Rosé explosion leading to fraud in wine industry – National Consumers League

Haley SwartzRosé – the pink wine that incorporates the skin of red grapes and the flavors of all other varieties – has exploded in popularity over the last five years. Rosé consumption is particularly skewed among millennials and during the summer months, aided by gender-inclusive hashtags, the development of new, millennial-targeted brands, and the particularly “Insta” quality of a pink wine. Consumption of rosé has now eclipsed white wine in France, and in the United States, data indicates Washington, DC is the “capital of rosé,” – illustrating its ubiquity across political and social cultures.Rosé has contributed to an overall growth in wine sales, as consumers increasingly buy rosé in addition to other white and red wines – and higher-priced rosés are bringing in greater profits than cheaper, generic offerings. Experts say rosé consumption differs from other millennial-led fad wine crazes – à la prosecco and Moscato of the late 2010’s – because it is simply a higher quality product.

However, a recent case of fraud in the rosé industry illustrates the safety and quality vulnerabilities faced by consumers throughout global beverage supply chains. Rosé is like champagne, whereby only grapes harvested in the Champagne region of France can be labeled as “real” Champagne. While other European producers have entered into the rosé market, the “best and truest” rosés are made with grapes grown in the Provence region of France. Such a limited geographical area for a “true” rosé supply, combined with soaring global demand, is the perfect recipe for fraud.

Over the past two years, wine merchants have unknowingly sold 10 million bottles of what they thought was pure French rosé – but was just a cheap Spanish red/white blend. Most of the mislabeled wine was sold in French establishments, but some was found in British retail – leading to the question of whether the mislabeled wine may have even entered U.S. markets. The mislabeling included either a “Vin de France” generic label or the more prestigious “IGP” label that refers to a protected geographic designation in French growing regions. Worse, other bottles – though labeled in small print as “Spanish” or “European” in origin – had French scenery on the bottle’s label, including the fleur-de-lis (the former royal arms of France). Such a blatant form of misrepresentation is all too common in the wine industry.

Further, most bottles were placed in the French rosé section of wine retail locations – and, of course, priced accordingly. The Spanish wine, which sold in bulk at only 34 euro cents a liter ($0.40 USD) must be compared to the 75-90 euro cent ($0.88-1.05 USD) price tag for a true French rosé – providing double the profit for the fraudulent producers.

French authorities have identified four wine producers at fault, but only one has been charged with commercial fraud. If found guilty, the producer could face up to two years in prison and a fine of 300,00 Euros. While it’s unlikely the fraudulent bottles are still in a store near you, consumers should learn one lesson from this whole episode: Read the label – all of it – and avoid being distracted by a pretty shade of pink.

The differential impact of tariffs on Chinese tech – National Consumers League

Earlier this spring, the Trump Administration announced plans to follow up its tariffs on imported steel and aluminum with 25 percent tariffs on approximately $60 billion worth of imports from China. News about a potential “hold” notwithstanding, one area that hasn’t gotten enough attention is the impact of these potential tariffs on the digital divide generally, and low-income consumers and communities of color specifically.

First off, let’s acknowledge that if you have a smartphone in your pocket – regardless of brand – chances are that it probably has one or more components in it that originated in China. For example, most smartphones require the use of so-called rare earth materials in things like screens, batteries, and other components. Estimates are that China controls 90 percent or more of market for rare earth materials. China is also the source of components make modern smartphones the technological marvels they are.

While the devices themselves weren’t on the list of 1,000 products announced by the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) in April, smartphone components like touch screens, batteries, and printed circuit assemblies were. So while your next iPhone won’t come with a 25 percent price hike, components in that phone that are hit by the tariffs mean that phone prices could increase more than they otherwise would without the tariffs. In addition, because components like touch screens are on the list, getting that cracked iPhone screen fixed at the mall could be even more expensive. Cell phone bargain-hunters could get hit, too. Most cell phone companies collect older phones from their customers to repair, refurbish, and ultimately resell. Since that process can require the use of imported Chinese components, the price of those “certified pre-owned” phones that most carriers offer at a steep discount could go up. Finally, many of the components that go into modern networking equipment — the stuff that big cell phone carriers are using to build next-generation 5G networks — are affected by the tariffs. That will drive up carriers’ network build-out costs, which will ultimately be passed along to consumers in the form of higher monthly service charges.

