1. Home
  2. News
  3. 2007
  4. March

Current Events in March 2007

Browse Current Events by year


Browse Current Events by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Pet Food Recall Hits Home

    Menu Foods Employees Fret as Emporia Plant Sits Idle

    By Lisa Wade McCormick

    EMPORIA, Kan., March 26, 2007 -- What kind of people could make pet food that kills cats and dogs?

    Welcome to Emporia
    The Menu Foods Plant
    People just like you and me, it turns out. The pet food that's blamed for the deaths of least 16 dogs and cats nationwide came from Menu Foods production plants in Emporia, Kansas, and Pennsauken, New Jersey, where employees are just as puzzled and concerned as everyone else.

    In Emporia, a town of about 30,000 located 120 miles southwest of Kansas City on Interstate 35, Menu Foods is known for its high standards and demand for excellence.

    It's a company that has pumped 476 good-paying jobs into this primarily blue-collar community in the past ten years. And one townspeople describe it as an "excellent community citizen" with "caring employees."

    "This is unbelievable and doesn't make any sense," former Mayor Evora Wheeler says when asked about Menu Foods' production of dog and cat food tainted with rat poison.

    The Emporia plant only makes the "cuts and gravy" style of pet food involved in the nationwide recall of 60 million cans and pouches of dog and cat food-sold under 95 different brands.

    Canadian-based Menu Foods announced the massive recall on March 16, 2007, after pets that ate the company's food became ill or died.

    "There has to be another explanation," Wheeler says of the contamination. "This is a fine company and I am confident they did not know an ingredient they were using was contaminated."

    Wheeler and other townspeople ConsumerAffairs.com interviewed during a recent trip to Emporia are also confident that none of Menu Foods' employees are responsible for the contaminated pet food.

    "It's somewhat insulting -- and a slam to our community -- when people talk about tampering," Wheeler says.

    Jeff Longbine, chairman of the Regional Development Association, agrees.

    "The thing that people don't see is the management and employees of Menu Foods. They're all good people. These are people who are our neighbors, our kids go to school with their kids, or we go to the same church.

    "For this to have happened is devastating to them," he says. "And there is deep concern within this community for Menu Foods and its employees."

    There's also tremendous concern for the scores of grieving pet owners across the country.

    "My heart goes out to those pet owners," Wheeler says. "And I am confident that Menu Foods will do everything it can to correct this negative situation."

    Jeanine McKenna, president and CEO of the Emporia Area Chamber of Commerce, agreed: "We are all saddened by this. This is something that effects us all ... we're all animal lovers.

    "I can understand why people are angry (at Menu Foods)," McKenna adds. "Their pets are their family members. But at the same time, these are employees who pride themselves in doing quality work. And they're just as devastated by this."

    Rat Poison

    New York investigators last week identified the source of the contamination in Menu's pet food as a toxin called aminopterin.

    That's a rat poison widely used in other countries, but not in the United States.

    "I was glad when I heard that (the contamination) wasn't anything in Menu's processing ... that it was something from an outside vendor," Longbine says. "I knew Menu Foods was too good of a company to take any short-cuts."

    Menu Foods President and CEO, Paul Henderson, said last Friday that he doesn't know how the rat poison entered his company's food supply.

    Earlier reports suggested the toxin may have been used on the wheat gluten Menu Foods imports from China -- or sprayed in the storage containers that transport the product overseas.

    The Food and Drug Administration has focused its investigation on wheat gluten, which is commonly used in pet foods as a thickening agent and source of protein.

    Plant Idle

    As that investigation continues, Menu Foods' production plant in Emporia stands idle -- at least for now. The company announced a two-to-four-day shut down on March 23, 2007, in response to the recall.

    That recall, that company says, is likely to cost between $30-$40 million. Menu Foods also faces at least three pending lawsuits filed in response to the contamination.

    What does this mean for Menu's future in Emporia?

    "I can tell you everybody is concerned," says Mayor Jim Kessler. "Menu Foods has been a success story here in Emporia as far as our economic development. And there's concern that this might affect the employment base here. But everybody hopes that Menu Foods will come through all this."

    The company has vowed there will be no layoffs.

    "There is absolutely zero impact on employment," The Emporia Gazette quoted a Menu Foods spokesman as saying. "The company has certainly been challenged by what has been one of the biggest recalls in consumer history, but our consumers are loyal, the company is strong and business is moving forward."

    The home of fabled journalist and Progressivist William Allen White, Emporia had been down on its luck in the 1990s. In What's the Matter with Kansas? (2004), historian Thomas Frank portrayed Emporia as a shuttered, dried-up ghost of its former self, and blamed conservative economic policies for its decline.

    Emporia's boosters say Frank went a little too far but beneath their Midwestern pride and optimism, there's a sense of concern for what the latest food-chain disaster means for Menu Foods and American agriculture.

    Lifelong Emporia resident Jesse Solis remains optimistic, saying the key to Menu's future is its loyal customer base.

    "And I think people will stick by this company. I'm a pet owner and I feed my dog Menu Foods. I will continue to feed him Menu Foods, and recommend it to other pet owners I know."

    So will Longbine.

    "I feed my dog Menu Foods and will continue to give it her," he says. "And I hope other people -- and Wal-Mart, Safeway, and other retailers -- will continue to buy the company's products.

    "I think Menu Foods is strong enough to survive this."

    Pet Food Recall Hits Home...
    Read lessRead more

    Batteries Could Run on Sugar

    New Technology Could Cut Risk of Cell Phone, Laptop Fires

    Scientists have revealed a sweet alternative to lithium ion batteries: batteries that run on sugar.

