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One Ford the Recall Missed

Despite Massive Recall, Ford Trucks Continue to Burn

One Ford the Recall Missed...

In 2005 and 2006, Ford Motor Co. recalled more than 10 million of its trucks because of a possible fire hazard. Unfortunately for one Parrish, Florida resident, his 1994 Ford Explorer was not on the list.

Shelton's Fried Ford

On Friday, April 6, 2007, at around 850 in the evening, my 18-year-old daughter had gotten into our 1994 Ford Explorer, cranked it up, turned on the heater, backed up in the driveway, and called my wife complaining about smoke coming out of the air conditioning vents, Shelton wrote ConsumerAffairs.com.

"She said something was glowing from under the right front of the car. She got out of the car while it was starting to catch fire, he wrote.

After the local fire department extinguished the blaze, the 1994 Ford Explorer was a complete loss, with damage to the driveway as well.

Ford told Shelton in a letter that there was nothing the company could or would do beyond the warranty period, according to a copy of the letter provided by Shelton:

Dear Shelton,

Our records indicate that you contacted the Ford Customer Relationship Center and our Customer Care Representative advised you that there is no assistance beyond warranty and there is no recall pertaining to the fire.

At this time we are unable to provide you with an alternate response. If any additional information regarding this matter should become available in the future, please let us know.

Ford recalled 1994-2002 model year F-150 pickups, Expeditions, Navigators and Broncos in September 2006 because of engine fires linked to the cruise control switch system. That recall was the fifth largest in history.

The brake fluid in the recalled vehicles may leak through the speed control deactivation switch into the speed control system electrical components, potentially corroding them and leading to fires, the company said.

There've been a series of recalls to fix similar problems in other Ford truck models.

Shelton said he is not a greedy man. He was only asking Ford for the value of his 1994 Ford Explorer and damages to the driveway.

"My daughter narrowly escaped the fire," he wrote. But he considers himself lucky. "If she had been driving down the road minutes later, she would have died as a result of the fire."

After more than 150 reports to ConsumerAffairs.com of Ford trucks catching on fire for no apparent reason, many readers and owners of the Ford trucks have adopted a new self-defense tactic: they no longer park the vehicles near their house or in their garage.

 

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FCC Report Recommends More Cable Choices

Consumers would get to pick and choose the channels they want

FCC Report Recommends More Cable Choices...

Consumer, public interest, and labor groups are praising a recommendation by a Federal Communications Commission report on television violence that Congress consider legislation giving consumers the ability to select and pay for only those cable channels they want.

Channel choice gives consumers greater choice over the channels they buy, preventing them from subsidizing channels they object to, provides them with more control over the cost of their cable bills, and promotes enhanced diversity in cable programming, the groups said.

"Letting consumers, not Congress, the FCC or cable companies, decide which programming is right for their families is an appropriate, market-based response to growing concerns about violence and other objectionable programming on cable television," said Gene Kimmelman, vice president for federal and international affairs at Consumers Union.

"Consumers should neither have to take extraordinary steps to block programming they don't watch and don't want to receive, nor pay for channels they find offensive or otherwise inappropriate."

The cable television industry, not surprisingly, says that eliminating bundling would be a blow to diversity.

"Cable's method of delivering programming packages, with channels bundled into basic and digital tiers, has proven to provide both choice and quality to consumers," said the National Cable Television Association. "This model has enabled all programming networks, including niche networks that serve underserved audiences, to find and build an audience."

"Several independent and industry studies have concluded that a la carte would offer no benefit to the vast majority of consumers and would, in fact, result in higher prices, less choice and less programming diversity," NCTA said.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report in 2003 suggesting much the same. It found that:

• Fewer networks would be available to consumers because any movement of networks from the most widely distributed tiers to an a la carte format could result in a reduced amount that advertisers are willing to pay for advertising time.

• [S]ome cable networks, especially small and independent networks, would not be able to gain enough subscribers to support the network.

A 2004 study by Booz Allen Hamtilton came to similar conclusions. It found that:

• As many as half to three-quarters of emerging networks could fail under each of the scenarios [both a la carte and themed tiers], including a growing number of targeted niche and ethnic program networks, and new network launches would become extremely unlikely.

• [E]ven the most established networks would likely have to reduce expenditures on programming, leading to lower viewing and lost advertising. This would likely lead to further industry consolidation into fewer network groups.

FCC Findings

The FCC report found that research indicates exposure to violence in the media can increase aggressive behavior in children and that current parental control tools offered by cable companies are ineffective in protecting children from violence.

The report suggested that the cable industry adopt voluntary standards to reduce violent programming, and that Congress could adopt restrictions limiting the times violent programming could air on cable, or requirements that cable companies give consumers the ability to opt in or out of the channels offered.

Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, Communications Workers of America, and Free Press urged Congress, in a letter, to take steps to give consumers the ability to pick and pay for only the channels they actually want to purchase.

Cable companies currently offer channels in only large, costly bundles, known as the extended basic package.

Consumers are not allowed to select programming on a channel by channel basis despite 2006 AP survey findings that more than three-quarters of consumers want the ability to tailor their own packages and recent Nielsen Media Research findings that consumers watch, on average, fewer than 16 channels of the more than 100 offered.

The groups said the size of the bundle has contributed to skyrocketing cable prices, which have increased by 70 percent, nearly two and half times the rate of inflation, since Congress deregulated cable prices in 1996.

"Giving consumers the ability to pick and pay for only those channels they actually want to watch provides them with greater control, not just over content, but also over the cost of their cable service," Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America.

Channel choice is preferable to other regulatory approaches suggested by the Commission, such as time-channeling, which face greater constitutional hurdles, require more government intervention and do less to empower consumers, the groups told Congress.

"Consumers should be able to choose what content is most appropriate for their families, and be offered more diverse channels than today's cable systems offer," said Ben Scott, policy director for Free Press.

"Consumer choice in cable TV opens a path to break the gatekeeping power of the cable companies over content and brings new opportunities for a mediascape that speaks to all parts of our diverse society."

The letter said that by allowing consumers to vote with their wallets rather than forcing them to buy channels they never watch, the marketplace will respond by providing programming that is more diverse and of greater quality than the homogenized and repackaged programming forced on consumers today.

 

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KFC Removes Trans Fat From Chicken Fryers

Potato wedges will also be free of the artery-clogger

KFC Removes Trans Fat From Chicken Fryers...

Fried chicken restaurant chain KFC has announced it will immediately stop using trans fats to fry its chicken. The chain says potato wedges will also be fat free, while several other menu items will continue to use the artery clogging oil.

Company officials said biscuits, pot pies, macaroni and cheese, and some desserts will continue to be made with trans fats, at least for now. The company said it's still working to remove all trans fat from its entire menu.

Taco Bell, like KFC owed by Yum Brands, also announced that all its U.S. restaurants have switched to an oil with zero grams of trans fat. All 4 200 single-brand Taco Bells were converted to a canola oil, and all 1,400 multibrand locations switched to a soybean oil.

Both the Food and Drug Administration and American Heart Association recommend limiting trans fat intake.

New York City has set a deadline for all 26,000 restaurants operating in the city to stop using trans fats. Other cities are considering similar bans.

 



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Massachusetts Warns Against Rising Mortgage Fraud

Tighter controls on lenders needed, critics charge

Massachusetts Warns Against Rising Mortgage Fraud...

While Congress debates a remedy for the subprime loan crisis, state officials are calling for tighter controls on lenders.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley says more effective oversight and regulation is necessary to mitigate the mortgage fraud epidemic in Massachusetts and to prevent future crises.

Coakley's Office has expressed alarm as the crisis in the subprime lending industry escalates, and as the number of foreclosures continues to rise in Massachusetts and nationwide. Coakley says several law enforcement actions against predatory lending participants are pending in her office; the office will continue to review the situation for other appropriate enforcement actions.

"As I testified last month, our ability to pursue criminal prosecutions of mortgage fraud is hampered by the existing statute," Coakley said. "We are exploring stronger regulations in several areas, including addressing fraudulent activity that we have found in the course of our enforcement actions."

In her testimony on March 27, 2007, Coakley recommended an approach to ending predatory lending practices and helping consumers facing possible foreclosure:

• Bring civil cases to recover money and curtail illegal lending practices

• Addition of the larceny by false pretense statute which would cover any mortgage lender and increase penalties.

• Fund Counseling and Loan Programs

• Licensing of and Standards for All Loan Originators

"We look forward to continuing our work with the Governor and the legislature to ensure that all Massachusetts residents are protected from disreputable mortgage brokers and lenders," said Coakley.

 

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How Safe Is That Free Wi-Fi Connection?

"Hotspots" Are Handy but They're Not Always Safe

Sending unencrypted information over any unfamiliar network can turn your computer into an open book -- with pages full of your personal information....

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The Addictiveness of Virtual Violence

Does the Violence Spill Over Into Real Life?

The Addictiveness of Virtual Violence...


I was in Thailand recently and, after a few beers and a night on the town I started feeling sentimental and decided to email an ex-girlfriend.

The only internet caf that I could find open, however, hardly provided the kind of atmosphere for letters from the heart it was full of smoke, flashing lights and the sounds of swords clashing, warriors yelling and intermittent explosions.

When my eyes adjusted to the dim atmosphere I saw a crowd of Thais in their teens and 20s playing a variety of computer games that involved the maximum of noise and action the gamers, however, were all silent, staring at the screens with a single-minded intensity, their faces devoid of emotion.

I tried to write the email anyway but the words refused to flow as I kept watching the 5-year-old girl next to me play Grand Theft Auto, a game where the hero drives around on a motorbike with a prostitute on the back, attempting to track down his missing cocaine

I gave up and looked around at all the elves, dwarves and dragons playing out their dramas on the monitor screens and wondered if any of these youths had school or work the next day. It was 2 a.m.

In somewhere like Thailand, this kind of thing is more visible as few families can afford high-speed internet connections at home. But similar scenes are being played out across America in the privacy of gamers bedrooms.

While computers have been hailed as great learning tools and business aids, from the start they have been used more for playing games than anything else.

Does this scenario -- children playing violent video games far into the night -- sound a little frightening to you? It does to Eric Storch, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of Florida.

Connection to Violence?

Storch warned parents doing their holiday shopping last year that too much gaming puts children at risk for behavioral and health problems.

Children and teens who play excessively often do so at the expense of homework, and playing solo can isolate children from their peers, potentially causing problems for them later in life, Storch said.

"Social interactions teach you how to deal with other people as well as what's appropriate and what's not," he said. "You learn how to handle situations. Social interaction is also one way of coping with stress and receiving emotional support."

It's been suggested, though not confirmed, that the Virginia Tech shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, may have played the popular first-person-shooter game Counter-Strike in high school.

There've also been reports that shooter Lee Boyd Malvo played the game Halo before he began shooting people at random around the Washington, D.C., area. Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold reportedly loved Doom.

Certainly these individuals were loners with poor social skills and an addiction to fantasy. Would they have been more likely to work out their problems if the computer had never been invented? As all but Malvo are dead and he is locked away in a Virginia super-max prison, we will never know.

Geeks Get Real

Initially, gamers had to contend with the geeky image that came with training up onscreen warriors to hunt down orcs in the forest. Did they have no real life to attend to? But then came the filming of Lord of the Rings and suddenly the secret lives of orcs, elves, dwarves and hobbits entered mainstream culture and RPGs (Role Playing Games) seemed a fairly innocuous hobby.

I played a good deal of computer games myself as I was growing up. I was an only child and killing a bunch of skeletons in a dungeon on my computer helped me pass many a lonely hour. Best of all, though, was when friends came round to play 2-player games and we could laugh and joke about what was happening on the screen.

Yet whether alone or with friends, the games only held interest for so long. wed complete the mission, kill all the bad guys and then go outside to play soccer. The games were finite, there was only so far they could take you.

The internet changed all that.

For while RPGs have been popular for years with names like Ultima and Everquest topping the computer gaming charts, the advent of high-speed internet connections suddenly added a whole new dimension.

Instead of playing against the limited responses of a program, players can now interact with other gamers on the same playing field, no matter if they were next door or half way across the world. Gamers can talk as they play via messenger or Skype and they no longer feel so alone.

WOW

The most popular of these is WOW (World of Warcraft) and today it boasts 8 million users, some 2.5 million from the US.

Gamers buy or download the initial installation of WOW and then pay the producers -- Blizzard -- a monthly subscription fee to access the online servers. With 8 million users paying $20 or so a month for their fix, Blizzard can afford to pay the best programmers, story writers and graphic designers in the world to create ever-expanding environments and plotlines, maintaining the interest of the WOW gaming population.

For the uninitiated, playing WOW works something like this: you develop a character (or several characters) and choose, for example, whether he or she will be a human or an elf, a priest or a warrior.

Your character starts off as a pretty lowly entity in the WOW world and you start to develop his skills and experience as fast as possible by training with other characters, looking for gold and special items and going raiding with other gamers for booty.

As time goes by your character begins to progress and becomes more powerful, his level increases and so does your prestige in the eyes of other gamers. Its not all fun and games, though, much of it requires dedication and rather tedious industry such as repeating a single action like leather working or fishing a few hundred times until your character progresses.

In fact, the more time the gamer puts into a character, the more it seems worthwhile. Its a huge investment of time and energy, sometimes even of money gamers often put up for sale on E-Bay special swords and mallets that get hundreds of dollars in fierce auctions.

In short, its something like the sunken investment trap of putting coins into a slot machine, convinced that the longer you play the better the odds are in your favor. The very need to get a return on their investment of time pushes the user closer to gaming addiction.

Social scientists are beginning to take note.

A recent study by the University of Rochester found that games can provide "opportunities for achievement, freedom, and even a connection to other players." The study downplayed any negative impacts but did find evidence the games were habit-forming because they filled basic psychological needs. Of course, the same could be said for heroin.

Although internet addiction has yet to make it into the psychiatric textbooks, most people will be able to recognize the tendency within themselves. While writing this article I had to fight the urge to check my email on at least a dozen occasions. And just knowing there are pictures of naked girls on beaches a few clicks away makes it that much harder to maintain my train of thought.

More Insidious

But for the millions who play WOW for hours and hours each day, gaming becomes far more insidious.

Flying dragons across the Lands of Karazhan and battling rival guilds, its not surprising that the importance of RL, or real life, begins to fade away. All that matters is the game and your identity within it.

Online, you can be anyone. You can leave your real world persona and problems behind you and invest all your self in your onscreen avatar. The wimp can become a warrior, the lonely can make a hundred friends and the lost and alienated can discover a whole new meaning to life, all within the virtual world created by Blizzard.

Blizzard hasnt been slow to understand this and soon realized that the best way to convince gamers to renew their monthly subscriptions was to encourage a sense of pride and belonging to the world in which they played.

The greatest of these strategies was allowing the formation of guilds, organized gangs of online gamers who never need to actually meet but have a highly structured society within the world of WOW.

Joining a prestigious guild is almost like passing a tough job interview. The top guilds demand utter dedication from their members and may insist that you stay online for 12-hour stretches to train up for an important raid on a rival faction. The chiefs of guilds threaten to throw out characters who dont meet the grade and the fear of being outcast keeps gamers in the virtual rat race, busily working on their healing skills to gain acceptance.

Guildies imagine that they have made friends online, that theyre part of something bigger, something glorious.

But they soon find that if they miss a few days of playing and dont meet the guilds expectations, their friends soon fade away, shunning the type of loser whos content to only reach level 40. And would you just look at the state of his armour

It Didn't Wow South Park

You can just hang outside in the sun all day, tossing a ball around or you can go sit in front of your computer and do something that matters!

Such was the encouragement of Cartman in the South Park episode that was based on WOW, curiously enough made with the cooperation of Blizzard.

Featuring graphics from the game, the gist is that the South Park characters all become fat from eating junk food and sitting in front of their computers all day, to the extent that they dare not even go to the bathroom for fear of missing a few minutes of play.

I was once a geek in front of a computer, playing simulation games for company as I was pretty unpopular at school.

I remember receiving medals as a submarine commander for a particularly daring raid on a convoy in the Pacific and then wanting to tell the few friends I had about it. Then it dawned on me that it meant nothing at all to anyone else. I had spent my entire weekend playing a computer game and had nothing to show for it. That was when I quit and havent looked back.

If theres any doubt that gaming is addictive, you have only to read some of the testimonies at www.wowdetox.com where gamers can post their experiences in getting off WOWcrack. One user sums up his reasons for quitting:

Through all the friends I've lost touch with and all the sunlight I missed, It finally hit me that it is time to stop and move on. It is just not worth it.

A girl reports that she understood her addiction: Because I ran home from a fun guy on a blind date to raid Karazhan.

A guy counts up the hours hes spent playing WOW and calculates that if he had instead spent them at work earning the minimum wage, he would have had an extra 18,000 dollars in the bank.

And to illustrate its not just teenagers playing WOW, check out the complaint of a wife whos considering divorcing her husband because he never spends any time with his family any more. She reports:

"But honey," he says, "we DID spend time together today...remember when I helped you get the Mallet of ZF?" Yeah, I remember the 30 min you deigned to give me so I would shut up and leave you alone. I also remember the going on 13 hours you've been on the game today, that fact that you haven't eaten today, and the way your child cried when you told him you couldn't put him in bed tonight because you were busy.

Lingering Effects

Beyond marital strife and time away from work and study, are violent video games really harmful?

A study last year found that adolescents who play violent video games may exhibit lingering effects on brain function, including increased activity in the region of the brain that governs emotional arousal and decreased activity in the brain's executive function, which is associated with control, focus and concentration.

"Our study suggests that playing a certain type of violent video game may have different short-term effects on brain function than playing a nonviolent -- but exciting -- game," said Vincent P. Mathews, M.D., professor of radiology at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

One study conducted by Louisiana State University found that young people who habitually play video video games may be more likely to get into physical fights, argue with teachers, or display anger and hostility.

A study quoted by Slate found that kids who played more violent video games "changed over the school year to become more verbally aggressive, more physically aggressive," and less helpful to others.

A Worldwide Problem

WOW and other online role-playing games are a worldwide problem. The Chinese government has introduced measures to limit the playing times of the young. People have died in South Korea from deep vein thrombosis, a condition caused by poor circulation due to sitting still for too long.

And in the US there now exist organizations like Online Gamers Anonymous who run 12 step programs, just like Alcoholics Anonymous, to wean the addicted off their virtual fix.

Blizzard isn't evil and World of Warcraft is a great game. In moderation. But moderation is a rare quality in human nature and its an anathema to the business world who want consumers to buy more, more, more.

Neither is escapism anything new. Its just getting a lot more accessible and attractive now that you can hide in your bedroom and pretend you have a whole new social network in the World of Warcraft.

But theres nothing as interesting as real life. The thrills of jumping on a plane to go somewhere new, learning to play an instrument or just walking over to someone you find attractive and saying hi, outweigh anything that pixelated dwarves and dragons have to offer.

Barring natural disasters and economic meltdown, technology is here to stay. The cell phone, computers and the internet are a daily fact of most peoples lives in America. Its up to us to learn to place limits on how much we let them take over our lives.

Otherwise well all end up as 40-year-old virgins in the bedrooms of our parents houses, developing arthritis on our mouse-clicking fingers as we strive for glory on the fields of Karazhan.

---

Tom Glaister is the founder and editor of www.roadjunky.com - The Online Travel Guide for the Free and Funky Traveller.

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Home Prices Fall Again, Sabotaging Recovery Hopes

First year-to-year decline since 1991

Home Prices Fall Again, Sabotaging Recovery Hopes...

Home prices across the United States posted their first year-to-year decline since 1991, with a 1.4 percent decrease between the first quarter of 2006 and the first quarter of 2007. The news was further evidence that the prolonged slump of the real estate market would not be ending any time soon.

Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller index for home prices found that sales of existing homes in 13 metropolitan markets either showed price cuts or slow appreciation. Formerly hot housing markets such as Boston, Washington, D.C., and San Diego showed sharp price declines.

Other areas, such as Portland, Ore., and Seattle, showed price gains, but at more modest rates than previous estimates from 2006.

Analysts attributed the price drops to several factors, including excess inventory of unsold homes, and the rising tide of foreclosures and defaults among homeowners trapped in costly "creative" mortgages.

Lower home prices, coupled with high gas prices and higher costs of goods, may scare consumers away from cashing out their home equity for financing other loans or spending projects.

Home prices and sales have been on a rollercoaster in recent weeks throughout the country, with sales of new homes posting a strong 16.2 percent gain in April 2007. But the gain was attributed primarily to struggling home builders slashing prices in order to reduce their stores of unsold homes, even as sales of existing homes continued to sag.

Nouriel Roubini, chairman of Roubini Global Economics, said that the home sales spike in April was not any sign of good news for two reasons.

"[F]irst, the excess supply of new homes is still so large that only much lower home prices will dent this overhang," he wrote. "[S]econd, lower home prices means lower home equity and lower home wealth for homeowners."

The frenzy of homebuilding during the boom years of the housing market has left so much unsold inventory that David Seiders, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), recently said it might take until 2011 to match peak levels.

"We're still being hit pretty hard by the subprime-related mortgage market problem," Seiders said.

At the height of the recent housing boom, a combination of lax lending standards and low interest rates led many financiers to offer home loans to their subprime customers, traditionally deemed too risky for "prime" lending terms. Many eager homebuyers signed on the dotted line without realizing that their low rates would double or triple in a few years' time.

As home values continue to drop and mortgage payments continue to rise, many lenders are quietly working with overextended borrowers to modify their loans and prevent even more defaults, while many of the formerly successful subprime lenders such as New Century are being sold on the auction block or drastically cutting back on their business.

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Pet Food Fall-Out Continues, with Recalls, Raids, Lawsuits

Government Compensates Hog Farmers, but Not Pet Owners

Pet Food Fall-Out Continues, with Recalls, Raids, Lawsuits...


The fall-out from the massive pet food recall continues as the scope of the contamination widens into the human food supply, more companies recall their products, and a major pet food manufacturer company sues its suppliers.

In the latest wave of pet food recall activity:

• Meat from 345 hogs that ate feed made with melamine-tainted rice protein has apparently entered the market, the Associated Press reported. The United States Department of Agriculture also reported that pigs from slaughterhouses in Kansas and Utah may have entered the food supply. In addition, federal authorities quarantined some 6,000 pigs -- on farms in eight states -- that were given feed made with tainted ingredients;

• Diamond Pet Foods recalled three canned products made by American Nutrition Inc.: Diamond Lamb & Rice Formula for Dogs, Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul Kitten Formula, and Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul Puppy Formula. The company says these products contain melamine-tainted rice gluten imported from China;

• Chenango Valley Pet Foods recalled four of its dry dog foods: Drs. Foster & Smith Chicken & Brown Rice Formula Adult Lite Dog Food; Drs. Foster & Smith Chicken & Brown Rice Adult Lite Cat Food; Lick Your Chops Lamb Meal, Rice & Egg Cat Food; and Bulk Chicken & Brown Rice Formula Adult Lite Dog Food sold to one consignee (SmartPak). The company took this action after learning the products contain potentially contaminated rice protein;

• The Blue Buffalo Company removed all its canned and biscuit products from retail distribution after learning that American Nutrition Inc. (ANI) -- the manufacturer of its cans and biscuits -- added rice protein concentrate to the products without its knowledge. This is product tampering, and it apparently has been going on for some time, the company said. The can formulas that we developed, and trusted them to produce, never contained any rice protein concentrate. ANI received the rice protein from an importer whose ingredients have tested positive for melamine. Blue Buffalo says none of its BLUE or Spa Select canned precuts have tested positive for melamine;

• Menu Foods, the company that announced the nationwide pet food recall in March, sued its supplier, ChemNutra, for allegedly sending contaminated wheat gluten to its plant in Emporia, Kansas, according to the Emporia Gazette. The lawsuit, filed in Lyon County District Court, seeks a judgment substantially in excess $75,000 and asks that ChemNutra protect Menu Foods from all costs associated with the recall and any related lawsuits. Menu Foods prides itself on providing customers with wet pet food products made with high quality ingredients, the companys attorneys stated in the court petition. In 2006, ChemNutra promised Menu Foods that it could supply one such high quality ingredient, wheat gluten, to Menu Foods. ChemNutra breached its promise.

• The Food and Drug Administration raided the Las Vegas office of ChemNutra. The FDA is investigating whether the company violated the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act, according to wire reports out of Las Vegas. The FDA has told ChemNutra that the company be held accountable because it imported the melamine-tainted wheat gluten that triggered one of the current pet food recallseven though it had no prior knowledge that its Chinese supplier put the chemical in the product;

• FDA agents also searched Menu Food's production facility in Emporia, Kansas, news outlets reported. Menu Foods said the U.S. Attorney's offices in Kansas and the western district of Missouri have targeted the company as part of misdemeanor investigations into whether it violated the federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act, the AP reported. The sale of adulterated or contaminated food is a misdemeanor. A Justice Department spokeswoman had no immediate comment. "Menu Foods has been doing everything it can to cooperate with the FDA," company chief executive officer Paul Henderson said in a statement. "Even before commencement of this investigation we have given the FDA full access to our plant and our records, have answered questions and provided documents to them any time they have asked." The FDA would not comment on the search warrants.

• China banned the use of melamine from its food products, the AP reported. Thats the chemical blamed for causing illnesses and deaths in scores of across the country. China, however, denied charges that the chemical caused the pets deaths. "At present, there is no clear evidence showing that melamine is the direct cause of the poisoning or death of the pets," China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "China is willing to strengthen cooperation with the U.S. side ... to find out the real cause leading to the pet deaths in order to protect the health of the pets of the two countries."

Quarantined Hogs

The hogs that ate the contaminated pet food scraps are now under federal quarantine on farms in California, New York, South Carolina, North Carolina, Utah, Kansas, Oklahoma and Ohio, government officials said.

The pigs are believed to have eaten salvage pet food contaminated with two chemicals: melamine and cyanuric acid.

FDA officials say cyanuric acid -- detected in the rice protein and wheat gluten used in some pet foods -- is used to boost the protein content of foods. It also a stabilizer in outdoor swimming pools and hot tubs.

"The combination of melamine and cyanuric acid is of concern to human and animal health," said Captain David Elder, director of the FDA's Office of Enforcement Office of Regulatory Affairs. "Melamine, at detected levels, is not a human health concern.

The tainted pet food scraps were sent to pig farmers as salvage by companies that have recalled pet foods.

Elder said pigs that ate this contaminated feed will not be allowed to enter the human food supply.

He emphasized, however, that "based on information currently available, the FDA and the USDA believe the likelihood of illness after eating such pork is extremely low. However, the agencies also believe it is prudent to take this measure."

The pork from these animals will also be destroyed, officials said. And the USDA will compensate hog farmers affected by the tainted pet food. Owners of pets killed by the tainted pet food, on the other hand, get nothing.

The FDA is also investigating the possibility that contaminated pet food scraps found their way to a poultry feed mill in Missouri, according to AP.

In related news, the FDA said China has granted visas to U.S. food inspectors who want to examine the facilities that manufactured the tainted rice protein and wheat gluten.

Menu Foods Lawsuit

That tainted wheat gluten is at the heart of the lawsuit Menu Foods filed against its supplier, ChemNutra.

The tainted ingredient is blamed for the deaths and illnesses of scores of dogs and cats across the country and triggered Menu Foods recall of more than 60 million containers of pet food.

Earlier this week, Menu Foods President Paul Henderson told a Congressional hearing the wheat gluten may have been spiked with melamine to increase its protein content.

What this appears to be is a case of deliberate contamination of wheat gluten in order to pass off substandard product, Henderson told a U.S. House committee. For a seller who knows how industry testing methods work, this would allow them to cheat the buyers.

ChemNutra Chief Executive Officer Steve Miller said his company has been the victim of deliberate and mercenary contamination by its supplier.

We assure you that we will never again do business with the supplier of the suspect wheat gluten, XuZhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., Ltd., Miller said in a letter posted on his companys Web site. ...We hope that U.S. and Chinese investigations of XuZhou Anying reveal what actually occurred.

Regarding this weeks raid of ChemNutras office, Miller said: We have cooperated and complied fully with FDA investigators both prior to and since being served with todays search warrant, and will continue to do so. We keep very good records, which has made it relatively easy for the investigators to retrieve what they needed.

We also now believe that our wheat gluten customer, Menu Foods, used significantly more wheat gluten monthly than we supplied to them, so we hope that Menu Foods will disclose its other sources to the FDA to ensure that any suspect product is quarantined, Mille added.