Now, if Apple decides to pass the higher cost of their phones’ components along to consumers, not many will shed a tear for the Apple fanboy that has to pay more for their Apple iPhone X (starting price: $999). However, consumers at the lower end of the income spectrum — consumers for whom their smartphone is their primary way of accessing the internet — will feel the pinch, and that’s something that should worry those of us who believe closing the Digital Divide is a key public interest priority.

According to the Pew Research Center, 24 percent of African-American and 35 percent of Hispanics do not use broadband at home, but own a smartphone. In addition, 31 percent of consumers with annual incomes below $30,000 depend on their smartphones as their primary means of broadband access. A key component of obtaining broadband access for those communities will be the cost of a device. Even a small increase in the price of a smartphone is likely to reduce adoption rates among communities for whom the smartphone is the sole internet access device. Not being able to afford a phone affects low-income consumers’ ability to access a range of important social services, employment opportunities, support networks and other critically important content.

While protecting U.S. manufacturing jobs — one of the Administration’s rationales for the tariffs in the first place — is a laudable goal, tariffs are a blunt instrument to try and do so. The impact of the proposed tariffs on vulnerable populations and the digital divide needs more attention. The USTR should take these downstream consumer impacts into account as they consider a final list of goods that will be hit by the tariffs.

The promise and peril of always-on ad filtering – National Consumers League

Last year, we examined whether the growth of ad blocking was partly a logical response to consumers’ desire to reduce their data security risk. The catalyst for that blog post was Google’s announcement that it intended to include ad filtering-by-default in its Chrome browser, the most popular browser on the market. Earlier this year, that promise became a reality as Google rolled out an update to Chrome that included the ad filtering function.

Much of the online discussion around this move has centered on whether Google’s move, while laudable for pushing for less-annoying ads, should be viewed as a way for Google to give its advertising business an unfair leg up. That conversation is one that needs to happen to ensure that Google doesn’t abuse its market position as both the leading browser maker and the Web’s dominant advertising platform. However, it’s also important to consider whether and how consumers’ data security could benefit from this move. In this blog posting, I take a look at some of the data security benefits that could flow from the growth of always-on ad filtering.

First, however, we must acknowledge that the Coalition for Better Ads (whose Better Ads Standard serves as the basis for Chrome ad filtering tool) had limited goals. One reason for this may be that the Coalition didn’t include any consumer organization representatives as it developed its standard, who would have probably pushed for a broader scope. While removing annoying ads is certainly a plus for consumers, this limited scope means Chrome’s ad filter won’t address many of the reasons that consumers have increasingly embracing third-party ad blockers. As our colleagues at the Electronic Frontier Foundation recently noted:

This industry membership explains the limited horizon of the group, which ignores the non-format factors that annoy and drive users to install content blockers. While people are alienated by aggressive ad formats, the problem has other dimensions. Whether it’s the use of ads as a vector for malware, the consumption of mobile data plans by bloated ads, or the monitoring of user behavior through tracking technologies, users have a lot of reasons to take action and defend themselves.

Given this limited scope, what data security benefits can Chrome’s ad filtering provide to consumers? For one, filtering out annoying ads can help reduce consumers’ data security risk. When we first looked at this issue, we noted studies by UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara (supported by Google) and security firm Namogoo showing that tens of millions of browsers visiting popular websites were infected with malware and spyware.

Second, by having a default ad filtering function built in to Chrome, consumers’ need to install a third-party ad blocker can be reduced. While plenty of consumers install ad blockers for legitimate privacy reasons, scammers have found a lucrative side business in creating fake ad blocking software. For example, five fake ad blockers on the Chrome Web Store were downloaded more than 20 million times before the company shut it down this April.

