000 food, beverage, personal care and household products in grocery stores, with many more products on the way.

The National Consumers League food policy team applauds the grocery manufacturers and retailing industry for responding to consumer demand and working to create a way for consumers to find more transparent information about the products they are purchasing. We hope that the industry will continue to roll out similar initiatives that promote the best interests of consumers and respond to demand in the marketplace.

 

Throwing away the stigma about frozen foods – National Consumers League

By NCL intern Melissa Cuddington

Over the last decade, an influx of farmer’s markets and organic certified products has accompanied increased demand for fresh food and healthy living among American consumers. This trend is partly responsible for the stigma surrounding frozen food in the grocery store as always second-best to fresh foods.

This movement towards organic, local, and fresh products has overshadowed consumers looking for more affordable, healthy, and convenient options at mealtimes. With a significant 43 percent of millennials buying frozen foods last year, this sector of the food industry is worth looking at in depth.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 10 percent of Americans consume the recommended daily amount of vegetables. This under-consumption of a crucial food group high in vitamins and minerals has given the frozen food industry a much needed boost to re-brand its products, shifting the focus to taste and nutrition.

According to a Food Dive article, increasing consumer interest in frozen foods has coincided with “quick-freeze technology” becoming more commonplace among food manufacturers and retailers. A “quick freezer” is a specialized product that decreases the amount of freezing time, while also increasing production. This new technology is more effective at “keeping nutrients and flavor in the products,” making it a more enjoyable consumer experience.

This improved technology, along with the industry responding to consumer calls for increased convenience and nutrition has led to an uptick in the frozen food market share. According to Food Dive, frozen foods are seeing an increase in sales, with category volume growth up 1 percent from the 12 weeks ending March 10 (RBC Capital Markets).

According to a recent Washington Post article, frozen food manufacturers have increasingly produced and marketed vegetables such as cauliflower and spiralized veggies, both of which are healthy, low-calorie alternatives to carb-rich, much-loved foods such as pasta and potatoes. Not to mention the fact that frozen food is more affordable and convenient when it comes to putting together a healthy meal. Cauliflower provides as a good point of comparison seeing that it has become increasingly popular among consumers at the grocery store. For example, 10 oz. of fresh, organic cauliflower from Kroger costs $3.49, compared to 12 oz. of “meal-ready,” frozen cauliflower for $1.19.  

At the heart of NCL’s food policy mission is the belief that Americans deserve a safe, nutritious, and abundant food supply. This mission includes advocating for access to healthy food at reasonable prices. The nutritious and healthy products that have been developed recently by the frozen food industry provide ample opportunity for consumers to properly nourish their families.

It is about time that American consumers do-away with the negative stigma surrounding frozen foods, seeing that many of these new products are just as healthy, nutritious and significantly more convenient than fresh food – just as millennials are increasingly demanding available frozen food products in grocery stores.

Melissa recently graduated with a Political Science & International Studies degree from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. She is interning at NCL for the summer before attending law school in the fall.

High school students shocked at waste uncovered during cafeteria food waste audits – National Consumers League

“Schools are a place of learning. The cafeteria should be too!”

I’m willing to guess that if you ask almost any student their favorite school period, the resounding answer will be “lunch!” My memories of school lunch involve scarfing down a peanut butter sandwich and quickly catching up with friends before our 30 minutes were up. The cafeteria is hectic, lines are long, and many students rush through their meals in order to preserve time to socialize.  So too often, a hasty lunch period leaves trash bins overflowing with half-eaten sandwiches and other barely touched food items.

Food waste in American schools is a major problem. Studies have found that U.S. schools waste a total of about $1.2 billion annually. There are many theories as to why schools produce so much food waste, but in order to really identify the root causes, we have to get our hands dirty. And who better to dig into a messy issue than energetic high school students?

In the spring of 2017, students participating in LifeSmarts, NCL’s signature consumer literacy program, were given the unique challenge of conducting a food waste audit in their school cafeterias. Throughout the 2016–2017 academic year, LifeSmarts students studied the impacts of food waste that infiltrate almost every aspect of consumers’ lives. Students learned about the humanitarian and environmental impact of food waste. Having this background knowledge helped the students contextualize the auditing challenge within the discourse of the national and global food waste problem.

The terms of the challenge required students to conduct one audit in their cafeteria during one lunch period. Students worked with their peers to separate waste into five separate bins: unopened food, organic waste, liquid waste, recycling, and landfill waste. Students recorded the weight of each bin and answered a series of data-related and critical thinking questions, which gave them an opportunity to connect their real-life results with the national and global impacts of food waste.

Students’ reactions were diverse, and their suggestions inform insightful structural and policy solutions for preventing and reducing food waste in schools and communities.

One student shared:

“Before the food audit, we predicted that the amount of food wasted would peak at around 70 percent of the total weight of food received, however when we combined the total weight of food thrown away and the unserved cafeteria food we were astonished to find that the true amount of food wasted was around 85 percent.“

Some students went an extra step to try to understand why food was being thrown out:

“Additionally, we were interested in evaluating the variety, amount, and nutrition within the available choices and determine how healthy students are eating at our school. This data will be shared with the food distributer for our high school as well as the School Committee.”

Students were also confronted with limitations from their school board:

“Unopened food cannot be shared, saved, or removed from the school per BOE directives.”

“Prepared cafeteria foods that were untouched had to be disposed of as food waste.”

As students became aware of the issue, they presented next steps for increasing efforts to reduce waste:

“Our LifeSmarts Team could encourage the administration to make a student lunch advisory board to review the lunches and see which meals students are reluctant to consume.”

One of the most striking findings from the audit challenge is the combined metrics of waste generated.

Instead of throwing away unopened food, it could have been recovered or donated. The potential for food rescue is detailed in the table below. Amounts were calculated using Food Rescue’s conversion tool.

Items rescued 2,444
Meals rescued 488
Pounds of CO2e rescued (the amount of carbon dioxide which would have the equivalent global warming impact) 305.5

The feedback from students who completed this challenge demonstrates the value in conducting food waste audits. Many students expressed interest in conducting more audits to dig deeper into the issue. Others were energized to move forward with engaging community members and school administrators to experiment with new solutions.

In the 2017–2018 academic year, LifeSmarts students will build on the momentum from the first audit challenge and test strategies for reducing waste in their cafeterias. Students will be encouraged to run longer audits, implement solutions, and conduct a second series of audits to measure their success. By collaborating with school administrators, food service workers, and community partners, students will navigate our complex food system, providing opportunities for solution-making from the ground up.