Miller said his company quarantined the suspect wheat gluten immediately after learning it might be linked to illnesses in pets.

We can only hope that Menu Foods has taken steps to ensure that this situation will not be allowed to spread even farther because of its inaction, he said, adding Menu Foods had apparently been aware (of this problem) for some time.

More about the Pet Food Recall ...



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419 Scammer Claims To Be U.S. Soldier

419 Scammer Claims To Be U.S. Soldier...


The latest incarnation of the so-called 419 email scam features an American soldier in Iraq, rather than a deposed African prince, in need of help in moving a large sum of money to the U.S.

Good day, the scammer begins, perhaps not realizing thats not exactly how U.S. soldiers routinely greet people. My name in Donald Smith Fitte, an American soldier serving in the military of the 3rd infantry division in Iraq.

The email claims the sergeant and his confederates have been hiding $25 million in Saddams loot since 2003, but with the new U.S. troop surge, he expresses concern the stash might be uncovered. Therefore, he needs help getting the money out of the country.

That, of course, is where you come in.

The email promises a generous percentage of the cash if the email recipient will agree to accept it. From here, the scam works like any other advance fee scheme.

Victims will be asked to provide bank account information for a direct deposit. Or they may be asked to send money, $500 to $2,500 at a time, to facilitate the alleged transfer.

Even though these "419" email scams have been around almost as long as the Internet, people still fall for them. It has been estimated that there are well over 250,000 scammers involved in 419 scams worldwide and that they reap in over $1.5 billion annually.

The average victim pays out about $20,000.

More Scam Alerts ...

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Predatory Lending Bill Back in Congress

Bill calls for federal certification of mortgage brokers

Predatory Lending Bill Back in Congress...

Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) has reintroduced the Predatory Lending Practice Reduction Act of 2007.

The legislation calls for federal certification of mortgage brokers and agents and stiffer penalties for violation of federal law. Additionally, it will authorize funding for Community Development Corporations to provide training and education.

"Predatory Lending is a leading cause of foreclosures across this country," said Tubbs Jones. "It compromises the opportunity to own a home and hinders economic stability, creating greater disparities in wealth."

The nonprofit Center for Responsible Lending projects that as this year ends, 2.2 million households in the subprime market will either have lost their homes to foreclosure or hold subprime mortgages that will fail over the next several years. These foreclosures are calculated to cost homeowners as much as $164 billion, primarily in lost home equity.

It is also projected that one out of five (19 percent) subprime mortgages originated during the past two years will end in foreclosure.

This rate is nearly double the projected rate of subprime loans made in 2002, and it exceeds the worst foreclosure experience in the modern mortgage market, which occurred during the "Oil Patch" crisis in the 1980s.

Additionally only about 1.4 million of 15.1 million loans analyzed from 1998 through 2006 were for first-time homebuyers. Most were for refinancing.

To date, more than 500,000 of those subprime borrowers have lost their homes to foreclosures. An additional 1.8 million are likely to follow as the market deteriorates. That's nearly 2.4 million lost homes.

"In my home state of Ohio the foreclosure epidemic went from bad to worse last year as the number of new cases grew by nearly 24% from 2005," said Tubbs Jones.

"Cuyahoga County led the state in new cases with 13,610 new filings last year. This ranking has attracted national attention with Ohio's foreclosure rate currently at 18% which is higher than the national average of 17%."

The legislation has three main goals:

1) Establish a federal program to require mortgage brokers and other agents involved in subprime loan transactions to become certified and pass a written examination that covers, among other things, federal law relative to Truth in Lending, Fair Housing, Equal Credit Opportunity Act and other federal legislation.

2) Set up minimum standards for providing information to consumers as well as best practices for dispute/complaint resolution; and

3) Create civil penalties for violations of federal law pertaining to predatory lending.

The legislation would authorizes $2 million for a certification program to require mortgage brokers and other related service agents involved in the subprime loan market to be trained and tested on the rules and regulations pertaining to mortgage lending including, not limited to The Truth in Lending Act and the Fair Housing Act.

The bill also:

•  Authorizes $2 million for community development corporations to provide training and educational information designed to enhance awareness of predatory practices.

•  Creates minimum disclosure standards protecting consumers' rights related to home foreclosures.

•  Calls on Creditors to create best practices plans and good faith resolution standards to slow the escalating number of complaints.

•  Establishes an escalating civil penalty payment scale for violators of federal regulation.

•  Establishes appraisal fraud and coercion as deceptive practices.

 

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Bigger Settlement for Paxil Parents

Public Citizen today secured an improved settlement for the parents of thousands of children who were prescribed the popular antidepressant Paxil....

Public Citizen today secured an improved settlement for the parents of thousands of children who were prescribed the popular antidepressant Paxil.

Under the new settlement, negotiated in cooperation with class counsel Korein Tillery LLC, defense counsel and other objectors, members of the class who cannot provide documentation for their purchases will receive far greater compensation than under the original proposed settlement.

The complaint sought economic damages against GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Paxil, alleging that the company misled parents by not disclosing that the drug was dangerous and ineffective when taken by children younger than 18.

Under the agreement, Glaxo is required to put $63.8 million into a settlement fund to pay class members' out-of-pocket expenses and attorney fees.

On Feb. 23, Public Citizen filed an objection to the proposed settlement on behalf of a class member whose daughter was prescribed Paxil in 2002 and 2003, and the Prescription Access Litigation Project, a national coalition of more than 125 organizations, including consumer, senior citizen, heath care, labor, legal services and women's health advocacy organizations.

In its objection, Public Citizen argued that class members would not receive the full value of the settlement fund because it required that they submit proof of out-of-pocket expenses for their purchases to recover any money, even if their purchases were made more than a decade ago.

Class members who were unable to prove out-of-pocket expenses would receive at most $15 -- and only a pro rata share of $300,000 if more than 20,000 undocumented claims were made, no matter how much money remained in the settlement fund.

Public Citizen maintained that the settlement was unfair because of the small amount of money set aside for those unable to obtain sufficient documentation, especially when compared to the size of the settlement fund, which is more than 200 times greater.

Public Citizen also expressed concern that the cap on recovery for undocumented claims could allow the bulk of the settlement fund to revert to Glaxo instead of being used to benefit the class.

At a hearing today, Judge Ralph J. Mendelsohn of the Third Judicial Circuit of Madison County, Illinois, granted approval of the revised settlement, subject only to receiving a proposed final order next week. The new settlement will provide up to $100 for class members who are unable to produce documentation and eliminates the $300,000 cap.

Mail and e-mail notices will be sent to membership organizations at the end of May, June and July, encouraging the groups to contact class members. Members can also receive information about the new settlement at www.paxilpediatricsettlement.com. The deadline to submit a claim is Aug. 31, 2007.

"The revision significantly improves the value of the settlement, particularly to those class members who are unable to document their claim," said Jennifer Soble, an attorney with Public Citizen. "We want to encourage class members to file their claims before the claims period expires at the end of August."

 



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Melamine Found in North Carolina Hogs

Drs. Foster & Smith Latest to Recall Pet Food

Melamine Found in North Carolina Hogs...


A chemical blamed for the illnesses and deaths of scores of pets across the nation has been found in hogs at a farm in western North Carolina, state officials said.

 

Meanwhile, Drs. Foster & Smith recalled dry cat and dog food and consumer groups planned a series of marches and postcard campaigns to press for more government action.

Officials also discovered the chemical, melamine, in feed samples collected on the farm and tested by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Tests revealed the presence of melamine in the urine of all the hogs that consumed the tainted feed.

None of the hogs, however, entered the food supply, said Mary Ann McBride, assistant state veterinarian for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.

"We want to make sure people understand that all the N.C. animals that may have come in contact with this feed are accounted for and none have entered the food supply," she said. "Based on what we know now, we have no reason to believe that there is any risk associated with the N.C. pork supply at this time."

The farm has 1,400 hogs and is now under quarantine. "All animals are healthy, but we are taking this action out of extreme caution," McBride said.

State officials took urine samples from 13 hogs and all tested positive for melamine, a chemical used to manufacture plastics and fertilizer.

The Food and Drug Administration notified North Carolina last week that it was one of six states to receive shipments of potentially contaminated pet food. That pet food--sold to the farm for pig feed--came from a Diamond Pet plant in Gaston, S.C., and contained melamine-laced rice protein concentrate recalled last week by its importer in California.

Pet food with cosmetic blemishes is often sold to farms as a protein source to be custom-blended into a balanced hog feed, officials say.

The North Carolina pig farm is the only one in that state to receive the tainted feed, officials said. McBride said state officials are now waiting to hear if federal officials will consider the pork contaminated.

"We're kind of in a holding pattern until we hear from our federal partners about what should happen with these hogs," she said.

Meanwhile, investigators are analyzing farms in South Carolina, California, New York, Utah and maybe Ohio, to see if hogs in those states consumed melamine-tainted feed.

Earlier tests have confirmed the presence of melamine in at least two imported Chinese vegetable proteins used to make pet foodswheat gluten and rice protein concentrate.

Pet food companies have recalled more than 100 brands of food--made with these melamine-laced ingredients--since the first reports of animal deaths and illnesses surfaced last month.

Latest Pet Food Recalls

Drs. Foster & Smith has recalled its Adult Lite Dry Dog Food and its Adult Dry Cat food. Other pet foods made with rice protein have tested positive for melamine, a chemical commonly used in plastics and fertilizers.

Drs. Foster & Smith, however, said preliminary tests of its food have found no traces of melamine.

The company said it received the rice protein from importer Wilbur-Ellis. Earlier this month, Wilbur-Ellis recalled all its rice protein after the FDA detected melamine in the product.

Wilbur-Ellis said it shipped the tainted rice protein to five pet food manufacturers located in Utah, New York, Kansas and Missouri. The company didn't disclose the names of those manufacturers, but Drs. Foster & Smith is the fifth pet food maker to recall its product made with the suspect rice protein.

The four other pet food companies are Natural Balance, The Blue Buffalo Company, Royal Canin USA, and SmartPak.

Drs. Foster & Smith said it's reformulating the products to eliminate the rice protein. The new formula should be available in Mid-March, the company said on its Web site. None of the company's other products are included in the recall.

Customers with questions about the recalled foods can call the company at 1-800-239-7121.

About Time

Pet owner Terri B. of Virginia says it's about time Drs. Foster & Smith recalled its products.

She contacted the company with concerns about the safety of its foods more than a week ago -- after reports first surfaced that rice gluten used in pet foods contained melamine.

"Only after several e-mails and many questions from me did they finally tell me via e-mail to stop feeding my pets this food," the Chilhowie, Virginia, woman told ConsumerAffairs.com on Tuesday.

"My dog's had $500 (worth of) tests, but the results are not back yet. Needless to say I am worried sick.

"This is unacceptable. The public has a right to know that a company's food contain harmful ingredients."

Since Mid-March, pet food makers have recalled 100 brands of dog and cat food made with melamine-laced wheat gluten or rice protein imported from China.

The FDA has confirmed 16 animals have died after eating the tainted pet food, but it expects that number to be much higher.

The Web site Petconnection.com says it's received 4,474 reports of deceased pets in the wake of the recall. Of that number, 2,288 are cats and 2,186 are dogs. The total number of affected pets, the site says, is 13,801. These are not official numbers; they're self-reported figures.

"But if even a fraction could be confirmed, they show deaths far exceeding the FDA's count of 16 pets, most of whom died in a manufacturers feeding trial," the site states.

Petconnection.com says other sources also support higher numbers of deaths and illnesses linked to the contaminated pet food, including:

• The Oregon State Public Heath Veterinarian -- 45 dead;
• The Michigan State Veterinary Association -- 52 dead;
• The Veterinary Information Network (VIN)--It estimates 2,000 to 7,000 pets may die based on its survey of VIN member veterinarians. The network also estimates the cost of veterinary care for these animals will be $2 to $20 million.

My Pet Counts! Postcard Blitz

Meanwhile, pet owners who've lost a dog or cat because of the contaminated foods are encouraged to voice their concerns in the nationwide "My Pet Counts! Postcard Blitz."

Pet owners are asked to make a post card with a picture of their deceased dog or cat -- and a brief message about their loss -- and mail it this Saturday (April 28) to the following governmental and media representatives:

Marcia K. Larkins, D.V.M
FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine
Ombudsman
7519 Standish Place HFV-7
Rockville, MD 20855

Senator Richard Durbin
309 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Your state's U.S. Senators (http://www.senate.gov)

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
 

Organizers say they want the event to "demonstrate the full scope of this pet food recall disaster.

"The FDA continues to publicize only '16 confirmed deaths,'" organizers say. "Reliable sources report that the number of pet deaths are and will be much higher -- most likely in the thousands. By sticking to the 'only 16 confirmed deaths' wording, this disaster is being grossly minimized. The word must get out."

National March

The postcard blitz coincides with Saturday's national march by the group Pets Need A Voice Too.

Founder Jen Hoeflein of Bastrop, Texas, organized Saturday's "Keep Our Pets Safe" march to memorialize pets that have died in the wake of the recall and draw attention to what she calls "an outrageous situation."

"The march is a direct response from people all over the country and Canada who felt an overwhelming need to speak in outrage over the lack of safety standards in regard to pet food and the corporate negligence in allowing the food to remain on the shelves prior to the recall," Hoeflein told ConsumerAffairs.com.

The march is planned for 10 a.m. this Saturday in several cities across the country, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas and San Diego.

Hoeflein founded the group after losing her three-year-old cat, Timber last November to liver failure.

"He was consuming Hill Country Fare's canned cat food on a regular basis. He rapidly became ill and in horror, our family watched him slip into a near-death stage. As soon as the vet's office opened the next morning, he was put to sleep to end his suffering.

"It's a complete outrage that Timber's suffering was mirrored all over the country, different animals, different families with the outcome the same," she says. "And still, the tainted food sat on the store shelves. In fact, some of it is still there. That's simply appalling."

Hoeflein says her organization represents average citizens affected by the pet food debacle.

"I think Americans have forgotten how powerful their individual voices are when it comes to protecting their families and in many American households, pets are considered members of their families," she says. "This event has created a passion-driven response, an outcry for accountability, and the demand for the meeting of product quality standards."

Saturday's march is the first step in what Hoeflein hopes will become a campaign to ensure the protection of pets. She says this network of committed pet owners plan to keep pressure on lawmakers and government agencies to make sure tainted ingredients never again make their way into the food supply.

"We want people to understand we are simply giving a voice to sadness and pain, to frustration and outrage," Hoeflein says. "People need that and our pets deserve that. Hopefully, that voice will result in better days for pets and owners alike."

Thousands of hogs in the United States -- in at least six states -- may have eaten livestock feed contaminated with the chemical melamine, the Food and Drug Administration said.

And health officials are now investigating the possibility that humans may have consumed food containing the chemical that triggered a nationwide recall of pet food.

California officials confirmed hogs at a farm in that state ate the contaminated food -- described as salvaged pet food or pet food scraps. Officials were also trying to determine if hogs in five other states -- New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Ohio -- ate the tainted food.

The FDA has confirmed the urine of some hogs in California, North Carolina and South Carolina tested positive for melamine.

When asked if any of the hogs had entered the human food supply, FDA's Chief veterinarian Stephen Sundlof said: "At this point, I don't have a definitive answer other than to say that the issue is being addressed."

FDA officials are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and several states to investigate the now-quarantined farms and determine if those hogs were slaughtered for human food.

"I don't have the numbers on that right now, but it potentially affects thousands of hogs," Sundlof said. "Some of the hog operations were fairly sizable."

USDA spokesman Steve Cohen, however, said the tainted feed was sold to smaller and independent hog farms.

Poultry Also Suspect

The FDA also said a poultry farm in Missouri may have received the melamine-tainted feed. Tests have confirmed the wheat gluten and rice protein used to make pet food in the United States -- and blamed for the deaths and kidney problems in scores pets across the country -- was tainted with melamine. Officials in South Africa also discovered the chemical in the corn gluten used to make pet food in that country.

Melamine is commonly used in plastics and fertilizers, but is not approved for pet food. The World Health Organization does not classify melamine as a carcinogen for people, but says there's little research about the chemical's effect on humans.

Also on Tuesday, the FDA said it discovered a second, related chemical called cyanuric acid -- used in swimming pool chlorination -- contaminated rice protein samples.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that researchers identified three other contaminants in the urine and kidneys of animals sickened or killed after eating the recalled pet foods. The paper identified those contaminants as cyanuric acid, amilorine, and amiloride -- all byproducts of melamine.

One researcher told The Tribune-Review that cyanuric acid is what most likely made the pets sick.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site described the long term or repeated exposure to cyanuric acid as: "When ingested in large amounts the substance may have effects on the kidneys, resulting in tissue lesions."

In related news ...

• The FDA said it would inspect six grain products imported from China and used to make everything from bread to baby formula for traces of melamine. Those grain products include wheat gluten, corn gluten, corn meal, soy protein, rice bran, and rice protein. "We're going to target firms that we know are receiving imported products," David Acheson, chief medical officer of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, told reporters on Tuesday. "The goal is obviously to sample as much as we can."

• The FDA said it's now sampling all wheat gluten, rice protein, and corn gluten coming into the United States from China for melamine;

• Another pet food company -- SmartPak -- has recalled products made with tainted rice protein. The company recalled a single production run of its LiveSmart Weight Management Chicken and Brown Rice Dog Food;

• The California Agriculture Department is trying to contact 50 people who bought pork that may have come from pigs who ate feed containing melamine. State officials recommended consumers not eat the meat, but said the health risks are minimal;

• The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPSI) called for the U.S. to ban the imports of wheat gluten, rice protein, and other grain products from China until the FDA can certify the products are safe. The CSPI also recommended the FDA should evaluate whether a ban is needed for other foods or ingredients coming from China -- the source of the contaminated gluten linked to the largest-ever recall of pet food.

No Ban Planned

The FDA says it has no plans to ban the imports of wheat gluten, rice protein, or similar products from China.

"We believe the safety net is in place to make sure that no additional products are going to get into the commerce of the United States," David Elder, director of FDA's enforcement office, told reporters.

Several pet food companies -- including Menu Foods, Procter & Gamble, and Nestle SA -- have recalled more than 100 brands of pet food made with melamine-tainted wheat gluten since Mid-March.

And at least five companies have made pet food containing rice protein contaminated with melamine.

FDA officials say the chemical may have intentionally been added to increase the protein content.

The FDA says there were no direct shipments of those two ingredients to firms that make food for humans or for animals used as food.

Release the Names

Release the names of companies that received contaminated rice protein from China and identify and inspect all suspect pet food ingredients imported from all countries.

That's the message two U.S. Senators sent to the Food and Drug Administration on Monday.

The request by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Marie Cantwell, (D-WA) follows reports that rice protein and corn gluten tainted with the chemical melamine have been used in pet food and may have entered the human food chain.

Earlier reports identified the contaminated ingredient used in more than 100 brands of recalled pet food -- and linked to scores of illnesses and deaths in dogs and cats across the country -- as melamine-tainted wheat gluten.

A House committee heard testimony Tuesday that American food is at high risk for both natural and terrorist-related outbreaks and many in Congress are questioning whether the Food and Drug Administration can adequately protect Americans.

"Over the past week, shipments of imported rice protein and corn gluten have been discovered to be contaminated with melamine," the Senators wrote in their letter to FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach. "In addition, we have learned that the human food supply may be at risk from tainted pet food sold to a hog feeding operation in California.

"Once again, our food supply has been put at risk by contaminated ingredients that originated overseas and were never inspected by the FDA."

Earlier this month, the Chinese company, Binzhou-Futian, sold rice protein to U.S. importer Wilbur-Ellis and a second, unknown, company. Wilbur-Ellis said it distributed that rice protein to five pet food manufacturers.

Three of those manufacturers have recalled their pet foods; the names of the other two companies, however, are not known.

The Senators say that's not acceptable.

"Given the strong possibility that these two pet food manufacturers also received contaminated rice protein and that they have failed to implement voluntary recalls, we believe the FDA should release the names of these manufacturers and require them to trace and recall any pet food made with the potentially contaminated rice protein," they told the FDA's Commissioner.

The Senators also asked the FDA to:

• Immediately start testing samples of rice protein and corn gluten imported from China. The FDA is already testing wheat gluten imported from that country;

• Identify and inspect all suspect pet food ingredients imported from China and other countries. "In light of the strong possibility that these protein sources were purposefully contaminated for economic purposes, we are concerned about the safety of other imported pet food ingredients and the possibility of them being contaminated," the Senators said.

• Study the feasibility of testing protein-based pet food ingredients imported from China and other countries for melamine;

• Work with the Chinese Government and other foreign governments to inspect their facilities and provide technical assistance to improve their food safety standards.

"The FDA owes the American public their best effort to prevent contaminated food from getting to store shelves and to remove contaminated food that is already on shelves before more pets die," the Senators wrote, adding 63 percent of Americans own a cat or dog.

Pet Owners Snarl

A pet owner in Florida told ConsumerAffairs.com that she's outraged by the FDA's refusal to disclose all the companies that received the contaminated rice protein.

"Family pets are being killed and the FDA is dragging its feet," said Marlene B. of Port Charlotte, Florida. "I want to know how the hell the FDA can refuse to name the other two pet food manufacturers that received contaminated goods from China.

"If it were a medicine for human consumption, they'd be the first to scream 'danger' and yank the products off the shelves, before any conclusive tests had been done. This is outrageous."

And it's happening at a time when pets across the country continue to develop kidney disease or die after eating the melamine-tainted food.

Kennel Destroyed

Consider the impact one brand of the recalled pet food had on the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels at a kennel in Texas.

"Our kennel has been destroyed by Natural Balance Dog Food," Dave and Jennifer S. of Victoria, Texas, said referring to the pet food recalled last week. "We are left devastated and desperately in need of help."

Several or their dogs went into renal failure -- and two died -- after eating Natural Balance's Venison and Brown Rice food.

"We had a total of 12 Cavaliers, two have died, four puppies remain in the hospital, as well as three adults," said the couple, who took their dogs to Texas A & M University's Small Animal Emergency Clinic for treatment.

"The three adults may not recover at all. It is still hopeful for the puppies. We have one adult Cavalier at home, one six-month-old puppy at home, and one puppy that is eight weeks old that has been able to come home. They still require follow-up testing to ensure that they are not going back into renal failure."

The couple added: "The doctors met with us and confirmed that it was the Natural Balance Venison and Brown Rice Dog food that is the cause (of their dogs' sickness and deaths.) The autopsy on Abby (one of the dogs) confirmed the crystal formation that is seen in all the renal failure cases concerning the recent dog food recalls."

Natural Balance, they say, may compensate them for our vet bills.

But only if they sign a release "which basically makes it so they do not have to pay anything except the vet bill."

More about the Pet Food Recall ...

 

 

 

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Public Citizen Trashes Anti-Tort Study

Ideological Study Uses "Junk Economics," Discredited Data

Public Citizen Trashes Anti-Tort Study...

A study released last month attacking the nation's tort laws is not scholarly research but another public relations advance by corporate-funded "think tanks" in the ongoing campaign to gut our civil justice system and reduce corporate accountability, according to analysis by Public Citizen.

In its March report, "Jackpot Justice: The True Cost of America's Tort System," the Pacific Research Institute (PRI) claimed that the legal system is too costly and proposed eliminating many of the legal protections that Americans currently enjoy to reduce these costs.

But PRI's report relied on widely discredited cost estimates from an insurance industry consultant, Tillinghast-Towers Perrin.

These "costs" are entirely speculative and include many factors unrelated to litigation, such as administrative expenses for the highly bureaucratic insurance industry.

According to the Economic Policy Institute in 2005, "Any work that relies on [Tillinghast's] seriously flawed reports is, to that extent, also unreliable." PRI, undeterred, greatly increased the already-bloated numbers from Tillinghast and applied even more irrelevant factors to produce a flawed and ridiculous estimate, Public Citizen said.

PRI's calculations include formulaic cross-applications from unrelated studies of corporate taxes and double-counting. Even conservative jurist Richard Posner agrees that its assumptions and ultimate conclusions are baseless. PRI's ultimate goal is ideological.

"The study employs junk economics that ignores an important purpose of the justice system -- fairness," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. "The report's theories would, if taken to their logical conclusion, eliminate government altogether."

Rural Myth

PRI's report also includes the now-debunked Hilda Bankston story about a Mississippi pharmacy owner who was allegedly forced to sell her business after it was named as a defendant in a national class-action lawsuit against a major drug company in New Jersey.

The story was shown in a recent book by reporter Stephanie Mencimer to be riddled with falsehoods.

"Thanks to our civil justice system, Americans are safer, healthier and enjoy a higher standard of living today than ever before," said Laura MacCleery, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division.

"While emphasizing costs, PRI fails to adequately measure the benefits of litigation. The study parcels out a miserly benefits picture, ignoring clear benefits of our court system such as deterrence and punishment of negligent conduct, compensation for life-threatening injuries or death, safer and healthier industries and products, and a more sustainable and transparent economy."

Access to the courtroom and a jury is a cornerstone of American democracy. Americans know that if they are injured by negligence, there is a fair and impartial process to hold corporations and individuals accountable.

"The business lobby and far-right groups like PRI want to return to a system of robber baron justice," said Claybrook. "Their attempts to dismantle the American legal system harm both individuals and the very fabric of our nation."

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Scientist Worries WiFi May Harm Children

Scientist Worries WiFi May Harm Children...


The British scientist who raised one of the early warnings about potential health hazards from cell phones has a new worry -- wireless Internet, or WiFi.

Sir William Stewart, chairman of Britain's Health Protection Agency, is lobbying British authorities for an investigation into WiFi's possible health risks, according to Britain's The Independent.

Stewart is concerned because wireless Internet may become more prevalent than mobile telephones.

A few individuals are known to suffer from a heightened sensitivity to electromagnetic radiation, but in recent years more and more physicians have expressed concern that repeated and prolonged exposure might be harmful to the wider population.

A study conducted in Finland found that people who have used cell phones for ten years or more are 40 per cent more likely to get a brain tumor on the same side of the head as they hold their handset. Research done in Sweden puts the risk at almost four times greater.

Stewart is reportedly concerned because of the similarity of the radiation emitted by cell phones and WiFi systems. But whereas cell phone radiation exposes only the person using the handset, WiFi radiation could affect everyone in the general vicinity.

Much of the concern is directed at children, who are seen as more vulnerable than adults to the effects of radiation, and because they will likely be exposed to increasing levels of radiation throughout their lives.

The Austrian Medical Association is pressing the government to ban the deployment of WiFi in schools.

Concerns about WiFi health effects have also been raised in the U.S.

In 2003, parents sued an Illinois school that installed a WiFi system, claiming the radiation was causing headaches and memory problems. Last year, Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario refused to install a campus WiFi system, citing possible health concerns.



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Thousands of Hogs May Have Eaten Contaminated Feed

Pet Food Scraps Containing Melamine Fed to Hogs in Six States

Thousands of Hogs May Have Eaten Contaminated Feed...


Thousands of hogs in the United States -- in at least six states -- may have eaten livestock feed contaminated with the chemical melamine, the Food and Drug Administration said.

 

And health officials are now investigating the possibility that humans may have consumed food containing the chemical that triggered a nationwide recall of pet food.

California officials confirmed hogs at a farm in that state ate the contaminated food -- described as salvaged pet food or pet food scraps. Officials were also trying to determine if hogs in five other states -- New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Ohio -- ate the tainted food.

The FDA has confirmed the urine of some hogs in California, North Carolina and South Carolina tested positive for melamine.

When asked if any of the hogs had entered the human food supply, FDA's Chief veterinarian Stephen Sundlof said: "At this point, I don't have a definitive answer other than to say that the issue is being addressed."

FDA officials are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and several states to investigate the now-quarantined farms and determine if those hogs were slaughtered for human food.

"I don't have the numbers on that right now, but it potentially affects thousands of hogs," Sundlof said. "Some of the hog operations were fairly sizable."

USDA spokesman Steve Cohen, however, said the tainted feed was sold to smaller and independent hog farms.

Poultry Also Suspect

The FDA also said a poultry farm in Missouri may have received the melamine-tainted feed. Tests have confirmed the wheat gluten and rice protein used to make pet food in the United States -- and blamed for the deaths and kidney problems in scores pets across the country -- was tainted with melamine. Officials in South Africa also discovered the chemical in the corn gluten used to make pet food in that country.

