CFA News Update- September 22, 2011

USDA Declares Additional E. Coli Strains as Adulterants

The Obama Administration announced last week that it is adding six strains of E. coli to the list of pathogenic strains prohibited in ground beef, a step CFA and others have been urging for years.  Industry has six months to make changes in their safety controls before the Food Safety and Inspection Service begins testing for the new strains.  In a press statement praising the action, CFA stated that, “The U.S. has achieved some notable progress in controlling one form of E. coli and there is every reason to believe that the action banning six additional virulent forms of the pathogen will provide additional improvements.”

In a separate statement, Carol Tucker-Foreman, Distinguished Fellow of CFA’s Food Policy Institute, said the administration’s action “may be the biggest change in meat and poultry safety in the last fifteen years.  It is only the second time that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has declared that the agency will consider any pathogen for which no safe level has been determined an adulterant. A federal court in Texas upheld the first use of the law in this manner.” She urged the Administration to adopt the same approach with regard to antibiotic resistant Salmonella.

Senate Panel Votes to Increase Funding for Financial Regulation

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a financial services funding bill last week that would provide badly needed funding increases for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) as they undertake the vital task of implementing the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.  In contrast to the House bill, which proposed to hold SEC funding flat and to cut funding for both the CFTC and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Senate committee voted to provide both the SEC and CFTC with funding increases of roughly 19 percent and to leave the Dodd-Frank funding mechanism for the CFPB intact.

As a result, the bill would fund the SEC at the $1.4 billion level requested in the president’s budget, but still leave the CFTC’s budget, at $240 million, well short of the $308 million initially proposed by the administration.  “While we continue to support full funding for the CFTC at the $308 million level, we greatly appreciate the committee’s recognition of the importance of freeing up additional funds for financial regulation, particularly given the tight constraints they were operating under,” said CFA Director of Investor Protection Barbara Roper.  The total funds available for the 2012 financial services bill were one percent lower than this year’s total, meaning increases for SEC and CFTC had to be matched by cuts in other programs.

The same bill also includes funding, and related provisions, for the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  In contrast to the House, where advocates’ efforts were focused on fending off anti-consumer amendments, several provisions were included in the Senate bill to improve consumer product safety.  Specifically, provisions were included in the bill to set a mandatory safety standard for corded window coverings (see related article below), to prevent injuries associated with button cell batteries, and make it easier for consumers injured by unsafe foreign-made products to obtain redress for their injuries. “These provisions include strong consumer protections that we enthusiastically support. Mandatory standards are necessary to prevent hazards posed to children by corded window coverings and button cell batteries, and consumers should be able to obtain redress for their injuries no matter where a product is made,” said CFA Senior Counsel Rachel Weintraub.

Joint US-European Consumer Group Defends European Privacy Protections

In advance of last week’s hearing on “Internet Privacy: The Impact and Burden of EU Regulation,” the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD) Information Society Policy Committee sent a letter to members of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade questioning the basic premise of the hearing.   “As organizations representing several hundred million consumers in North America and the United States, we believe there is great urgency in the need for the US Congress to address meaningfully the new challenges to privacy,” the groups wrote. “We see in the United States spiraling levels of identity theft and security breaches. The US generates more spam (unsolicited commercial email) than any other country in the world and spends more money monitoring its own citizens than any other country in the world. Certainly, there is much the United States could learn from other countries about how to address such challenges and the EU Data Directive provides a very good starting point.”  CFA’s Susan Grant co-chairs the TACD Information Society Policy Committee and Jean Ann Fox serves on the TACD Steering Committee.

Consumer Groups Criticize Window Blind Safety Standards Process

After a year in which they had been prevented from effective participation, consumer groups decided earlier this month to no longer participate in a failed window blind safety standard-setting process.  The standard-setting process by the Window Covering Manufacturers’ Association had been launched at the urging of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Health Canada, and the European Union’s DG Sanco with a goal of eliminating the strangulation risk posed by corded window coverings.  Consumer groups were permitted to participate in a limited way as part of a standards development steering committee. In a press statement on their decision, the groups wrote: “Over this year … our recommendations have been ignored and resisted. Furthermore, this revision process has not been transparent. Research commissioned by the WCMA for the purpose of drafting this standard and other information has not been shared with us. It is now clear that this flawed process will yield a very flawed result leaving children at risk.”

New Identify Theft Website Launched

Earlier this month CFA unveiled a new website, www.IDTheft.org, featuring CFA’s Best Practices for Identity Theft Services and other resources for consumers and businesses. “IDTheftInfo.org is an easy‐to‐use gateway for the best resources about identity theft from Consumer Federation of America and other reputable sources,” said CFA Director of Consumer Protection Susan Grant. Visitors to the site can take quizzes to test their ID theft savvy, learn how to protect themselves, and find information about what to do if they become ID theft victims. Advice for businesses about data security is also provided.

The new CFA website is the latest step in the organization’s ongoing work on identity theft. In 2009, CFA issued a report about misleading claims and other problems in the identity theft service industry. That led to the creation of CFA’s Identity Theft Service Best Practices Working Group, which consists of identity theft service providers and consumer advocates. The group helped CFA develop its Best Practices for Identity Theft Services, the Nine Things to Check When Shopping for Identity Theft Services tips for consumers, and the new website. “The aim of CFA’s Identity Theft Service Best Practices Working Group is to promote responsible industry practices and help consumers sort through the clutter of information and misinformation about identity theft and how to protect themselves,” said Ms. Grant.