    Researches from St. Louis University (SLU) say they have developed a fuel cell battery that runs on virtually any source of sugar including tree sap, soft drinks and sugar water. They believe the batteries could provide a charge three to four times longer than lithium ion batteries and may replace those batteries which are now used in many portable devices including laptops, mp3 players and cell phones.

    "This study shows that renewable fuels can be directly employed in batteries at room temperature to lead to more energy-efficient battery technology than metal-based approaches," study leader Shelley Minteer, Ph.D., an electrochemist at SLU said in a prepared statement.

    Scientists from SLU revealed their findings at the 233rd national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Chicago over the weekend.

    The scientists said the batteries are good for the environment because water is the main byproduct.

    "It demonstrates that by bridging biology and chemistry, we can build a better battery that's also cleaner for the environment," Minteer said in the statement.

    One of the major concerns with lithium ion batteries is their propensity to overheat and on rare occasions, catch fire and explode. This was highlighted this past summer with the recall of more than 10 million Sony-made laptop batteries.

    But Minteer told ConsumerAffairs.com that her batteries pose no fire risk.

    Minteer has successfully tested the technology by running a calculator with a battery the size of a postage stamp. So far flat soft drinks, tree sap, glucose and sweetened drink mixes have powered the calculator. Minteer said she has had the most promising results from table sugar dissolved in water.

    Although Minteer is not the first to develop a battery that runs on sugar, she said hers is the longest-lasting and most powerful type to date.

    If research continues to show promise, the battery could be ready for commercialization in 3-5 years Minteer said.

    Consumers are not the only ones to potentially benefit from this technology. The study, which the U.S. Department of Defense funded, may develop a portable energy source for troops on the battlefield who may have limited access to technology. The batteries could potentially be recharged by adding sugar or sap from trees or even cacti.

    Batteries Could Run on Sugar...
    Read lessRead more

    Ford Engines "Dropping Like Flies" with Spark Plug Blow-Outs

    Confessions of a Ford Technician

    A Ford Motor Co. warranty inspector says the Ford Triton V-8 engines are "dropping like flies" because of blown spark plugs and a Ford dealer technician wants his customers to know it's not his fault.

    "I am a Ford dealer technician. I would like to address the Ford spark plug blowout issue," the technician wrote as he was working on a Ford vehicle that had blown a spark plug out of its aluminum head.

    "I would like the customers to know that it is Ford's defective engine design and not the fault of the technicians or dealerships," said the technician, who asked that his name and hometown not be used for fear that he would be fired if his identity was made public.

    He had this warning for Ford truck owners: "The warranty inspector from Ford told me the 5.4-liter engines are dropping like flies referring to spark plug blowouts."

    Despite spark plug problems in the Ford Triton engines, our Ford technician said his "hands are tied by Ford and Ford decides what it will and won't pay for even when people have warranties."

    The Ford technician told ConsumerAffairs.com that the Triton engines are very difficult and time-consuming to repair. He accused Ford of squeezing mechanics in the repair process with "insufficient flat rate times," and said, "the techs end up working free hours."

    "It is not on our shoulders to repair these problems at our expense," he wrote, "even to keep a customer. I can tell you that we are seeing spark plug blowouts more and more often. At times 3 or 4 vehicles a week."

    The Ford policy, he complained, unfairly paints the technician as the person refusing to stand behind the Ford product.

    "The customers need to understand that these poorly designed engines are a huge burden on the people that fix them and I am tired of subsidizing Ford like some kind of welfare," the technician wrote. "The people that are fixing these engines are not at fault but we get beat up by the customers."

    The Ford mechanic said no one at the automaker seems to be certain why the Triton engine, which is in widespread use throughout the country, spits spark plugs from its engine head.

    "Everybody seems to have a different opinion on why the plugs loosen up and beat up the threads until the plugs get ejected but I don't know of a way to prevent it either."

    His advice? Find another truck or SUV.

    "I personally have a 2000 Expedition with a 5.4 and even though the cost in actual dollars would be significantly less because I would fix it myself if it blows out a plug I am planning on selling it soon to avoid the problem."

    The Ford technician said he thinks the only way to solve the spark plug problem for consumers would be a costly and unlikely warranty extension by Ford.

    "Ford needs to be held responsible for the repairs of spark plug blowout and should extend the warranty to 100,000 miles regardless of age on spark plug blowout issue," he wrote. "They also should be forced to pay a fair amount of labor time."

    "Please convey to your readers that the dealer people do make an effort to help them to the extent that Ford allows," he said. "When Ford won't pay it would not be fair to us to repair the vehicles for free because we didn't build or design these engines but we are very sympathetic to them but we have to make a living too."

    Ford Engines 'Dropping Like Flies' with Spark Plug Blow-Outs...
    Read lessRead more

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      New York Sues Student Loan Lender

      Lender Accused of Making Kickbacks to Universities

      New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo's office has issued a formal notice to Education Finance Partners (EFP) that it will be filing suit over allegedly deceptive practices in the company's student loan business. The suit is the first filed in a nationwide investigation into the college loan industry.

      Cuomo's investigation has revealed that Education Finance Partners has repeatedly paid schools in exchange for steering loans to EFP and for putting EFP on "preferred lender" lists. Approximately 90% of students choose their lenders from their school's preferred lender lists.

      Cuomo said his investigation has uncovered that neither the schools nor EFP adequately disclose to students that EFP is paying the schools to be promoted as a "preferred lender." Cuomo's legal action alleges that the relationship and financial arrangements between EFP and the schools constitute a deceptive business practice.