Melamine is commonly used in plastics and fertilizers, but is not approved for pet food. The World Health Organization does not classify melamine as a carcinogen for people, but says there's little research about the chemical's effect on humans.

Also on Tuesday, the FDA said it discovered a second, related chemical called cyanuric acid -- used in swimming pool chlorination -- contaminated rice protein samples.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that researchers identified three other contaminants in the urine and kidneys of animals sickened or killed after eating the recalled pet foods. The paper identified those contaminants as cyanuric acid, amilorine, and amiloride -- all byproducts of melamine.

One researcher told The Tribune-Review that cyanuric acid is what most likely made the pets sick.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site described the long term or repeated exposure to cyanuric acid as: "When ingested in large amounts the substance may have effects on the kidneys, resulting in tissue lesions."

In related news ...

• The FDA said it would inspect six grain products imported from China and used to make everything from bread to baby formula for traces of melamine. Those grain products include wheat gluten, corn gluten, corn meal, soy protein, rice bran, and rice protein. "We're going to target firms that we know are receiving imported products," David Acheson, chief medical officer of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, told reporters on Tuesday. "The goal is obviously to sample as much as we can."

• The FDA said it's now sampling all wheat gluten, rice protein, and corn gluten coming into the United States from China for melamine;

• Another pet food company -- SmartPak -- has recalled products made with tainted rice protein. The company recalled a single production run of its LiveSmart Weight Management Chicken and Brown Rice Dog Food;

• The California Agriculture Department is trying to contact 50 people who bought pork that may have come from pigs who ate feed containing melamine. State officials recommended consumers not eat the meat, but said the health risks are minimal;

• The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPSI) called for the U.S. to ban the imports of wheat gluten, rice protein, and other grain products from China until the FDA can certify the products are safe. The CSPI also recommended the FDA should evaluate whether a ban is needed for other foods or ingredients coming from China -- the source of the contaminated gluten linked to the largest-ever recall of pet food.

No Ban Planned

The FDA says it has no plans to ban the imports of wheat gluten, rice protein, or similar products from China.

"We believe the safety net is in place to make sure that no additional products are going to get into the commerce of the United States," David Elder, director of FDA's enforcement office, told reporters.

Several pet food companies -- including Menu Foods, Procter & Gamble, and Nestle SA -- have recalled more than 100 brands of pet food made with melamine-tainted wheat gluten since Mid-March.

And at least five companies have made pet food containing rice protein contaminated with melamine.

FDA officials say the chemical may have intentionally been added to increase the protein content.

The FDA says there were no direct shipments of those two ingredients to firms that make food for humans or for animals used as food.

Release the Names

Release the names of companies that received contaminated rice protein from China and identify and inspect all suspect pet food ingredients imported from all countries.

That's the message two U.S. Senators sent to the Food and Drug Administration on Monday.

The request by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Marie Cantwell, (D-WA) follows reports that rice protein and corn gluten tainted with the chemical melamine have been used in pet food and may have entered the human food chain.

Earlier reports identified the contaminated ingredient used in more than 100 brands of recalled pet food -- and linked to scores of illnesses and deaths in dogs and cats across the country -- as melamine-tainted wheat gluten.

A House committee heard testimony Tuesday that American food is at high risk for both natural and terrorist-related outbreaks and many in Congress are questioning whether the Food and Drug Administration can adequately protect Americans.

"Over the past week, shipments of imported rice protein and corn gluten have been discovered to be contaminated with melamine," the Senators wrote in their letter to FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach. "In addition, we have learned that the human food supply may be at risk from tainted pet food sold to a hog feeding operation in California.

"Once again, our food supply has been put at risk by contaminated ingredients that originated overseas and were never inspected by the FDA."

Earlier this month, the Chinese company, Binzhou-Futian, sold rice protein to U.S. importer Wilbur-Ellis and a second, unknown, company. Wilbur-Ellis said it distributed that rice protein to five pet food manufacturers.

Three of those manufacturers have recalled their pet foods; the names of the other two companies, however, are not known.

The Senators say that's not acceptable.

"Given the strong possibility that these two pet food manufacturers also received contaminated rice protein and that they have failed to implement voluntary recalls, we believe the FDA should release the names of these manufacturers and require them to trace and recall any pet food made with the potentially contaminated rice protein," they told the FDA's Commissioner.

The Senators also asked the FDA to:

• Immediately start testing samples of rice protein and corn gluten imported from China. The FDA is already testing wheat gluten imported from that country;

• Identify and inspect all suspect pet food ingredients imported from China and other countries. "In light of the strong possibility that these protein sources were purposefully contaminated for economic purposes, we are concerned about the safety of other imported pet food ingredients and the possibility of them being contaminated," the Senators said.

• Study the feasibility of testing protein-based pet food ingredients imported from China and other countries for melamine;

• Work with the Chinese Government and other foreign governments to inspect their facilities and provide technical assistance to improve their food safety standards.

"The FDA owes the American public their best effort to prevent contaminated food from getting to store shelves and to remove contaminated food that is already on shelves before more pets die," the Senators wrote, adding 63 percent of Americans own a cat or dog.

Pet Owners Snarl

A pet owner in Florida told ConsumerAffairs.com that she's outraged by the FDA's refusal to disclose all the companies that received the contaminated rice protein.

"Family pets are being killed and the FDA is dragging its feet," said Marlene B. of Port Charlotte, Florida. "I want to know how the hell the FDA can refuse to name the other two pet food manufacturers that received contaminated goods from China.

"If it were a medicine for human consumption, they'd be the first to scream 'danger' and yank the products off the shelves, before any conclusive tests had been done. This is outrageous."

And it's happening at a time when pets across the country continue to develop kidney disease or die after eating the melamine-tainted food.

Kennel Destroyed

Consider the impact one brand of the recalled pet food had on the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels at a kennel in Texas.

"Our kennel has been destroyed by Natural Balance Dog Food," Dave and Jennifer S. of Victoria, Texas, said referring to the pet food recalled last week. "We are left devastated and desperately in need of help."

Several or their dogs went into renal failure -- and two died -- after eating Natural Balance's Venison and Brown Rice food.

"We had a total of 12 Cavaliers, two have died, four puppies remain in the hospital, as well as three adults," said the couple, who took their dogs to Texas A & M University's Small Animal Emergency Clinic for treatment.

"The three adults may not recover at all. It is still hopeful for the puppies. We have one adult Cavalier at home, one six-month-old puppy at home, and one puppy that is eight weeks old that has been able to come home. They still require follow-up testing to ensure that they are not going back into renal failure."

The couple added: "The doctors met with us and confirmed that it was the Natural Balance Venison and Brown Rice Dog food that is the cause (of their dogs' sickness and deaths.) The autopsy on Abby (one of the dogs) confirmed the crystal formation that is seen in all the renal failure cases concerning the recent dog food recalls."

Natural Balance, they say, may compensate them for our vet bills.

But only if they sign a release "which basically makes it so they do not have to pay anything except the vet bill."

More about the Pet Food Recall ...

 

 

 

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Appeals Court Gives Vonage a Reprieve

Company Can Continue Signing New Customers Pending Oral Arguments

Appeals Court Gives Vonage a Reprieve...

Vonage CEO Jeffrey Citron declared it "business as usual" today after a federal appeals court allowed the Internet phone company to continue signing new customers.

Vonage will still have to make its case before the appeals court on June 25, but today's action removes the threat that the company would starve to death while awaiting oral arguments.

U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton had ordered Vonage to stop signing new customers after a jury found that it had infringed on several patents held by telecom giant Verizon.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington issued a temporary stay of Hilton's order on April 7 and today extended the stay until oral arguments can be heard.

Verizon sued Vonage in June, claiming that Vonage had illegally used key technologies owned by Verizon to connect Internet calls to regular telephone networks and claimed it had lost hundreds of thousands of customers to Vonage as a result of the infringement.

Hilton's order that the company stop signing new customers was the equivalent of standing on a comatose patient's oxygen line, as Vonage needs to keep signing new customers to make up for those it loses.

Vonage attracts customers eager to save money on their phone bill but loses many of them when they have difficulty figuring out how to make the sytem work. Others aren't happy with the quality of the Internet calls.

Billing disputes are also a common theme in the more than 400 Vonage complaints filed with ConsumerAffairs.com.

"I had dropped calls, couldn't call or receive calls, etc. So, I decided to go back to my land line," said Ashby of Forest Hill, Md.

"Vonage promised service that could not be delivered, stalled for several months and have billed me for service not delivered," said Peter of Big Bear Lake, Calif. "I have called for a resolution on this matter many times, they simply shuttle the calls from one nincompoop to another until the customer gives up."

Vonage also faces a consumer class action filed in U.S. District Court in California which charges that it misled consumers about the quality and reliability of its service and engaged in false advertising and deceptive business practices.

Citron Confident

Although it still faces what may be a difficult day in court, Citron was feeling optimistic.

"We have not infringed on any of Verizon's technology and remain optimistic that we will ultimately prevail," he said in a statement. The company's stock jumped 29 percent, the biggest one-day jump since its went public in May 2006.

Tough Competitors

Like many companies that try to capitalize on new technology, Vonage has attracted numerous competitors, including the huge telephone and cable companies it had hoped to displace. Much of the growth Vonage had hoped for has instead gone to the cable companies, which have aggressively rolled out telephone service packages bundled with high-speed Internet and video services.

Between them, Cablevision and Time Warner have signed more than 3 million customers, business that Vonage had been counting on to meet its projections.

Vonage has also run afoul of the regulatory thicket that is the telecom market. It has been required by regulators to add many of the very fees and surcharges already collected by its old-line competitors. That has taken away much of the low-cost advantage Vonage had been counting on.

Defenders

Not everyone is critical of Vonage. The president of CompTel, a telecommunications trade association, says Verizon is using its market dominance to stamp out competition.

"We're seeing a still-dominant monopoly aggressively using its monopoly revenue to pursue and drive out of the market competitors," Earl Comstock told The Washington Post. "This isn't about protecting their patents. It's about crushing their competitors."

Comstock predicted Verizon will use the same tactic to go after other competitors.

 

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Senators Demand FDA Release Names of All Suspect Pet Food Companies

Some Companies that Received Tainted Rice Protein Have Not Started Recalls

Senators Demand FDA Release Names of All Suspect Pet Food Companies...


Release the names of companies that received contaminated rice protein from China and identify and inspect all suspect pet food ingredients imported from all countries.

 

That's the message two U.S. Senators sent to the Food and Drug Administration on Monday.

The request by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Marie Cantwell, (D-WA) follows reports that rice protein and corn gluten tainted with the chemical melamine have been used in pet food and may have entered the human food chain.

Earlier reports identified the contaminated ingredient used in more than 100 brands of recalled pet food -- and linked to scores of illnesses and deaths in dogs and cats across the country -- as melamine-tainted wheat gluten.

A House committee heard testimony today that American food is at high risk for both natural and terrorist-related outbreaks and many in Congress are questioning whether the Food and Drug Administration can adequately protect Americans.

"Over the past week, shipments of imported rice protein and corn gluten have been discovered to be contaminated with melamine," the Senators wrote in their letter to FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach. "In addition, we have learned that the human food supply may be at risk from tainted pet food sold to a hog feeding operation in California.

"Once again, our food supply has been put at risk by contaminated ingredients that originated overseas and were never inspected by the FDA."

Earlier this month, the Chinese company, Binzhou-Futian, sold rice protein to U.S. importer Wilbur-Ellis and a second, unknown, company. Wilbur-Ellis said it distributed that rice protein to five pet food manufacturers.

Three of those manufacturers have recalled their pet foods; the names of the other two companies, however, are not known.

The Senators say that's not acceptable.

"Given the strong possibility that these two pet food manufacturers also received contaminated rice protein and that they have failed to implement voluntary recalls, we believe the FDA should release the names of these manufacturers and require them to trace and recall any pet food made with the potentially contaminated rice protein," they told the FDA's Commissioner.

The Senators also asked the FDA to:

• Immediately start testing samples of rice protein and corn gluten imported from China. The FDA is already testing wheat gluten imported from that country;

• Identify and inspect all suspect pet food ingredients imported from China and other countries. "In light of the strong possibility that these protein sources were purposefully contaminated for economic purposes, we are concerned about the safety of other imported pet food ingredients and the possibility of them being contaminated," the Senators said.

• Study the feasibility of testing protein-based pet food ingredients imported from China and other countries for melamine;

• Work with the Chinese Government and other foreign governments to inspect their facilities and provide technical assistance to improve their food safety standards.

"The FDA owes the American public their best effort to prevent contaminated food from getting to store shelves and to remove contaminated food that is already on shelves before more pets die," the Senators wrote, adding 63 percent of Americans own a cat or dog.

Pet Owners Snarl

A pet owner in Florida told ConsumerAffairs.com that she's outraged by the FDA's refusal to disclose all the companies that received the contaminated rice protein.

"Family pets are being killed and the FDA is dragging its feet," said Marlene B. of Port Charlotte, Florida. "I want to know how the hell the FDA can refuse to name the other two pet food manufacturers that received contaminated goods from China.

"If it were a medicine for human consumption, they'd be the first to scream 'danger' and yank the products off the shelves, before any conclusive tests had been done. This is outrageous."

And it's happening at a time when pets across the country continue to develop kidney disease or die after eating the melamine-tainted food.

Kennel Destroyed

Consider the impact one brand of the recalled pet food had on the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels at a kennel in Texas.

"Our kennel has been destroyed by Natural Balance Dog Food," Dave and Jennifer S. of Victoria, Texas, said referring to the pet food recalled last week. "We are left devastated and desperately in need of help."

Several or their dogs went into renal failure -- and two died -- after eating Natural Balance's Venison and Brown Rice food.

"We had a total of 12 Cavaliers, two have died, four puppies remain in the hospital, as well as three adults," said the couple, who took their dogs to Texas A & M University's Small Animal Emergency Clinic for treatment.

"The three adults may not recover at all. It is still hopeful for the puppies. We have one adult Cavalier at home, one six-month-old puppy at home, and one puppy that is eight weeks old that has been able to come home. They still require follow-up testing to ensure that they are not going back into renal failure."

The couple added: "The doctors met with us and confirmed that it was the Natural Balance Venison and Brown Rice Dog food that is the cause (of their dogs' sickness and deaths.) The autopsy on Abby (one of the dogs) confirmed the crystal formation that is seen in all the renal failure cases concerning the recent dog food recalls."

Natural Balance, they say, may compensate them for our vet bills.

But only if they sign a release "which basically makes it so they do not have to pay anything except the vet bill."

More about the Pet Food Recall ...

 

 

 

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TV Food Ads Make Obese Kids Hungrier

Study Documents Effect of Ads on Kids' Appetites

TV Food Ads Make Obese Kids Hungrier...

April 24, 2007
Obese and overweight kids increase their food intake by more than 100% after watching food advertisements on television, a study by the University of Liverpool psychologists has shown.

Our research confirms food TV advertising has a profound effect on all childrens eating habits -- doubling their consumption rate," said Dr. Jason Halford, Director of the Universitys Kissileff Human Ingestive Behavior Laboratory.

"The study was also particularly interesting in suggesting a strong connection between weight and susceptibility to over-eating when exposed to food adverts on television.

In the study, A group of 60 children of varying weights, aged between nine and eleven years was shown a series of both food television ads and toy ads, followed by a cartoon.

Food intake following the food commercials was significantly higher compared with the toy ads in all weight groups, with the obese children increasing their consumption by 134%; overweight children by 101% and normal weight children by 84%.

Fattier Snacks Chosen

It was also found that weight dictated food preference during the experiment. Food of differing fat contents was made available to the children to eat at their own will, ranging from high fat sweet snacks to low fat savory products.

The obese group consistently chose the highest fat product -- chocolate -- whereas the overweight children chose jelly sweets, which have a lower fat content, as well as chocolate.

In Britain, 14% of children are classed as obese and the average UK child watches 17 hours of commercial television a week. A ban on junk food advertising around childrens television programs was introduced in the UK in January 2007, yet surveys have shown that many children still watch during family viewing hours in the evening when the ban does not apply.

The University research team is presented its research at the European Congress on Obesity in Budapest.

Future studies are planned to investigate whether enhanced responsiveness to food adverts or the greater amount of television children are watching is a predictor of childhood obesity.



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Groups Seek To Roll Back Foreclosures

ACORN Wants Moratorium and Tougher Laws against Predatory Lending

Groups Seek To Roll Back Foreclosures...

Pressure is building for industry and government officials to stop the wave of home foreclosures spawned by the subprime lending crises. The consumer group ACORN is the latest group to call for a halt in foreclosure proceedings.

Earlier this month, the NAACP and other civil rights groups called for a six-month moratorium on foreclosures that result from subprime loans.

ACORN this week launched what it calls a grassroots campaign to unite homeowners at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure, often due to predatory lending.

ACORN leaders say they hope to bring together thousands of families to win major policy changes from lenders and government officials -- including a one-year moratorium on foreclosures from predatory loans.

"We are going to go door-to-door and family-by-family. We will connect people in danger of foreclosure to sources of help, and we will organize these homeowners to fight back to save their homes from the predatory lenders," said ACORN President Maude Hurd.

Meanwhile, the Governor of Minnesota has signed legislation the group says will provide important new protections for homeowners against predatory loans. Minnesota ACORN leader Paul Satriano celebrated a five-year effort to pass the law, calling it, "a model for states around the country responding to the foreclosure crisis.

Among the major points of the ACORN campaign is a proposal to state attorneys general to seek injunctions to stop foreclosure proceedings caused by predatory loans. The plan also calls for tougher laws against predatory lending.

The group says predatory lending has lead to an epidemic of foreclosures. Last year there were 1.2 million foreclosure filings, a large increase from the 900,000 foreclosures that were filed in 2005. This year, foreclosure filings are expected to reach 1.5 million.

 

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Gonzales Issues New Identity Theft Plan

Feds' Plan Would Pre-Empt Stronger State Laws

Gonzales Issues New Identity Theft Plan...


With the "prosecutor purge" scandal hanging over him, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) chairman Deborah Platt Majoras released the latest federal strategy for fighting identity theft Monday.

Consumer advocates and privacy specialists were generally underwhelmed by the plan.

Gonzales and Majoras are co-chairs of the President's Identity Theft Task Force, comprised of heads of multiple government agencies, commissioned to come up with comprehensive strategies for fighting identity theft, fraud, and cybercrime.

Although Gonzales was bombarded with questions related to his role in the firing of multiple U.S. attorneys from their jobs, he attempted to focus his statements on the identity theft plan.

"Much has been accomplished, and there are more protections in place now than ever before," Gonzales said. "But the president and the task force recognize that we need to do more."

"Identity thieves steal consumers' time, money, and security, just as sure as they steal their identifying information, and they cost businesses enormous sums," Majoras said. "The Strategic Plan submitted to the President provides a blueprint for increased federal prevention and protection."

Gonzales' role in the prosecutor firings has cost him considerable standing on Capitol Hill and led many to call for his resignation.

"Several senators have raised the question of whether you can be credible and whether or not you can be an effective attorney general," one reported asked at today's news conference. "Do you still believe you can, and have you offered your resignation to the president?"

"No," Gonzales replied curtly. "I'm focused on making sure our kids are safe, making sure our neighborhoods are safe, making sure consumers are safe, and that's one of the reasons I'm here today."

One Step Forward ...

The plan came in two volumes, totaling 190 pages. The first volume contained the Task Force recommendations, while the second contained information and resources relating to identity theft. Among the recommendations:

• The formation of a National Identity Theft Law Enforcement Center as a clearinghouse to collect, analyze, and share identity theft information among the various private and public sector agencies. The Center would be headed by the Justice Department, and would include the FTC, the Social Security Administration, the U.S. Postal Service, and the FBI, among others.

• Decrease the usage and collection of Social Security numbers on the state, local, and federal levels. The Task Force recommended that the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) complete its review of how various agencies utilize SSNs, and to help develop guidance on limiting their collection to absolutely necessary functions.

• Establishing federal standards for data breaches, including risk evaluations to determine the severity of the breach, consumer and media disclosures, and enforcing the standards in the public and private sector.

• Developing a "Universal Identity Theft Report Form" to be used as the standard for all complaints across the board

• Extensive education of the public, private, and consumer sector on how to protect oneself from identity theft.

... One Step Back

Several aspects of the report may actually hinder stronger prosecution and enforcement against identity theft. The report recommends that its federal laws pre-empt existing state laws on identity theft and fraud, many of which are stronger and more favorable to the consumer than legislation currently proposed at the federal level.

If the new recommendations become law, California's data breach disclosure laws -- acknowledged to be the strongest in the nation -- would be superseded.

Were it not for those rules, the public might never have known about the ChoicePoint data breach that vaulted the issue to the national stage, cost the embattled data broker $15 million in an FTC settlement, and turned it into a model of privacy protection.

Federal legislation proposed in the Senate, by contrast, would give law enforcement carte blanche to delay consumer notification of data breaches while they investigate, and would enable businesses to handle their own "risk assessments," rather than opening their records to neutral third parties.

The report is also lukewarm on endorsing "credit freezes," which enable consumers to lock out access to their credit unless they give specific permission. Although many states already have credit freeze laws on the books, the report only recommends further study of the legislation.

Indeed, the report's strongest words about credit freezes are these: "Because most companies obtain a credit report from a consumer before extending credit, a credit freeze will likely prevent the extension of credit in a consumer's name without the consumer's express permission."

Both volumes of the report are available as free PDF downloads from the government's identity theft "resource" page, IDTheft.gov.

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U.S. Food Supply at High Risk of Terrorist or Profit-Driven Tampering

House Hears Testimony on Pet Food Poisonings; FDA's Lack of Authority Cited

U.S. Food Supply at High Risk of Terrorist or Profit-Driven Tampering...

American food is high risk for both natural and terrorist-related outbreaks and many in Congress are questioning whether the Food and Drug Administration can adequately protect Americans.

With increased reports of dangerous imported glutens, particularly from China, infecting pets and possibly humans, Representatives held one of a series of hearings today to determine how to strengthen our nation's food supply.

"This has become a systematic problem that requires systematic change," Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said.

Representatives blamed the FDA's lack of power for the rash of recent food recalls.

"Every American has reason to worry about pathogens in our food supply that sickens 72 million and kill about 5,000 of us each year," Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said. "It is important we learn how much of this death and illness could have been prevented by diligent and properly funded regulatory agencies, primarily the Food and Drug Administration."

Foxes Guard Henhouse

The most-noted flaw in the FDA's authority is its complete inability to order a food recall. By law, the manufacturer or distributor must voluntarily recall the tainted products.

This shortcoming was dramatically illustrated over the weekend, when ConsumerAffairs.com's Lisa Wade McCormick reported that the FDA admitted knowing of five companies that received contaminated Chinese rice protein concentrate.

Three firms have identified themselves by announcing recalls; the other two are not publicly known because the FDA will not name them until the companies come forth voluntarily.

Currently, recalls are dependant upon the media to disseminate information and for consumers to be conscientious and well-read buyers.

DeGette has proposed legislation that will give the FDA and USDA the power to order recalls and also to increase recalls' effectiveness by forcing stores to remove dangerous products from shelves.

This morning's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing raised a continuing concern about imported foods from China, which has been at the center of the pet food recall. Recent reports claim the Chinese manufacturer purposely poisoned the wheat, rice and possibly corn glutens used in pet foods and to feed hogs.

After a handful of theories as to why pets around the country were dying, the FDA finally determined that Melamine, a toxic plastic, was to blame.

"Melamine is used in plastics and is not edible," Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said. "In light of that fact, the FDA is investigating whether it was intentionally added to the wheat gluten or other ingredients to boost the protein content in order to make the products more valuable."

No Accident

Many are convinced that it was no accident that the Chinese tainted the glutens.

"Regardless of whether they are wheat, rice or corn-based proteins, they share two characteristics," Dingell said. "First, they were contaminated deliberately. Second, they came from our trading partners in China."

Yesterday, the Chinese finally allowed FDA inspectors into the country to inspect the suspect processing plants. But that came after an initial request which the Chinese immediately turned down.

"China's foot-dragging in a public health incident is totally unacceptable," Barton said. "Building a great wall of bureaucracy between our experts and their problem is not going to make the problem disappear."

"The suspicion of international contamination is eerily similar to past incidents in China," Barton said. "A dozen years ago, 89 children in Haiti died after taking cough medicine made with, believe it or not, poisonous antifreeze that was traced back to China. The world never got an answer from the Chinese on how this crime occurred.

"In an investigation started in 1998 when I was the chairman of this subcommittee, we found that 155 Americans were sickened by impure gentamicin sulfate made by a Chinese firm," Barton continued. "We never got a definitive answer on how this unapproved, impure drug ingredient got into that particular product."

Terrorism Risk

The poisoning of thousands of pets with dangerous food imported from China demonstrates how easily terrorists could kill Americans by poisoning food imported through a porous food inspection network.

"So far, the evidence suggests that the deliberate contamination was for greed and not as a trial run for terrorist purposes," Dingell said.

But a February Government Accountability Office report also concluded that the food network is a "high risk" and that terrorists could easily kill Americans through our own food.

There are a handful of bills pending in both the House and the Senate that seek to strengthen the food inspection network, but any preliminary vote on legislation appears months away at best.

The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will hold another hearing in approximately two weeks that will bring FDA officials to the stand.

 



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South Africa Bans Gluten Products from China as Pet Poisonings Spread

South Africa Bans Gluten Products from China as Pet Poisonings Spread...


The pet food industry in South Africa will no longer accept any gluten products imported from China. That decision comes on the heels of Royal Canin SA's discovery of the chemical melamine in the ingredients.

Royal Canin SA said tests revealed the corn gluten -- used in dog and cat dry pet food products manufactured by Vets Choice and Royal Canin -- was tainted with melamine. That corn gluten came from China.

The company, which manufacturers Royal Canin premium dog and cat food and the cheaper brand Vets Choice, recalled the products last week because they'd caused kidney failure in dogs and cats, according to reports in The Namibian, an independent daily newspaper published in Windhoek, and allAfrica.com.

The South African Veterinary Association said 30 dogs that had eaten the tainted food have died across the country in the past two weeks. The Associated Press reported the pets died from renal failure.

In related news, Royal Canin USA recalled five brands of its Sensible Choice dry dog food and three brands of its Veterinary Diet food last Friday after learning the rice protein in the products was tainted with what the company calls "a melamine derivative."

The company also said it will no longer use any Chinese suppliers for any of its vegetable proteins. Royal Canin USA said there are no confirmed reports of illnesses linked to the foods, but as a precautionary measure recalled the following brands of its Sensible Choice pet foods:

• Chicken Meal & Rice Formula Senior DRY DOG FOOD;
• Lamb Meal & Rice Formula Puppy DRY DOG FOOD;
• Lamb Meal & Rice Formula Adult DRY DOG FOOD;
• Lamb Meal & Rice Formula Senior DRY DOG FOOD;
• Rice & Catfish Meal Formula Adult DRY DOG FOOD

The company also recalled the following veterinary diet brands:

• Canine Early Cardiac EC 22;
• Canine Skin Support SS21;
• Feline Hypoallergenic HP23

"We are taking this proactive stance to voluntarily recall these products to avoid any confusion for our customers about which Royal Canin USA products are safe and which products may be affected," the company said on its Web site.

Pet owners with questions can call the company at 1-800-592-6687.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration say the ingredients imported from China -- and used in the more than 100 brands of recalled pet foods -- may have been intentionally spiked with an industrial chemical to boost their apparent protein content.

That's one theory the FDA is pursuing as it investigates how melamine contaminated at least two ingredients used to make the recalled pet foods in the United States: wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate.

There's also confirmation that the corn gluten used in some pet food in South Africa contained melamine.

Tests revealed melamine in both wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate -- imported from China -- used in the pet foods linked to scores of kidney illnesses and deaths in dogs and cats across the country.

"Melamine was found in all three of those it would certainly lend credibility to the theory that it may be intentional," Stephen Sundlof, the FDA's chief veterinarian, told reporters last week. "That will be one of the theories we will pursue when we get into the plants in China."

Infected Hogs

Over the weekend, the FDA announced it has opened a criminal investigation after learning more than 100 hogs were given feed that contained melamine-tainted rice protein.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) said its testing had detected melamine in the urine from hogs at the American Hog Farm in Ceres, California.

