National Consumers League releases report examining sustainability, consumer choice, and confusion in food and beverage packaging

Oct. 1, 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) has released a report on the rampant confusion among consumers about food and beverage packaging recyclability, and is today calling for changes to sustainability in food and beverage packaging for brands, retailers, and policymakers. The report explores the recycling enterprise in the United States, marketing and labeling practices, and packaging options that contribute to sustainability—and finds that most consumers are in the dark when it comes to the reality of the state of recycling in the United States.
“Consumers have no idea what is recyclable and what isn’t,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of NCL. “More effective and transparent labeling is necessary to advance sustainability goals for the benefit of consumers and the environment.”

The report finds that common symbols, especially the “Mobius Loop” triangle, misleads consumers about the recyclability of products—especially plastic—which is not, in fact, endlessly recyclable and usually ends up in a landfill or the natural environment. While some companies are leading the way on packaging sustainability, switching to endlessly recyclable glass bottles or metal cans, others are making short-term cost calculations without taking into account the long-term damage.

“Companies can, and should, employ packaging choices to promote sustainability,” said Greenberg. “Manufacturers and retailers, alike, should offer the most sustainable options wherever possible, whether it’s beverage containers or single-serving food packaging. We hope our report will help raise awareness about sustainability and ensure that consumers have better information and a greater selection of sustainably-packaged food and drinks.”

For more information about NCL and this report, please visit www.nclnet.org.

Read the report (PDF): Examining Sustainability, Consumer Choice, and Confusion in Food and Beverage Packaging

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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.

Advocating for emergency air transport coverage

This spring, NCL sent a letter to the CEOs of Cigna, Aetna, and UnitedHealth Group, urging them to enter into productive negotiations with air medical service providers to ensure coverage of emergency air medical transportation. The ask came as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the country, making air medical services even more essential, particularly in rural America.

“We are increasingly concerned about emergency air medical access during this crisis, and believe this life-saving care should be covered by every insurance plan,” said NCL Associate Director of Health Policy Nissa Shaffi.

“We are asking that insurers review the robustness of their coverage policies and immediately enter into network negotiations with air medical providers so that this critical service is covered, and patients are never left with a bill they cannot pay.”

NCL urges Administration to take action to combat COVID-themed fraud, patient harms online

April 10, 2020

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

Washington, DC – April 10, 2020 – The National Consumers League (NCL), in partnership with 42 patient and provider advocacy, public health, industry, and research groups, has issued joint letters to Vice President Mike Pence, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other state and federal leaders calling for swift action to protect consumers against COVID-19 misinformation, scams, and fraud online.

“NCL commends the White House Coronavirus Task Force and other officials for their dedication in responding to the coronavirus crisis,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “The COVID-19 pandemic makes your work against healthcare and financial fraud more important now than ever. However to further flatten the curve and save lives, we urge the Administration to quickly implement increased evidence-based actions and to help protect consumers from predatory attempts to take advantage of our new economy.”

Since the start of the pandemic, criminals launched thousands of COVID-specific global scams and phishing attacks, using the coronavirus crisis to profit at patients’ expense. “Criminals have exploited the fear and confusion caused by the coronavirus for their own personal profits. More must be done to mitigate the health and financial harms experienced by consumers nationwide,” said Greenberg. In the past few weeks alone, more than 100,000 website domain names have been registered containing terms like “covid,” and “corona,” most of which have been found to be outright dangerous. The Federal Trade Commission indicated receipt of nearly 14,000 coronavirus-related complaints totaling fraudulent losses nearly $10 million.

NCL has long called for increased regulation and enforcement against illegal online acts that result in public health and economic harm. The joint letter encourages the Administration to move swiftly to enact and enforce existing no-cost solutions to better protect consumers. Additionally, it calls on the Administration to  ground their efforts in science, address systemic internet policy problems and prepare for an ongoing wave of COVID-19 related scams during the economic downturn.

Co-signers of the letters include Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies, BIO, Coalition for a Safe and Transparent Internet, Consumer Brands Association, Kroll, Lilly, LegitScript, and USP. The full letter can be read here.

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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.

 

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.

FAA evacuation tests could give green light to unsafe and inhumane airline seating

October 21, 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 Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) upcoming passenger evacuation tests are designed with outdated standards that do not reflect the realities of today’s airline travel marketplace, said a coalition of ten consumer and flyers rights organizations in a letter sent today to FAA Administrator Steve Dickson and Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao.