      Cuomo also revealed that EFP made its financial kickback arrangements with schools through what are called revenue sharing agreements, which often were based on a tiered system that would give a higher percentage to the schools based on the amount of loans referred.

      "EFP aggressively offered schools cash kickbacks in exchange for business," Cuomo said. "This kickback scheme was widespread and took place from coast to coast, at colleges large and small, public and private," Cuomo said. "This lawsuit is just the beginning of an investigation that will show that lenders put market share above fair play.

      "A preferred lender ought to mean that the lender is preferred by students for its low rates, not by schools for its kickbacks. With the cost of college rising every day, the last thing students want to hear is that their lender may be muscling aside a more competitive loan package."

      Big Bucks

      This arrangement resulted in potentially large amounts of money paid by EFP to universities participating in the preferred lender program.

      For example, EFP's agreement with Duquesne University gives the school 60 basis points (.6%) of the net value of all referred loans. The agreements are structured to encourage the schools to refer as much business as possible to EFP. For example, EFP's agreement with Boston University provides that BU will receive 25 basis points (.25 percent) of the net value of referred loans of at least $1,000,000 up to $5,000,000; 50 basis points (.5 percent) of value of referred loans between $5,000,000 and $10,000,000; and 75 basis points (.75 percent) of the net value of referred loans over $10,000,000.

      Some schools such as Drexel University in Philadelphia received over $100,000 in kickbacks from EFP in a single year.

      Under Drexel's agreement with EFP, dated April 1, 2006, Drexel has agreed to make EFP its "sole preferred private loan provider." In return, EFP has agreed that Drexel will receive 75 basis points (.75 percent) of the net value of referred loans between $1 and $24,999,999; and 100 basis point (1 percent) of all loan amounts of $25,000,000 or greater.

      Among the schools with which EFP has had such revenue sharing agreements are: Baylor University, Boston University, Clemson University, Drexel University, Duquesne University, Fordham University, Long Island University, Pepperdine University, St. John's University, Texas Christian University, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Mississippi. In total, EFP has had such agreements with more than 60 schools across the nation.

      EFP engaged further in deceptive marketing practices by using schools' logos, mascots, and names in EFP promotional materials to imply that EFP had the school's official endorsement.

      "EFP's marketing practices were clearly intended to imply that the universities had endorsed EFP loan products for individual student borrowers," Cuomo said. "Deceptive marketing is just that and it limits the information available for students to get the best deal in their college loans."

      According to the New York State Department of Education, two-thirds of all four year college graduates nationwide now have loan debt, compared with less than one-third of graduates in 1993. In New York State, 59 percent of undergraduates took out loans to finance their college education. The average student graduating from a four-year college in New York owes $17,594 on graduation day.

      Cuomo has been leading an ongoing investigation into the $85 billion-per-year student loan industry. In February, he requested information from more than 60 public and private colleges and universities nationwide regarding the standards they use to determine which lending companies are included on their "preferred lender" lists. Financial aid administrators often produce such lists to direct their students toward the lenders that are most preferred by the schools but may not offer the best deals for students and parents.

      New York Sues Student Loan Lender...
      Read lessRead more

      Pet Food Contamination May Be Rat Poison

      New York Investigators Identify Toxin in Recalled Dog, Cat Food

      Could it be rat poison that's killing the nation's dogs and cats?

      That's the conclusion of the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, which announced today that the recalled Menu Food pet foods contained rodent poison.

      State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hook identified the toxin as Aminopterin, which is used to kill rats in some countries. The poison is not registered as rodent killer in the United States, although it is used as a cancer drug.

      According to a report by MSNBC, the poison may have been used on wheat imported from China.

      The Food and Drug Administration has focused its investigation on wheat gluten in the pet food, which is blamed for causing kidney problems in dogs and cats across the country and the deaths of at least 16 pets -- although officials expect that number to rise.

      The FDA says wheat gluten by itself would not cause kidney failure, but the common ingredient could have been contaminated.

      New York officials aren't sure how the rodent poison got into the recalled pet food. But they apparently don't believe it was deliberate.

      The New York Attorney General Office says it's not aware of any criminal investigation involving the tainted food. And FBI spokesman Paul Holstein in Albany said Friday that he was not aware of any FBI involvement in the case.

      "I don't know where we'll go from here," he said.

      Menu Foods of Canada announced its massive recall on March 16, 2007, after receiving complaints of kidney failure in pets that ate the food.

      The recall involves 60 million cans of "cut and gravy" style cat and dog food -- sold across North America under 95 brand names. Those brands are carried by Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway and other large retailers -- and also sold under other private labels like Iams, Nutro and Eukanuba.

      A complete list of the recalled pet foods is available on Menu Food's Web site: www.menufoods.com/recall The company has also set up two phone numbers pet owners can call for more information: (866) 463-6738 and (866) 895-2708.

      Pet Owners Haunted

      A Manchester, New Hampshire, woman is haunted by recurring guilt surrounding the recent death of her beloved cat, Lily.

      Her 16-year-old Siamese-Domestic Shorthair became seriously ill -- and had to put to sleep last week -- after eating five cans of Iams Flakes cat food, one of the 95 brands of "cut and gravy" style cat and dog food involved in Menu Food of Canada's nationwide recall.

      "If I'd just kept feeding her the pt cat food and not switched to the Iams Flakes of salmon and tuna, then she'd still be around," says Lily's grieving owner, Deborah J. "But when I saw the cans of salmon and tuna, I thought she might like a change."