The hogs were slaughtered in California's Central Valley.

Consumers who bought pork from the American Hog Farm between April 3 and April 18 are advised not to eat the meat.

California health officials, however, said there are no reports of illness in either people or the hogs. Authorities are trying to track down all the purchasers.

"The risk is minimal, but the investigation is very early on," said Kevin Reilly of the California Department of Health Services.

Sundlof said criminal charges are a possibility, although it is no yet known if there was any criminal intent.

The FDA also announced it's investigating the imported shipment of melamine-tainted rice protein concentrate used in pet foods.

To date, the FDA says it's established:
• That shipment of rice protein concentrate was imported and offloaded during the week of April 2, 2007 by the San Francisco-based Wilbur-Ellis, an importer and distributor of agricultural products. The rice protein came from Binzhou Futian Biological Technology in China;;
• The shipment consisted primarily of rice protein concentrate in white bags, but also included one pink bag that was labeled, in part, with the word "melamine;"
• On April 15, Wilbur-Ellis notified FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine about the suspect shipment. On April 16, the FDA launched a nationwide investigation that revealed eight import entries -- shipped from the Chinese firm -- since July 2006. FDA testing revealed melamine in both the white and pink bags;
• Wilbur-Ellis recalled all of the rice protein concentrate it had imported from that Chinese company.
• FDA investigators obtained records showing five pet food manufacturers -- in seven locations -- received the tainted rice protein. Investigators are currently inspecting those manufacturers and collecting additional samples;
• The FDA initiated inspections at Royal Canin USA and C.J. Foods and, as a result, both companies recalled certain products;
• FDA also confirmed the presence of melamine in some pet food products containing rice protein concentrate. Natural Balance Pet Foods recalled these foods as a result of that finding: Venison and Brown Rice canned and bagged dog foods; Venison and Brown Rice dog treats; and Venison and Green Pea dry cat food.

The FDA is now sampling all rice protein concentrate from China and continues to sample all wheat gluten imported from that country. The federal agency says it's ready to increase its surveillance of other products, if necessary.



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Survey: T-Mobile Tops in Customer Satisfaction

Tops in customer care, cost and billing, study finds

T-Mobile ranks highest in all six regions (including three ties) of wireless service, performing particularly well in customer care, cost of service and bi...

T-Mobile ranks highest in all six regions (including three ties) of wireless service, performing particularly well in customer care, cost of service and billing, according to J.D. Power and Associates. It's the fifth consecutive reporting period that the company has ranked highest across all six regions.

Verizon Wireless ties for the highest ranking in three regions: Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and North Central. Overall, the provider performs particularly well in call quality and brand image.

Alltel ranks highest in a tie in the Southeast Region, while U.S. Cellular and AT&T (formerly Cingular Wireless) tie for the highest ranking in the North Central region.

Study results by region are:

• Northeast Region: T-Mobile ranks highest, performing particularly well in service plan options, customer service, cost of service and billing.

• Mid-Atlantic Region: T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless rank highest in a tie. T-Mobile performs well in cost of service, service plan options and customer care, while Verizon Wireless receives high ratings from customers in call quality and brand image.

• Southeast Region: Alltel, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless rank highest in a three-way tie. Alltel performs well in billing, while T-Mobile receives high ratings in cost of service, service plan options and billing, and Verizon Wireless performs well in the call quality and brand image factors.

• North Central Region: AT&T; (formerly Cingular Wireless), T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless tie to rank highest in customer satisfaction in the most competitive region in the study. AT&T; performs above the regional average in cost of service, call quality and billing. T-Mobile receives high ratings from customers in cost of service and billing, while both U.S. Cellular and Verizon Wireless perform particularly well in call quality and customer care.

• Southwest Region: T-Mobile ranks highest with strong performances in five of the six factors that determine overall satisfaction: customer service, service plan options, cost of service, brand image and billing.

• West Region: T-Mobile ranks highest, performing particularly well in billing, service plan options, customer care and cost of service. As usage continuously increases and the number of new data-centric service offerings grow, call performance and network reliability are becoming more critical to wireless customers demanding consistent quality connections, according to the study.

The semiannual study measures customer satisfaction based on 42 specific service-related measures grouped into six key factors that impact overall wireless carrier performance. In order of importance, they are:

• call performance and reliability (32%);
• brand image (17%);
• cost of service (14%);
• service plan options (14%); billing (12%) and
• customer service (11%).

Carriers are ranked across six regions in the United States: Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, North Central, Southwest and West.

The study finds that the call performance and reliability factor has increased in importance from 26 percent of the overall satisfaction score in 2005 to 32 percent in 2007. Specifically, call quality issues such as echoes and timely notification of voice mail messages have received the most significant increase in importance.

Subsequently, the customer service factor has become less critical in determining overall wireless satisfaction -- declining from 17 percent in 2005 to 11 percent in the 2007 study.

"It's no surprise that more carriers now advertise the importance of a reliable network as they try to differentiate themselves from the competition," said Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and Associates.

"Wireless network quality is key in distinguishing carriers that meet and exceed the service expectations of their customers from those that do not. However, there is still room for improvement, as 31 percent of customers who contact their carrier with a problem complain of call quality issues, such as a high degree of dropped calls and initial disconnects."

 

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Seniors Bear Brunt Of Predatory Lending

Seniors are the ones losing their homes, study finds

"Seniors are the ones who are losing their homes to foreclosure, because they have been the main target of predatory lenders," said Diane DiDonato. ...

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Infantino Recalls Infant Sling Carriers

Infantino Recalls Infant Sling Carriers...

March 22, 2007
Infantino is recalling about 100,000 SlingRider infant carriers. The plastic slider on the fabric strap can break. This can cause the strap supporting the carrier to release and infants to fall out of the carrier.

Infantino has received 10 reports of plastic sliders breaking, including eight reports of babies falling out of the carriers. There were four reports of impact injuries where the child was taken to the emergency room. One of these children fractured her skull.

This recall involves the Infantino SlingRider carriers with item numbers: 141-210; 151-210; 151-528; and 151-534. The SlingRider consists of a fabric carrier with a strap attached that is worn by the user to carry an infant up to 20 pounds. The carriers are sold in black or khaki. 'Infantino' is printed on the plastic slider located on the strap. The item number is printed on a label inside the SlingRider.

Products labeled 'Made in Thailand' or 'New 2007 Design' are not included in the recall.

The carriers were sold at Target Stores, Babies R Us, BJ's Wholesale Club, Modecraft and other retailers nationwide, by catalog and online from July 2006 through February 2007 for about $30.

Consumers should stop using these carriers immediately and contact Infantino to return them and receive a free replacement product.

Consumer Contact: For more information, contact Infantino toll-free at (888) 808-3111 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. PT Monday through Friday or go to the firm's Web site at at http://service.infantino.com.

The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

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Congress Wary of Airline Promises

House Committee Studies Passenger Bill of Rights

Congress Wary of Airline Promises...

Kate Hanni was one of thousands of passengers stranded for nearly nine hours in an American Airlines jet on a stormy tarmac in Austin, Texas last December. 

Kate Hanni

"During those nine intolerable hours, we ran out of water, toilets overflowed and we were only given a 45-calorie bag of pretzels, which I gave to my son," Hanni said. 

"As time ticked by slowly, passengers started to get frustrated, angry, and feel helpless. We were left with no information on how long we would be held on the plane. 

"Because of the lack of care and service, a mother made diapers out of T-shirts for her baby," Hanni continued. "On another aircraft, police arrested brawling people. … A small dog defecated on passengers, who began vomiting and were told to hold their own vomit bags due to full trash receptacles. 

"People ran out of medications and others had no water with which to take theirs." 

Rather than issue refunds and cancel the flight, American Airlines held the passengers hostage in the cabins before finally giving in to the pleas of those in need of medical attention. Hanni's flight was one of 66,868 that held passengers for more than an hour last year. 

Incidents such as hers and that of the Jet Blue cancellations at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York  caught the eye of the national media and now Congress seems poised to take action. 

Not Convinced

The bipartisan Aviation Subcommittee did not seem convinced by the aviation industry's promise to regulate itself - the same promise they made to the same subcommittee in 1999, after a snow storm in Detroit stranded 50 Northwest Airlines flights on the tarmac. 

Fifteen of those flights experienced delays longer than eight hours. 

The Airport Transport Association (ATA), an airline trade group, convinced the then-Republican controlled Congress to let the ATA regulate the industry. 

But data provided by Department of Transportation's inspector general, Calvin Scovel, at today's hearing indicated that delays have generally increased across the board. 

"They have made unprecedented changes to their operations to regain profitability," Scovel noted in a written statement. 

"If we don't exercise oversight they're going to keep taking advantage of passengers," Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the Transport and Infrastructure Committee said. "Unless the industry addresses this and addresses it now, there is going to be regulation." 

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said the ATA is hardly suited to regulate the industry because its top priority is maintaining members and making them happy. 

Chart supplied by Kate Hanni

Representatives and Senators have written a handful of laws that address the issue, but today's lengthy proceedings were the first of a series that hope to discover the balance between consumer protection and declogging an already backlogged airport transportation infrastructure. 

Airlines Oppose Legislation

The leading bill is the bipartisan Airline Passenger Bill of Rights Act which has been introduced in both the House and the Senate. The bill provides airline passengers with new rights to potable food and water and sanitary facilities and a right to deplane when they are stranded on tarmacs for more than three hours at a time. 

James May, president and chief executive officer of the Air Transport Association said that any right for passengers to deplane will backlog the system more than it already is. May argued that any aircraft that has to return to the gate to drop off disgruntled passengers will lose its place in line for the runway and will also tangle traffic as it attempts to weave through other aircraft on the tarmac. 

Sally Greenburg, senior product safety counsel for Consumers Union, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, said despite May's comments, the proposed legislation is needed to protect consumers. 

"We believe the Passenger Bill of Rights is a measured response to the recent ill treatment of airline passengers and will help to restore the basic rights and protections that are sorely absent today," Greenburg said. 

Representatives did commend Jet Blue for voluntarily implementing its own Customer Bill of Rights which incrementally gives vouchers or cash refunds for consumers left stranded in the airport or on the tarmac. 

But Oberstar did not seem convinced that Jet Blue is an accurate representation of the entire industry. 

"I appreciate the action Jet Blue took," Oberstar said. "But the other airlines have not made any changes to address these problems." 

Jet Blue's chief executive officer and president, David Neeleman, told ConsumerAffairs.com he was against any regulation, even if it was identical to the airline's current Customer Bill of Rights. 

"There's too much regulation as it is," he said. 

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New York Sues Drexel Over Student Loans

California Demands Answers from Education Finance Partners, Student Loan Xpress

New York Sues Drexel Over Student Loans...


New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo has taken the first legal action against a school in his nationwide student loan investigation. Cuomo announced a notice of intent to sue Drexel University in Pennsylvania over its revenue sharing agreements with Education Finance Partners.

Earlier this week, California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. demanded two California student-loan businesses produce records concerning their financial relationships with public and private universities, and vocational schools in California as part of his ongoing probe into the student-loan industry.

In the New York probe, Education Finance Partners (EFP) agreed to Cuomo's College Loan Code of Conduct and will end revenue sharing agreements. Cuomo also announced settlement agreements with three more schools: Salve Regina in Rhode Island, Pace University and the New York Institute of Technology. Salve Regina and Molloy College both had revenue sharing agreements with EFP.

Previously, Fordham University, St. John's University, and Long Island University all agreed to cease their revenue sharing agreements with EFP and reimburse students on a pro rata basis for the money received through those agreements.

Drexel received over $124,000 from its revenue sharing agreements with EFP and accrued $126,000 more through March 2007 that has not been paid. Under Drexel's agreement with EFP, dated April 1, 2006, the school agreed to make EFP its "sole preferred private loan provider."

In return, Drexel was to 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.

Drexel had an earlier revenue sharing agreement with EFP that began in May of 2005 under which Drexel received 75 basis points (75%) of all referred loans. EFP was a non-exclusive preferred lender under the earlier contract. Since 2005, Drexel University has sent over $16 million in loan volume to EFP.

Drexel solicits and corresponds with students from New York, and New York students and their families rely on Drexel's representations about preferred lenders; the New York Attorney General therefore has jurisdiction over Drexel in this matter.

"This investigation is a two-front battle: lenders and schools. We have proceeded against lenders and now we are proceeding against schools. There is no reason for a school not to adopt the Code of Conduct," Cuomo said. "This office has been clear to schools: settle or we will commence litigation. Either way we will get justice for students."

Salve Regina, Pace University, and NYIT agreed to the Attorney General's Code of Conduct, after the Attorney General's investigation that revealed various practices at each university could have potentially created conflicts of interest.

Salve Regina University: Salve Regina University is located in Newport, Rhode Island. The Attorney General's investigation found that during the period of 2005-2006, Salve Regina received over $7,800 pursuant to a form of revenue sharing with EFP, which was one of the Salve Regina's preferred lenders. Between January 2004 and March 2007, certain lenders, some of whom appeared on Salve Regina's preferred lender lists, provided printing costs or services to the university and/or paid for meals and lodging for university employees at loan workshops, conferences, and/or advisory board meetings. Salve Regina agrees to accept the OAG Code of Conduct and will reimburse the affected students $7,839.74.

Pace University: Pace University is in Westchester, New York. The Attorney General's investigation found that Pace hired Sallie Mae to staff financial aid call centers, and the Sallie Mae employees wrongfully identified themselves as Pace University employees. Additionally, a Pace administrator who oversaw student loans and advised Pace to drop the federal direct lending program and enter into contracts with Sallie Mae subsequently went to work for Sallie Mae after leaving Pace. This administrator may have had an inappropriate relationship with Sallie Mae while employed by Pace, Cuomo charged.

New York Institute of Technology: The New York Institute of Technology has three campuses, two on Long Island in Old Westbury, Central Islip, and one in New York City. The Attorney General's investigation found that NYIT accepted payment from certain lenders, some of whom were on NYIT's preferred lender lists, including payments for sponsorships of University events and scholarships. When composing its preferred lender list, NYIT considered whether or not lenders had made such contributions or offered Opportunity Loan funds as a criterion. Additionally, some preferred lenders including Sallie Mae, Citibank, College Loan Corporation and AFC paid for meals and trips to student loan conferences for financial aid officers.

Molloy College: Molloy College is in Rockville Centre, Long Island. The Attorney General's investigation found that Molloy had a revenue sharing agreement with EFP. Molloy received over $1600 from EFP as a result of this arrangement. Molloy has returned this money to EFP and requested that any future revenue due to it under the EFP agreement go towards reducing student loan payments.

California Probe

In the California investigation, Brown is probing Education Finance Partners Inc. of San Francisco and Student Loan Xpress Inc. of San Diego.

"Schools and universities in California must be above reproach, and no further burdens should be visited upon students who are already weighed down by escalating student-debt responsibilities," Brown said.

The Department of Justice is seeking the information to determine whether the lenders made unlawful payments to schools or university personnel.

Brown said he is investigating whether any schools have improperly chosen some lenders in preference to others, and whether unlawful payments have been made to schools from the student lending institutions.

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Gas Prices Top $3 in Five States

Motorists Seem to be Accepting the "New Normal"

Gas Prices Top $3 in Five States...

California gasoline prices lead the nation with a gallon of regular self-serve averaging $3.35 throughout the state. Average gasoline prices are also above $3 a gallon in four other states -- Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Hawaii.

Gasoline prices are up more than 60 cents in the last two months and began the seasonal summer increase about a month earlier than usual.

Across the country, the average price for a gallon of regular self-serve is $2.86, 30 cents more than one month a go and 4 cents more than one year ago.

Unlike the last few years, the latest price spikes have sparked little public outrage. Some analysts say consumers may now be regarding as normal what was once seen as exorbitant. Gas prices in the $3 range may be the "new normal," they say.

Mid-grade gasoline is selling for an average price of $3.04 and premium costs $3.15. Diesel fuel sells for $2.94 a gallon

The Energy Information Agency predicts that the average gasoline price will peak at $2.87 in May. Last year the average price peaked at $2.98 in July.

This week the highest gasoline price in the country is found in Lee Vining, California where a gallon of regular unleaded is selling for $3.89.

The cheapest gallon of regular gasoline is on sale in Winston-Salem, North Carolina for $2.47.

Here is a look at some prices from around the country in the weekly ConsumerAffairs.com Gas Price Round Up.

California: Southern California's slight dip in gas prices just after Easter has turned out to be a temporary respite. Gas prices headed back up over the last week, coming within a dime of their all-time record highs in most areas, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California.

The average price of self-serve regular gasoline in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area is $3.32, which is six cents higher than last week, 19 cents higher than last month, and 32 cents higher than last year.

In San Diego, the price is $3.35, which is five cents above last week's price, 18 cents above last month, and 32 cents above last year.

On the Central Coast, the average price is $3.44, up 6.3 cents from last week, 20 cents above last month, and 36 cents higher than last year.

In the Inland Empire, the average price is $3.34, 4.9 cents above last week, 19 cents higher than last month, and 30 cents higher than last year.

"Last year at this time, gas price averages were just reaching $3 a gallon in Southern California, and this year we've been paying over $3 for more than five weeks," said Auto Club spokesperson Carol Thorp. "Local wholesale gas price spikes that happened last week seem to be related to this latest round of increases."

In Northern California, Tahoe City is leading the state in high prices as many California areas in the north are setting record high gas prices.

The California average has risen 69 cents in 2007, according to AAA but Truckee-Tahoe averages have increased by 79 cents between April 18 and January 18.

Texas: Retail gasoline prices rose this week for 11 weeks in a row in Texas and the weekly AAA Texas gas price survey shows regular-grade gasoline prices averaged $2.78 per gallon. That is a seven-cent increase in just the last week.

Auto club spokeswoman Rose Rougeau said volatility tied to consumer demand, world events and profit-taking in the markets make it impossible to predict future price trends.

El Paso has the most expensive gasoline prices among the 11 Texas markets surveyed, rising eight cents to an average of $2.85 per gallon. Corpus Christi remains the cheapest on the list with regular grade rising six cents to an average of $2.68 per gallon.

Illinois: Gasoline has again touched $3 a gallon in Chicago, and is closing in on that number elsewhere in Illinois.

Average prices for a gallon of regular gasoline in Chicago range from $2.83 to as high as $3.00, according to AAA Chicago, with many stations in the city selling gas for more than $3.

 

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Intentional Spiking Suspected in Chinese Ingredients Blamed for Pet Poisonings; Blue Buffalo Recalls Spa Select Kitten Dry Food

Blue Buffalo Recalls Spa Select Kitten Dry Food

Intentional Spiking Suspected in Chinese Ingredients Blamed for Pet Poisonings...


Federal officials say ingredients imported from China -- and used in the more than 100 brands of recalled pet foods -- may have been intentionally spiked with an industrial chemical to boost their apparent protein content.

Rice protein concentrate
Source: Binzhou Futian Biology Technology, Ltd. Web site

That's one theory the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is pursuing as it investigates how the chemical melamine contaminated at least two ingredients used to make the recalled pet foods, according to the Associated Press.

Tests revealed melamine in both wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate -- imported from China -- used in the pet foods linked to scores of kidney illnesses and deaths in dogs and cats across the country.

There are also reports from South Africa that suggest a third pet food ingredient -- corn gluten -- was tainted with melamine. The FDA, however, said that tainted ingredient has not been found in the United States.

"Melamine was found in all three of those it would certainly lend credibility to the theory that it may be intentional," Stephen Sundlof, the FDA's chief veterinarian, told reporters on Thursday. "That will be one of the theories we will pursue when we get into the plants in China."

But U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said China has blocked the FDA's efforts to inspect the facilities that manufactured these melamine-tainted ingredients. He and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) on Wednesday sent a letter to the Chinese Ambassador to the United States urging his country to immediately issue visas to U.S. food inspectors.

"It is unacceptable that the Chinese government is blocking our food safety inspectors from entering their country and examining facilities that are suspected of providing contaminated pet food to American consumers," Durbin said.

"We have asked for two things in our letter today -- that the Chinese government allow our inspectors in and that the Chinese ambassador to the United States meet with Congresswoman DeLauro and me to discuss the larger issue of contaminated food being sent to the U.S. These are reasonable requests and we hope that we can find a level of cooperation with the Chinese."

In related news, agriculture officials in California placed a hog farm under quarantine after melamine was found in pig urine there, according to published reports. More testing was under way to determine whether the chemical was present in the meat produced by American Hog Farm in Ceres since April 3, the state Department of Food and Agriculture said.

Blue Buffalo Recall

Meanwhile, another pet food maker recalled some of its products on Thursday after discovering melamine in one of its ingredients.

The Blue Buffalo Company of Wilton, Connecticut, recalled one production run of its Spa Select Kitten dry food.

"We have taken this action because the rice protein concentrate used for this one production run was obtained from Wilbur-Ellis, the same company who supplied this ingredient to Natural Balance," the company's President, Bill Bishop, said in a statement on Blue Buffalo's Web site.

Natural Balance recalled its Venison and Brown Rice canned and bagged dog foods, Venison and Brown Rice dog treats, and Venison and Green Pea dry cat food earlier this week after discovering the rice protein concentrate used to make some of these products was tainted with melamine.

Melamine is a chemical in plastics and fertilizers, but is not approved for use in pet or human food, according to the (FDA). Blue Buffalo said it discovered melamine in the rice protein -- imported from China -- that was used in some of its food.

"Test results received late last evening (4/18) indicated that this rice protein concentrate tested positive for melamine," Bishop wrote on Blue Buffalo's Web site. "This is the first and only time our manufacturing partner sourced an ingredient from Wilbur-Ellis, and we had no knowledge that they had imported the ingredients from China."

California-based Wilbur-Ellis said it started importing rice protein concentrate from the Chinese company, Binzhou Futian Biology Technology, in July 2006. That company sent 14 containers holding 336 metric tons of rice protein concentrate to Wilbur-Ellis, which distributed 155 metric tons to date.

Blue Buffalo said it produced 5,044 bags of the Spa Select Kitten dry food in the run it's recalling.

"We were able to prevent the majority (of those bags) from ever entering retail distribution," Bishop said. "We are working closely with our retail partners to remove this product immediately and will be re-stocking the shelves with Spa Select Kitten dry food that was produced without any rice protein sourced from Wilbur-Ellis as soon as possible."

He added: "As a family owned company whose reason for being is to provide cats and dogs with the highest quality natural foods, we are extremely upset by this recall and can't begin to apologize enough to our customers. From our perspective, it is unacceptable to produce even one bag of food with the potential to cause a pet to become ill, and we will further tighten our ingredient sourcing and quality assurance procedures as a result of this incident."

The product code on the recalled bags is "Best Used by Mar.07.08 B."

The company said pet owners should immediately stop feeding their pets any of the recalled food. No other brands of Spa Select cat or dog food -- dry or canned -- are included in this recall.

Pet owners with questions or concerns about the recalled food can contact the company at 1-800-919-2833.

Senate Hearings

Last week, Durbin and Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) held a special hearing on the pet food recall. The hearing pitted FDA representatives and pet food lobbyists against the bipartisan Appropriations Subcommittee.

"Many cats, dogs and other pets, considered members of the family, are now suffering as a result of a deeply flawed pet food inspection system," Durbin said. "The FDA's response to this situation has been wholly inadequate -- we need to establish standardized inspections, impose penalties on companies who delay reporting health problems and increase communication between the FDA and the state inspectors so that we can catch problems more quickly. These sound like basic steps but the FDA has failed to put them in place."

After the hearing, Durbin told ConsumerAffairs.com that he is working on legislation to address this problem, but he did not specify the scope of his pending legislative action.

A North Carolina pet owner has one suggestion. She wants pet food manufacturers to be required to disclose the following information:

• The sources of their ingredients, including the country of origin;
• The names of the contract manufacturers for these companies;
• The names of the companies and countries they receive their products from.

"China is one of the most polluted and corrupt places in the world and the thought of any food products coming from there makes me want to gag," pet owner Aleda R. of Durham, N.C. told ConsumerAffairs.com. "There is no accountability."

This pet food debacle has struck a personal cord with Aleda.

"My dog has been eating IAMS dry food," she says. "She is a Chinese Crested, a small dog, who had a physical in October, with no problems. Because of the (pet food) scare, I just had her blood work (done) over again, and she has now experienced some 'off the chart on one of her kidney enzymes.'"

More about the Pet Food Recall ...



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Prius Traction Control Complaints on the Rise

Toyota Can't Get a Grip on the Problem

Prius Traction Control Complaints on the Rise...

Toyota is unable to modify the troublesome Prius traction control system without placing the vehicle's sophisticated hybrid drive system in jeopardy, according to a Toyota service technician familiar with the Prius problem.

In a mountainous or snowy areas, the little car can be more than just difficult, Prius owners complain.

"I live in the mountains, up steep hills and dirt roads. I consider the slippage problem with the shutting down of power to the wheels just when you need more not less traction to be a very serious problem and a potentially life-threatening design flaw," a New England Prius owner told ConsumerAffairs.com.

A Toyota representative told the Vermont hybrid driver that the system was "operating the way it's supposed to."

"It became clear that they were resistant to accepting that operating the way it was supposed to was the problem," the owner told ConsumerAffairs.com.

The hybrid's traction control system is managed by a computer program and several Toyota technicians have reportedly asked the automaker to modify the software to allow for more wheel spin before shutting the drive line down.

So far Toyota has apparently refused to provide for the modification.

Toyota spokesman Bill Kwon told ConsumerAffairs.com previously that the traction control system in the Prius could impact performance in snowy conditions but he has insisted the slippage was not a safety problem.

"Prius has TRAC (traction control) as standard equipment," Kwon said. "The purpose of traction control is to help prevent wheel spin and minimize slippage of the drive wheels by applying brakes and/or reducing engine power."

Others familiar with the traction issue in the Prius suggest the Toyota concern is for the safety and reliability of the hybrid system, especially the front axle in particular.

They suggest that Toyota engineers are concerned that if the traction control is turned off or modified, the hybrid system will produce so much torque in the Prius that wheel spin would lead quickly to broken axles and even wheels coming off.

One Prius owner was recently told that this is the reason "Toyota is reluctant at this point to allow for even a moderate amount of more spin by changing the Prius traction control computer program."

Currently the Prius system allows for no wheel spin at all and Toyota continues to brush off consumer complaints about the traction control system.

Several Prius owners have reported to ConsumerAffairs.com that they have warned Toyota of the tentative traction control system in the hybrid.

"Fundamentally Flawed"

"This system is fundamentally flawed in a way that could put people's lives at risk and poses dangers in environments like mine where navigating fresh slippery snow and steep inclines are a necessity," our New England reader said.

The Toyota statement that the Prius traction control system is "working as it was designed" has left more than one Prius owner feeling that the system is operating as designed to "protect the safety of the car not the safety of the driver or passengers."

Recently a Prius owner told ConsumerAffairs.com that he thinks Toyota has created "a potentially life-threatening danger for driver and passengers by preventing the driver from being able to exercise control over the vehicle under hazardous conditions."

Our Plainfield, Vermont, Prius owner is continuing to press Toyota for answers.

"I questioned them regarding whether an override switch was available and learned it wasn't and later saw that this is the solution that others had suggested."

Driving a Prius in snowy conditions takes a lot of getting used to. "I did find in a recent snowstorm that I was able to make it up a friends very steep road (just barely) crawling at about 3 or 4 miles per hour at best," he wrote.

"I do see that it's possible to drive this car differently, flooring the gas peddle to barely crawl and have it work but it was so touch-and-go and had another car been coming (up or down) I wouldn't have been able to move out of the way and probably couldn't have restarted with no momentum from a standstill," he wrote.

Our New England Prius owner has reluctantly concluded that, "it is completely clear that I am unable to trust my Prius in serious snow conditions and I now choose not to drive it whenever possible in fresh snow."

"Yesterday, I was not even able to get the car to move more than a few inches in reverse on my almost entirely flat driveway over just a few inches of fresh, wet snow, even when there was no snow under the car itself," he wrote.

On the other side of the country in Redwood City, California, yet another Prius owner has experienced the same traction control problems with a 2007 Prius.

"The traction control has proven to be very troublesome. If a bump in the road on a hill causes a wheel to bounce the traction control cuts all power and brings the car to a standstill," Ralph wrote ConsumerAffairs.com.

"This makes some roads and driveways passable to all other cars impassable to the Prius. This is a defect and can cause the car to become stuck very easily," he told us.

