NCL statement: Thank you, quarantine workers

March 18, 2020

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

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League joins with our fellow Americans, friends, colleagues, and families in as we adapt our lives to address the health crisis caused by COVID-19. NCL has long been a consumer and patient advocate and we strongly support research, scientific programs, and policy solutions to address diseases across the board.

We want to take this moment to say “thank you” to the thousands of public health servants going into the hospitals, doctors offices and clinics and working on the frontlines to save millions of lives. We rely and depend on their vast knowledge, dedication and commitment to treating sick patients, and we want to specially thank them during this unprecedented national health crisis.

We also thank so many other workers – those in drug stores, grocery stores, Post Offices, the food delivery drivers, taxi, bus and subway drivers, utility workers keeping our electricity, gas, and water systems intact. We owe all of them a debt of gratitude as so many of us are able to work from home; we depend on all of you and thank you for your service to the nation.

We also join with colleagues in the healthcare advocacy community to thank infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci for his extraordinary and selfless leadership in this battle against the spread of the coronavirus.

Join us on social to say #ThankYouDrFauci.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering 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 applauds crackdown on sham coronavirus cures

March 17, 2020

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

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, today applauded the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for cracking down on vendors selling purported “cures” for the deadly coronavirus. In letters sent to seven companies, the agencies rightly warned that companies seeking to profit off of the “high level of anxiety” consumers are experiencing due to the coronavirus outbreak may be violating federal consumer protection statutes.

The following statement is attributable to Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League:

“Americans are right to be concerned about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Unfortunately, there are charlatans out there seeking to make a buck selling snake oil ‘cures’ for this deadly virus. These scammers are defrauding consumers of money they will need to weather the coming economic storm. Even worse, consumers who believe these fake cures will ward off or cure the coronavirus may delay obtaining needed medical care with potentially deadly results for themselves and those around them. That is why we are so grateful to the leadership shown by FTC Chairman Simons and FDA Commissioner Hahn in putting these purveyors of false hope on notice.”

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering 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.

COVID-19 is here and thriving, and ‘flattening the curve’ is the only way forward

Nissa Shaffi

Like most Americans, you probably feel besieged by the rapidly evolving developments surrounding COVID-19. The spread of this novel illness has led to drastic measures to contain the virus and protect public health, and the question on everyone’s mind is how bad is this going to get? The short answer: we don’t know. The long answer: COVID-19 is going to disrupt our lives in the coming weeks, if not days, and its overall impact will be realized for months to come.

A lot has happened since I last wrote on COVID-19, so let’s unpack the most recent events:

On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially designated COVID-19 as a pandemic, which is defined as the worldwide spread of a new disease.

On March 13, President Trump declared a national emergency in order to release $50 billion of funding to fortify efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19. With more than 4,100 (and counting) active cases of COVID-19 in the United States, more than 40 states have declared states of emergency.

On March 14, the House passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), with sweeping bipartisan support. H.R. 6201 aims to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak by expanding access to free testing, extending the Family Medical Leave Act, allocating $1 billion in food aid, and extending sick leave benefits to vulnerable Americans.

On March 15, the White House Coronavirus Task Force announced that the nation is entering a new phase in testing for COVID-19, which will increase the capacity and throughput of testing across the country.

So, why exactly has the disease spread so quickly? The issue lies with the fact that the government has grossly mismanaged critical response efforts for COVID-19. This is in part due to initial faulty tests distributed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which contained technical manufacturing issues, yielding incorrect results.

Once the CDC identified the error, it promised prompt redistribution of new tests – a process that unfortunately took six-weeks to rectify, catalyzing the silent and effective spread of the virus. Amid these series of planning failures, the Trump administration has falsely claimed that anyone who wants a test can obtain one. Yet, concerned patients across the country have complained that they have been denied tests, due to either unavailability or shifting guidance from the CDC regarding who should be diagnosed, treated, and tested.

We now face the reality that we are catastrophically behind in terms of testing and identifying individuals carrying COVID-19. To put this in perspective, South Korea conducts more tests in one day (10,000), than the United States has in the past two months (5,000-8,000).