      Deborah says her "best friend" was in good health before she became ill after eating the contaminated cat food on March 8, 2007.

      "She was an active, healthy cat. But after I fed her the Iams salmon and tuna, she threw up and started going downhill. She stopped eating and starting hiding. We took her to the vet and learned she was in renal failure." Deborah says her veterinarian gave Lily IV fluids for four days, but the cat's condition continued to deteriorate.

      "When our vet re-tested Lily's blood, her toxicity levels were still off the chart," she says. "He told me Lily was not going to pull through. That's when we both made the decision to put her to sleep. It was a horrible decision to make. I loved that cat so much. I'd had her since college."

      Deborah's veterinarian put Lily to sleep on March 16, 2007.

      The next day, Deborah learned about Menu Food's recall of 60 million cans of wet cat and dog food. She checked the food she'd given Lily and made a shocking discovery.

      "When I looked at the cans of food I'd fed to Lily -- and the product codes of the cans being recalled -- I realized they were the same numbers. I thought 'Oh my gosh, these are the same ones.'"

      The discovery also made Deborah worry about the safety of her other three cats, who had also eaten some of the tainted food.

      "I was very concerned and we had all of them tested," she says. "And they're all OK." Deborah says she's not only had to deal with the emotional pain of losing Lily, whom she describes as "a very special cat."

      Lily's death -- and the circumstances surrounding it -- also caused a financial strain on Deborah's family.

      "Our vet bills are now close to $700 because we had to pay for all of Lily's care and the testing of our other cats," she says. "I think someone should reimburse people for their veterinarian bills. For those of us who have lost a pet, nothing can be done to bring them back . . . but someone should help people recoup the cost of their vet bills."

      Pet Food Contamination May Be Rat Poison...
      Read lessRead more

      FDA Toughens Advisory Committee Guidelines

      Committees dominated by drugmakers, critics charge

      March 22, 2007
      After mounting complaints that its advisory committees were dominated by members with drug industry ties, the Food and Drug Administration has tightened it rules on just who will be allowed to offer advice.

      Under its draft guidance, advisors who receive money from a drug or device maker would not be allowed to vote on issues involving that company. At the same time, those who receive more than $50,000 from a company or competitor whose product is being considered would be barred from serving on committees.

      The move is likely to be viewed as a retreat from FDA's previous position, defended as recently as last July. The agency is accepting public comments on the proposal for the next 60 days.

      "FDA is committed to making the advisory committee process more rigorous and transparent so that the public has confidence in the integrity of the recommendations made by its advisory committees," said Randall Lutter, Ph.D., FDA's acting deputy commissioner for policy.

      "Today's draft guidance document should provide more consistency in the consideration of who is eligible to participate in advisory committee meetings and would simplify the process."

      FDA said it currently screens all prospective advisory committee participants before each meeting to determine whether the potential for a financial conflict of interest exists. Under law, FDA may grant a waiver when certain criteria are met, such as when the need for an individual's expertise outweighs the potential for a conflict of interest.

      Under the proposed new guidelines, if an individual has disqualifying financial interests whose combined value exceeds $50,000, after applying certain exemptions, the person would generally not be considered for participation in the meeting, regardless of the need for his or her expertise.

      If the financial interests are $50,000 or less, after applying certain exemptions, the individual might be recommended to participate as a non-voting member. Only individuals with no potential conflicts would be eligible to fully participate in meetings as voting members.

      Financial interest means the potential for gain or loss to a person (or their family and outside affiliations) as a result of the government's action on a particular topic. Financial interests screened include, but are not limited to, stock ownership, related research and consulting arrangements.

      FDA Toughens Advisory Committee Guidelines...
      Read lessRead more

      People's Choice Files Chapter 11

      Another Subprime Lender Collapses

      Another subprime lender is seeking bankruptcy protection from its creditors, as the house of cards built on risky mortgages continues to collapse. People's Choice Home Loan Inc., has asked a bankruptcy court in Santa Ana, California, to give it time to reorganize.

      The Irvine-based lender is the fourth subprime mortgage company to file for bankruptcy protection since December. It joins the ranks of Ownit Mortgage Solutions, Mortgage Lenders Network and ResMae Mortgage.

      At the same time, other subprime lenders, such as New Century Financial, Fremont General and NovaStar Financial, have suffered heavy losses in the last 12 months.

      People's Choice and its subsidiaries report about $100 million in both assets and liabities. Creditors include mainline banks and brokerages houses Wachovia Bank NA, Bear Stearns Mortgage Capital and Merrill Lynch Mortgage Lending.

      Last week People's Choice pulled a registration statement it had filed with securities regulators, a sign that its snowballing financial problems had reached critical mass. The Online publication National Mortage News quotes sources as saying the company is talking to a potential investor about a sale.

      Subprime lenders make loans to consumers whose credit is not good enough to get a so-called "prime" loan.

      While that can be helpful, many subprime lenders developed increasingly exotic mortgages, encouraging consumers to purchase more house than they could actually afford. As a result, many homeowners -- many of whom made no down payments -- are now defaulting on their loans.

      People's Choice Files Chapter 11...
      Read lessRead more

      Giving Up Smoking Helps Arteries Recover

      In 10 Years, Smokers' Arteries Lose Dangerous Stiffness

      Turns out kicking the habit benefits more than your lungs.

      Ex-smokers achieved non-smokers' level of arterial stiffness after a decade of smoking cessation, in a cross-sectional study reported in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association.