 

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U.S. Foreclosure Rate Surges 47 Percent

What a difference a year makes

U.S. Foreclosure Rate Surges 47 Percent...

What a difference a year makes. Foreclosure notices rose 47 percent from March 2006 to last month, according to RealtyTrac, a real estate research firm. The company said banks initiated 149,000 foreclosure actions in March 2007, the most since the company began collecting data.

The March numbers were up seven percent from the month before. It makes for a national foreclosure rate of one foreclosure filing for every 775 U.S. households during the month.

"Foreclosure activity shifted into a higher gear in the first two months of 2007, and March's numbers continued that trend," said James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac.

But Saccacio said that while foreclosures are causing a major disruption in the subprime sector of the lending industry and saturating pockets of some local markets, "it's important to note that U.S. foreclosure activity overall is not far above historical norms."

"Last year we saw a surge in foreclosures in the first quarter followed by a leveling off through the second and third quarters," he said. "However, if that pattern does not repeat itself, and foreclosure activity continues to accelerate, we may see more widespread consequences."

Nevada, Colorado Top the List

Nevada's foreclosure activity increased 29 percent from the previous month, helping the state register the nation's highest state foreclosure rate for the third month in a row. The state reported 4,738 foreclosure filings during the month, more than triple the number reported in March 2006 and a foreclosure rate of one foreclosure filing for every 183 households more than four times the national average.

Colorado's foreclosure rate of one new foreclosure for every 292 households was 2.7 times the national average and second highest among the states. The state reported 6,267 foreclosure filings during the month, an 18 percent increase from the previous month and a 16 percent increase from March 2006.

California's foreclosure rate also leaped upward. The state reported 31,434 foreclosure filings in March, the most of any state and an increase of 36 percent from the previous month. The state's total was nearly triple the number reported a year ago and accounted for 21 percent of the nation's total.

The surge in foreclosure activity pushed California's foreclosure rate to one foreclosure filing for every 389 households -- third highest among all the states and nearly twice the national average.

Other states with foreclosure rates ranking among the nation's 10 highest in March were Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

The five states with the most foreclosure filings in March -- California, Florida, Texas, Michigan and Ohio -- together accounted for 50 percent of the nation's total. Foreclosure activity increased on a year-over-year basis in all five of these states, and all five documented foreclosure rates above the national average, but foreclosure activity was down from the previous month in Florida and Michigan.

Six out of the 10 cities with the nation's highest metro foreclosure rates were located in California. A 137 percent spike in foreclosure activity boosted the foreclosure rate in Stockton, Calif., to one foreclosure filing for every 128 households -- the highest metro foreclosure rate in the nation and more than six times the national average.

Other California cities with foreclosure rates in the top 10 included Vallejo-Fairfield at No. 3, Modesto at No. 5, Sacramento at No. 6, Riverside-San Bernardino at No. 7 and Bakersfield at No. 10.

Las Vegas documented the nation's second highest metro foreclosure rate, one foreclosure filing for every 139 households more than five times the national average. The metro area reported 4,307 foreclosure filings during the month, a 33 percent increase from the previous month. Other metro areas with foreclosure rates among the nation's 10 highest included Greeley, Colo., Detroit and Denver.

 

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China Blocks U.S. Inspectors Seeking Answers to Pet Poisonings

Rice Protein Suspected in Latest Round of Recalls

China Blocks U.S. Inspectors Seeking Answers to Pet Poisonings...


The Chinese government has blocked requests from the Food and Drug Administration to inspect the facilities suspected of producing contaminated products that triggered a massive pet food recall in the United States.

Rice protein concentrate
Source: Binzhou Futian Biology Technology, Ltd. Web site

That action prompted U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Il) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) on Wednesday to send a letter to the Chinese Ambassador to the United States urging his country to immediately issue visas to U.S. food inspectors.

"It is unacceptable that the Chinese government is blocking our food safety inspectors from entering their country and examining facilities that are suspected of providing contaminated pet food to American consumers," Durbin said.

"We have asked for two things in our letter today -- that the Chinese government allow our inspectors in and that the Chinese ambassador to the United States meet with Congresswoman DeLauro and me to discuss the larger issue of contaminated food being sent to the U.S. These are reasonable requests and we hope that we can find a level of cooperation with the Chinese."

Durbin and DeLauro learned about China's refusal to grant the food inspectors visas during a meeting Wednesday with FDA Commission, Andrew von Eschenbach. The Capitol Hill meeting focused on the latest pet food recall -- announced by Natural Balance earlier this week after the company learned some of its products contained rice protein tainted with the chemical melamine.

That chemical is used in plastics and fertilizers, but is not allowed in human or pet food, according to the FDA.

U.S. importer Wilbur-Ellis said it bought the rice protein concentrate from a Chinese company called Binzhou Futian Biology Technology, Ltd. That company's Web site says it processes a number of agricultural product and byproducts, including granule corn gluten meal, powdery corn gluten meal, and 30,000 metric tons of rice protein concentrate.

It also states its rice protein is "mainly used to feed the animals. The rice protein concentrate, which is the by-product of rice starch, is rich in nutrition. It plays an important part in helping animals grow and against illness. It is a good additive, so the animals can grow stronger and eat more."

Durbin: Safety First

Back on Capitol Hill, Durbin said the FDA has tried since April 4, 2007, to get its food inspectors into the Chinese facilities suspected of making the tainted products.

"At a time when China is exporting more foods into the U.S., the Chinese are refusing to allow our inspectors in to the country to investigate the source of the pet food contamination," DeLauro said. "The FDA needs to be allowed to investigate this so we can better protect our pets and identify the source of the source of the problem. While we have a significant trade relationship with the Chinese, the investigation of the contaminated product comes first."

The FDA says the Chinese company Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd., is the source of the melamine-tainted wheat gluten.

Menu Foods of Canada and other pet food makers have recalled 60 million containers of dog and cat food -- sold under nearly 100 brands -- that contain the tainted wheat gluten.

At least 16 pets have died -- and scores of others have suffered kidney disease -- after eating the contaminated pet food, the FDA says. The actual numbers, however, are likely much higher; anecdotal evidence suggests the numbers may be in the thousands.

Durbin and DeLauro said it is imperative that China allow U.S. food inspectors into the facilities suspected of making the melamine-tainted products.

"This incident has brought suffering to pet owners who have seen their animals fall prey to illness or death, and caused significant economic losses to U.S. companies that believed they were importing wholesome products," they wrote in their letter to the Chinese Ambassador to the United States. "Last year, the United States imported more than $2.1 billion of agricultural goods from China, up from nearly $1.8 billion the year before. Clearly, this is an important trading relationship."

Last week, Durbin and Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) held a special hearing on the pet food recall. The hearing pitted FDA representatives and pet food lobbyists against the bipartisan Appropriations Subcommittee.

"Many cats, dogs and other pets, considered members of the family, are now suffering as a result of a deeply flawed pet food inspection system," Durbin said. "The FDA's response to this situation has been wholly inadequate -- we need to establish standardized inspections, impose penalties on companies who delay reporting health problems and increase communication between the FDA and the state inspectors so that we can catch problems more quickly. These sound like basic steps but the FDA has failed to put them in place."

After the hearing, Durbin told ConsumerAffairs.com that he is working on legislation to address this problem, but he did not specify the scope of his pending legislative action.

A North Carolina pet owner has one suggestion. She wants pet food manufacturers to be required to disclose the following information:

• The sources of their ingredients, including the country of origin;
• The names of the contract manufacturers for these companies;
• The names of the companies and countries they receive their products from.

"China is one of the most polluted and corrupt places in the world and the thought of any food products coming from there makes me want to gag," pet owner Aleda R. of Durham, N.C. told ConsumerAffairs.com. "There is no accountability."

This pet food debacle has struck a personal cord with Aleda.

"My dog has been eating IAMS dry food," she says. "She is a Chinese Crested, a small dog, who had a physical in October, with no problems. Because of the (pet food) scare, I just had her blood work (done) over again, and she has now experienced some 'off the chart on one of her kidney enzymes.'"

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Melamine Blamed for More Pet Food Recalls

Natural Balance Recalls Several Varieties, Menu Foods Expands Its Recall

Melamine Blamed for More Pet Food Recalls...


The chemical melamine is again being blamed for causing kidney failure in cats and dogs.

Only this time, it's in the rice protein of Natural Balance's Venison and Brown Rice canned and bagged dog foods, Venison and Brown Rice dog treats, and Venison and Green Pea dry cat food.

"Recent laboratory results show that the products contain melamine," Natural Balance said in a press release posted on its Web site. "We believe the source of the melamine is a rice protein concentrate ... Natural Balance has confirmed this morning that some production batches of these products may contain melamine."

Melamine is a chemical used in plastics and fertilizers, but it is not allowed in human or pet food, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The nearly 100 brands of pet food products recalled in the past month -- and blamed for kidney problems and deaths of scores of dogs and cats across the country -- contain melamine-tainted wheat gluten imported from China, the FDA says.

Natural Balance products, however, do not contain wheat gluten.

And that's why the company's recall caught pet owner and industry experts by surprise.

"This recall blows my mind," says Canadian author Ann N. Martin, who researched the pet food industry for years and wrote the books "Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food," and "Protect Your Pets: More Shocking Facts."

Ann Martin's Books

"Prior to writing my last book (in 2003), Natural Balance was a company that was making its own food, using quality ingredients, and happy to answer any and all questions you had," Martin told ConsumerAffairs.com today.

"Now look what has happened. They grew and apparently the ingredients they are using are turning out to be the same as the inferior companies. I'm extremely upset, and needless to say, they will not be mentioned in the revisions to this book."

Menu Foods Expands Recall

Meanwhile, Menu Foods on Tuesday announced it's expanding its recall to include one additional product -- Natural Life Vegetarian pet food sold in 13.2 ounce cans. The recalled product has the date Nov/22/09 on the bottom of the cans and the UPC code 12344-07114.

The Canadian-based company said it recalled this pet food because: "Over the past several days, Menu Foods continued a detailed analysis of production records at its Emporia, Kansas, plant as part of the US Food and Drug Administration's ongoing investigation of this adulterated wheat gluten."

But how did adulterated, melamine-tainted, rice protein end up in Natural Balance's pet foods? This is a company known for using only human-grade ingredients in its products.

Natural Balance's Publicist Daniel Bernstein said the company started using the rice protein concentrate a month ago.

The company added the ingredient, he said, to increase the protein content of the food. It immediately discontinued using that ingredient after receiving calls about sick animals.

Bernstein said tests results have confirmed melamine in two of the four recalled products -- Venison and Brown Rice Dry Dog Formula and Venison and Green Pea Dry Cat Formula.

But the company recalled the other products -- Venison and Brown Rice Canned Dog Food and Venison & Brown Rice Formula Dog Treats -- because they also contain rice protein. "We have not found melamine in those products," Bernstein told ConsumerAffair.com today.

Finding melamine in any of the company's products came as a complete shock to Natural Balance, Bernstein said.

"For the past month, this has been about the wheat gluten in the pet foods," he said, referring to the nationwide recall of pet food announced in March. "This is brand new to everyone. No one saw this comingthis is shocking and upsetting."

Bernstein confirmed reports that a San Francisco-based company -- Wilbur-Ellis -- imported the rice protein concentrate from China.

That company then sold the ingredient to Diamond Pet Foods, which packs some of the Natural Balance products. Diamond Foods, however, told USA Today that it doesn't use rice protein in any of its foods.

Wilbur-Ellis also sold the rice protein concentrate to four other pet food makers, according to USA Today. The company would not disclose the names of those manufacturers, but said the other major pet food maker that received the ingredient -- besides Diamond Pet Foods -- tested the product and did not find any melamine.

Wilbur-Ellis also said it notified the FDA on Sunday that it had detected melamine in some rice protein concentrate imported from China about a week ago, according to USA Today.

The company said it has stopped importing the ingredient from that Chinese firm, Binzhou Futian Biology Technology.

When asked if Natural Balance will add rice protein to its pet foods in the future, Bernstein said: "It's not likely. But it if does, it's not going to use the same line of rice protein."

He added: "It's not an essential ingredient because until a month, it wasn't in any of the products."

Natural Balance's president told USA Today the company has received reports of about 10 sick pets -- mostly dogs -- since last Thursday.

The company says some pets developed kidney failure after eating its food. That's the same problem many of the pets who've eating the melamine-tainted wheat gluten have experienced.

"The first calls came in last Thursday and Friday," Bernstein said, adding they were from pet owners across the country. "By Friday, we had six calls and that's when we started testing (the food). And once we heard pets were getting sick, we contacted our distributors."

Bernstein said there are no reports of deaths in dogs or cats linked to the company's recalled foods.

Pet owners, he said, should immediately stop using the recalled foods. They should also have their pets seen by a veterinarian if they show any signs of kidney failure, including loss of appetite, lethargy and vomiting.

Bernstein said he did not know how many containers of pet food are included the recall, but added: "it's a relatively small number."

The recalled foods are packaged in bags, cans, and zip lock treat bags, and sold in pet specialty stores nationwide.

None of Natural Balance's other products contain rice protein, the company said. And none of its other products are involved in the recall. Natural Balance says it will continue to work closely with the FDA.

Pet owners with questions about the recall can contact the company at 1-800-829-4493.

In the meantime, author Ann Martin -- who used to recommend Natural Balance to pet owners -- doubts she'll ever buy the company's products again.

"I cook for my guys most of the time," she says, adding she fed her dog Natural Balance when she boarded him at a kennel. "(But) I'm almost afraid to try any foods now, even the quality ones, as they seem to have followed the lead of many of the multi-nationals and gone to the co-packers."

Cat owner Carolynne V. of Brick, N.J. echoes Martin's sentiments.

She says one of her cats recently developed kidney stones after eating Natural Balance's Venison and Green Pea food.

And she's angry the company didn't investigate its products after Menu Foods announced its recall in March.

"Until now, the Venison and Green Pea formulas had been the answer to my prayers in terms of feeding my allergic cats," she says. "But now I realize that I had only been putting my cats' health in jeopardy by feeding them (this) product. Our pets are loving family members and I cannot believe (the company's) irresponsibility in making health claims about (its) product that obviously are not true.

"This leads me to believe that despite all of (the company's) published claims, it is using inferior ingredients in its products and I have discontinued the use of all Natural Balance products."

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FCC Takes a Closer Look at Broadband Deployment

Are services deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion?

FCC Takes a Closer Look at Broadband Deployment...

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has posted a new "Notice of Inquiry" that it was looking into whether broadband services have been deployed to Americans in "a reasonable and timely fashion." The agency also offered a new "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" on how to set broadband policy for future issues.

"Among the questions the Commission asks ... in the NOI is how to define broadband in light of the rapid technological changes occurring in the marketplace, including the development of higher speed services and new broadband platforms," the FCC.

"The Commission will also focus on the availability of broadband, including in rural and other hard-to-serve areas; on whether consumers are adopting new services; and on the level of competition in the marketplace."

The FCC has come under harsh scrutiny for not aggressively pursuing the discrepancies in broadband access across the country. Currently, the United States ranks 16th worldwide for broadband penetration levels, with many regions of the country having few or no choices in their Internet access provider whatsoever.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin defended the current state of broadband affairs for America in his own statement, referring to a Pew study showing that overall broadband adoption increased from 60 t0 84 million households between March 2005 and March 2006, and that there was extensive adoption of broadband service by African-American and middle-class households, defined as those making $40,000 to $50,000 a year.

"While we have made progress recently, as I have said before, there is more we can do," Martin said.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in May 2006 that the FCC uses spotty measurements to determine its own findings, such as measuring broadband deployment in a given region based on subscriber access, rather than on actual infrastructure creation.

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FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein referenced the GAO report in his own statement, saying that the FCC could do more than merely seek comment on how to improve its practices. "If we are to make sure that all Americans benefit from broadband services, the Commission must do more to assess broadband availability and affordability across our many diverse populations," Adelstein said.

Pressure Picks Up On FCC

Much of the new Democratic Congress agrees with Adelstein's assessment that the FCC has not moved fast or vigorously enough to protect consumers on issues ranging from Net neutrality to video franchising. All five commissioners were harshly grilled at a House Telecommunications Subcommittee hearing last month for decisions such as approving the AT&T;/BellSouth mega-merger.

"Pressure from the new Democratic Congress has resulted in Chairman Kevin Martin distributing more than 150 rulemaking items to the other commissioners for consideration -- a record," said former FCC attorney Steve Effros. "That set of hearings is emblematic of what is happening. The commission is following, not leading."

Perhaps as a result of the heavier oversight from Congress, the FCC has made several decisions of late that appear much more consumer-friendly than in previous years. The FCC recently issued guidance mandating that phone companies set up password access for customers who want to view their calling records. The move was touted as a block against "pretexting," the practice of obtaining calling records for third parties using false pretenses.

The FCC has also intervened in the case of FreeConference.Com, a multiple conference call service that has run afoul of the major telecoms over charges that it usurps their lines and leaves them footing the bill. The Commission is hearing testimony from rural carriers that support FreeConference.Com and similar services, who want companies like AT&T; to stop blocking their customer access.

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Natural Balance Recalls Pet Food

One of the Few Brands to Use "Human Grade" Ingredients

Natural Balance Recalls Pet Food...


Another pet food company has recalled some of its products after receiving complaints that dogs and cats are vomiting and experiencing kidney problems.

Natural Balance Pet Foods announced on its Web site that it is pulling all dates of Venison & Brown Rice Dry Dog Food and Venison & Green pea Dry Cat Food from the market.

"We do not know what it wrong with the food at this time," the California-based company states on its Web site, "but we have heard that animals are vomiting and experiencing kidney problems. Although the problems seem to be focused on one particular lot, as a precautionary measure, we are pulling all dates of Venison & Brown Rice Dry Dog Food and Venison & Green Pea Dry Cat Food from the shelves."

The message adds: "We are working closely with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Please discontinue feeding all Venison and Brown Rice Dry Dog Food and Venison and Green Pea Dry Cat Food." The company said no other Natural Balance products are affected by the recall.

The FDA said that there is "no indication at this time whether this is related to the ongoing pet food recalls."

On the company's 800 number, a recorded message Monday night stated the only test results Natural Balance has received back are bacterial reports. And those tests did not reveal any abnormal findings.

Natural Balance's Web site said the affected brands of pet food contain no grains like wheat, barley, corn, and oats. And wheat gluten is not listed as an ingredient for either brand of Natural Balance's recalled pet foods.

The FDA says the nearly 100 brands of pet foods and treats involved in the nationwide recall -- announced on March 16, 2007, by Menu Foods of Canada -- were made with melamine-tainted wheat gluten imported from China. Melamine is a fertilizer and a chemical commonly used in plastics.

Expert Calls It "Very Upsetting"

Ann Martin's Books

Canadian author Ann N. Martin, who researched the pet food industry for five years, called Natural Balance's recall "very upsetting."

In earlier interviews with ConsumerAffairs.com, Martin said Natural Balance is one of the few pet foods on the market made with "human grade" ingredients.

"These are ingredients that have been inspected and passed for human consumption," says Martin, author of "Food Pets Die For ... Shocking Facts About Pet Food," and "Protect Your Pets ... More Shocking Facts." Martin says she feeds her dog Natural Balance Premium food when she boards him at the kennel.

When ConsumerAffairs.com contacted Martin late Monday night about Natural Balance's recall, she said: "I had heard about this yesterday morning and can't figure out what the heck is going on. If there is something wrong with this food, and it is one of the top foods on the market, I will just forget telling people what foods they should feed their pets. This is very upsetting. "

Pet owners can call Natural Balance's toll-free number at 800-829-4493 or visit its Web site for more information.

South Africa

In related news, the pet food recall has now spread to South Africa.

Royal Canin South Africa, which manufacturers Royal Canin premium dog and cat food -- and the cheaper brand Vets Choice -- announced that it was recalling the products because they'd caused kidney failure in dogs and cats, according to reports in The Namibian, an independent daily newspaper published in Windhoek, and allAfrica.com.

Royal Canin South Africa advised veterinarians in South Africa and Namibia to stop selling Vets Choice until further notice.

The paper said laboratory tests are being done to determine if the food is contaminated.

Nineteen dogs in Cape Town and Johannesburg -- that ate Vets Choice food -- have been diagnosed with acute kidney failure, according to News 24, South Africa's premier news source.

A statement sent to veterinary surgeons in South Africa said: "In the interests of patients and pending tests being conducted on Vets Choice products, Royal Canin South Africa has decided to suspend all sales of Vets Choice with immediate effect and vets are requested to advise clients to cease feeding Vets Choice products to their pets until further notice."

The South African subsidiary of Hill's Pet Nutrition previously recalled a batch of its Prescription Diet m/d Feline dry food in the wake of the massive recall in the United States. The prescribed cat food is only available from veterinarians.

The South African Veterinary Association called Hills' recall "a precautionary measure" and said it hadn't appeared to affect cats in South Africa, The Namibian reported.

Dr Guy Fyvie, spokesperson for Hill's in South Africa, told News 24, the potentially affected products had never been released from the warehouse to South African veterinarians and all food sold in that country is safe.

This isn't the first time South African pet owners have worried about the food they're feeding their dogs and cats.

Earlier this year, approximately 35 dogs in that country died after eating toxic pet food. In that case, the pets died from ethylene glycol-contaminated food -- manufactured by Aquanutro -- and sold at Woolworths in South Africa.

Finger-Pointing Begins

The United States company that imported the tainted wheat gluten -- ChemNutra of Las Vegas, Nevada -- says it was victimized by its Chinese supplier, XuZhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd.

In a letter posted on the company's Web site, CEO Steve Miller also said he is "appalled" that Menu Foods took so long to recall the contaminated pet food.

"The possibility that any animal fell ill or died because of an ingredient we may have supplied to Menu Foods saddens us and also angers us because it means that ChemNutra has been victimized as well, by our own supplier," Miller wrote, adding his company will no longer do business with XuZhou Anying.

"We are concerned that we may have been the victim of deliberate and mercenary contamination for the purpose of making the wheat gluten we purchased appear to have a higher protein content than it did, because melamine causes a false high result on protein tests," Miller said.

Miller was referring to allegations that the melamine could have intentionally been added to the wheat gluten -- a theory raised earlier this month by the director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine.

"Somebody may have added melamine to the wheat gluten in order to increase what appears to be the protein level," the FDA's Stephen Sundlof said. "Wheat gluten is a high-protein substance and by trying to artificially inflate the protein level, it could command a higher price. But that's just one theory at this point."

Miller said his company had never heard of melamine before this recall.

"We had no idea that melamine was an issue until being notified by the FDA on March 29," he wrote on the company's Web site. "It's simply not a chemical even on the radar screen for food ingredient suppliers."

Miller also said his company is "distressed" with Menu Foods' handling of the pet food recall.

"We are appalled and distressed that Menu Foods took so long to recall its products, although it clearly suspected there was a problem for weeks prior to the first recall," he wrote. "And it wasn't until eight days before they issued their first recall that Menu Foods told us that wheat gluten was one of many ingredients it was investigating."

Questions Raised about ChemNutra

Questions, however, have surfaced in recent weeks about ChemNutra and its ties to China. The Canadian investigative newspaper, Canada Free Press, describes the company's Chinese headquarters as a "rundown warehouse in rural China."

That warehouse, the paper adds, is located within 50 miles of XuZhou Anying, the company blamed for supplying the tainted wheat gluten.

The Las Vegas Review Journal says ChemNutra's Las Vegas office -- at Durango and Charleston Streets -- is "very small ... without even a sign on the door."

ChemNutra touts its ties to China, stating it "imports high-quality nutritional and pharmaceutical chemicals from China to the US. We purchase our inventory from quality-assured manufacturers in China; most of whom we have strong relationships over the past twelve years."

The company's president, Sally Miller, also has strong ties to China.

ChemNutra's Web site states she has "more than 12 years experience in China as QA Manager and Purchasing Manager ... and was responsible for purchasing large quantities of nutritional and food ingredients in China for export worldwide."

The Web site also states Sally Miller has an MBA -- and an Engineering degree -- in Food Engineering, but doesn't state where she earned those degrees. Canada Free Press learned she "earned an MBA from City University in Seattle, as well as (an) Engineering degree in Food Chemical Engineering at Hanzhou Institute of Commerce in Hanzhou, China."

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Cosmetics: A Fresh Face or Just a Waste?

Americans Spend Billions on Unproven Creams, Gels, Ointments

The cleansers and toners that didn't feature chunky images of fresh fruit on the packaging were instead covered with drawings of complex amino acid chains....


Like many other men in their early thirties, I had always hoped there would be this golden period in my life between the last of my lingering adolescent acne and the greying of my hair. Then again, I planned to be a millionaire before the age of 30 and that didn't happen either.

So I found myself in the drugstore the other day, staring bleakly at shelf after shelf of cosmetic products, all promising to cure the recent flare-up of my skin on the basis of natural ingredients like aloe vera, cucumber, even salmon eggs -- although presumably without the fishy flavor.

The cleansers and toners that didn't feature chunky images of fresh fruit on the packaging were instead covered with drawings of complex amino acid chains and even the odd reputable-looking scientist in a white coat. Between the pictures of sliced avocadoes and the pseudo-science they had me sold and I came away with a bottle of each in my hands, hoping rather foolishly that I could buy what I wanted -- to look good.

Americans spend billions on cosmetics each year. With the most modern role models coming through the TV set, everyone wants pearly white teeth, unblemished skin and the rich, flowing hair that all their favorite celebrities seem to have.

Worse, in a society where products are frequently sold through fear, the underlying message is that with the odd freckle, blackhead or pimple, you stand no chance of getting a date, an interview or just some welcome attention from the opposite sex when walking down the street.

Cosmetics companies understand this intimately. Like any major corporation, they hire teams of psychologists, researchers and PR consultants to identify the major causes of concern for their target public and all their advertising, packaging and product launches are centered around their recommendations.

You can bet that if eyebrows went out of fashion, L'Oreal and co would be the first to sell lotions to prevent the growth of hair above your eyes.

When I got home I eagerly applied the avocado cleanser and, while I impatiently waited the 20 minutes until the instructions allowed me to wash it off, I checked out the ingredients, wondering how they'd ever got avocado to be so soft and smelling so fresh. I was a little disconcerted to find that while there was indeed pulp of avocado contained within, it came only at the end of a long list of chemicals that I could barely pronounce, never mind identify.

Go ahead, check the ingredients in just about any cosmetic you have in the bathroom and if you can explain what they all are I'll send you a free avocado.

Which left me with the moisturizer containing the latest in amino acids. I belatedly realised that I'd been impressed by an ad on TV which featured an impressive computer simulation of the amino acids in question spinning around and melting into skin cells. With a hot date that night and blackheads on my nose, I was ready to believe anything.

Spin Cream

Cosmetics companies are really smart. They pay large sums to laboratories to come up with actual hard data about the behavior of things like broken-down proteins that can be put into neat little computer animations. Then they pay marketing spin doctors to find a way of implying that these latest biological innovations are actually going to make the slightest difference to your skin or your hair.

And there's the rub -- and also why you'll never be able to sue them for misleading you in your purchase -- they keep the scientific mumbo jumbo to one side and the claims about the effects of the cosmetic quite separate.

They'll say something like "such and such a vitamin is important for cell formation" which may be perfectly true but there's no evidence that smearing the vitamin on your face will help in the slightest.

Their claims that the cream will hydrate your skin are true but just about any cream will do so. Only the the computer graphics show the vitamins entering the skin and enhancing the glow and sex appeal of the exceptionally beautiful model in question.

Or take shampoos and conditioners. Companies like Garnier and L'Oreal are forever touting the use of specially catered proteins to give new life and verve to your hair, you know, to get the movie star look.

There's just one problem -- now brace yourself -- your hair is dead. Really. And no amount of amino acids is going to change that. What the conditioner can do is make your hair look great -- for a while -- but that has nothing to do with all the science of hair growth. It comes down to the right balance of oils, chemicals and water in the product.

But if the science is spurious or the advertisements misleading, how could the products ever be sold in a country like the US? Surely the government has safeguards in place to protect the consumer and test the claims of such products?

Not a hope.

For while the FDA does call for drug companies to produce documented studies that prove efficacy, cosmetic products are allowed onto the U.S. market without any efficacy tests being conducted and cannot even be recalled in the event that they prove hazardous to the consumer. The FDA believes that "cosmetic firms are responsible for substantiating the safety of their products and ingredients" and leaves it up to the consumer to decide if they work or not.