Finally, as the impact of ad filtering on Chrome takes hold throughout the digital ecosystem, there will be pressure on other browser makers to improve their own technology to better protect consumers from ad-based malware. For example, in March, Mozilla announced that they will be rolling out ad filtering on their Firefox browser this fall. It seems likely that if consumers vote with their mouse clicks and choose more secure browsers, we’ll see other browser makers implement this technology as well.

Going forward, we will be monitoring whether default ad filtering on Chrome and other browsers has a demonstrable impact on browser infection rates. Ultimately, regardless of their browser choice, the goal should be for consumers to have a reasonable level of protection against browser-based malware attacks.

Food policy 101: A three-part series | Part: What makes a food product “pro-consumer”? – National Consumers League

Haley SwartzYou walk into your favorite grocery store, proceeding down each aisle with your shopping list in hand. Can you imagine a world in which the cereal aisle is in conversation with you, instead of yelling at you, the way it seems to these days? Where the bright colors and endless rows of loudly-labeled boxes calm, not overwhelm you? Would that make you feel more confident in your granola of choice?

Choice and information are the two most desired qualities in any given consumer product. Food is no exception. But our supermarket anxieties have real consequences on our everyday interactions with food, or what is known as our surrounding food environment. Over the last two decades, much of the American food environment is marked by choice overload – where the “tyranny of too much” leads to confusion and ultimately, indecision. This is particularly true among socially and economically disadvantaged groups, which include communities of color and other minorities. Food justice organizations fight on behalf of these communities, which have historically lacked labor rights, access to nutrition education, and healthy food options.

Today, consumers have an unprecedented level of choice, and with it, information—tons of it. Servings per box, grams per day, % daily value. Not to mention claims of a food’s health-promoting properties (“improves heart health,” “energy booster,” and the infamous “natural”). Of course, consumer access to information is something advocates like NCL have been fighting for for more than a century. But between marketing claims and nutrition information, how can consumers avoid being overwhelmed and make decisions confidently?

Food justice: Balancing information and choice

The most successful policy proposals to promote food justice have taken root at the local and city levels. But as it stands, the food policy community as a whole strikes a balance between choice and information that is shaky at best. We seem to believe that more is always better – we fight for more choices in our brands, groceries, and restaurants and more information on a package, label, and the web. As communities of color continue to fight for equality in both food access and choice, is more always the goal? If it’s not, what would be just enough? How do we work to protect and promote all consumers, all while recognizing and respecting our differences?

So far none of us has uncovered all the answers to these questions. But we do know that we must work together to ensure information is both adequate and accurate. The food justice movement won’t be won until anyone – any consumer, despite the vast array of food environments nationwide – can pick up a bag of granola and say, with confidence, “This. This one.”

80 years of the Fair Labor Standards Act and its unfinished business – National Consumers League

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 is celebrating its 80th Anniversary this year. The work of the National Consumers League (NCL), founded in 1899, and Florence Kelley, laid the groundwork for this landmark worker protection legislation. The FLSA set the first federal regulations for child labor, minimum wages, and maximum hours laws. It was signed into law by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose labor secretary, Frances Perkins, started her career with the NCL.

So 80 years later, NCL thought it would be useful to review the history and impact of the FLSA by inviting experts from across the country to speak. NCL and the American Constitution Society cosponsored our Unfinished Business: The Fair Labor Standards Act 80 Years Later” at Georgetown University Law Center March 28.

At the outset, it’s important to note that worker rights are under attack all the time: the trucking industry is trying to lower the age to allow teens as young as 18 to drive 80,000 pound rigs because there’s a manufactured labor shortage, thanks to threats to immigrant workers from ICE and the Trump Administration. Indeed, the state of New Hampshire is increasing the hours to 56 that teens can work each week when they aren’t in school.