      "Smoking is a major risk factor, not only for lung disease and cancer, but also for heart attack, stroke and heart failure," said lead author Noor Ahmed Jatoi, M.B.B.S., D.C.N., D.M.M.D.

      "Our group has previously shown that smoking a single cigarette, passive or second-hand smoking and chronic smoking all lead to stiffer arteries, which in turn increase resistance in the blood vessels and, therefore, increase the work the heart must do."

      However, it was not clear if smoking cessation would be associated with reduced arterial stiffness. Stiffness in the arteries can increase blood pressure and is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular events.

      The researchers studied 554 people (average age 47, 56 percent female) who had high blood pressure but had never been treated for it. Researchers divided the subjects into: current smokers (150), ex-smokers (136) and never-smokers (268).

      "We categorized ex-smokers according to how long they were off cigarettes -- under one year, more than one but less than 10 years and more than 10 years of smoking cessation," said Jatoi, a Ph.D. student in clinical pharmacology at Trinity Health Sciences Centre and Hypertension Clinic at St. James's Hospital, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

      Researchers used Arterial Pulse Wave Analysis, a technology that measures arterial stiffness. They found that current and ex-smokers of only one year had significantly higher stiffness measurements compared with non-smokers.

      In ex-smokers, duration of smoking cessation was directly related to improvement in arterial stiffness. They found some improvement after one to 10 years, but arterial stiffness parameters only reached normal levels after more than a decade of smoking cessation.

      "Our study reinforces the message that smoking cessation is an important step smokers can take to enhance the quality and length of their lives. It shows both the unhealthy effects of smoking and the benefit of smoking cessation on the arterial wall," he said. "The longer one stops smoking the better." However, researchers noted that results need to be confirmed in a prospective, longitudal study -- one that follows patients over time.

      Giving Up Smoking Helps Arteries Recover...
      Read lessRead more

      Despite New Laws, Doctor-Drug Co. Dealings Still Shrouded

      Dr. Payola Keeps Patients in the Dark

      Though two states have enacted laws to promote transparency in doctors' financial dealings with pharmaceutical companies, researchers say the new laws are mostly ineffective.

      A study in the March 21 issue of JAMA says the mandatory disclosure of drug company payments to physicians does not provide the public with easy access to the payment information, and the information is of little use, even when the public can access it.

      Interactions between the pharmaceutical industry and health care professionals often involve payments, including cash, gift certificates, meals, textbooks or conference fees. In contrast to many other professions, medicine allows payments from a company to an individual who decides whether and how often to use products produced by the company.

      "To avoid undue influence, the American Medical Association recommends that gifts (but not other payments) to physicians should benefit patients and should not exceed $100 in value, a recommendation similar to those of other medical organizations and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America," according to background information in the article.

      Recent legislation in five states and the District of Columbia mandated state disclosure of payments made to physicians by pharmaceutical companies. In two of these states, Vermont and Minnesota, payment disclosures are publicly available.

      Joseph S. Ross, M.D., M.H.S., of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, and colleagues analyzed publicly available data in Vermont, from July 2002 through June 2004, and Minnesota, from January 2002 through December 2004.

      The authors found that the laws enacted by Vermont and Minnesota fail to provide the public with easy access to information about payments from pharmaceutical companies to physicians and other health care professionals.

      "In Vermont, 61 percent of payments were not released to the public because pharmaceutical companies designated them as trade secrets and 75 percent of publicly disclosed payments were missing information necessary to identify the recipient," the authors write. "In Minnesota, 25 percent of companies reported in each of the three years."

      The study also found that pharmaceutical companies made substantial numbers of payments of $100 or more to physicians.

      "In Vermont, among 12,227 payments totaling $2.18 million publicly disclosed, there were 2,416 payments of $100 or more to physicians," the authors write. "In Minnesota, among 6,946 payments totaling $30.96 million publicly disclosed, there were 6,238 payments of $100 or more to physicians."

      The authors believe that the information obtained through disclosure laws is insufficient for revealing the true pattern of payments.

      "Making these payments publicly available will require more stringent laws with clear mechanisms for enforcement," they conclude.

      Despite New Laws, Doctor-Drug Co. Dealings Still Shrouded...
      Read lessRead more

      Maytag, Samsung Washing Machines Recalled

      Fire Hazard in Front-Loading Machines

      March 21, 2007
      The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced a recall of about 270,000 Maytag and Samsung front-loading washing machines because of a fire hazard.

      Water leakage onto the electrical connections to the washing machine's thermal sensor could cause an electrical short and ignite a circuit board, the agency said.

      Maytag has received five reports of incidents involving ignition in the circuit board. Samsung has received one report of an incident involving ignition in the circuit board. No injuries, fires or property damage outside the washing machine have been reported.

      The recall involves certain Maytag and Samsung brand front-load washers. The Maytag washers have model numbers beginning with MAH9700 or MAH8700. The Samsung model number WF306BHW or a model number beginning with WF316. Not all serial numbers are subject to the recall. The model and serial numbers are located on a tag at the bottom of the door opening. Maytag models with a serial number ending in the last two letters identified below are subject to the recall:


      Sample Maytag Serial Number: 10123456GN

      Samsung models with the six-digit number 100001 through 799999 prior to a letter at the end of the serial number are subject to the recall:

      Sample Samsung Serial Number: 230854AL300026B

      The machines were sold by major department and appliance stores nationwide from April 2005 through August 2006 for between $1,000 and $1,200.

      Consumers should immediately contact the firm for information on how to receive a free repair. Consumers should not return the washing machine to the retailer where it was purchased.