We must now accept the sobering truth that these delays have enabled patients with an unknown COVID-19 status to serve as vectors to the disease in their communities. Johns Hopkins Professor, Marty Makary, estimates that for every person that has tested positive for COVID-19, there are 25-50 potential new cases. Makary speculates that, at present, there are potentially 50,000 to 500,000 active (undetected) cases of COVID-19 in the United States.

The promising news is that we’ve entered a new phase in COVID-19 response efforts. The CDC traditionally reserved the right to develop new diagnostic tests. However, in the time of COVID-19, this has severely limited the potential to capture the full impact of the outbreak. On Sunday, the White House Coronavirus Taskforce announced that newly forged public and private partnerships would expand testing for COVID-19 significantly.

To aid in critical response efforts, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved high throughput testing, which will significantly increase capacity for testing to hundreds of thousands of individuals per day. We can expect 2 million tests to be available across 2,000 labs nationwide, starting this week.

There are currently labs in every state that have been approved to conduct COVID-19 testing. In order to ebb further contamination, drive-through testing centers have been established in seven states, with more expected to pop up in the coming weeks.

The CDC has released very specific guidance regarding how to pursue testing for COVID-19, should you suspect that you have the illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure, and they may include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If you have these symptoms and suspect that you may be infected, the most important thing to do is to first call your doctor or local health care facility. This will assist your health care provider in properly triaging you without risk of contaminating others.

Over the past few days, you’ve probably heard the words “social distancing,” “self-quarantine,” and, most importantly, “flattening the curve.” In the coming days, we will witness increased cancellations of sporting events, public gatherings, and closures of entire school systems until the spread of the virus tapers off or declines.

It’s all part of a nationwide effort to curb the spread of the pandemic. These measures are extreme – something we haven’t experienced in our lifetimes – but they serve to prevent huge cohorts of people from getting sick all at once, which will wreak havoc on the healthcare system. Now that we have ramped up testing efforts, the number of active cases will arise. Flattening the curve will help delay the spread of disease, as we identify the true incidence of the illness.

We are in a critical time in our nation’s history, and we must all do our part in protecting our communities from further spread of COVID-19. If you have COVID-19, please click here to learn about how you can ensure its containment.

Lastly, if we had a vaccine against the Coronavirus, none of these dire steps would be needed because we’d all get vaccinated. NCL has long championed the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, often in the face of anti-vaxx zealots – we can’t help but be struck by the irony. Everyone wants a vaccine! We are heartened to know that many companies are working to develop antiviral therapies to help combat the spread of COVID-19. Pfizer, for example, has issued a five-point plan to aid scientists in developing treatments to help address this crisis.

The National Consumers League commends the efforts of the CDC, FDA, and other public health agencies in containing and mitigating the impact of COVID-19. Whether its 4 weeks or weeks, we all must make social sacrifices – whatever we must do to contain the virus. These are short windows in the scheme of things, and they will head us in the right direction. Stay healthy and follow CDC guidance on how to protect yourself and your community from COVID-19.

NCL commends House passage of anti-tobacco bill

March 3, 2020

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

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL) applauds the passage by the House of Representatives of the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019 (H.R. 2339), legislation that aims to address youth smoking and e-cigarette crisis. NCL supports the work of the Association of Black Cardiologists, Black Women’s Health Imperative, National Medical Association, National Black Nurses Association, and the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network—among others—all of whom have helped advance this bill.  

According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, 5 million youth reported having used e-cigarettes, 1 million of which reported daily use. There has been a 78 percent increase in consumption of e-cigarettes among high school students and a 48 percent growth in consumption among middle school students. The proliferation of e-cigarettes in the marketplace has jeopardized decades of progress made by smoking cessation advocates.

For generations, tobacco companies have disproportionately targeted the African American community with advertisements for tobacco products that appear on average, 10 times more in African American neighborhoods than anywhere else. The most staggering example of this is highly addictive and harder-to-quit menthol cigarettes, which have long been marketed to the African American community. Even more concerning is that seven out of ten African American youth smokers ages 12 to 17 smoke menthol cigarettes. 

