Consumer advocacy as needed as ever – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

This Saturday’s New York Times is filled with interesting consumer stories, which–once again–confirm that the work consumer advocates do is just as important today as ever.

Consumer Watchdog Is All Ears for Ideas,” talks about Elizabeth Warren and her work at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “After Long Battle, Safer Cribs” is a story about the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) efforts to ensure crib safety, and finally, “Food Companies Act to Protect Consumers from E.Coli Illness,” focuses on Costco and Beef Products Inc decision to test for six additional of the most virulent strains of E.coli pathogens in food.

The CFPB piece is about that new federal agency receiving multiple tweets from people who want it to develop protections that haven’t ever been available on financial transactions from federal agencies. Gail Hillebrand, the associate director of consumer education and engagement at CFPB, (and my former colleague at Consumers Union) said, “We are actively working toward simplifying credit card contracts.” Hallelujah! Its about time someone took at look at these documents that were drafted to confuse and confound, and blew the whistle on their purposeful obfuscation.

In the product safety arena, under new rules adopted by Congress, manufacturers of cribs must undergo 75,000 cycles of testing. It sounds onerous, but as CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum notes, “After dozens of babies had tragically been entrapped and died, and millions of defective cribs had been recalled, the actions of this commission to ensure the swift movement to market of only safer cribs undoubtedly was justified.” Commissioner Nancy Nord disagreed in the Times and said, “We rushed the standard out without doing the hard work upfront to understand the impact of regulation.”

As a rejoinder to Commisioner Nord’s skepticism, three families who lost babies in cribs that proved unsafe wrote poignantly, “You can’t tell the safety of a crib by looking at it, and you certainly can’t maintain it is safe because it met weak industry standards in place prior to 2010.” The new safety standards should address their well-founded concerns.

Finally, in the story on meat safety, one manufacturer and one retailer, Beef Products Inc. and Costco, are testing for six different strains of E. coli that food safety advocates have wanted for years. The Department of Agriculture has a proposal to require this type of testing but unfortunately, it has dragged its feet. This is a breakthrough consumer protection. Hats off to both companies for their leadership in putting consumer safety first. E. coli poisoning can cause serious illness in victims and is totally preventable with a “hold and test” policy that doesn’t ship the products until the testing on every batch is back and is found not dangerous to consumers.

All three pieces prove once again that there is room for stronger consumer protections in food safety, product safety, especially where children are involved, and in financial transactions for consumers.