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Nov. 1, 2016 by Mollie Rosenzweig

Hair-Raising Ordeal Draws Attention to Lack of Oversight of Cosmetics, Personal Care Products

Last year, consumers linked Wen hair products to sudden and dramatic hair loss. The story generated a flurry of national coverage and spurred increased interest in just how closely the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates our cosmetic products. Indeed, Wen hair products are not alone in causing dangerous side effects and containing disconcerting ingredients: Consumers have raised alarms over formaldehyde in hair straightening products, mercury in skin creams, and an array of toxic chemicals in children's face paint, including lead, cadmium, toluene, formaldehyde, and others. 

Currently, the FDA has shockingly little authority to regulate personal care and cosmetic products, which comes as a surprise to many consumers. In contrast to the rigorous testing pharmaceutical products must undergo before they can be marketed and sold, cosmetics and personal care products need not meet exacting federal standards. The innumerable chemicals in cosmetic products don't need be tested or even disclosed. Companies are not required to report consumer complaints of adverse reactions to the FDA, and even when FDA does become aware of a problem with a product, it has no authority to issue a mandatory recall after a product is linked to consumer harm. Under current law, FDA can …

Aug. 5, 2016 by Mollie Rosenzweig
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Americans are increasingly looking for reforms in our food system. Limited use of pesticides, animal welfare, and sustainability are just some of the issues becoming more important to consumers when they make decisions about their food. Unfortunately, Congress and the regulatory agencies charged with overseeing the food supply have worked slowly – very slowly – to address these and other pressing issues as of late. On the other hand, the food industry and retailers have seen the writing on the wall and have started to shift some of their practices, enough at least that they can market their efforts to consumers. 

But how extensive are these changes really? Will they address the many systemic hazards and shortcomings in food production and distribution that can harm both our health and the environment? 

In recent years, large players in the food and grocery industries have emerged as some of the most …

June 2, 2016 by David Driesen
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During the last few years, airlines have increased their reliance on "bait-and-switch" scheduling. They induce travelers to choose their airline based on advertised routes and schedules. They know that especially good routes are valuable and generally charge more for a good route than a bad one. Long after travelers have taken the bait, often paying more than the lowest available price to avoid delay-prone airports, long layovers, and multiple stops, the airlines simply switch around the schedule. While many of these changes can be minor, changing departure and arrival times by 10 or 20 minutes, increasingly airlines feel no compunction at all about completely tearing up the deal they made, adding stops, drastically increasing layover times, and routing the hapless traveler through a different city than she would have selected when she had a choice. They often make these changes just a few weeks in advance, when …

May 12, 2016 by Mollie Rosenzweig
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The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently launched a criminal investigation of Dole Food Company, continuing a trend of criminal enforcement against those responsible for deadly food safety lapses. The investigation stems from a Listeria outbreak in bagged salad that sickened 33 people, four of whom died. 

Between September 2015 and January 2016, 33 people in the U.S. and Canada became infected with Listeria from bagged lettuce processed at Dole's Springfield, Ohio plant. At first, investigators struggled to trace the widespread outbreak back to a source, but genetic fingerprinting allowed inspectors from Ohio to connect the outbreak to the Dole plant. On January 14, 2016, officials inspected the Dole plant and collected samples, which tested positive for Listeria. Dole voluntarily stopped production at the plant on January 21 and issued a voluntary recall on January 27. 

Tragically, Dole knew about the Listeria contamination in …

April 22, 2016 by Mollie Rosenzweig
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Just as we predicted back in December, foods created with CRISPR technology (short for clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats) are entering the food supply beyond the reach of federal regulators. Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it would not regulate white button mushrooms that scientists altered to stop them from browning. The agency's confirmation that it is unable to regulate CRISPR-modified foods confirms that the current statutory scheme for genetically modified foods is not sufficient. 