That said, the conference attendees were able to cheer the recent victory—and how great advocacy prevented eroding restaurant workers’ salaries—when Congress included in the Omnibus bill signed by President Trump last week a prohibition on restaurant owners’ keeping workers’ tips. Saru Jayaraman, who spoke at the conference, and the Restaurant Opportunity Center, launched an all-out campaign to protect $5.8 billion in tips and, with the help of democrats in Congress, won these protections.

The conference included a panel on the history of the FLSA, testimony from three hourly workers talking about the sexual harassment and wage theft they experience daily on the job, a keynote by Obama-era DOL Wage and Hour Director David Weil – who brought with him many of his former DOL colleagues, and a rousing keynote from SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry. Panelists also talked about efforts to erode worker protections – like states preempting localities that want to raise their local minimum wage or making employees sign forced arbitration papers that prevent them from going to court if there’s discrimination or wage theft on the job. By the way, NCL wants forced arbitration banned in labor and consumer contracts, but that is a hard sell in a conservative Congress.

Gaps in the law and erosion of the FLSA were very much at the top of our conference agenda. Workers labor on farms sometimes up to 90 hours a week during the harvest with no protections. They should be making overtime pay.

Other agenda items:

  • Adding paid sick leave and vacation leave to federal law
  • Banning forced arbitration contracts for workers
  • Enforcing the FLSA for gig economy jobs like driving for Uber or Lyft
  • Resisting incentives to turn employees into independent contractors
  • Adding restaurant workers to be covered by the FLSA
  • Expanding overtime pay
  • Enforcing the law against persistent violators and double the penalties
  • Legalizing private class-action suits under the FLSA
  • Changing policy to make sure immigrants aren’t exploited and allow them to take the thousands of vacant jobs where there’s much demand

While the list of unfinished business is long, everyone agreed that the worker reforms brought by passage of the FLSA in 1938 provided desperately needed protections that helped workers in America improve their experience as workers, their incomes, and their quality of life. Setting the agenda is critically important because – like the victory on tipping – we have to be ready to move quickly to get provisions enacted when opportunities come up. The NCL is proud to be continuing our 118-year history of advocating for workers’ rights with this conference.

Dietary Guidelines 2020: Back to the future for portion sizes – National Consumers League

Sally GreenbergWith 47 percent of the U.S. population projected to be obese by 2030 – and more than 2.1 billion people expected to weigh in as overweight or obese – it’s no surprise that governments worldwide have waged war on a health crisis which not only causes 5 percent of all deaths every year, but also has a $2.0 trillion economic impact annually. So what new measures can be taken that haven’t already been tried?

Is the solution based in advanced technology or medicine? Or do we need to take a step back and take a look at the bigger picture, and tackle a complex problem with simpler solutions by going back to basics? Research seems to indicate that portion control is one of the most promising strategies.

Advances in technology and entertainment over the past 40 years mean we are moving less. At the same time, our meals and snacks have been supersized. In its latest revision of the nutrition facts panel, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has increased some of the standard serving sizes for various food and beverage products to better reflect the total calories people are actually consuming. This could, however, send the wrong message about proper portions of food. And while there are some great nutrition tools and fact sheets available (see for example the National Institute of Health’s page on Portion Distortion), this puts responsibility on the individual to make the right choices. There are also initiatives about portion control from the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans discussed adapting portion sizes to help individuals make choices that align with the Dietary Guidelines´ other recommendations. But this was more of a passing comment without further guidance, and simply not actionable by consumers, health and wellness professionals, or even policy makers.

If real change is going to happen, it not only has to start at an individual level but also via policy based intervention and through corporate action. And there’s compelling evidence to show that portion size reduction, as a collective movement, could be the single most effective solution to an expanding problem.

The food industry’s own research – from the International Food Information Council’s 2017 Health and Wellness Survey – highlights this unmet opportunity, showing that consumers want to consume smaller portions as one of the steps to be healthier, however they are not acting on it, and are instead prioritizing value.