      Consumer Contact: For more information, consumers can call Maytag toll-free at (800) 868-5109 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or go to Maytag's Web site at www.washerrecall.com - Samsung customers can call (800) 515-7902 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or go to Samsung's Web site at www.Samsung.com/washerrecall

      Maytag, Samsung Washing Machines Recalled...
      Read lessRead more

      One in Six Animals Died in Pet Food Tests

      Millions of Animals at Risk as Investigators Seek Cause of Latest Outbreak

      Federal investigators say as many as one in six animals died in tests of suspect dog and cat food by the manufacturer after complaints the products were poisoning pets around the country, as consumers wonder if their pet will be next.

      Federal investigators say they're focused on gluten -- a protein source commonly used as filler -- as the most likely source of contamination in the 60 million cans and pouches recalled late last week.

      The recalled wet-style dog and cat food was made by Menu Foods, based in Ontario, Canada. The company said it began receiving complaints of kidney failure and deaths around Feb. 20 and began running tests Feb. 27. During those tests, the company said it fed its products to 40 to 50 dogs and cats. Seven of them died. The company said the toxin appeared more deadly to cats.

      As usual in cases involving contaminated food, many possible victims are already dead and buried, making it difficult for pet owners to be sure what killed their animals.

      "Between January 10 and 20, I lost two rabbit beagles and on Feb. 10, I lost a lab," said Lionel of Buckhannon, W. Va. "They quit eating and drinking and became dehydrated and died within a week."

      "My neighbor ran up a $300 vet bill. The vet had no idea what was happening," Lionel said. He said his dogs had eaten Big Red, one of the recalled brands.

      John of El Dorado, Calif., had a similar experience. "Our dog recently died from acute renal failure, she was in good health and only 10 years old," he told ConsumerAffairs.com.

      The FDA has not yet counted how many reports it has received of dead and sickened animals. The company says it has reports of 10 deaths, nine cats and one dog.

      Recall Details

      The recall covers dog food sold throughout North America under 51 brands and cat food sold under 40 brands, including Iams, Nutro and Eukanuba.

      The recalled food was also sold under many store names, including Wal-Mart, Kroger and Safeway.

      The recall covers dog and cat food manufactured between December 3, 2006 and March 6, 2007. The recall is limited to "cuts and gravy" style pet food in cans and pouches manufactured at two of the company's United States facilities.

      Here is a complete list of the recalled brands of dog and cat food. Pet owners should read it carefully. The company has established a hot-line for customer inquiries: 1-866-895-2708.

      Dog Food

      Cat Food

    • Americas Choice, Preferred Pets
    • Authority
    • Award
    • Best Choice
    • Big Bet
    • Big Red
    • Bloom
    • Wegmans Bruiser
    • Cadillac
    • Companion
    • Demoulas Market Basket
    • Eukanuba
    • Food Lion
    • Giant Companion
    • Great Choice
    • Hannaford
    • Hill Country Fare
    • Hy-Vee
    • Iams
    • Laura Lynn
    • Loving Meals
    • Meijers Main Choice
    • Mighty Dog Pouch
    • Mixables
    • Nutriplan
    • Nutro Max
    • Nutro Natural Choice
    • Nutro Ultra
    • Nutro
    • Ol'Roy Canada
    • Ol'Roy US
    • Paws
    • Pet Essentials
    • Pet Pride - Good n Meaty
    • Presidents Choice
    • Price Chopper
    • Priority Canada
    • Priority US
    • Publix
    • Roche Brothers
    • Save-A-Lot
    • Schnucks
    • Shep Dog
    • Springsfield Prize
    • Sprout
    • Stater Brothers
    • Weis Total Pet
    • Western Family US
    • White Rose
    • Winn Dixie
    • Your Pet
    • Americas Choice, Preferred Pets
    • Authority
    • Best Choice
    • Companion
    • Compliments
    • Demoulas Market Basket
    • Eukanuba
    • Fine Feline Cat
    • Food Lion
    • Foodtown
    • Giant Companion
    • Hannaford
    • Hill Country Fare
    • Hy-Vee
    • Iams
    • Laura Lynn
    • Li'l Red
    • Loving Meals
    • Meijer's Main Choice
    • Nutriplan
    • Nutro Max Gourmet Classics
    • Nutro Natural Choice
    • Paws
    • Pet Pride
    • Presidents Choice
    • Price Chopper
    • Priority US
    • Save-A-Lot
    • Schnucks
    • Science Diet Feline Savory Cuts Cans
    • Sophistacat
    • Special Kitty Canada
    • Special Kitty US
    • Springfield Prize
    • Sprout
    • Stop & Shop Companion
    • Tops Companion
    • Wegmans
    • Weis Total Pet
    • Western Family US
    • White Rose
    • Winn Dixie
    • "We take these complaints very seriously and, while we are still looking for a specific cause, we are acting to err on the side of caution" said Paul K. Henderson, President and CEO, Menu Foods. "We will do whatever is necessary to ensure that our products maintain the very highest quality standards."

      One in Six Animals Died in Pet Food Tests...
      Read lessRead more

      Identity Theft Supports a Vast Underground Economy

      Study Finds Cybercriminals Taking a More Professional Approach

      Your personal information -- name, address, Social Security number, and credit card numbers -- could be on sale right now for as little as $14, in secret chat rooms and on bulletin boards that cater to hackers, cybercriminals, and identity thieves, an "underground economy" built on theft and fraud.