H.R. 2339 aims to revise requirements related to the safety, sale, and advertisement of tobacco products, including electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), such as e-cigarettes and similar devices. The bill will address the deceptive marketing practices deployed by e-cigarette companies that lure and entice young people with their packaging. The legislation views e-cigarettes as on par with traditional tobacco products under the law and makes it clear that selling tobacco products to children, in any modality is illegal.

“The National Consumers League applauds Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL) for their leadership on this legislation,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “We urge the Senate to join in this fight to help end efforts by tobacco and e-cigarette companies to target vulnerable communities nationwide with biased marketing tactics.”

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering 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.

 

Understanding the rapidly emerging disease, Coronavirus

Nissa Shaffi

On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the Coronavirus as a global health emergency. The virus first emerged from a seafood and poultry market in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China, in December 2019. Since then, it has paralyzed several cities around the world, metastasizing into a global public health and economic crisis.

Coronavirus, officially renamed COVID-19 by WHO, is a member of a large family of viruses that can cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe, life-threatening conditions. Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and people (zoonotic). There have been only two prior coronaviruses that have exhibited zoonotic transmission, which include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Secure Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that has not previously presented in humans. With nearly 80,000 confirmed cases across 37 countries—which resulted in over 2,700 deaths—WHO warns that COVID-19 is likely to become a global pandemic. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, cautioned that the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. is inevitable and could cause severe disruptions to everyday life.

Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19 

Risk Factors

Based on surveillance of COVID-19 thus far, it appears that the virus is nondiscriminatory, and anyone could be at risk for contracting the virus.

Symptoms

According to the CDC, the incubation period for COVID-19 may range from two to 14 days, and symptoms include high fever, cough, and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, the virus develops into pneumonia, which presents the most danger.

Transmission

The method of transmission is suspected to be from person to person via droplets resulting from breathing, coughing, or sneezing. The virus is also suspected to be transmitted via contaminated surfaces. WHO recommends maintaining a distance of at least one meter (three feet) between yourself and anyone who presents the symptoms mentioned above.

Precautions

WHO recommends regular hand washing with either an alcohol-based gel or soap and water to prevent the spread of infection. Individuals should also cover their mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing and should avoid close contact with anyone showing similar symptoms of respiratory illness. Additionally, while getting the flu shot cannot protect you from contracting COVID-19, it does protect you from the flu, a condition that has a far higher mortality rate than COVID-19.

Travel

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised that older and at-risk travelers limit travel to Japan, Italy, and Iran, where the disease is rapidly gaining ground. CDC has also explicitly advised against all non-essential travel to South Korea and China. For more information on CDC’s travel advisories, please click here.

Although the rapid spread of the disease is concerning, the promising news is that the number of new cases in China has dropped–indicating that aggressive interventions deployed by health officials in the region are working. While there are international efforts underway to develop treatments for COVID-19, there is currently no vaccine to prevent the disease. According to the CDC, the best way to prevent contracting the virus is to avoid exposure. For more information on prevention against COVID-19, click here and here.

New study says Chipotle management presses workers to work sick and skip food safety practices, creating health risks for consumers

February 6, 2020

The Unsavory side of ‘Food with Integrity.’ ” report details management practices that lead to worker abuses and call into question protocols Chipotle put in place after recent food safety crises

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

New York — After dozens of outbreaks of foodborne illness incidents over the past four years, Chipotle gave lip service to reforms in their work practices, but the fast-casual restaurant has continued to engage in management practices that lead to abuses of workers that may create food safety risks for consumers, a new study says.

Scores of employees interviewed for the study reported management pressure to work fast without following proper food safety procedures, such as:

  • One worker being pressured to work while sick, even after the worker vomited partway into his shift;
  • Undercooked chicken being served to a customer because the grill cookout in place had not been properly trained;
  • Workers pressured to work so fast that during lunch and dinner rushes, they often flipped over  chopping boards used to cut raw meat, and reused the boards without washing them;
  • One worker who cooked food had to clean feces off the floor or ceiling of a bathroom multiple times without hazmat suit or adequate protection equipment;
  • Pressure to work without stopping, with no time left to wash their hands for hours on end.