An interesting comprehensive analysis conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) is worthy of consideration. The paper found that while education and personal responsibility are critical elements of any program to reduce obesity, they are not the only solutions. Interventions that rely less on conscious choices by individuals and more on changes to the environment and societal norms are what’s needed—an example of this includes reducing portion sizes of packaged foods and fast food.

According to MGI’s research, portion control, as opposed to other obesity intervention methods such as product reformulations, labeling, weight-management programs, surgery, etc., is the single highest-impact intervention for reducing obesity; and the most cost-effective strategy.

Has it been tried? Not really—there was a previous attempt that was never implemented when in 2012, NYC Mayor Bloomberg tried to regulate portions by proposing the “Sugary Drinks Portion Cap Rule” prohibiting certain places from selling sugar-sweetened beverages that exceeded 16-fluid ounces. While the intention of the regulation was not to ban sugar-sweetened beverages, but to assist consumers with portion control, industry succeeded in defeating this initiative – apparently the rule exceeded NYC Board of Health’s regulatory authority.

Since 2012, and despite the supportive research of reducing portion sizes, little has been done to execute an effective policy that would seek to ‘re-size’ all of our packaged foods and beverages to take them back to healthier portion sizes. With the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines around the corner, there is no better time than now for policy makers to make a difference. Consumers need and deserve a clear, authoritative voice to provide impactful and easy to implement guidance on portion sizes and portion control for all foods and beverages.

Happy 8th anniversary to the Affordable Care Act – National Consumers League

Janay JohnsonOn March 23, 2010, in landmark legislation, President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law. For the first time, Americans joined the rest of the developed world in hopes the law would bring us closer to realizing a health system where quality, affordable healthcare is available for all, and not a luxury for the privileged few. This sweeping overhaul of our healthcare system was met with mixed emotions: Democrats felt that the work of generations to see universal health care provided was finally fulfilled; the Republican party called it “Obamacare and railed about its many ills.

In the years since that historic day, those partisan sentiments persist. But despite a roller coaster of triumphs and setbacks, the ACA has been a huge success; millions had access to health care and in regions where pent-up demand was particularly acute – rural and urban areas alike.

The early leaders of the National Consumers League – from Florence Kelley to Frances Perkins – strongly supported health care for all Americans, so Obamacare was a fulfillment of our earliest agenda. And Obamacare, despite efforts to destroy its protections is the law of the land. The way health care is accessed and delivered in this country has been has been forever changed—most would say for the better. The ACA ushered in a new era in which comprehensive health coverage is finally within reach for millions of Americans who had been forgotten for way too long. And so today, this eighth anniversary of President Obama putting pen to paper, we acknowledge the ways the ACA has improved our health system. And we have no intention of going back.

Before the ACA was passed, the health insurance landscape looked significantly different. One in four Americans either lacked insurance or was underinsured, sick patients could be turned down for coverage because of pre-existing conditions, plans could charge women more than men for no reason other than their gender, and the cost of insurance was outpacing  Americans’ incomes. In short, our health system was about as lawless as the Wild  West. With the passage of the ACA, sweeping reforms not only outlawed many of the predatory and exclusionary practices that permeated our health care system, but expanded access to coverage and established a list of ten basic services that all health plans were mandated to meet.

Today, more consumers than ever before can get the care they need when they need it. Because of the ACA, nearly 20 million more Americans have gained health insurance. One of the primary ways the ACA achieved this was through the expansion of Medicaid, which extended coverage to millions of previously uninsured low-income individuals. The ACA also permitted young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26. Perhaps one of the most popular signature features of the ACA is the 10 Essential Health Benefits, including contraception, maternity care, mental health services, prescription drug coverage, and other services that all plans are mandated to provide. Other benefits and consumer protections we can thank the ACA for include a ban on lifetime coverage limits; the abolition of the “gender rating” practice, which allowed plans to charge women more than men; cost-sharing subsidies to help low-income Americans afford their coverage; the elimination of out-of-pocket costs for preventive care services such as immunizations, contraception, and cancer screenings; and a guarantee that an individual cannot be denied coverage or charged more because of a pre-existing condition.