It's an open question whether there are any health risks from using the kind of cosmetics found in most American bathrooms. Certainly many of the ingredients could be fairly toxic but the skin just isn't that absorbent -- we'd leak if it was.

However, as we enter a futuristic technological era, some cosmetics now include nano-particles which can penetrate the skin and perhaps cause ailments ranging from breast cancer to genital deformities or damage to our children. Such charges haven't been proven but experience shows that it makes sense to take precautions sooner rather than later.

Why wait a decade or so until people start getting sick from the latest skin rub?

Safety First

One such group is the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which has been pressuring companies for some time now to sign a convention based on safety measures introduced in Europe. Interestingly enough, while many smaller companies have signed, the giants like L'Oreal, Revlon, Gap and Proctor & Gamble have refused to join up.

And why does the FDA not bother to regulate the safety of cosmetics in America? It's because they consider cosmetics to be "topical products that do not affect the structure or function of the skin."

They don't do anything, in other words.

Got that? All those expensive bottles that promise to give you the skin of a TV star are really nothing more than make-up and moisturizer. Your skin looks good or bad depending on the overall state of your health, not on how many layers of amino acids you splash on top. The best thing you can do for overall skin health is to drink lots of water, avoid fried and processed foods and get plenty of exercise.

But as the best things in life can't be sold, you'll rarely hear the above and instead get lost in the vast array of cosmetic supplies that hypnotized me into making a purchase the other day. Dermatologists are beginning to tire of the claims of the cosmetics companies though and there's a call for a return to the basics of skin care. One prominent advocate is a Dr. Fran E. Cook-Bolden, a New York dematologist, who summed it up:

"Just two products, a gentle cleanser and a good sunscreen, are enough daily skin care for most people, and you can buy those at a drugstore or a grocery store."

Yogurt Rub

I spent last winter in India and I was struck at how many of the cosmetics available were typically outside the budget of many Indian families yet they all seemed to have glowing complexions. One day my landlady decided I was respectable enough to be invited for lunch and, towards the end of the meal, her teenage daughter began to apply some yogurt to her skin.

After they had a good laugh at the look on my face, it was explained to me that, according to the principles of Ayurveda -- India's traditional holistic medicine -- most cosmetics for skin care can be found within the kitchen for next to no expense.

They went on to show me how honey could be used as a moisturizer, slices of uncooked potato could tighten the skin and even papaya pulp or beaten eggs could be used as face masks. All without costing them any more than the leftover groceries.

And these ancient traditions had not only the advantage of being cheap, they were also free of the kind of heinous karma that the cosmetics companies have built up over the years by testing on animals. For decades, the standard method for determining the irritation factor of new products has been to release drops of the cosmetic into the eyes of rabbits or guinea pigs and observe the toxic reaction.

Amid recent animal rights campaigns and surveys that show a majority of Americans and Britons oppose animal testing, the cosmetics companies have done all they can to cast a smokescreen: they played with the stats to look innocent, they donated money to universities to further studies into alternative testing methods and hired the best PR teams that money can buy.

Yet animal testing still goes on in a big way, despite all the media spin employed by the cosmetics giants. Naturally, these kinds of experiments have usually been outsourced to other companies to avoid any immediate moral fallout and bad publicity. Which is just as well as half the animals used in the testing die a few weeks afterwards.

So think about that the next time you reach for your sunscreen. If the bottle doesn't proudly announce that it's free of animal testing then you can bet that many helpless creatures had to die in order for you to shrink those wrinkles.

Ultimately, just about everyone wants to look good. Cosmetics wouldn't be a multi-billion dollar industry if they didn't. But products and industries should exist to serve our needs, not the other way around. We don't need teams of scientists, PR marketing whizzes, legal teams and graphic designers to put together products to make us look beautiful, much less healthy. As Dr. William P. Coleman, M.D., a dermatology professor from Tulane University in New Orleans tells us:

"You have to think of cosmetics as decorative and hygienic, not as things that are going to change your skin. A $200 cream may have better perfume or packaging, but as far as it moisturizing your skin better than a $10 cream, it probably won't."

The cosmetics industry would have us believe that enduring myth, that beauty is only skin-deep. We then take the next step of swallowing the notion that if we were only to spend enough money on our appearances then we'd look beautiful. The truth is, no amount of $200 wonder creams is going to do that for us.

A good make-up artist can do wonders for the camera but at the end of the day it's only a mask.

You can use some oats to cleanse your face, some yogurt to moisturise it. Failing that, you can buy pre-packaged alternatives at your local drug store. But don't let the jargon and sales pitches make you part with the better part of your wages to shrink those wrinkles. Your skin is fairly elastic but it gradually shapes itself into the expression it most commonly wears. Try smiling a little more often and as you get older your face will have its own characteristic charm.

Beauty really does come from within.

---

Tom Glaister is the founder and editor of www.roadjunky.com - The Online Travel Guide for the Free and Funky Traveller.

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Pet Food Importer Blames Its Chinese Supplier

ChemNutra "Appalled" at Menu Foods' Delay in Issuing Recall

Pet Food Importer Blames Its Chinese Supplier...

By Lisa Wade McCormick
ConsumerAffairs.com

April 16, 2007
The United States company that imported the tainted wheat gluten -- ChemNutra of Las Vegas, Nevada -- says it was victimized by its Chinese supplier, XuZhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd.

In a letter posted on the company's Web site, CEO Steve Miller also said he is "appalled" that Menu Foods took so long to recall the contaminated pet food.

"The possibility that any animal fell ill or died because of an ingredient we may have supplied to Menu Foods saddens us and also angers us because it means that ChemNutra has been victimized as well, by our own supplier," Miller wrote, adding his company will no longer do business with XuZhou Anying.

"We are concerned that we may have been the victim of deliberate and mercenary contamination for the purpose of making the wheat gluten we purchased appear to have a higher protein content than it did, because melamine causes a false high result on protein tests," Miller said.

Miller was referring to allegations that the melamine could have intentionally been added to the wheat gluten -- a theory raised earlier this month by the director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine.

"Somebody may have added melamine to the wheat gluten in order to increase what appears to be the protein level," the FDA's Stephen Sundlof said. "Wheat gluten is a high-protein substance and by trying to artificially inflate the protein level, it could command a higher price. But that's just one theory at this point."

Miller said his company had never heard of melamine before this recall.

"We had no idea that melamine was an issue until being notified by the FDA on March 29," he wrote on the company's Web site. "It's simply not a chemical even on the radar screen for food ingredient suppliers."

Miller also said his company is "distressed" with Menu Foods' handling of the pet food recall.

"We are appalled and distressed that Menu Foods took so long to recall its products, although it clearly suspected there was a problem for weeks prior to the first recall," he wrote. "And it wasn't until eight days before they issued their first recall that Menu Foods told us that wheat gluten was one of many ingredients it was investigating."

Questions Raised about ChemNutra

Questions, however, have surfaced in recent weeks about ChemNutra and its ties to China. The Canadian investigative newspaper, Canada Free Press, describes the company's Chinese headquarters as a "rundown warehouse in rural China."

That warehouse, the paper adds, is located within 50 miles of XuZhou Anying, the company blamed for supplying the tainted wheat gluten.

The Las Vegas Review Journal says ChemNutra's Las Vegas office -- at Durango and Charleston Streets -- is "very small ... without even a sign on the door."

ChemNutra touts its ties to China, stating it "imports high-quality nutritional and pharmaceutical chemicals from China to the US. We purchase our inventory from quality-assured manufacturers in China; most of whom we have strong relationships over the past twelve years."

The company's president, Sally Miller, also has strong ties to China.

ChemNutra's Web site states she has "more than 12 years experience in China as QA Manager and Purchasing Manager ... and was responsible for purchasing large quantities of nutritional and food ingredients in China for export worldwide."

The Web site also states Sally Miller has an MBA -- and an Engineering degree -- in Food Engineering, but doesn't state where she earned those degrees. Canada Free Press learned she "earned an MBA from City University in Seattle, as well as (an) Engineering degree in Food Chemical Engineering at Hanzhou Institute of Commerce in Hanzhou, China."

Puerto Rico Outbreak

The pet food crisis -- blamed for the deaths and illnesses of thousands of dogs and cats in the United States -- has spread to Puerto Rico.

Two dogs on that Caribbean island died of kidney failure last week after eating melamine-tainted Ol'Roy dog biscuits, according to Puerto Rico's Veterinary Medical Association.

The dogs -- both three-year-old miniature schnauzers -- are the first pets in Puerto Rico to die from the contaminated pet food products, said Dr. Victor Callazo, president Puerto Rico's Veterinary Medical Association. His association ran tests that confirmed the wheat gluten in the dog biscuits contained melamine, a chemical commonly used in plastics.

Dr. Callazo said the tainted dog biscuits were purchased at Amigo, a supermarket chain owned by the Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart Stores.

The Food and Drug Administration has confirmed 16 deaths from the tainted pet food, but other organizations say the real number is in the thousands.

Recall Announced One Month Ago

It was one month ago that Menu Foods of Canada announced its massive recall of pet food, one of the largest in history. Nearly 100 brands of pet food and treats -- and more than 60 million containers -- are included in the recall.

The FDA says the pet food and products were made with melamine-tainted wheat gluten imported from China.

Outraged Pet Owners

Meanwhile, ConsumerAffairs.com continues to hear from grieving and worried pet owners. Many wonder why Iams has not recalled its dry food.

They're pet owners like Judith E. of Hamilton, MA.

"My perfectly healthy Cairn terrier died of acute renal failure due to poisoning," she says. "She was always by my side and ate only Iams dry dog food. There are several complaints about this food. We want this food recalled ASAP."

A California pet owner also blames her dog's recent death on Iams dry food.

"My dog was 15, but was very active and spunky," says Angela of Alamo, California. "He was fed Iams dry dog food and became very ill, very quickly. I did not feed him the wet dog food, but he still was lethargic, lost weight rapidly, was vomiting, urinating in the house, and could not walkby the time I got him to the vet he had sores in his mouth and was in acute renal failure."

Angela says she had to put her beloved dog to sleep.

"It was horrible. I am still so upset and confused and saddened by his loss. I don't understand what happenedthis renal failure took him by surprise and was so devastating. He could not even lift his head when he was being taken to the vet."

P&G; Pet Care, the manufacturer of Iams, says on its Web site that none of its dry pet foods are included in the recall. The company also said all the dry and wet pet foods it continues to sell do not contain wheat gluten from any supplier.

Menu Foods Not Responding To Calls

Another pet owner says Menu Foods has not responded to the repeated messages she's left about her dog's death. Jerri L. of Goodyear, Arizona, told ConsumerAffairs.com that she's called the company's pet food recall hotline five times since March.

But no one has returned any of her messages.

"I understand that they may be swamped with calls, but after all the messages I've left, I would hope that someone would call," she says. "As of this date (April 16, 2007), I haven't heard a word from anyone. I'm extremely disappointed in their handling of this situation."

Jerri says her 13-year-old Sheltie, Sandy Boy, became ill and suddenly died after eating Nutra Max, one of the foods included in the recall. Sandy Boy, she says, was in perfect health before she fed him that brand of wet food.

"And then boom, suddenly he was gone," Jerri says, adding Sandy Boy died last Memorial Day, but had symptoms that mirror those in dogs and cats who have become sick or died after eating Menu's tainted food. "Three days after he started eating that food, he was in complete kidney failure. We had to make the difficult choice to put him down."

She adds: "It kind of makes me sick to think that I killed my dog. I could barely live with the decision to put him down and now to think that I may have killed him inadvertently."

Jerri is convinced Menu Foods knew its products were contaminated months before its March 16, 2007, recall.

"I know how large corporations work and how they hide problems with products until they're forced to go public," she says. "I want the truth. I think they knew about this thing a long time before it was made public. It's too coincidental that my dog passed away from the same symptoms that dogs are having now. We had just switched dog foods and none of my other dogs (that didn't eat Nutra Max) got sick."

Jerri is also outraged that Menu Food's hasn't responded to her repeated calls.

"One lady hung up on me when I questioned her about why I was not getting any calls back.

"Menu Foods needs to train its people how to handle calls like this," she adds. "These are from people with sick pets or people who've lost a pet. I'm just heartsick over this whole thing."

Menu Foods spokeswoman Sarah Tuite says the company has hired an outside firm to respond pet owners calls. The company's hotline, she says, has received more than 300,000 calls since it announced its massive recall.

"We're asking people to be patient," Tuite told us earlier this month. "We've engaged a third-party that will be calling everyone back."

Tuite also denied Jerri's suggestion that Menu Foods knew its products were tainted months ago.

"We are completely confident the problem is related to an ingredient (wheat gluten) that was introduced by a new supplier ... and we've stopped using that supplier."

More about the Pet Food Recall ...



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Cell Phones Linked to Bee Decline

Honey Bee Populations Shrinking Worldwide

Honey bee populations have suddenly begun to decline, and some British researchers think the proliferation of cell phones is a contributing cause....

More

CDC Reports Progress on Foodborne Illness Stalled in 2006

Progress against two major pathogens has stalled

CDC Reports Progress on Foodborne Illness Stalled in 2006...

It will come as no surprise that food safety has slipped. New data released by the Centers for Disease Control show that the progress against two major foodborne pathogens -- E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella -- has stalled.

After ten years the rates of illness from these pathogens remains close to the original baseline data from 1996-98. There were major reductions in the late 1990s but little progress since 2001.

The bad news about foodborne illness coincides with Bush Administration policies that have given little time, attention or resources to combating food poisoning, according to the Consumer Federation of America.

The USDA, it says, is pursuing a program to reduce inspection in one-third of the nation's meat and poultry plants and acknowledges that over 200 plants have not had daily inspections as required by law. The Administration has reduced funding for the Food and Drug Administration's food safety efforts for years.

CDC's data reflect what CFA calls "the lack of commitment at the highest levels of government to reducing foodborne illness." Food poisoning claims 5,000 lives every year and causes 325,000 hospitalizations.

CDC also reported that illnesses associated with three major pathogens increased in 2006 over the preceding year. The rates for food poisoning from E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella and Listeria were higher in 2006 than in 2005. While the increase was not large, these increases are further evidence that the U.S. is no longer making substantial progress in efforts to control foodborne illness.

In fact, CFA claims, "we are slowly losing the war." For the second year in a row the Listeria food poisoning rate increased. The rate in 2006 is slightly higher than it was in 2000.

The U.S. government continues to compare illnesses from the most recent year with 1996-98, a time when there had been few government efforts to control food related disease. "For a few years we made inroads reducing illness but the progress has ended," the group states. "We're going backwards."

The cause may well be because the FDA does not have sufficient financial or legal resources and the USDA continues to claim successes it cannot document.

"Neither agency is sending a strong message to the public or to the food industry that they have to clean up their act. The result is more illnesses and deaths," said CFA.

The Listeriosis rate rose for the second straight year and the U.S. again failed to meet the National Health Objective of reducing the rate of illness from this pathogen to 2.5 by 2005. The CDC again failed to report accurately the 2005 goal, listing the date as 2010.

Listeria is the most lethal of foodborne pathogens. While it causes few cases of illness each year, 20% of those stricken die. The estimated number of deaths is 499, second only to the total deaths from E. coli O157:H7, a more commonly occurring illness.



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Hispanic Women Three Times More Likely to Develop Advanced Breast Cancer

Study Finds Hispanic Women Also Diagnosed at an Earlier Age

Hispanic Women Three Times More Likely to Develop Advanced Breast Cancer...

A joint study by researchers at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center (UCD) and Kaiser Permanente Colorado (KPC), finds that Hispanic women are almost three times more likely to be diagnosed with advanced breast cancer than non-Hispanic women.

The study will be published in the May 15 issue of Cancer, the medical journal of the American Cancer Society.

The differences were observed even after the researchers adjusted for factors such as socioeconomic status, the length of time that the women had been enrolled in the managed health care system, and regular checkups.

The study, conducted between 1995 and 2004, included 139 Hispanic women and 2,118 non-Hispanic breast cancer patients. They were all interviewed in Colorado, where they lived.

The researchers observed that the Hispanic patients were diagnosed with more advanced and more aggressive breast cancer. Hispanics were nearly three times more likely to be diagnosed with stage IV disease and twice as likely to have larger tumors, characteristics that result in poorer prognosis. In addition, more Hispanic patients had tumors that lack receptors for the hormone estrogen (ER-negative) which makes the disease more difficult to treat.

Moreover, the Hispanic patients were diagnosed at an earlier age, with an average age of 56 at the time of first diagnosis, compared to 61 for non-Hispanic patients.

The study compared demographic characteristics of the patients to determine if having health insurance affects differences in the presentation of the disease.

The authors of the study concluded that "the persistent findingsof advanced state, larger tumor size ... and fewer cases with estrogen receptors may suggest that true biological differences exist in breast cancer by ethnicity."

Previous research has shown that the incidence of breast cancer varies according to race and ethnicity.

About 203,500 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States this year. Surgery and chemotherapy are standard treatment options for most forms of breast cancer. Early detection is vital to increase the chances of survival, thus the American Cancer Society recommends that women 40 and older get a mammogram every year.



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Listerine Recalls Kids Mouth Rinse

Listerine Recalls Kids Mouth Rinse: The company said it discovered that the preservative system is not adequate against certain microorganisms....


McNeil-PPC, Inc. is recalling all lots of its Glacier Mint and Bubble Blast flavors of Listerine Agent Cool Blue. The company said it discovered that the preservative system is not adequate against certain microorganisms.

The recall affects all bottles of "Agent Cool Blue Plaque-Detecting Rinse," an estimated 4 million, from both retailers and consumers.

An assessment concluded that the risk of illness in healthy individuals following use of this product is very low, the company said. However, there could be a significant health risk to individuals with weakened or suppressed immune systems. To date, there have been no reports of adverse health events.

The recall affects all existing bottles of AGENT COOL BLUE Plaque-Detecting Rinse. Consumers should discontinue using and properly discard the product, and may obtain a full refund through calling the Company's toll free consumer line 1-888-222-0249 and mailing in the back label, including the UPC code. Additional information can be found at the product website -- www.agentcoolblue.com.

Consumers can readily distinguish this product by the cartoon character on the front of the bottle, the company said. No other Listerine products are affected.

"We have voluntarily initiated this recall ... because our primary concern is that consumers have complete confidence in the safety and effectiveness of our products," said Paul Sturman, President, Consumer Healthcare North America, McNeil-PPC, Inc.

The mouth rinse has been sold to consumers through supermarkets, drug stores, mass merchants and other retail outlets, and is sold to dental professionals' offices nationwide. The company is contacting dental professionals and retailers directly as part of its recall notification process.



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Pet Owners Organize to Put Congress on a Short Leash

Nationwide Series of Memorial Marches for Dead Pets

Pet Owners Organize to Put Congress on a Short Leash...


The facts are simple. In March Canadian pet food manufacturer Menu Foods announced that a contaminated ingredient in some of its dog and cat food made the products potentially lethal to their intended customers. A recall of several brands began.

But the consequences of this incident are far from simple. For thousands of pet owners, they're intensely personal. Because of that contamination, and the lag time before the tainted products were removed from shore shelves, a beloved member of the family is dead or seriously injured.

"We lost our three-year-old cat, Timber on Nov 17, 2006 due to liver failure," said Jen Hoeflein, of Bastrop, Texas. "He was consuming Hill Country Fare's canned cat food on a regular basis. He rapidly became ill and in horror, our family watched him slip into a near-death stage. As soon as the vet's office opened the next morning, he was put to sleep to end his suffering."

Hoeflein responded by forming a group called Pets Need a Voice Too, or PNV2. She says she was determined that the tragedy that befell her family would go no further. She led efforts to organize a nationwide memorial march for April 28, to memorialize pets who died and to call attention to what she sees as an outrageous situation.

"It's a complete outrage that Timber's suffering was mirrored all over the country, different animals, different families with the outcome the same. And still, the tainted food sat on the store shelves. In fact, some of it is still there. That's simply appalling," she told ConsumerAffairs.com.

Hoeflein describes her group, PNV2, as being in its infant stage, but representing a collective group of average citizens directly affected by the tainted pet food event either through the loss of a beloved pet, the illness of a pet or the overall concern for the quality of products purchased with a blinding degree of faith by consumers. But make no mistake, she intends to bring about some changes.

"I think Americans have forgotten how powerful their individual voices are when it comes to protecting their families and in many American households, pets are considered members of their families," Hoeflein said. "This event has created a passion-driven response, an outcry for accountability and the demand for the meeting of product quality standards."

After her pet's death, Hoeflein said she began working the Internet, networking with others who had similar experiences. As people began sharing their frustration and pain, suggestions of a day of tribute began to surface, she says.

"It just snowballed after that. I made a modest free website that soon became overwhelmed with traffic as word of the Memorial March spread," Hoeflein said. "We made the investment to purchase a website simply because people were coming to us for information and updates on what quickly had become a large movement on the part of citizens in response to the their personal losses."

The April 28 march will take place in Boston; Reno, Nevada; San Diego; Orange County, California; Uniontown, Pennsylvania; Portland, Maine; and Jacksonville, Oregon, with efforts pending in dozens of other cities.

"The March is a direct response from people all over the country and Canada who felt an overwhelming need to speak in outrage over the lack of safety standards in regard to pet food and the corporate negligence in allowing the food to remain on the shelves prior to the recall," Hoeflein said.

The March is just the first step in what Hoeflein and other pet owners and activists hope will be a campaign to ensure protection of pets. The long-range objective is a network of committed pet owners who will keep pressure on lawmakers and government agencies to make sure tainted ingredients never again make their way into the food supply.

"We want people to understand, we are simply giving a voice to sadness and pain, to frustration and outrage," Hoeflein said. "People need that and our pets deserve that. Hopefully, that voice will result in better days for pets and owners alike."

Thousands of Deaths

ConsumerAffairs.com has talked to scores of grieving pet owners and received hundreds of written complaints. The Web site Petconnection.com, says it's received 4,069 reports of deceased pets in the wake of the recall. Of that number, 2,099 are cats and 1,970 are dogs.

The Web site also says it's received 12,663 reports of illnesses linked to the recalled pet food, which the FDA says is contaminated with melamine-tainted wheat gluten.

"These are self-reported numbers, and should be in no way be considered confirmed or 'official,'" the Web site states. "But if even a fraction can be confirmed, they show deaths far exceeding the FDA's count of 16 pets, most of whom died in a manufacturers feeding trial."

Last week, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) chaired a special Senate hearing about the pet food recall debacle, hearing mostly from FDA representatives and pet food lobbyists, while the FDA warned that some recalled pet food may

still be on store shelves and warned retailers and pet owners to be careful.

"Many cats, dogs and other pets, considered members of the family, are now suffering as a result of a deeply flawed pet food inspection system," Durbin said during Thursday's hearing. "The FDA's response to this situation has been wholly inadequate -- we need to establish standardized inspections, impose penalties on companies who delay reporting health problems and increase communication between the FDA and the state inspectors so that we can catch problems more quickly. These sound like basic steps but the FDA has failed to put them in place."

Durbin's remarks highlighted the many flaws in the pet food industry's patchwork inspection system, which is not all that different from the haphazard, industry-dominated, system that supposedly protects humans.

FDA Inspections

To begin with, the FDA has only inspected about 30 percent of all pet food plants since 2004, said Stephen Sundlof, director of the agency's Center for Veterinary Medicine. He said many of those visits occurred after recalls had been put in place or during the Mad Cow scare.

The FDA had never inspected the Menu Foods facility in Emporia, Kan., where many of the recalled products were made, until after the company reported a problem.

Eric Nelson, president of the American Association of Feed Control Officers (AAFCO), said few inspections are required because the industry, with help from the AAFCO, regulates itself well.

After the lengthy hearing, Senator Durbin told ConsumerAffairs.com he is working on legislation that will address these problems, but he did not specify the scope of his pending legislation.

Industry Response

In related news, The Pet Food Institute (PFI), which represents pet food manufacturers, announced Thursday the formation of the National Pet Food Commission to strengthen industry procedures and safeguards.

The commission includes nationally-recognized veterinarians, toxicologists, state and federal regulators and nutritionists, and will have two main goals:

• To investigate the cause of the current pet food recall;

• To recommend steps the industry and government should take to build on safety and quality standards already in place.

The commission will report its findings and offer recommendations to the industry and regulators at the end of its investigation. PFI President Duane Ekedahl said the commission will "augment the FDA's work and make recommendations so that consumers continue to be confident in the food they feed their pets."

"The people who make pet food are pet lovers and owners themselves. They understand the concerns consumers have about pet food products and feel a special responsibility to address this issue," he said.

Dr. Angele Thompson -- an expert in nutritional biochemistry and a member of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition -- will chair the commission.

"It is imperative that we study this problem from all sides and apply lessons learned to further build on industry procedures and safeguards," she said.

In other news, the Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians--in consultation with the FDA--is trying to compile specific data on the number of cats and dogs that have died after eating the melamine-tainted wheat gluten.

The AAVLD Veterinary Analytical Toxicology Committee launched a survey on April 6, to gather data on cases that meet certain criteria for possible pet food-induced nephrotoxicosis.

These cases should meet two of the following criteria:

(1) known exposure to one of the recalled pet foods,
(2) histologic lesions consistent with crystal-induced tubular nephrosis (pictures are posted on the AAVLD Web site),
(3) urinalysis with crystals (also posted on the site), and
(4) chemical confirmation of the presence of melamine or other marker chemicals in pet food, tissues, or urine.

The organization is asking AAVLD laboratories, along with other laboratories and private practitioners who wish to participate, to report incidents in the United States and Canada, using the survey tool on its Web site: www.aavld.org. Nonmembers can enter case data via the public area by clicking on News and then on AAVLD Pet Food Toxicity Survey.

The data will be available to the FDA for its investigations.

More about the Pet Food Recall ...



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FDA Warns of Contaminated Olives

Risk of botulism in certain imported olives

FDA Warns of Contaminated Olives...

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is alerting consumers to possible serious health risks from eating olives that may be contaminated with a deadly bacterium, Clostridium botulinum. C. botulinum can cause botulism, a potentially fatal illness.

The olives are made by Charlie Brown di Rutigliano & Figli S.r.l, of Bari, Italy and are being recalled by the manufacturer. No illnesses have been reported so far.

The olives should not be eaten alone or in other foods, even if they do not appear to be spoiled. Consumers should discard these products or return them to the point of purchase. If in doubt, consumers should contact the retailer and inquire whether its olives are part of the recall.

The olives are sold under the following brands: Borrelli, Bonta di Puglia, Cento, Corrado's, Dal Raccolto, Flora, Roland and Vantia, and have codes that start with the letter "G" and are followed by 3 or 4 digits. All sizes of cans, glass jars and pouches of Cerignola, Nocerella and Castelvetrano type olives are affected.

Symptoms of botulism include general weakness, dizziness, double vision, trouble with speaking or swallowing, difficulty in breathing, weakness of other muscles, abdominal distension and constipation. People experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention. Consumers may also report illnesses associated with consumption of these olives to the nearest FDA district offices.

Charlie Brown di Rutigliano & Figli S.r.l, initiated a recall of these olives on March 27, 2007. The recalled olives had been distributed to wholesalers, who have marketed them nationally to restaurants and retail stores. FDA concluded that additional warnings are needed because, to date, the company has not contacted importers with specific instructions on the recall.

In addition to re-emphasizing its warning to consumers, FDA is making the following requests:

• Importers of these olives should discontinue distribution, isolate held stocks and notify customers to take similar actions to prevent the products from reaching consumers. Importers should contact their local FDA office for assistance in implementing the recall.

• Food manufacturers who have repacked the olives for sale under different names or who have used them in the production of other food should contact their local FDA office.

• Restaurants, delicatessens, and other food service providers should discontinue using the olives, dispose of their opened containers and contact their suppliers for instructions on what to do with unopened containers.

Consumers with questions may contact Charlie Brown Company at 011-039-080-7839073 (an international toll call) or charliebrownbari@yahoo.com.



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Bankruptcy Laws Contributing to Foreclosure Epidemic

Consumer Groups Press Congress to Amend Bankruptcy Code

Bankruptcy Laws Contributing to Foreclosure Epidemic...

Bankruptcy law changes are needed if hundreds of thousands of American families struggling with abusive subprime mortgages are going to escape foreclosure and the loss of up to $164 billion in home-based wealth, according to a joint call for Congressional action issued by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA), the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL).