The groups’ letter explains how the FAA’s current evacuation testing standards, which have not been updated in more than 20 years, do not account for multiple factors that could prevent safe evacuation in the legally-required 90-second threshold. For example, the current standards do not account for the presence of emotional support animals in the cabin, parents who may be separated from their children due to airlines’ family seating policies, or passengers with disabilities. In addition, the current evacuation standards do not account for the experience in recent emergencies of significant numbers of passengers attempting to bring personal items like roller bags with them as they evacuate. Nor do the standards effectively simulate the disruption from the widespread panic that can be expected in the event of an actual emergency.

“The FAA’s standards are woefully out of date and out of step with the current state of airline travel,” said John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud at the National Consumers League, which organized the letter. “Unless the standards are improved, the airlines will almost certainly see the results of these tests as a green light continue their never-ending quest to shrink seat sizes and cram more passengers into planes.”

In September, FAA Deputy Administrator Daniel Elwell announced that that the agency will conduct tests of airplane evacuations involving 720 “demographically representative” people over 12 days in November 2019 in Oklahoma City. These tests, the first conducted by the FAA in nearly two decades, come in response to a Congressional mandate that the agency set minimum seat size standards in order to increase passenger safety. Unfortunately, the FAA appears to be pressing forward with the testing without input from the DOT’s Office of Inspector General, which is currently conducting an audit of evacuation testing standards, or the agency’s own emergency evacuation standards advisory committee. Furthermore, it appears the testing will not be conducted with full-scale airplane cabin mock-ups, but instead using smaller sections that don’t properly simulate packed airplanes.

“It is imperative that Secretary Chao and Administrator Dickson act aggressively to address our organizations’ concerns so that the public, whose faith in the FAA has been significantly diminished recently, will have confidence that the highest of standards were employed during the test evacuations,” said Business Travel Coalition chairman Kevin Mitchell. “Congress also needs to ensure that the testing processes and the underlying critical assumptions are realistic,” added Mitchell.

“Airline travel has changed significantly over the last 20 years, with shrinking seats and record passenger loads, a high influx of carry-on bags, scattered seating of families, ubiquitous electronic gadgets and cords and even on-board animals,” said William J. McGee, Aviation Adviser for Consumer Reports. “It is critical that the FAA’s methodology changes as well, so that this vital testing accurately reflects real-world scenarios, where the stakes are often life-and-death.”

The letter was signed by the National Consumers League, Business Travel Coalition, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, EdOnTravel.com, FlyersRights.org, Travel Fairness Now, Travelers United and U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.

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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.

Groups’ letter to Congress in support of Taxpayer Service Standards legislation

September 23, 2019

The Honorable Chuck Grassley
Chairman
Committee on Finance
United States Senate
219 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-6200

The Honorable Richard Neal
Chairman
Ways & Means Committee
United States House of Representatives
1102 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Ron Wyden
Ranking Member
Committee on Finance
United States Senate
219 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-6200

The Honorable Kevin Brady
Ranking Member
Ways & Means Committee
United States House of Representatives
1102 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Wyden, Chairman Neal, and Ranking Member Brady:

We are writing to express our support for much-needed Taxpayer Service Standards legislation to protect Americans from tax return preparers who do not meet basic standards of competency, training or ethics. In 2014, the GAO found widespread and significant errors during a “secret shopper” test on paid preparers, with only about 10 percent of preparers calculating the correct refund amount. The Federal Trade Commission ranked tax preparer fraud in the top 30 most common types of fraud in 2017. And yet, the IRS has had little authority to prevent bad actors from becoming tax preparers or remove them once they’re in the system.

We urge Congress to take action to provide some basic protections that will ensure the well-being of American taxpayers and equip the IRS with the tools it needs to do so. 

For many Americans, a tax return is their most significant financial transaction all year. According to the IRS, nearly 60 percent of taxpayers seek help with their taxes from paid preparers. As important as a tax return is, there are actually no basic standards in place to protect taxpayers from incompetent, unethical or sloppy tax preparation services. Yet the consequences of a mistaken tax return can be devastating. For these reasons, we are supporting legislation before the Senate and the House to set taxpayer service standards, allow the IRS to spot and remove habitually bad tax preparers from the system, and protect taxpayers from fraudulent, dishonest and incompetent tax preparers. Specifically, we support –

  • H.R. 3466, introduced by Congressman Estes (R-KS) and Congresswoman Sewell (D-AL). This bill would give the IRS the authority to revoke PTINs from fraudulent, incompetent and unethical preparers.
  • S. 1192 and H.R. 3330, the Taxpayer Protection and Preparer Proficiency Act. These Senate and House companion bills, introduced by Senators Wyden and Cardin and Congressmen Panetta (D-CA) and Yoho (R-FL), respectively, would establish minimum standards for tax return preparers.