Now of course it’s no secret that the Affordable Care Act has taken a beating. Despite a myriad of unsuccessful attempts by the Republicans to repeal and replace the ACA since its inception, the Trump Administration has made it a point to use whatever regulatory options are available to dismantle the ACA in any way it can. Though tribal loyalty within Congress has intensified exponentially in recent years, it’s time to put partisan politics aside and put the well-being of the American people first. Is the Affordable Care Act perfect? No. Is there room for improvement? Of course. But rather than tearing it apart, Republicans and Democrats should come together and strategize on how we can work together to strengthen and improve the ACA to better serve everyone.

At the White House signing ceremony in 2010, President Obama said in reference to the passage of the ACA, ” Our presence here today is remarkable and improbable. It’s been easy at times to doubt our ability to do such a big thing, such a complicated thing, to wonder if there are limits to what we as a people can still achieve.  But today we are affirming that essential truth…that we are not a nation that scales back its aspirations. We are a nation that does what is hard, what is necessary, what is right. Here in this country, we shape our own destiny.” And so even in these topsy-turvy political times, when it may seem that the protections we hold most dear are under attack and the progress we have made is at risk of being undone, we must remember that when we stand together, anything is possible – no matter how big, complicated, or improbable. The power of the people has always been stronger than the people in power and we have shown, particularly in the efforts to protect the Affordable Care Act, just how powerful we are. It is this spirit that vitalized advocates and everyday citizens to demand something better from our healthcare system, this spirit that saw the Affordable Care Act through to fruition, and the same spirit that will embolden us to defend it in the days ahead. And while we will continue to be steadfast in the fight to protect our care, today, we take a moment to celebrate how Obamacare revolutionized America’s health care system, provided access to health care for millions of underserved Americans in need, and has shown how fundamental it is for a nation with America’s riches to provide health care to all.

Some tips for using money and experience wisely traveling abroad – National Consumers League

I just returned from a weeklong tour of Morocco. While on the plane I overheard two women who appeared to be veteran travelers discussing currency exchange. One told the other she gets $100 of the local currency from her bank before leaving town. I cringed. Banks charge hefty fees and lousy exchange rates even though they tell you they don’t. I stopped doing that years ago when ATM machines sprung up in airports all across the world.

Sure, having a wad of local cash brings peace of mind. And naturally, you’re always worried the foreign ATM machine will eat your card and then—boom—you’re out of cash for the entire trip. But relax! That’s never happened to me. I’ve traveled the world in the last few years and in cities as diverse as Cape Town, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Ho Chi Min City, Beijing, Tokyo, Athens, and Casablanca, and ATM machines at the airports abound and they work great. (Cuba is the only exception; you have to exchange currency in official government outlets). I just make sure they have a logo and name of a local bank, then I stick that card in and voila! get the best rate of exchange.

How do I know? Because I have an App called CurrencyPlus that I use to test the rate. ATMs are close to the exact exchange rate. I often compare ATMs with those ripoff currency counters you see at airports. They gouge fees from you—sometimes 20 percent—while advertising “no commission.” Don’t believe it!

By the way, make sure your bank doesn’t charge you for ATM transactions. It shouldn’t! Mine (PNC Bank) has no ATM fees in the United States or abroad, and that brings huge peace of mind.

Once on terra firma, using credit cards also gets you a good rate of exchange when you are buying stuff. (But make sure you’re not in debt to your credit card company and paying 27 percent interest on outstanding balances!) And don’t pay foreign transaction fees on your credit card. None of my cards have those anymore, but boy did they make me mad when they did. Those charges added up: if I spent $1,000 traveling, that was $30-40 extra just for using my card! Such chutzpah! And I felt compelled to carry a card abroad I never used at home, like Capital One, that didn’t charge for foreign transactions. Fortunately, because of healthy competition in this part of the industry, my Amex and Visa cards no longer have foreign transaction fees.