The three consumer groups warned that -- while primarily low-income subprime mortgage borrowers face often insurmountable bankruptcy hurdles to hold onto their homes -- high-income individuals in bankruptcy court get preferential treatment when they seek to save second and third homes.

"The only chance many of these (subprime) borrowers have is through declaring bankruptcy," the groups said. "The problem is that as currently enacted, the Bankruptcy Code favors home mortgage lenders over virtually all other secured and unsecured creditors."

The amendment disfavoring protection of the debtor's principal residence was added at a time -- 1978 -- when home mortgages were nearly all fixed-interest rate instruments with low loan-to-value ratios and were rarely themselves the source of a family's financial distress. As a result, bankruptcy law singled out the home mortgage loan as the major debt for which the bankruptcy court is powerless to provide relief, they said. "Since that time, the mortgage market has shifted considerably. Subprime lending practices of the last six years, which have relied on property appreciation, and in many cases appraisal fraud, have left many borrowers with mortgages larger than the value of their homes. If the borrowers cannot restructure these debts, then they cannot get back on their feet financially."

Philadelphia bankruptcy attorney and NACBA President Henry Sommer said help is urgently needed for hundreds of thousands of American families at risk of losing their homes due to abusive home loans.

"For most of these families, bankruptcy is the only viable option to save their home, and this option will be available only if the Bankruptcy Code is revised to eliminate or limit the provisions that exclude home loans from bankruptcy protection," Sommer said. "This current exclusion is contrary to sound policy, and operates to disadvantage low-wealth and middle-income borrowers as compared to debtors with the wealth to own more than one home."

Allen Fishbein, director of housing and credit policy of the Consumer Federation of America, said two million or more homeowners face foreclosure over the next few years, with many of these resulting from negligent and reckless lending practices by mortgage originators.

"A sizable number of borrowers find themselves in this situation because their mortgages are larger than the current value of their homes. Modifying the bankruptcy laws to permit the write down of certain toxic mortgages would provide a critical life-line for these at-risk families to hang on to their homes. We urge the Congress to act," Fishbein said.

Foreclosure Epidemic

"The purpose of bankruptcy is to give troubled families a chance for a fresh start," said Eric Stein, chief operating officer of Self-Help and senior vice president of the Center for Responsible Lending.

"Today we have an epidemic of homeowners who are in serious financial trouble, and whose houses are worth less than the balance due on their loans because of the irresponsible lending practices of subprime lenders," he said. "To make matters worse, bankruptcy laws will actually prevent these families from recovering. Subprime loans have pushed millions of households under water; unless Congress makes some common-sense changes, our current laws will ensure that they drown."

As 2006 drew to a close, 2.2 million households in the subprime market had either lost their homes to foreclosure or held subprime mortgages that likely will fail over the next several years absent intervention, the groups said.

These foreclosures will cost these families their homes, along with up to $164 billion in lost wealth. For increasing numbers of borrowers, foreclosure is the only option available. Lehman Brothers has estimated that 30 percent of subprime loans originated in 2006 will end in foreclosure.

The joint statement recommends a wide range of specific bankruptcy law changes, including the following:

• End the Bankruptcy Code's special treatment of home mortgage loans.
• Remove time-consuming credit counseling requirements.
• Curb excessive fees during bankruptcy.
• End mandatory arbitration in bankruptcy.
• Create a minimum homestead exemption for the elderly.
• Amend chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code.

 

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Pennsylvania Class Action Challenges Payday Lender

Philadelphia woman claims she was charged 2000% interest

Pennsylvania Class Action Challenges Payday Lender...

A Philadelphia woman has filed a multi-million dollar class action lawsuit against a Utah-based lender that makes payday loans through numerous Internet sites.

According to the suit, Direct Financial Solution of Utah has unlawfully charged Pennsylvania consumers interest rates in excess of 2000% APR and has violated the usury laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The suit seeks to recover millions of dollars in illegal interest and to halt the allegedly unlawful loans.

Payday loans are short-term loans made to individuals who have poor credit and which require a deduction from the worker's paycheck for repayment. The Center for Responsible Lending estimates the industry costs Americans $4.2 billion a year by charging exorbitant fees.

According to New Jersey attorney Steven Weisbrot, who is representing the plaintiff, the payday loan industry has migrated to the online marketplace after steps were taken to shut down their brick-and-mortar operations in Pennsylvania.

These companies victimize those who live paycheck to paycheck and "they should be downright ashamed of themselves for putting working class families into desperate financial situations," Weisbrot said.

The suit seeks to enjoin the lender from preying on the Pennsylvania working class and to recover millions of dollars in damages on behalf of all consumers who have been forced to pay excessive interest rates to what Weisbrot calls "cyber loan sharks" and "blood suckers."

The owners of Direct Financial Solution have been sued in many states and have agreed to repay millions to the thousands of customers who have paid usurious interest on those loans, Weisbrot said.

Lenders Fight Back

With the federal government sitting out the battle, states have been trying to shut down or at least curtail payday lending, but the industry has been fighting back, flooding state legislatures with lobbyists.

The industry says it provides a service to low-income consumers with poor or no credit. Banks will not lend them money, industry backers say, so "cash advance" stores or payday lenders fill a critical need.

Critics counter that rather than providing a service, the payday lending industry is exploiting low-income consumers, trapping them in a spiral of debt. If a consumer borrows $100, a payday lender typically collects a fee of 15 percent, in this case $15.

That might not sound like much, but for a two-week loan, it amounts to an annual interest rate of 390 percent -- and is typically about what street-level mobsters charged for loans in the early 20th century before organized crime was "eliminated" and usurious lending was legalized.

If the payday lender were limited to charging an annual rate of 30 percent, the fee paid by the consumer would only be $1.15 on a two week loan.

But a 2007 New York Federal Reserve Bank study rejects the notion of payday as predatory and concludes that high prices "may reflect too few payday lenders, rather than too many," The Wall Street Journal noted in an April 2 editorial. It adds that more regulation could reduce market entry and "the lack of competition could drive rates higher."

 

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Gas Prices Push Towards New Record, Texans Suffer

Prices rising more quickly than anytime since 2000

Gas Price Roundup...

Rising gasoline prices have already reached summer peak-driving levels and are likely to push the price of a gallon of regular above $3 throughout much of the country as demand continues to build with the approach of summer.

The 61 cent price rise since February is the quickest increase since 2000. While it's not unusual for gasoline prices to rise in the spring as refiners shift over to the summer grade of gasoline, the 2007 increases are unusual and they come at a time when refiner profit margins are the fattest they have been since Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005.

Nationally, drivers are paying an average of $2.82 a gallon for regular unleaded, according to AAA, of Heathrow, Florida.

One month ago, regular gasoline sold for $2.54 and one year ago a gallon of regular cost $2.72. Midgrade gasoline now averages $2.99 a gallon and premium gasoline sells for an average of $3.10 a gallon. Diesel fuel averages $2.92 a gallon.

Drivers in Needles, California pay the most for a gallon of regular at $3.79. People in Gaffney, South Carolina get the biggest break at he plump with a gallon of regular costing $2.19.

Here is a look at some gasoline prices from around the country in the weekly ConsumerAffairs.com Gas Price Round Up.

California: Southern California gas price averages stabilized in the last week, remaining within a penny of levels they reached last week and about 15 cents shy of the record high prices achieved last May, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California's Weekend Gas Watch.

The average price of self-serve regular gasoline in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area is $3.26, which is one-tenth of one cent higher than last week, 20 cents higher than last month, and 37 cents higher than last year.

In San Diego, the price is $3.30, which is four-tenths of a cent above last week's price, 22 cents above last month, and 39 cents above last year.

On the Central Coast, the average price is $3.38, up 1 cent from last week, 19 cents above last month, and 39 cents higher than last year.

In the Inland Empire, the average price is $3.29, three-tenths of a cent above last week, 22 cents higher than last month, and 37 cents higher than last year.

"Wholesale gasoline prices in California started going down more than two weeks ago, and that decrease may have finally started trickling down to affect gas station prices," said Auto Club spokesperson Carol Thorp. "Oil industry analysts say that's because more refineries in the state now are increasing their output."

Texas: Retail gasoline prices in the Lone Star state have climbed for 10 straight weeks.

Pump prices for regular gasoline in 11 Texas markets rose an average of 11 cents to $2.71 per gallon, according to the AAA Texas weekly gasoline price survey.

In Brownsville the price of gasoline is even higher then the state average. Overnight the price rose 12 cents a gallon to $2.79 there.

"According to the U.S. Department of Energy, gasoline inventories have been weak for several weeks and demand continues to be up," said AAA Texas spokeswoman Rose Rougeau. "If both indicators remain, prices will more likely continue to go up as well."

The AAA survey showed the state's most expensive gas is in El Paso, where regular averaged $2.77 per gallon, a 10 cent increase from last week.

San Antonio and Corpus Christi both have the cheapest gas this week, with regular averaging $2.62 per gallon. That is up 13 cents in Corpus Christi and 12 cents in San Antonio from last week.

"The increase was so huge," Rougeau said. "The increases from last week to this week were double-digit increases. We've had increases for the last 10 weeks."

Florida: Gas prices are continuing their march toward $3, with the average hitting $2.86 in the state.

Southwest Florida prices already are beyond that.

A gallon of the regular stuff will set you back an average of $2.88 in the Bradenton-Sarasota-Venice market, AAA reported. It was an average of $2.90 in markets to the south.

That's up 30 cents from a month ago and up about 12 cents from this time in 2006.

Refineries have struggled to keep up in recent weeks as production problems persist, while the typical slack in demand between the winter heating season and summer driving months has yet to materialize in the Sunshine State.

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Best Buy Sued Over "Shower Cam"

The Best Buy "Geek Squad" brochure says that only "agents you can trust" will be sent to repair your computer but a lawsuit alleges just the opposite....

The Best Buy "Geek Squad" brochure says that only "agents you can trust" will be sent to repair your computer, but a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleges just the opposite.

The suit, filed by 22-year-old Sarah Vasquez and her mother, alleges that Geek Squad employee, 26-year-old Hao Kuo Chi, placed a cell phone camera in the bathroom for the purpose of videotaping Sarah and her younger sister.

According to the lawsuit, Chi placed the phone on the bathroom sink at an angle that would record anyone in the vicinity of the shower.

Vasquez used the bathroom to take a shower and once out of the shower, she saw the camera phone along with its blinking red light.

Feeling that something wasn't right, Vasquez walked out of the bathroom to tell her sister about the phone, and when Vasquez returned to the bathroom, the phone was gone.

The younger sister later found the phone in her bedroom, removed the memory chip, and that's when it all fell apart for Chi. The video images on the chip show Vasquez in the shower.

The suit alleges negligent hiring, fraud, invasion of privacy, among others.

Best Buy released the following statement: "Best Buy was not informed of this action prior to being contacted by the media today. Obviously, we intend to cooperate fully with any investigation into this matter."

 

 

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Senate Hears from Pet Food Lobbyists, FDA Officials, Promises Action

Consumers Inflamed by Nationwide Epidemic of Dog, Cat Deaths

Senate Hears from Pet Food Lobbyists, FDA Officials, Promises Action...

By Joseph S. Enoch and Lisa Wade McCormick
ConsumerAffairs.com

April 12, 2007
Senators today heard from industry lobbyists and government bureaucrats at a hearing into the nationwide pet food poisonings, but unrepresented were the thousands of consumers who have lost their pets.


Two of Peggy G's dogs
Not invited to testify was Peggy G., a grieving dog owner from Jacksonville, Arkansas. Had she been on Capitol Hill, she would have told the assembled politicians, bureaucrats and assorted apologists how the food she fed three of her dogs led to their untimely deaths on Easter Sunday.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) chaired the hearing which pitted Food and Drug Administration (FDA) representatives and pet food lobbyists against the bipartisan Appropriations Subcommittee. Earlier in the day, the FDA warned that some recalled pet food may still be on store shelves and warned retailers and pet owners to be careful.

"Many cats, dogs and other pets, considered members of the family, are now suffering as a result of a deeply flawed pet food inspection system," Durbin said. "The FDA's response to this situation has been wholly inadequate -- we need to establish standardized inspections, impose penalties on companies who delay reporting health problems and increase communication between the FDA and the state inspectors so that we can catch problems more quickly. These sound like basic steps but the FDA has failed to put them in place."

Durbin's remarks highlighted the many flaws in the pet food industry's patchwork inspection system, which is not all that different from the haphazard, industry-dominated, system that supposedly protects humans.

To begin with, the FDA has only inspected about 30 percent of all pet food plants since 2004, said Stephen Sundlof, director of the agency's Center for Veterinary Medicine. He said many of those visits occurred after recalls had been put in place or during the Mad Cow scare.

The FDA had never inspected the Menu Foods facility in Emporia, Kan., where many of the recalled products had been made, until after Menu Foods reported a problem.

Eric Nelson, president of the American Association of Feed Control Officers (AAFCO), said that few inspections are required because the industry, with help from the AAFCO, regulates itself well.

The AAFCO is a voluntary trade group that puts its logo and quality assurance on pet food products that pay to be a member of the organization. However, further questioning by Durbin revealed that the AAFCO only has one full-time employee, does no inspections and makes no promises as to the quality of the products is endorses.

Reporting Delays

Another issue was Menu Foods' delay in reporting.

Durbin said Menu Foods first noticed a potential problem on February 20, 2007 but did not contact the FDA until March 15.

Sundlof, who gruffly refused to speak with ConsumerAffairs.com following his testimony, said that there is no means in place to punish Menu Foods for delaying almost a month in reporting the problem.

Durbin also expressed concern about the FDA's incomplete data. Durbin said websites and blogs have provided better information to consumers than the FDA.

The FDA's website currently has no succinct list of all the pet foods and treats recalled. Instead, there's a list of press releases which one must click through to find out what products are safe. The FDA's website also tends to coincide with the agency's conflicting reports on what is the actual cause of the thousands of animals' falling ill.

"As of Monday, a page titled 'FDA Update and Synopsis' stated that 'All the contaminated wheat gluten has been traced,'" Sen. Herb Kohl, (D-Wisc.) said. "But a few clicks away in a Frequently Asked Questions section, the FDA states, 'We are still tracing the contaminated wheat gluten.'"

"Obviously pet owners can get two very different ideas, depending on where they click," Kohl continued.

Sundlof promised Durbin the website's issues would be addressed but a few hours after the hearing, there was still no list of recalled products and the discrepancy Kohl noted still exists.

A Government Accountability Office report released in February highlighted the nation's "flawed" food inspection patchwork. That report found 15 agencies share food inspection responsibilities and that often some inspections overlap while other foods are hardly inspected at all.

Since that report's release, many Congressmen have vowed to fix the problem, probably by giving all food inspection jurisdiction to one agency. No legislation has been introduced yet.

Durbin told ConsumerAffairs.com he is working on legislation that will address the problem but did not specify how broad the scope of his pending legislation will be.

Consumers Speak

Peggy G. of Arkansas would have told Congress that her dogs -- Spicy, Zorro, and Roxie -- were treasured members of her family, just like her children. And she'd have asked them to pass laws that ensure the food she and other pets owners feed their dogs and cats is safe.

"If people care enough to pass laws that prevent cruelty to animals, why don't they care enough to pass legislation to make sure pet food is safe?" asks Peggy G. of Jacksonville, Arkansas. "I would like to see Congress pass laws that require the inspection process for pet food manufacturers be equivalent to the process that plants that make human food go through."

Peggy would also have told members of the Senate sub-committee that the recall isn't broad enough -- and should include more brands of pet foods.

Specifically, Ol' Roy dry food. That's the brand Peggy fed her dogs. The one she says made her dogs sick and caused them to die.

But it's not included in the nationwide recall of nearly 100 brands of pet food.

"Congress needs to know that it's not just the brands of pet food on the recall list that are affected," she says. "There are probably a whole lot more out there.

"I know it was the food that killed my dogs. It's the only thing they ate."

Peggy says the dogs were healthy and active when she and her family left their home on Easter morning.

"They had just eaten some of the Ol'Roy," she recalls. "We were gone for about five or six hours and when we got back, one of the dogs -- our Chihuahua-mix, Roxie -- was dead in the backyard. And two of our other dogs were very sick. They were vomiting, had diarrhea, and were lethargic."

Peggy says she tried to find a local veterinarian willing to examine her dogs -- on a payment plan.

"We'd spent so much money on bills, rent, and utilities that my husband's paycheck would not pay for the vet bills upfront," she says. "But none of our local vets would see them without payment that day.

"We finally found a vet in Tulsa -- some 300 miles away -- who would take them on a payment plan." Peggy says their St. Bernard-mix, Spicy, died on their way to Tulsa.

"We hadn't been in the car an hour," she says. "When we stopped for gas, a man saw us and asked what's wrong with the dogs. We told him, and he offered to take Zorro, our Shepherd-mix, to his vet who was much closer. But Zorro didn't even make it to that vet. He died on the way.

"I wish I had the money to test the dogs' bodies to see why they died," she adds. "But I believe it was the food that killed them."

Dry Food Blamed

Susan S. of Gainesville, Georgia, is also convinced the Purina dry food she fed her 16 dogs contributed to their illnesses. And to the death of her Great Pyrenees, who suddenly died last month.

"When I returned home from work, I found Sampson, my Great Pyrenees, dead," she says. "This was a two-year-old, healthy dog. I checked his gums and eyelids and they were healthy in appearance. But he had been lethargic after eating the Purina food.

"Several of my other dogs then began to vomit, have diarrhea, and they would not eat their food, which was very unlike them."

Susan says the dogs had eaten Purina dry food -- which in not included in the massive recall of 60 million containers of pet food -- for years. And they'd never had any problems until last month.

"So it has to be something that's in the food now," says Susan, who holds a master's degree in entomology. "Something in that food changed because they'd eat it before. And all 16 refused to eat the food."

Susan says she tried to mix in table food with the dry food -- hoping they'd eat something.

"But the dogs picked out the table food and left the dry food. They are still rejecting the dry food, which is unlike them because they always cleaned their bowls. I think they know something is wrong with the food."

When asked what she'd say to members of the pet food industry attending today's hearing on the recall, Susan replies: "I would ask them to make an affordable, nutritious pet food that I could have confidence in and could feed to my animals. At this point, I'm not confident with the pet food that's out there now."

Susan would also ask them why it's taken so long to identify the problem with the pet food -- a problem the Food and Drug Administration blames on melamine-tainted wheat gluten.

"I have a background in science and it offends me that it took this long to identify the problem. And there are still a lot of unanswered questions."

She adds: "What I'm saying is 'why are we tolerating this kind of contaminants in the food without having them identified?' If I was going to make chicken food to give to chickens that would be used in human food, I would want to be sure that there's nothing in the (chicken feed) that is detrimental to humans. If you have a substance that's causing (these problems), why not eliminate it from the food? How can you responsibly sell that product to the public? That's my problem."

Are more stringent regulations for the pet food industry the answer?

"I think there needs to be a consistent set of laws," Susan says. "Whether they are federal, state, or local laws, there needs to be some kind of accountability and consistency so that whatever happens in Kansas at one plant is consistent with what happens at the plant in New Jersey."

Menu Foods, which announced its recall on March 16, 2007, has production plants in Emporia, Kansas, and Pennsauken, New Jersey.

In the meantime, Susan tried her dogs on a new brand of food today -- one her local animal control officer recommended.

Some of the dogs tried it, she says. But others walked away from it.

"If they won't eat this, I'm going to give them rice and boil it with barley and chicken broth. Financially this will be extremely difficult for me, but I will not let my dogs continue to suffer and die."

More about the Pet Food Recall ...



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Dieting May Be Harmful To Your Health, Study Warns

Exercise is the Key to Keeping Weight Off

Dieting May Be Harmful To Your Health, Study Warns...


Low carb, low fat, low calorie -- whatever the diet, a new study suggests it might actually do more harm than good.

Researchers at UCLA analyzed the results of more than 30 studies involving thousands of people who went on diets to lose weight. That found that more than two thirds who lost weight regained it, putting themselves at risk of a heart attack in the process.

Constantly losing pounds and putting them back on is called "the yo-yo effect."

Doctors say repeated change in body weight eventually puts additional stress on the heart and leads to other health problems. Among the potential ailments stemming from repeated weight loss and regain are cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and altered immune function.

The study is published in the April edition of American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association.

"You can initially lose 5 to 10 percent of your weight on any number of diets, but then the weight comes back," said Traci Mann, UCLA associate professor of psychology and lead author of the study. "We found that the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more."

In fact, the researchers concluded that for many people, it would have been healthier for them to not try to lose weight by dieting at all. Exercise, on the other hand, appears to be more helpful. The researchers identified exercise as a key factor leading to sustained weight loss.

"Studies consistently find that people who reported the most exercise also had the most weight loss," the authors said.



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Sallie Mae Settles Student Lending Probe

Agrees to Pay $2 Million and Adopt New Code of Conduct

Sallie Mae Settles Student Lending Probe...


Sallie Mae, the nation's largest student lender, has agreed to pay $2 million and adopt a new code of conduct on its lending practices, as part of a settlement with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who has been investigating the often-cozy relationship between lenders and college financial aid officers.

Under the agreement, Sallie Mae agreed to discontinue call centers or other staffing for college financial aid offices, discontinue paying financial aid officers for appearing on advisory boards, and discontinue paying for any trips or travel for any financial aid officer.

Sallie Mae serves almost 10 million borrowers, manages a portfolio of over $142 billion in loans nationwide, and has relationships with over 5600 schools.

"Sallie Mae is the largest student lender in the United Sates. Their adoption of this code of conduct will affect millions of students and thousands of schools around the country, and will help set a new industry standard that all lenders should adopt," Cuomo said.

"With Sallie Mae's $2 million contribution to an education fund, thousands of college bound students will now have more information on how to wisely choose the best student loan for them."

Congress has taken an interest in Cuomo's investigation. "With today's skyrocketing college costs, it is inexcusable for any financial institution to be collecting excess profits at the expense of students and parents," said U.S. Rep. George Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

"Cuomo's settlement with Sallie Mae demonstrates the value of vigorous oversight, and is an important step towards ensuring that all student lenders abide by the highest ethical standards." Miller said, "The sole purpose of the federal student loan program is to help students pay for college, not to pad corporate profits."

Cuomo's nationwide investigation into the student lending industry has uncovered many questionable conflicts of interest including revenue sharing agreements, university call center staffing by lender employees, gifts and trips from lenders to financial aid directors, and even apparent stock tips to financial aid officers.

Last week, Cuomo announced landmark multi-million dollar settlements with eight universities and Citibank. In 2006, Sallie Mae and Citibank accounted for 22% of the private loans nationwide.

The Student Loan Code of Conduct adopted by Sallie Mae in its settlement with Cuomo includes the following provisions:

1. Ban on Financial Ties. Lenders are prohibited from giving anything of value to any college in exchange for any advantage sought by the lender. This severs any inappropriate financial arrangements between lenders and schools and specifically prohibits "revenue sharing" arrangements.

2. Ban on Payments for Preferred Lender Status. Lenders may not pay or give colleges any financial benefits whatsoever to get on a college's preferred lender list.

3. Gift and Trip Prohibition. Lenders are prohibited from giving college employees anything of more than nominal value. This includes a prohibition on trips for financial aid officers and other college officials paid for by lenders.

4. Advisory Board Rules. Lenders are prohibited from paying college employees anything of value for serving on the advisory boards of the lenders.

5. Call-Center and Staffing Prohibition. Lenders must ensure that employees of lenders never identify themselves to students as employees of the colleges. No employee of a lender may ever work in or providing staffing assistance a college financial aid office.

6. Disclosure of Range of Rates and Defaults. Lenders must disclose to any requesting school the range of rates they charge to students at the school, the number of borrowers at each rate at the school, and the lender's historic default rate at the school. This will ensure that schools will have the information they need to select preferred lenders who are best for students and parents.

7. Loan Resale Disclosure. Lenders shall fully and prominently disclose to students and their parents any agreements they have to sell loans to any other lender.

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Vonage CEO Exits as Company Struggles to Survive

Internet Start-Up Mired in Legal Challenges, Slow Growth, High Costs

Vonage CEO Exits as Company Struggles to Survive...

Embattled Internet telephone provider Vonage said its CEO, Michael Snyder, has stepped down. The company's founder and chairman, Jeffrey Citron, will serve as interim CEO while a replacement is found.

Vonage also said it will cut about 10% of its 1,800 employees and impose a hiring freeze as it tries to trim $30 million in operating costs during tghe second quarter.

Vonage is locked in a bitter struggle with Verizon, which claims the Internet start-up has infringed several of its patents. A federal district court jury in Virginia agreed and last week a federal judge ordered the company to stop signing new customers, a virtual death sentence.

But Vonage got at least a temporary reprive when a federal appeals court temporarily stayed the order.

Vonage is running low on cash and has promised its investors it would grow quickly to reach profitability. It's been losing customers nearly as fast as it signs new ones, so if the judge's no-new-customers order is reimposed, Vonage could see its existing base of 2.2 million customers erode quickly.

Vonage has about 2.4 million customers nationwide. It has said in its reports to investors that it spent $275 on marketing costs for every subscriber it adds, a figure Citron said is too high.

If the appeals court rules against Vonage, it would likely reimpose the ban on signing new customers laid down by U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton. In his ruling, Hilton said he considered the possibility that his order could result in bankruptcy for Vonage, but said he concluded that there is adequate competition in the telecommunications industry and that, whether or not Vonage survives, the public will have adequate access to telephone service.

Snyder, a former executive at Tyco International, was hired as CEO a few months before Vonage's initial public offering last May, partly to smooth over investor concerns about Citron, who got into hot water with securities regulators in the late 1990s when he was CEO of Datek Online, an online brokerage firm.

Citron, then 32, was fined $22.5 million for illegal trading and fraudulent bookkeeping. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said it was, at the time, one of the largest securities fraud settlements ever. Citron, who admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement, was permanently barred from the securities industry.

Vonage hasn't been kind to investors. Its shares are down more than 80% since its IPO, as cable systems ramp up their telephone service packages and Verizon keeps the company tied down in court. Vonage also faces a suit from Sprint Nextel Corp. that has not yet come to trial.

Vonage executives insist they will survive the legal challenge and claim to be developing a "work-around" solution that will let them continue to operate without infringing Verizon's patents.

Customers Restless

Although it advertises extensively and attracts a steady stream of new customers, Vonage has had a hard time hanging onto customers. Many complain about the audio quality of their phone calls, while others are never able to master the hook-up process, which requires installing a router between their Internet connection and their telephone. Billing disputes are also a common theme in the more than 400 Vonage complaints filed with ConsumerAffairs.com.

"I had dropped calls, couldn't call or receive calls, etc. So, I decided to go back to my land line," said Ashby of Forest Hill, Md.

"Vonage promised service that could not be delivered, stalled for several months and have billed me for service not delivered," said Peter of Big Bear Lake, Calif. "I have called for a resolution on this matter many times, they simply shuttle the calls from one nincompoop to another until the customer gives up."

Vonage also faces a consumer class action filed in U.S. District Court in California which charges that it misled consumers about the quality and reliability of its service and engaged in false advertising and deceptive business practices.

Verizon Suit

Verizon sued Vonage in June, claiming that Vonage had illegally used key technologies owned by Verizon to connect Internet calls to regular telephone networks and claimed it had lost hundreds of thousands of customers to Vonage as a result of the infringement.

Like many companies that try to capitalize on new technology, Vonage has attracted numerous competitors, including the huge telephone and cable companies it had hoped to displace. Much of the growth Vonage had hoped for has instead gone to the cable companies, which have aggressively rolled out telephone service packages bundled with high-speed Internet and video services.

Between them, Cablevision and Time Warner have signed more than 3 million customers, business that Vonage had been counting on to meet its projections.

Vonage has also run afoul of the regulatory thicket that is the telecom market. It has been required by regulators to add many of the very fees and surcharges already collected by its old-line competitors. That has taken away much of the low-cost advantage Vonage had been counting on.

Since it sells itself as a replacement for traditional telephone service, Vonage also found itself required to beef up its 911 service, a major unanticipated expense.

Defenders

Not everyone is critical of Vonage. The president of CompTel, a telecommunications trade association, says Verizon is using its market dominance to stamp out competition.