In the simplest terms, genetically modified plants are created when scientists add foreign DNA (usually DNA from bacteria) to a plant to give it a designated trait, like resistance to a virus or to a pesticide. CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”), a newer technology, does not rely on foreign DNA. Instead of combining genetic material from different species, scientists edit the organism’s existing genetic code to achieve …

April 6, 2016 by Mollie Rosenzweig
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Consumers, take note: Last week, Clean Production Action published a troubling new report, Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA and regrettable substitutes found in the linings of canned food, on the presence of toxic bisphenol-A (BPA) in canned foods. The report, co-written by Breast Cancer Fund, Campaign for Healthier Solutions, Ecology Center, and Mind the Store Campaign, found BPA in the lining of the majority of canned foods sold by major retailers across the United States and Canada.

As the Center for Progressive Reform has discussed before, BPA can leach into food and poses a serious threat to human health. As an endocrine disruptor, BPA mimics estrogen in human bodies, which can ultimately play a role in many health problems, including obesity, diabetes, fertility complications, and some cancers. Its continued presence in can liners is a significant problem that calls out for effective, comprehensive action from federal regulatory agencies …

Feb. 19, 2016 by Mollie Rosenzweig
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At a time when consumers are demanding greater transparency in the food system – and some food companies are delivering by means of genetically modified organism labeling and removal of artificial food dyes — a troubling North Carolina law that runs counter to that goal has recently gone into effect. The state’s so-called “ag-gag” law prohibits whistleblowers from making audio or video recordings inside industrial agricultural facilities. Following the success of a similar suit in Idaho last year, consumer protection advocates and government watchdog groups have brought a constitutional challenge to the law in a North Carolina federal district court.

The public has been benefitting from undercover documentation of conditions inside food production facilities since Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle at the turn of the last century. In recent years, undercover videos at animal agriculture facilities have exposed horrific instances of animal abuse — sick turkeys thrown into grinding …

Dec. 7, 2015 by Mollie Rosenzweig
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If you've come across one of the ads, newspaper stories, or opinion pieces from Chuck Norris in the past week warning you about frankenfish, you can thank the FDA. In mid-November, the FDA made history by approving the first genetically engineered (GE) animal for human consumption, Atlantic salmon from the company AquaBounty. Not only has the approval process failed to win over skeptics, exposing the weaknesses in the current legal regime that governs plants and animals developed through biotechnology, it raises important questions about the future of food oversight. With emerging genetic technologies on the horizon, can federal agencies continue to exert control over approving genetically altered plants and animals under a legal scheme that never imagined the technologically advanced foods of today and tomorrow? 

AquaBounty created the AquAdvantage salmon by combining the growth gene from the Chinook salmon and a “promoter” gene from another species …

Oct. 6, 2015 by Sidney Shapiro
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The resignation of House Speaker John Boehner and the VW diesel car scandal -- two rather extraordinary events -- might not initially appear to be related, but there is a connection. The most conservative members of the Republican caucus celebrated Representative Boehner's resignation because they felt he did not fight hard enough to shrink the size of the federal government through more aggressive tactics, like government shutdowns. Although one of government's most important functions is to deter behavior such as that of VW, the radical Republicans would organize American society using only markets, not government. The difficulty with this stance is that corporations "cheating" consumers is an unavoidable aspect of capitalistic markets, making government regulation a necessity.

Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations famously identifies an "invisible hand" by which individual self-interest has the effect of benefiting society more effectively than when an individual intends to …

Sept. 22, 2015 by Robert Verchick
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Center for Progressive Reform President Robert R.M. Verchick issued the following statement today in response to the burgeoning Volkswagen emissions scandal:

With the Volkswagen emissions scandal, hard on the heels of the GM settlement, can anyone doubt the importance of strong regulation and tough enforcement? One automotive giant let a safety problem fester for a decade while more than 120 people died as a result. Another conspired to cheat on state emissions tests, pumping outrageous loads of pollution into the air we breathe so that they could make their cars peppier, and advertise them as such. We hear conservatives say all the time that regulation is unnecessary because the market is self-correcting. The scope of these scandals proves just the opposite: We need vigorous regulation and enforcement to keep Americans safe from companies that think they can increase their profits by endangering us all.

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