      That's one of the conclusions made by the Symantec security firm in its new "Internet Security Threat Report," released yesterday (pdf file). The Cupertino, California-based company analyzed multiple trends in security and computer crime, including phishing, data breaches, identity theft and fraud, and Trojan viruses.

      "Symantec has observed a fundamental shift in Internet security activity," according to an executive summary of the report's key findings. "The current threat environment is characterized by an increase in data theft and data leakage, and the creation of malicious code that targets specific organizations for information that can be used for financial gain."

      Among the report's findings:

      • The United States had the dubious honor of hosting the largest percentage of "botnets," slaved computers controlled by hackers and used to send out spam and viruses to hit unwitting Internet surfers. The U.S. hosts 40 percent of the "command and control" networks that direct "bot" operations, followed by China at 26 percent.

      • The U.S. also hosts 51 percent of servers known to host "underground economy" transactions, including the sale of credit card numbers for as little as $1 to $6 dollars, and sets of personally identifying information for $14. Symantec didn't have exact figures for the money changing hands in the underground economy, but the company estimated it in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

      • Data breaches such as laptop thefts, hacks of stored data, and lack of security facilitate identity theft, due to the ease with which hackers can access personal and sensitive information in large quantities. 25 percent of data breaches studied in the Symantec report came from government agencies, as they "often store data in many separate locations making it accessible to various people, and thereby increasing the opportunities for attackers to gain unauthorized access."

      • The "theft or loss" of a computer accounted for 54 percent of breaches related to identity theft in the six-month period between July 1 and December 31 that Symantec observed.

      The report warned against the "increasing professionalization" and sophistication of identity thieves, who increasingly work in organized groups and approach their criminal activities with business-level acumen, as well as the proliferation of personal information and the ease with which it can be used.

      "You can become a brand new American. It's frightening that it could be sold pre-packaged and ready to go like that," said Symantec Security vice-president Alfred Huger.

      The black market in sales of personal information is often geared to illegal and undocumented immigrants, who buy stolen identities in order to quickly get work. The Social Security numbers collected from workers with false or unverified identification go into a pool called the "Earnings Suspense File," while those who have had their identities stolen often remain unaware of the crime for years, until they receive bills or offers meant for the person using their information.

      The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) conducted several high-profile raids against companies that employed workers using fake identities, detaining them and in some cases separating them from their families, under the pretense of fighting identity theft. Most in the security industry felt the raids were ineffective and a distraction from the continuing proliferation of black market bazaars catering in stolen identities.

      The actual levels of identity theft are difficult to categorize, as the term encompasses a number of different types of fraud, much of which can go unnoticed and unreported.

      Research firms Javelin and Gartner have released studies claiming that identity theft is both on the decline and increasing. The Gartner study claimed that the selling of personal information led to the creation of "synthetic" identities, which are much harder to detect than typical forms of identity misuse.

      Identity Theft Supports a Vast Underground Economy...
      Read lessRead more

      Pet Food Recalled After Reports Of Kidney Failure

      Humans aren't the only ones who have to worry about a tainted food supply. Canadian pet food manufacturer Menu Foods Income Fund says it is recalling 48 brands of dog food and 40 brands of cat food after reports of pets suffering kidney failure and at least 10 pet deaths.

      Among the affected brands are Iams, Eukanuba and Nutro.

      The company said it was initiating a precautionary recall of portion of the dog and cat food it manufactured between December 3, 2006 and March 6, 2007. The recall is limited to "cuts and gravy" style pet food in cans and pouches manufactured at two of the company's United States facilities. The products are both manufactured and sold under private-label and are contract-manufactured for some national brands.

      "Over the past several days, we have received feedback in the United States, raising concerns about pet food manufactured since early December, and its impact on the renal health of the pets consuming the products," the company said in a statement.

      Menu Foods says it began a battery of technical tests as soon as the first complaints came in, but has not identified any problems.

      They did find, however, that timing of the production associated with these complaints coincides with the introduction of an ingredient from a new supplier. The ingredient was dropped shortly after this discovery, the company said, and production since then has been undertaken using ingredients from another source.

      "We take these complaints very seriously and, while we are still looking for a specific cause, we are acting to err on the side of caution" said Paul K. Henderson, President and CEO, Menu Foods. "We will do whatever is necessary to ensure that our products maintain the very highest quality standards."

      In a scene reminiscent of the recent peanut butter salmonella scare, U.S. retailers frantically pulled the recalled products from store shelves.

      Pet owners are urged to carefully check the food they are using. Dog owners can check here and cat owners can check here.

      Pet Food Recalled After Reports Of Kidney Failure...
      Read lessRead more

      Sales Pitches Turn Off Consumers, Study Finds

      Consumers can hardly complete any kind of transaction without a sales person providing some kind of pitch to seal the deal. A new study finds sales people would be better off keeping their mouths shut.

      "Consumers today look at everything with a skeptical eye," said Peter Darke of Florida State University's College of Business. "Before they even set foot in a store, they already are inclined to mistrust the use of flattery by salespeople, as well as claims made in ads they've seen in the media."

      Darke and his associates have just published a paper that examines the reactions of consumers to flattery from store clerks. It appears in the Journal of Consumer Psychology and explores whether consumers decide a salesperson is untrustworthy through a deliberate or an automatic decision-making process.

      To gather data, the researchers ran three experiments that involved consumers buying sunglasses at a sales kiosk. Of the 102 study participants, 37 were male and 65 female.

      In the first experiment, sales clerks flattered consumers before their purchase. During the second, sales clerks flattered consumers after their purchase. In both instances, they used three statements:

      • "That's a great pair of sunglasses."
      • "I think they look good on you."
      • "They really suit you."