Currently, the only requirement to become a paid tax preparer is to obtain a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) from the IRS. The agency identified nearly 20,000 registered preparers who were potentially non-compliant with their tax filing and payment obligations, with $375 million in taxes due from these preparers as of January 26, 2015.[1] As of May 2017, however, only about 1,700 of 1.3 million PTINs issued had been revoked – 0.001%. Even today, the IRS accepts returns from preparers with expired or invalid PTINs. What’s more, 58% of active PTIN holders have no professional credentials at all, unlike CPAs, attorneys and enrolled agents. This is unacceptable and exposes taxpayers to fraud, incompetence and fees and penalties through no fault of their own.

We thank you for your attention to this important issue and urge you and your colleagues to support S. 1192/H.R. 3330 and H.R. 3466 to protect American taxpayers who unknowingly may be using unqualified or dishonest tax preparers.

Sincerely,                                                                                                   

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Consumer Action
MANA – A National Latina Organization
Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition
National Consumers League
Prosperity Now
Virginia Citizens Consumer Council

[1] Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, August 27, 2015.

Coalition of consumer advocacy groups send letter DC Council regarding auto-renewal – National Consumers League

July 19, 2018

The Honorable Charles Allen
Council of the District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington DC 20004

Dear Councilmember Charles Allen,

The undersigned 9 consumer and community advocacy groups urge your immediate action and support for Title II of the Consumer Disclosure Act of 2017 (B22-0020). The bill, which has been pending before the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee since January 2017, will prevent District residents from unknowingly becoming trapped in a complex web of hidden automatic renewal contract clauses they did not knowingly consent to.

In order to participate in commerce, consumers must sign lengthy fine print contracts. These contracts often contain automatic renewal clauses which will cause the contract or membership to renew automatically if the consumer fails to notify a merchant of their desire to cancel prior to a date of the merchant’s choosing. When these clauses are clearly disclosed, they can help consumers avoid service interruptions. However, unscrupulous merchants slip automatic renewal contract clauses into the fine print of contracts without properly disclosing their presence in order to trap consumers into lengthy contracts. The proliferation of these hidden automatically renewing contract clauses has caused one in three Americans to be tricked into agreeing to an automatically renewing contract.[i]

In the coming years, the trend of unscrupulous businesses hiding automatic renewal clauses in the fine print of contracts is unlikely to change. Deloitte predicts that online media subscriptions, subscriptions, which almost always contain these clauses, will grow by at least 20% in 2018.[ii] Fortunately, the Consumer Disclosure Act of 2017 would prevent these unwelcome financial surprises by:

  • Requiring clear disclosure of any automatic renewal clause; and
  • Requiring that a notification be sent to enrollees 30-60 days prior to the deadline for canceling a multi-month automatically renewing a contract

The unplanned expense that these clauses inflict on their victims is of particular concern for the socio-economically disadvantaged members of our community who are less able to weather surprise bills. Action on this issue is long overdue. In the absence of legislative action, District residents will continue to receive surprise bills for products or services they no longer need or desire.

Through Title II of the Consumer Disclosure Act, the D.C. Council has a real opportunity to improve the lives of Washingtonians by granting District residents the tools they need to avoid becoming ensnared by unwanted automatically renewing contracts. We urge you to quickly take action and to provide District residents with this long overdue protection which is already enjoyed in several states across the country.

 

Sincerely,

Allied Progress
American Family Voices
Consumer Action
Consumer Federation of California
DC Fiscal Policy Institute
National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders
National Consumers League
Tzedek DC
Workplace Fairness

 

Cc: Members of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety

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[i] Porche, Bradley. “Poll: Recurring charges are easy to start, hard to get out of,” Creditcards.com. August 21, 2017. Online: https://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/autopay-poll.php

[ii] Deloitte. “Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions,” Pg. 41. 2017. Online: https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/technology-media-and-telecommunications/articles/tmtpredictions.html