Another piece of advice while traveling. Don’t buy keepsakes (rugs, jewelry, potter, clothes, lotions, spices) your first few days into the trip. Take your time to compare the prices and merchandise. On our first day in Morocco the guide took us to a beautiful rug merchant in the Fez Souk; they had beautiful stuff but also hugely inflated rates we didn’t understand. While my friend was negotiating for a rug she fell in love with, I decided to Google the place on Trip Advisor. I learned that tourists bargained in some cases $2,000 less than asking for a $3,400 rug; they did even better when they walked away. It’s the same everywhere—almost no offer is insulting. Three days later we went to a village in the Atlas Mountains outside Marrakesh, and I bought a Berber kilim made by local women. It was a fraction of the Fez Souk’s asking price and still I overpaid. But I was much better informed and knew what I was doing. One funny reality check: on my last day in Casablanca, I ventured into a supermarket and saw every one of the items we had shopped for in the Souk or in the mountains for 1/10 of the price. Pottery, rugs, lotions, oils, spices, clothing. I can’t speak to the quality of those items, but I suspect some were pretty similar to the stuff we bought for far more money. So if you want trinkets to bring home to friends, try the local supermarket where the locals shop. They know what they are doing.

Knowledge is power: What consumers need to know about safe use of pain treatments – National Consumers League

Sally GreenbergThe National Consumers League has long worked to inform consumers about the safe use of medication. Sadly, today many American communities are struggling with an epidemic: the misuse of prescription opioids, which seems to know no socioeconomic or demographic bounds. In 2016, more than 11 million people misused prescription opioids in the United States, and the latest data show that 115 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose.

The explosion of opioid abuse has complicated roots, but among them is the mistake of keeping unused prescriptions in the medicine cabinet long after they are prescribed. In that vein, NCL recommends specific steps consumers, families, and the public can take to mitigate the chances of opioid abuse.

Since as many as one in four people prescribed opioids long term struggle with addiction, the conversation about treatment and safe use must start before a medicine is prescribed.

Consumers should engage their healthcare provider and/or pharmacist before they take home a prescription opioid.

Be prepared ahead of medical appointments or surgery.

We have all walked out of a doctor’s office failing to ask important questions. Before your next doctor’s appointment, write down all your questions ahead of time and include an updated list of the medications you are taking. If you are prescribed a painkiller, ask about safe use and ask whether it’s habit forming. Some drugs are, while some are not.

Understand the risks and benefits of any new medicine.

If opioids are truly needed to manage pain, understand the potential benefits, risks, and side effects associated with them.

Here are a few questions to ask your healthcare provider when prescribed a new medicine:

  • What side effects should I expect and what should I do about them?
  • Will this medicine interact with any other medicines I am taking?
  • How should I safely store this medicine?

We recommend checking out the National Council on Patient Information and Education’s Talk Before You Take website.

Ask about partial-fill options.

When prescribed a prescription painkiller, consider asking to only partially fill your prescription, an option available in some states. If you need to fill the rest of the prescription, you can pick up the remaining dose at the pharmacy.

Use opioids only as prescribed — do not share your prescription.  

About 40 percent of those who misused prescription opioids in the past year said they obtained the medicine from a family member or friend for free, according to a national survey.  That’s a problem; opioids should only be taken as prescribed by your healthcare provider and stored in a secure place.  

Immediately dispose of unused pills.

As noted in my December blog post, disposal of unused prescription medications is critical.  Allied Against Opioid Abuse has compiled a list of national and state resources to assist you.

Consumers using the strategies outlined here have gone a long way toward reducing the chance of opioid abuse and misuse, which is one of the country’s biggest public health challenges.

Knowing your rights, risks, and responsibilities with prescription opioids can help all of us prevent abuse and misuse before it occurs.

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.