In the report, “The Unsavory Side of ‘Food with Integrity,'” workers told researchers that their managers often knew when supposedly independent audits were coming because other managers or field leaders who have undergone inspection often tip them off. Workers reported that managers relax rules outside of inspection periods and tightened up adherence to food safety protocols when inspections are imminent.

“The findings of this report call into question the effectiveness of measures that Chipotle put in place to solve their food safety crises of a few years ago,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, which co-authored the report. “If Chipotle executive management and the Food Safety Advisory Council are responsible for making sure that this program is implemented effectively to keep the public safe, they have been asleep at the wheel.”

The National Consumers League, America’s pioneering consumer advocacy organization which has been representing consumers and workers on marketplace and workplace issues since their founding in 1899, undertook the study after SEIU Local 32BJ brought the organization information from field organizers about what were learning about practices that could affect consumer food safety from Chipotle workers they were supporting in their organizing efforts.

Organizers and researchers spoke to hundreds of workers, then undertook formal interviews with 47 workers at 25 stores in New York City. These interviews and statements form the basis of the report, which also included analysis of a variety of corporate filings, press reports, and other publicly available documents.

“We chose to blow the whistle on these practices and abuses because our Chipotle managers did not listen to us,” Jeremy Espinal, a Chipotle worker, said. “It’s a pressure-packed workplace where supervisors intimidate you and retaliate against you.”

“I am speaking out because I want to make Chipotle a better place to work and a better place for customers to eat,” Jahaira Garcia, another Chipotle worker, said. “This job is how I support myself, how I help my father out with expenses at home and how I am able to partly pay for my school fees.”

32BJ President Kyle Bragg thanked the National Consumers League for working with the union and thanked the workers for their courage.

“I believe that these workers are Chipotle’s best assets,” Bragg said. “They can put the integrity back into ‘food with integrity.’ Give them a voice on the job and they will help Chipotle achieve the lofty ideals of its marketing.”

Report findings include:

  • Managerial pay incentives that promote cutting food safety corners:  managers can earn up to an additional 25% of base pay by meeting performance goals that include reducing labor costs, creating a highly pressurized work environment. This bonus program may incentivize managers to meet productivity goals by cutting corners on food safety or by violating worker protection laws.
  • Ineffective store audits: Worker interviews revealed that general managers frequently know when supposedly independent audits are coming because other managers or field leaders who have been inspected often tip them off. Workers reported that managers have relaxed rules following outside of inspection periods and tightened up adherence to food safety protocols when an audit is imminent.
  • Pressure to work sick: New York-based workers reported that managers have pressured crew members to work while sick or retaliated against workers for taking paid sick leave.
  • Minimal training: Despite the substantial skills needed to safely prepare Chipotle’s fresh food menu, many new hires receive minimal training and “learn as they go” from co-workers who may not have received much training themselves.

“As chairman of the New York City Council Public Health Committee, this is deeply troubling to me,” said New York Councilmember Mark Levine. “Risk of contagion should not be aggravated by an aggressive incentive structure that encourages managers to abuse workers and cut food safety corners. The public needs to know more and Chipotle needs to change their policies. That is why I am calling for a public hearing in the Council. I encourage Chipotle workers and consumers to come forward to discuss these issues. I also invite the company to be there to engage in this conversation.”

Nick Freudenberg, distinguished professor of Public Health at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy and Director of the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute, discussed Chipotle’s history of food borne disease outbreaks.

In 2015 and 2016, Chipotle was rocked by a series of food safety crises that sickened hundreds of customers across the country and included exposure to virulent pathogens like E. coli, salmonella, and norovirus, resulting in vomiting, pain, and in some cases hospitalizations. Despite claiming major food safety reforms instituted in 2016 to recapture consumer confidence, the company continued to have food-borne illness problems in 2017 and 2018, including an Ohio outbreak in which 647 people were sickened.