      With the third experiment -- which acted as a control -- sales clerks chatted with consumers but didn't offer any flattery.

      After buying a pair of sunglasses, participants then completed a questionnaire that asked how trustworthy they found the sales clerk.

      "Consistently, the study participants said that even when it was obvious the compliment didn't serve any underlying sales motive, they still didn't trust what the sales clerk had to say," Darke said.

      Such suspicion of others' motives is typical in a society that is absolutely drowning in marketing campaigns and sales pitches, he said.

      "Generally speaking, it has become the consumer's default position to react negatively to what is perceived as an attempt to manipulate him or her," Darke said. "Even when there isn't an obvious motive for a salesperson's flattery, such as generating a sale, we are programmed to assume the worst."

      And speaking of consumer skepticism, Darke has published a second paper that shows how deceptive advertisements can have the effect of making consumers cynical about all advertising, not just the ones making false claims.

      That paper shows how deceptive advertising engenders distrust that negatively affects people's responses to subsequent advertising from both the same source and other sources. The paper, just published in the Journal of Marketing Research, indicates that the negative effects of ad deception are relatively long-lasting in the sense that they are observed for additional advertisements encountered 24 hours after the initial deception.

      "Deceptive ads induce negative beliefs about advertising and marketing in general, thereby undermining the credibility of further advertising," Darke said. "For companies that advertise, the lesson is clear: They must do a better job of guaranteeing the accuracy of their own and others marketers' advertising content if they want consumers to keep paying attention."

      Consumers hardly complete any kind of transaction without a sales person providing some kind of pitch to seal the deal. Sales people would be better off ke...
      Read lessRead more

      Screening Process Could Reduce Sudden Death in Young Athletes

      March 15, 2007
      A 12-point screening process could help reduce sudden cardiac death in high school and college competitive athletes, according to an updated American Heart Association scientific statement.

      The latest recommendations, published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, revisit the original 1996 statement on this subject and make no major changes to the mass screening process first recommended at that time.

      The screening includes 12 questions about personal and family medical history and a physical examination to uncover aspects of a potential athlete's health that could signal a cardiovascular problem:

      Personal history

      1) Chest pain/discomfort upon exertion
      2) Unexplained fainting or near-fainting
      3) Excessive and unexplained fatigue associated with exercise
      4) Heart murmur
      5) High blood pressure

      Family history

      1) One or more relatives who died of heart disease (sudden/unexpected or otherwise) before age 50
      2) Close relative under age 50 with disability from heart disease
      3) Specific knowledge of certain cardiac conditions in family members: hypertrophic or dilated cardiomyopathy in which the heart cavity or wall becomes enlarged, long QT syndrome which affects the heart's electrical rhythm, Marfan syndrome in which the walls of the heart's major arteries are weakened, or clinically important arrhythmias or heart rhythms.

      Physical examination

      1) Heart murmur
      2) Femoral pulses to exclude narrowing of the aorta
      3) Physical appearance of Marfan syndrome
      4) Brachial artery blood pressure (taken in a sitting position)

      Parents should verify this information, said members of the expert panel who wrote the statement. If any of the 12 screening elements has a "yes" answer, the participant would be referred for further cardiovascular examination.

      The incidence of deaths is in the range of one in 200,000 high school-age athletes per year, based on a 12-year Minnesota study of 1.4 million student-athlete participations in 27 sports.

      "Although the frequency of these deaths in young athletes appears to be relatively low, it is more common than previously thought and does represent a substantive public health problem," said Barry J. Maron, M.D., chair of the writing group.

      In the United States, these deaths occur most commonly in basketball and football -- high intensity sports with high levels of participation. There is some debate whether mass prescreening of competitive athletes should also include an electrocardiogram (ECG) before they are allowed to participate in team sports.

      An ECG is a special test that reads the heart's electrical activity. Maron says current U.S. recommendations don't include ECGs, most notably due to a lack of policy mandate and infrastructure to support this.

      "Recommendations of the European Society of Cardiology and International Olympic Committee include routine ECGs for all potential athletes," said Maron, who is director of the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation. "However, while advocating this kind of plan in the United States may seem simple, it's a much more complicated matter."

      The statement cites several limitations for recommending such widespread, routine ECGs -- including the high number of competitive athletes in this country, significantly higher than in other countries, such as Italy, where the tests are routinely conducted.

      "Each year, there are probably more than five million competitive athletes at the high school level (grades 912), in addition to more than 500,000 collegiate (including NCAA, NAIA, junior colleges) and 5,000 professional athletes," the panel wrote. "This figure does not include youth, middle school, and masters level (age 30 +) competitors for whom reliable numbers are not available Therefore, the relevant athlete population available for mass screening may be as large as 10 million people per year."

      Maron said the total estimated cost of mass screening for that many athletes, along with the follow-up required for abnormal findings, is more than $2 billion a year.

      Coupled with other limitations such as a lack of physicians and other medical resources for performing and reading ECGs and no laws to mandate the standards for pre-participation screening, he says the cost effectiveness and feasibility of such a program in the United States cannot justify such a recommendation at this time.

      The panel does recommend the development of a national standard for cardiovascular screening of high school and college athletes and notes there has been significant improvement overall in the support and adherence to life-saving screening processes for youth participating in sports. In 1997, a study found 45 percent of states had inadequate screening processes in place, while a 2005 review found 81 percent of states now support adequate screening processes.

      Screening Process Could Reduce Sudden Death in Young Athletes...
      Read lessRead more