Despite Chipotle implementing an “enhanced food safety program” in 2016, the City’s Department of Health found 260 critical violations at 74 out of 84 restaurants from 2017 to 2019. Critical violations are those most likely to pose “a substantial risk to the public’s health” and lead to food-borne illness. The critical violation examples found by health inspectors include food left at dangerous temperatures that allow for the growth of pathogens, practices that allow for the contamination of ready-to-eat foods, evidence of various pests, and stores supervised by managers without a certificate in food protection. Just two weeks ago, the City cited a Chipotle restaurant where they found a crewmember working while “ill with a disease transmissible by food or [an] exposed infected cut or burn on [their] hand”.

Worker advocates and community groups were surprised by the findings and expressed support for Chipotle workers:

“Chipotle has not only acted duplicitously—championing a mission of integrity and freshness in public while speeding up production and cutting corners behind the counter—the company has created added risks for workers and consumers in the pursuit of profits,” said Ana Maria Archila of the Center for Popular Democracy. “Outlined in this report are issues that range from cautionary to alarming. Will Chipotle wait for another outbreak before they take corrective action—or will they take action ‘with integrity’ now to reduce potential harm?”

“This report is vital to understanding that the exploitation of workers in the food industry does not just impact workers and their families, it impacts everyone, including consumers,” Suzanne Adely of the Food Chain Workers Alliance said. “Chipotle and all food service workers deserve fair working conditions. Denying them basic, humane rights like sick days, proper healthy and safe working spaces, cannot be justified. Exploiting food workers for profit does not only harm workers and their families, it harms everyone, including consumers.”

“Chipotle is another example of worker safety and consumer safety being undermined together,” said Charlene Obernauer of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH). “Chipotle has a legal responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace and they need to take the appropriate steps to make this possible.”

“This report details how Chipotle’s low-road labor standards and incentives for managers to cut corners are endangering the dining public,” said Paul Sonn, State Policy Program Director for the National Employment Law Project. “Chipotle needs to recognize that investing in its workforce with stable, quality jobs is essential for delivering a safe and healthy dining experience for its customers.”

“We are deeply concerned with the workplace issues, especially that of forced arbitration described by Chipotle workers in this study,” Deborah Axt of Make the Road said. “We stand with Chipotle workers, the majority of whom are workers of color and many of whom are from communities like the ones our members are from, in calling for company-wide reforms and a commitment to invest in a stable workforce.”

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About 32BJ SEIU

With 175,000 members in 11 states, including 85,000 in New York, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.

About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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 urges caution following HHS drug importation announcement

December 20, 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 – The National Consumers League (NCL)urges caution in light of this week’s announcement on drug importation from the Department of Health and Human Services. Our primary concerns are that this proposed new rule will put the public at greater risk of counterfeit drugs while not clearly passing on any cost savings on to consumer.

NCL recently launched the Fake Rx Action Center in conjunction with our site Fraud.org, which aims to educate consumers on the risks posed by counterfeit medicines, and how to spot, avoid, and report them should consumers come across any fakes. Counterfeit medicines have already claimed lives across the country, and this proposal further endangers consumer health by undermining the security of the American pharmaceutical supply chain.

Opening the door for states, pharmacies, and distributors to obtain medications beyond U.S. borders means that consumers could more easily fall prey to bad actors from around the globe when being provided medications that have originated outside of the U.S. regulated manufacturing and distribution supply chain. As the World Health Organization has noted regarding the broader counterfeit issue, patients may end up with medications that have the wrong active ingredient, the wrong amount of active ingredient, no active ingredient, or dangerous added ingredients. While we will continue to advocate for access to affordable drugs, it is not clear from the regulations that any potential cost savings from obtaining medications outside the U.S. borders will be passed on to individual consumers. The goal of lowering prices for consumers without a clear assurance of out of pocket cost savings in these regulations is not worth increasing the risk of harm to consumers by exposing them to medications that may not meet the clear standards of U.S. law.

Our organization has put consumers first for more than 100 years. It is our belief that there are safer and more effective ways to provide access to necessary prescription medications than to expose Americans to potentially deadly counterfeits originating outside the United States.

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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.

Capitol Hill briefing alerts lawmakers to public health ramifications of CBD proliferation

Lawmakers need to be aware of the threats to public health posed by the proliferation of unregulated, untested CBD products currently widely available in the marketplace. There is a great deal of work to be done in Washington to better understand the healing potential of CBD, while also protecting consumers from the dangers of what is currently an anything-goes market environment.

That was the compelling message participants took from a congressional staff briefing last week on “The Future of Cannabis as a Drug.” Expert speakers, including National Consumers League Executive Director Sally Greenberg, issued a two-pronged call for action: to intensify clinical research into new medical treatments containing CBD, while encouraging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to proactively regulate non-medical, over-the-counter CBD products that are frequently mislabeled and contain potentially harmful ingredients.

The briefing featured opening remarks by U.S. Representatives Scott Peters (D-CA) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and was moderated by Ron Manderscheid, Executive Director of the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors and the National Association for Rural Mental Health. “We would like to have more understanding and more confidence in CBD products,” Rep. Peters explained. “You should know what you’re getting”.

Attendees received eye-opening data about the ways in which readily-available CBD products—sold in the form of oils, lotions, food additives, and more—have the potential to make consumers ill. Few realize, for example, that an independent study found 70 percent of the top-selling CBD products contain substances such as pesticides, arsenic, and toxic mold.

NCL’s Greenberg previewed upcoming academic research that will place a spotlight on the questionable science being utilized by CBD and cannabis companies, often in partnership with academia, to lend legitimacy to these products and short-cut the regulatory approval process. “Not only are these products untested, but they are inaccurately labeled,” said Greenberg. “We want FDA to do what it’s supposed to do, and what we as consumers expect it to do.”

NCL launched Consumers for Safe CBD to warn the public of the potential health and safety risks associated with unregulated and unlawfully marketed CBD products.

Susan Audino, a board member of the Center for Research on Environmental Medicine in Maryland, shared her findings on the lack of quality controls currently in the CBD marketplace and how product marketing is accelerating faster than the science used to substantiate claims of enhanced health and well-being. “We even trust McDonald’s to inform us of the number of calories in a Big Mac,” said Audino. “When it comes to cannabis, we are not afforded that same safety and assurance.”

James Werline, a pharmacist and the father of a daughter with a severe form of epilepsy, spoke to the promise and importance of CBD-related research. The only CBD medication currently approved by the FDA is used to prevent seizures caused by rare forms of childhood epilepsy. Angelique Lee-Rowley, Vice President, Global Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer at Greenwich Biosciences, discussed the importance of clinical research into new CBD treatments and shed light on the restrictions pharmaceutical companies have in educating consumers on product efficacy versus the retail and online marketers who have few boundaries in the claims they can make.

“We are on the verge of a major breakthrough,” said Rep. McMorris Rogers. “We want to be encouraging those breakthroughs. I am committed to helping with those developments.”

The briefing served to alert congressional staff to the seriousness of this issue. By 2022, the CBD marketplace is expected to reach $1.8 billion in sales, more than triple what it was just four years earlier. As the commerce expands, so do—without adequate consumer protections—the threats to health and safety.

Letter to Congress: NCL calls for safe CBD

December 10, 2019

Dear Member of Congress,

For more than 120 years, the National Consumers League has pursued the values of access to quality products, honest labeling, and safe, effective medicines for America’s consumers. We write to you today about a growing public health concern affecting millions of Americans in every state and congressional district across the country. Unregulated, untested cannabidiol (CBD), an extract of the hemp plant, has infiltrated the market in a dizzying range of products. These products pose a significant threat to consumers.
 
The CBD market is one of the fastest growing retail segments in the nation. By 2022, Americans are expected to purchase approximately $1.8 billion worth of these products, triple the amount since last year. CBD, however, continues to raise questions and concerns for consumers.
 
CBD products are not currently tested or evaluated for safety and efficacy, nor required to meet similar safety standards as the tube of toothpaste we buy at the grocery store. CBD products are too often deceptively labeled and may contain contaminants that can harm consumers. Independent testing of the 240 top-selling CBD products found that 70 percent were contaminated with substances including lead, arsenic, herbicides, pesticides, and toxic mold.
 
New public opinion research conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner finds that voters overwhelmingly – an 83 percent majority – support allowing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to evaluate and regulate CBD products. The research found that ensuring the safety and effectiveness of CBD grows even stronger among those who have used CBD products or describe themselves as very familiar with them. When asked about illness resulting from vaping CBD, 83 percent of respondent expressed concern, with nearly half, 48 percent, being very concerned.
 
This is why NCL created Consumers for Safe CBD in partnership with Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) to encourage the FDA to take strong, effective, and prompt action to protect the public from the potential harms posed by unregulated, untested CBD.
 
As Executive Director of NCL, I hope you will lend your voice in calling for the FDA to take immediate action to protect consumers from potentially harmful CBD products and pursue four common-sense objectives:

1. WARN THE PUBLIC OF THE DANGERS OF THE CBD MARKET

The public should be warned regarding the dangers of unapproved, untested CBD products. Clearly, as verified by the explosive growth in sales, the public is not appropriately informed about the potential dangers of unapproved, untested CBD products that contain harmful contaminants and may not have the ingredients listed on product labels. Resources should be devoted to a national informational campaign that warns consumers of these dangers. There is a growing interest in CBD products, but the marketplace is largely an unregulated “wild west,” and consumers literally often have no way of knowing what is contained in the products they are purchasing.

2. ENFORCE EXISTING REGULATIONS REGARDING LABELING (INGREDIENTS, RISKS, ETC.)

The FDA should curtail the proliferation of potentially dangerous, unapproved CBD products by using its existing legal authority. The FDA should use its authority to penalize manufacturers, marketers, and distributors of CBD products that: 1) make medical claims that cannot be scientifically verified, 2) market products to minors, 3) sell products that contain higher or lower-than-advertised levels of CBD and/or THC, or harmful ingredients and 4) sell products that have inaccurate labels. Swift and strong enforcement can serve as an effective deterrent effect against the future marketing of unapproved, potentially harmful CBD products.

3. DETERMINE SAFE LEVELS OF THC/CBD TO BE ALLOWED IN CBD PRODUCTS

Clear differentiation between medicines and consumer products should be established, including firm parameters as to CBD levels that can be safely included in a particular product. The FDA should establish a firm, enforceable ceiling on the potency of CBD that can be contained in an individual product and require safe packaging practices, similar to the child-proof cap closures on prescription medicines. All products should include a 1-800 phone number to allow concerned consumers to call the manufacturer to make specific inquiries about the product.

4. ENCOURAGE ROBUST CLINICAL RESEARCH INTO THE POTENTIAL OF CBD TO IMPROVE HEALTH AND LIVES

The FDA should incentivize CBD research, clinical trials, and the creation of new CBD treatments that are thoroughly vetted through the proven FDA process. CBD has the potential to improve lives, but with little research and clinical data, the risk is currently greater than the reward. We should encourage research to ensure that CBD reaches its full potential. 
 
Your constituents should be protected from the potential dangers related to CBD products. This does not require the creation of new laws or regulations, but rather that the FDA simply use its existing authority to protect public safety. The agency has already sent more than 50 warning letters to CBD product manufacturers making egregious health claims about their products’ ability to treat cancer and other serious illnesses. It recently advised women who are pregnant or breastfeeding to avoid using any CBD products, citing a number of health and safety risks. But these efforts need to be stepped up. We hope you will join us in asking the FDA to erect stronger safeguards, including safe concentration limits, around a rapidly growing, but unregulated, industry that is already causing harm to consumers.
 
If you or your staff has any questions, please reach out to our Director of Health Policy Patricia Kelmar at patriciak@nclnet.org or 202-207-2824.
 
Thank you for your consideration.

Sally Greenberg
Executive Director
National Consumers League

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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.