"We're seeing a still-dominant monopoly aggressively using its monopoly revenue to pursue and drive out of the market competitors," Earl Comstock told The Washington Post. "This isn't about protecting their patents. It's about crushing their competitors."

Comstock predicted Verizon will use the same tactic to go after other competitors.

 

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FDA Warns That Recalled Pet Food May Still Be On Shelves

Menu Foods Recalls More Cat Food Made With ChemNutra Wheat Gluten

FDA Warns That Recalled Pet Food May Still Be On Shelves...


The FDA is advising pet owners that recalled pet food may still be on the shelves in some stores. The agency is urging retailers across the country to be vigilant in removing all products associated with the pet food recall, which began on March 16, 2007.

To verify the effectiveness of the recall, FDA has conducted approximately 400 checks of retail stores across the country. Based on the checks, FDA believes most companies have removed the recalled product; however, some have not. FDA said it will continue to monitor retailers' efforts to remove these items from the shelves.

"FDA's priority is to make sure that cats and dogs have safe food to eat," said Stephen Sundlof, D.V.M., director of FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine. "Many of us are pet owners and animal lovers, and we want pet owners to feel assured that we are doing everything we can to make sure that all contaminated food is off the shelves."

Yesterday, Menu Foods and Nutro Products expanded their recalls of pet food.

Menu said its latest recall was prompted by reports from the US Food and Drug Administration about the presence of melamine in cans of cuts and gravy pet food produced in Menu Foods' Canadian production facility, Menu Foods said it undertook an accounting of all recalled wheat gluten supplied by ChemNutra Inc. to Menu Foods in the United States.

As the result of that review, Menu Foods said it has identified a single interplant transfer of the ChemNutra supplied wheat gluten, shipped from Menu Foods' plant in Emporia, Kansas, to its plant in Streetsville, Ontario. The wheat gluten was subsequently used in the production of pet food in December, 2006 and January, 2007, which is being recalled by Menu Foods.

The new varieties in the United States and Canada have been added to the recall list. The latest recall group is listed below, and a complete list of recalled products, including the new items can be reviewed at www.menufoods.com.

Nutro Products said it's ordering all its wet pet food product made with wheat gluten removed from store shelves -- regardless of production dates.

"Pet owners are fed up with confusing information regarding the Menu Foods recall," Dave Kravis, President and CEO of Nutro Products, stated in press release. "I had previously ordered a broader recall of affected products than what Menu Foods had suggested. Given this new information from Menu Foods, I have ordered all wet pet food products containing wheat gluten to be removed from store shelves. Our dry pet food is not made by Menu and remains unaffected by the recall."

Kravis said his company has also suspended all shipments to retail stores of Nutro's wet canned and pouch products that contain wheat gluten it's able to confirm their safety. He asked customers with the following Nutro wet pet food products (which are made by Menu Foods and contain wheat gluten) regardless of "best by date," to immediately stop feeding the products to their pets:

  • All Cat Pouch Food Products
  • Listed Cat 3.0 oz can products
  • All Dog Pouch Food Products
  • Listed Dog 12.5 oz Canned Products

Kravis said Menu Foods' recall does not include Nutro's dry pet food. Nutro's dry pet foods are not produced by that Canadian company and do not contain wheat gluten. Nutro's dry pet foods, biscuits and treats, are not involved in the recall and remain safe for pets to eat, Kravis said.

Menu Foods, he added, only manufactures wet, canned and pouch products for Nutro.

Menu Foods Update

Brand Look For This Date On The Bottom of Can or Back of Pouch Variety Description Can / Pouch UPC
Americas Choice, Preferred Pet Jan/2/10 Flaked Tuna 3oz Can 54807-59114
Your Pet Dec/19/09 Sliced Beef/Gravy 3oz Can 72036-29026
Nov/06/09 Sliced Variety Pack 3oz Can 72036-40013
Pet Pride Dec/19/09 Sliced Beef/Gravy 3oz Can 11110-86264
Nov 06 09 Sliced Variety Pack 3oz Can 11110-86003
Laura Lynn Jan/2/10 Flaked Tuna 3oz Can 86854-02407
Dec/19/09 Sliced Beef/Gravy 3oz Can 86854-02406
Nutriplan Dec/19/09 Sliced Beef/Gravy 3oz Can 41130-06755
Price Chopper Dec/19/09 Sliced Beef/Gravy 3oz Can 41735-12828
Publix Jan/2/10 Flaked Tuna 3oz Can 41415-08327
Dec/19/09 Sliced Beef/Gravy 3oz Can 41415-08827
Stop & Shop Companion Jan/2/10 Flaked Tuna 3oz Can 88267-00286
Winn Dixie Dec/19/09 Sliced Beef/Gravy 3oz Can 21140-19419
J.E. Mondou Jan/2/10 Flaked Tuna 85g Can 71127-54202
Medi-Cal Jan/8/09 Dissolution Formula 170g Can 70705-21280
Nutro Products All Dates Chicken Cacciatore 3oz Can 79105-35205
All Dates Orleans Seafood Jambalaya 3oz Can 79105-35206
All Dates Beef Ragout 3oz Can 79105-35207
All Dates Alaskan Halibut/Rice 3oz Can 79105-35221
All Dates Kitten Chicken/Lamb 3oz Can 79105-35202
All Dates California Chicken 3oz Can 79105-30011
All Dates Lamb/Turkey Cutlets 3oz Can 79105-30014
All Dates Salmon/Whitefish 3oz Can 79105-30013
All Dates Beef/Egg 3oz Can 79105-30015
All Dates Turkey/Chicken Liver 3oz Can 79105-30016
All Dates Seafood/Tomato/Bisque 3oz Can 79105-30017
All Dates Hunters Stew with Duck 3oz Can 79105-30018
All Dates Hunters Stew with Venison 3oz Can 79105-30019


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Cornell Scientists Find A Second Contaminant in Pet Food

China Dragging Its Feet, Investigators Complain

Cornell Scientists Find A Second Contaminant in Pet Food...


Scientists at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine may have found a second contaminant in the wheat gluten used to make the tainted pet food blamed for the deaths and illnesses of scores of cats and dogs across North America, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.

Scientists also say they may have found this second -- unknown -- contaminant in the urine of infected animals.

"The concerted effort now is to identify what else is in there, and what's in the 'crystals of infected animals' urine and tissue," Dr. Richard Goldstein, associate professor of medicine at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, told the Tribune-Review.

The Food and Drug Administration has reported the wheat gluten -- imported from China -- is tainted with high amounts of the chemical melamine, commonly used in plastics.

Goldstein told the paper his researchers have ruled out aminopterin -- a rat poison -- as the source of the contamination. New York officials earlier said they discovered that toxin in the tainted pet food.

China Dragging Its Feet

The Tribune-Review also quoted an FDA source saying that China is slowing the investigation of the nationwide pet food recall.

Menu Foods recalled 60 million containers of wet pet food in March after dogs and cats across the country started to become sick and die after eating the food. The recall expanded in recent weeks to include nearly 100 brands of pet food and treats made with melamine-tainted wheat gluten imported from the Chinese company Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development, Co. Ltd.

An FDA official told the Tribune-Review that he asked the Chinese government to help investigate the tainted wheat gluten. But the Chinese government's response, he said, has been slow and incomplete. Chinese officials have previously promised to cooperate with the investigation.

The FDA is now screening all wheat gluten imported from China and the Netherlands and seizing all wheat gluten from Xuzhou Anying.

Melamine Effects Unclear

In the meantime, the FDA and other researchers still aren't certain the high amounts of melamine made the animals sick.

More than 10 laboratories are researching the crystals found in the infected animals and are working together to develop criteria to determine which kidney illnesses were caused by the contaminated pet food, according to the Tribune-Review.

The labs will test urine and tissue samples from pets suspected of becoming ill from the food and possibly samples of the food, Dr. Goldstein told the paper. Pet owners and veterinarians, he said, are advised to keep samples of tissues, urine, and pet food.

The animal rights group, People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), previously said that excessive amounts of vitamin D in pet food might be the cause of the growing number of kidney problems and deaths in cats and dogs across the country.

PETA's Vice President Bruce Friedrich -- citing laboratory evidence -- urged the FDA to refocus its investigation beyond wheat gluten and consider other possible contaminants in the pet food.

In his letter to Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinarian Medicine, Friedrich said: "Wheat gluten is used almost exclusively in wet foods. However, the mounting number of complaints of illness and death in cats and dogs who had eaten only dry food strongly suggests that there is a second source of the poisoning, another toxic ingredient.

"Evidence from reputable laboratories indicates that an as yet unnamed ingredient may be to blame, perhaps a form of vitamin D."

Friedrich cited the following examples to illustrate his contention:

• A manufacturing error last year in the production of Royal Canin pet food resulted in excessive amounts of vitamin D3 in the food. This caused hypercalcemia, an abnormally high level of calcium in the blood that caused animals' kidneys to malfunction;

• Research in endocrinology at Cleveland Clinic has confirmed that high levels of vitamin D3 in animals' blood causes kidney malfunction;

• Symptoms associated with excessive vitamin D3 appear identical to the symptoms now being reported in dogs and cats.

This has led "us to believe that this vitamin may be implicated in this new horror," Friedrich told the FDA.



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Menu Foods Recalls More Cat Food Made With ChemNutra Wheat Gluten; Nutro Products Recalls All Wet Pet Foods Regardless of Date

Nutro Products Recalls All Wet Pet Foods Regardless of Date

Menu Foods Recalls More Cat Food Made With ChemNutra Wheat Gluten...

April 11, 2007
Menu Foods and Nutro Products have expanded their recalls of pet food.

Menu said its latest recall was prompted by reports from the US Food and Drug Administration about the presence of melamine in cans of cuts and gravy pet food produced in Menu Foods' Canadian production facility, Menu Foods said it undertook an accounting of all recalled wheat gluten supplied by ChemNutra Inc. to Menu Foods in the United States.

As the result of that review, Menu Foods said it has identified a single interplant transfer of the ChemNutra supplied wheat gluten, shipped from Menu Foods' plant in Emporia, Kansas, to its plant in Streetsville, Ontario. This wheat gluten was subsequently used in the production of pet food in December, 2006 and January, 2007, which is being recalled by Menu Foods.

The new varieties in the United States and Canada have been added to the recall list. The latest recall group is listed below, and a complete list of recalled products, including the new items can be reviewed at www.menufoods.com.

Nutro Products said it's ordering all its wet pet food product made with wheat gluten removed from store shelves -- regardless of production dates.

"Pet owners are fed up with confusing information regarding the Menu Foods recall," Dave Kravis, President and CEO of Nutro Products, stated in press release. "I had previously ordered a broader recall of affected products than what Menu Foods had suggested. Given this new information from Menu Foods, I have ordered all wet pet food products containing wheat gluten to be removed from store shelves. Our dry pet food is not made by Menu and remains unaffected by the recall."

Kravis said his company has also suspended all shipments to retail stores of Nutro's wet canned and pouch products that contain wheat gluten it's able to confirm their safety. He asked customers with the following Nutro wet pet food products (which are made by Menu Foods and contain wheat gluten) regardless of "best by date," to immediately stop feeding the products to their pets:

• All Cat Pouch Food Products;
• Listed Cat 3.0 oz can products;
• All Dog Pouch Food Products;
• Listed Dog 12.5 oz Canned Products

Kravis said Menu Foods' recall does not include Nutro's dry pet food. Nutro's dry pet foods are not produced by that Canadian company and do not contain wheat gluten. Nutro's dry pet foods, biscuits and treats, are not involved in the recall and remain safe for pets to eat, Kravis said.

Menu Foods, he added, only manufactures wet, canned and pouch products for Nutro.

Menu Foods Update

       
BrandLook For This Date On The Bottom of Can or Back of PouchVariety DescriptionCan / PouchSizeUPC 
       
Americas Choice, Preferred Pet    
 Jan/2/10Flaked Tuna 3ozCan3oz54807-59114 
       
Your Pet     
 Dec/19/09Sliced Beef/Gravy 3ozCan3oz72036-29026 
 Jan/24/10     
 Nov 06 09Sliced Variety Pack 3ozCan3oz72036-40013 
       
Pet Pride     
 Dec/19/09Sliced Beef/Gravy 3ozCan3oz11110-86264 
 Jan/24/10     
 Nov 06 09Sliced Variety Pack 3ozCan3oz11110-86003 
 Dec 05 09     
 Dec 06 09     
 Jan 23 10     
 Jan 24 10     
       
Laura Lynn     
 Jan/2/10Flaked Tuna 3ozCan3oz86854-02407 
 Dec/19/09Sliced Beef/Gravy 3ozCan3oz86854-02406 
       
Nutriplan     
 Dec/19/09Sliced Beef/Gravy 3ozCan3oz41130-06755 
       
Price Chopper     
 Dec/19/09Sliced Beef/Gravy 3ozCan3oz41735-12828 
       
Publix      
 Jan/2/10Flaked Tuna 3ozCan3oz41415-08327 
 Dec/19/09Sliced Beef/Gravy 3ozCan3oz41415-08827 
 Jan/2/10     
 Jan/24/10     
       
Stop & Shop Companion     
 Jan/2/10Flaked Tuna 3ozCan3oz88267-00286 
       
Winn Dixie     
 Dec/19/09Sliced Beef/Gravy 3ozCan3oz21140-19419 
       
J.E. Mondou     
 Jan/2/10Flaked Tuna 85gCan85g71127-54202 
       
Medi-Cal     
 Jan/8/09Dissolution Formula 170gCan170g70705-21280 
       
Nutro Products     
 All DatesChicken Cacciatore 3ozCan3oz79105-35205 
 All DatesOrleans Seafood Jambalaya 3ozCan3oz79105-35206 
 All DatesBeef Ragout 3ozCan3oz79105-35207 
 All DatesAlaskan Halibut/Rice 3ozCan3oz79105-35221 
 All DatesKitten Chicken/Lamb 3ozCan3oz79105-35202 
 All DatesCalifornia Chicken 3ozCan3oz79105-30011 
 All DatesLamb/Turkey Cutlets 3ozCan3oz79105-30014 
 All DatesSalmon/Whitefish 3ozCan3oz79105-30013 
 All DatesBeef/Egg 3ozCan3oz79105-30015 
 All DatesTurkey/Chicken Liver 3ozCan3oz79105-30016 
 All DatesSeafood/Tomato/Bisque 3ozCan3oz79105-30017 
 All DatesHunters Stew with Duck 3ozCan3oz79105-30018 
 All DatesHunters Stew with Venison 3ozCan3oz79105-30019 
       


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Groups Urge FCC To Create Wireless Broadband Competition

Telephone and cable companies deserve competition, advocates urge

Groups Urge FCC To Create Wireless Broadband Competition...

The Federal Communications Commission should use its upcoming auction of the valuable 700 MHz spectrum to create high-speed Internet service that will be a true competitor to broadband services offered by telephone and cable companies, according to a group of public interest and consumer groups.

In a series of three filings with the FCC, the six-member Save Our Spectrum coalition said the Commission should structure the auction of the spectrum, and the service offered over it, so that the service will be operated in a non-discriminatory manner, under an open access structure following auction rules that will allow for greater participation than simply the incumbents.

The members of the coalition are: Public Knowledge, Media Access Project, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, New America Foundation and Free Press.

In the filing on non-discrimination issues coordinated by Public Knowledge and New America Foundation, the coalition said the Commission should "establish a service rule for broadband services operating in the 700 MHz band that protects the consumer's right to use any equipment, content, application or service on a non-discriminatory basis without interference from the network provider."

This recommendation would make certain the landmark 1968 Carterfone decision allowing consumers to attach devices ranging from fax machines to computers to the telephone network, and would implement Net Neutrality principles of non-discrimination.

The open-access filing, coordinated by Consumers Union, argued that broadband deployment has advanced in other countries that allow competitors access to telephone-company networks.

"It is imperative that we learn the lessons of the wireline market and make the appropriate policy corrections in the launch of the most promising wireless broadband markets," the filing said. "Wireless broadband has not been a useful 'third pipe' and will not be in the near future if this spectrum is auctioned to the very same vertically integrated telephone and cable incumbents that dominate the wireline market."

In the proposed auction rules, a filing coordinated by the Media Access Project, the coalition recommended the Commission offer the new spectrum at the wholesale level, and should "either prohibit wireline and large wireless incumbents from bidding, or require them to bid through structurally separate affiliates."

The Commission should also guard against the possibility that winners of the spectrum auction not keep the spectrum from being used by not constructing new services, the groups said.

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Phony Fraud Settlement Scam Surfaces

Phony Fraud Settlement Scam Surfaces...


Consumers in Oklahoma are getting letters in the mail notifying them they have been identified as fraud victims. In reality, they haven't been victimized -- but are about to be.

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson says it appears to be a clever scam, in which consumers are notified of their eligibility for a cash settlement in a class action fraud settlement.

"The letter informs the consumer they have been selected to receive compensation under the terms of an out-of-court settlement," Edmondson said. "The letter also contains a check in the amount of $2,975, and it directs the recipient to contact a specified law office within five business days to 'facilitate the release' of the full award -- in this case $129,000.

"My suspicion is that when the consumer contacts the law firm, they are asked to provide bank account information so that the full award can be deposited. By the time the enclosed check bounces, the scammers will have had ample time to clean out the consumer's bank account."

Edmondson said his office has been unable to pinpoint the source of the scam, but there are several red flags within the letter.

"The letter states that all parties involved in the class action lawsuit are sealed, and no specific information is available regarding the type of scam to which the recipient has supposedly fallen victim," Edmondson said.

"The letter also requires the consumer to contact a Michigan law firm in a very short period of time, and because of a 'gag order' the consumer risks forfeiting his share of the money if he contacts anyone to check the validity of the settlement. Any one of these things would send up a red flag. Together, they set off lights and sirens," he said.

More Scam Alerts ...

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Civil Rights Groups Want Foreclosure Moratorium

Groups call for immediate six-month moratorium

Civil Rights Groups Want Foreclosure Moratorium...

National civil rights groups are calling for mortgage lenders, loan servicers and loan investors to institute an immediate six-month moratorium on subprime home foreclosures resulting from reckless and unaffordable loans in the subprime market.

The groups include the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the NAACP, the National Fair Housing Alliance, the National Council of La Raza, and the Center for Responsible Lending

The groups say they want to stop home losses for families that received unaffordable subprime mortgages with "payment shock." The predominant loan type marketed by subprime lenders in recent years are hybrid subprime mortgages, which begin with a temporary fixed interest rate that changes to a much more costly adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM).

These so-called "exploding" ARMs, as well as other types of non-traditional mortgages, have been a driving force in massive foreclosures occurring today.

As foreclosures continue to rise on subprime mortgages, a disproportionate share of the harm falls on black and Latino homeowners and the neighborhoods where they live. Forty percent of Latino families and over half of blacks who receive home loans get higher-cost mortgages, predominately subprime loans.

To prevent further home losses in vulnerable communities, industry must work actively with homeowners to help them keep their homes by transitioning these borrowers into affordable loan products, the groups maintain.

The groups said that the need for a moratorium on foreclosures is urgent. The six months will be time for the industry to work with the groups to establish benchmarks and set long-term goals for easing the foreclosure crisis and to assist borrowers.

"As the nation seeks to recover from the devastation caused by reckless subprime lending, we must squarely address the disproportionate impact on African-American and Latino communities," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

"For years, subprime lenders have targeted communities of color and aggressively marketed dangerous and abusive loans. As a result, people in communities of color have lost billions of dollars in home equity, and today they are losing their homes on a massive scale."

"If lenders, servicers, Wall Street and policymakers allow the flood of subprime foreclosures to continue rising unchecked, years of economic progress in communities of color will be wiped out, and the racial wealth and equity gap will widen even further," said Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau. "Without intervention, subprime foreclosures will impose the greatest drain on African-American and Latino wealth ever experienced in this country."

"Homeowners saddled with defective loans need relief," said Mike Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible Lending. "Those responsible for these mortgages have a duty to fix the broken product they sold just like anyone else. The industry must work quickly."

Recent lending data show that subprime mortgages -- which make up only 13 percent of the overall mortgage market -- account for over 60 percent of new foreclosure filings. "Latino and African-American families are being pushed into high-cost and risky home loans. The result," said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, "is that more of our families are falling victim to loans that were not a good fit in the first place. This is eroding the hard-earned wealth our communities spent decades fighting for."

The groups also called on Congress to pass anti-predatory legislation, including a private right of action, to assure protection for minority and other communities and to see that this situation does not happen again.

 

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Veterinary Chain Puts Pet Food Injuries At 39,000

Senate Hearing Will Probe Pet Food Safety

Veterinary Chain Puts Pet Food Injuries At 39,000...


A U.S. chain of veterinary clinics estimates as many as 39,000 dogs and cats were injured by eating tainted pet food manufactured by Menu Foods. The estimate, much higher than previous ones, is based on analysis of its database linking 615 pet hospitals and clinics.

According to the analysis by Banfield, The Pet Hospital, which it shared with the Food and Drug Administration, three out of every 10,000 dogs and cats that ate the contaminated product developed kidney failure. Banfield said the diagnosis of kidney failure in cats rose 30 percent during the three months when the contaminated pet food was sold.

At the same time, the numbers show very little increase in kidney failure among canines, suggesting the toxin in the pet food was a more serious problem for cats than dogs.

At least six pet food manufacturers have recalled products over concerns that the toxin originated in wheat gluten imported from China. The FDA says about one percent of the pet food supply in the U.S. has been withdrawn.

The FDA has said injury estimates based on Banfield's database are likely "authoritative." So far, the agency has confirmed only 16 deaths from an estimated 3,000 cases.

ConsumerAffairs.com continues to hear from dog and cat owners about illnesses and deaths in their animals. And not all these illnesses and deaths are linked to products included in the recall of nearly 100 brands of pet food and treats.

Pet owner John S. of Little Rock, Arkansas, says his Cocker Spaniel became ill after eating Purina dry Dog Chow, which is not being recalled. John says the problems started last October.

"Our Cocker Spaniel had her first seizure in that month," he says, adding his dog hadn't had any previous problems with the food. "Since then, she had another seizure in March, which lasted longer than the first." His dog also developed a large rash after eating the dry Purina Dog Chow, he says.

"(It) covered her entire stomach and seemed to get worse as time went by. We took her to the vet and he ran a blood test on her and did a check-up, telling us she did not have worms or seem to have any other problems to cause the seizures.

"As far as the rash went, her white blood cell count was sky high and she was very sick," John says. "He (the vet) thought it might be an allergy, but was not sure ... and decided to put her on antibiotics for a week."

But the medication didn't help the rash. John says his dog's condition didn't improve until he stopped feeding her the dry Purina Dog Chow.

"The rash has cleared up a lot in the past three days . . . since she stopped eating the food," he says, adding he took her off that dry food even though it wasn't included in the recall. "And she seems to feel a lot better ... not sleeping all the time like she was. I don't know if the food caused the seizures as Cockers are know to have epilepsy, but the date when she had her first seizure dates back to the same month that the tainted pet food supposedly hit the shelves.

"I just hope if there is something wrong with this food, they take it off the shelves."

Another pet owner told us her dog became gravely ill -- and had to be put to sleep -- after eating Nutro dry food. That food isn't included in the recall, either.

Pet owner Judy R. of Williamston, South Carolina, also says she occasionally fed her Maltese two products that are part of the recall: Ol'Roy treats and Mighty Dog in pouches.

"The last canned food that I used was Mighty Dog pouches while traveling from South Carolina to Mississippi," Judy says. "My little Maltese, Angel, got really sick ... I took her to the vet and the blood work showed that she had been poisoned."

And with a specific type of poison: rat poison.

New York Agriculture officials said they discovered the rat poison, aminopterin, in some of the wheat gluten used to make the contaminated pet foods.

Judy wonders if there's a connection between all the pet food and treats her dog ate -- and Angel's rapidly declining condition.

Her veterinarian recommended one final option for Angel -- a complete blood transfusion.

"(But) Angel weighed three pounds, seven ounces, and the vet said that she had a 20 percent chance of making it through a transfusion," Judy said. "Angel was so very sick and we opted to have her put to sleep.

"This had been so very hard for our family, especially my nine-year-old daughter. I would like to find out if this (eating these pet foods and treats) could possibly have caused the death of our little Maltese."

Senate Hearing Scheduled

Durbin

So would U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill). The Senator, a member of Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, has called a special hearing this week to investigate the pet food recall-one of the largest in history.

"Many cats, dogs and other pets, considered members of the family are now suffering as a result of a deeply flawed pet food inspection system," Durbin said in a press release. "The Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) response to this situation has been tragically slow. Pet owners deserve answers. The uncertainty about what is safe to feed their pets has gone on far too long.

"I want to learn exactly when the FDA knew about the contamination, who is inspecting pet food manufacturing plants, and whether we need to force the FDA to update their regulations to protect our pets. Most importantly, I want to hear how the FDA is going to work to resolve the current crisis and ensure this doesn't happen again," Durbin said.

Witnesses expected to be called for the hearing later this week include FDA officials who will be questioned on the timeline of the investigation, the source of the contamination, and the agency's regulatory and inspection responsibilities.

Other witnesses expected to testify include outside experts who will discuss the current state of the pet food industry and regulatory or resource shortfalls that led to the widespread recall of tainted pet food.

Durbin said he will urge the FDA to take action in three specific areas:

Reporting delays -- Menu Foods first noticed a potential problem on February 20, 2007, but did not contact the FDA until March 15, 2007, the Senator's office pointed out. In the meantime, other companies were selling tainted product and the supplier didn't know it had provided wheat gluten contaminated with the chemical, melamine. Durbin wants companies that delay reporting to the FDA and endanger human and animal health to face penalties.

Lack of inspections -- The Emporia, Kansas, Menu Foods facility where many of the tainted products were made had never been inspected by the FDA, the Senator said. According to Durbin, the agency relied on the states to conduct inspections. But the FDA has jurisdiction over all pet food manufacturing facilities and the ultimate responsibility to ensure facilities comply with FDA standards, the Senator said. Where there should be federal regulation, there is instead a patchwork of state inspection systems and voluntary guidance, he said. Durbin wants to require the FDA to work with the states to establish a standardized set of regulations and inspection requirements.

Incomplete data and reporting from the FDA -- Blogs and Web sites have filled a gap and become the most efficient way to share information on the pet food contamination, Durbin said. The Senator wants to direct the FDA to create a similar information sharing system that would allow state veterinarians, pet owners, and others to alert the FDA of possible contaminations.

Durbin is working with Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, on the hearing. Witnesses expected to testify are:

• Dr. Stephen F. Sundlof, D.V.M, Ph.D., Director, Center for Veterinary Medicine, Food and Drug Administration;
• Duane Ekedahl, Executive Director, Pet Food Institute;
• Eric Nelson, President, American Association of Feed Control Officers,
• Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins, Veterinarian;
• Dr. Claudia A. Kirk, Associate Professor of Medicine and Nutrition, University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.

In a related development, Durbin and Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) sent a letter on March 26, 2007, to the Commissioner of the FDA requesting the agency provide:

• Information on the number of pet food manufacturing inspections and violations;
• A detailed timeline of the situation;
• An analysis of the FDA's oversight of pet food manufacturing facilities;
• And a report of action taken since the recent pet food recall.

A response is due by April 10, 2007.



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OnStar Goes Digital, GM to Drop 500,000 Subscribers

New system isn't compatible with older units

OnStar Goes Digital, GM to Drop 500,000 Subscribers...

General Motors Corp. is abandoning almost 500,000 of its 4 million loyal OnStar subscribers because the nation's cell phone systems will no longer offer analog service.

That means that owners of GM products that carry analog technology to power their OnStar systems are now considered "outdated" and the world's largest automaker will drop them from the safety and communications system.

In 2008 newer digital systems will be the only way OnStar can communicate since the country's cell phone carriers, which carry OnStar's signals on their towers, will complete the changeover to digital service.

GM will no longer be able to keep up with or keep track of some of the company's best and oldest customers like Lisa of Saint Louis.

"I received a letter indicating that the factory-installed OnStar in my 2001 Buick Regal will no longer be functional because they are upgrading their system," she wrote ConsumerAffairs.com "I purchased this car because of this feature and now it will no longer work and they will not upgrade it to work"

"I have 45,000 miles on my car with a extended warranty for 100,000 or 10 years whichever comes first. What do I do now?" Lisa wants to know.

"The only thing GM said is that they will give me $500 towards the purchase of a new car," said Lisa, who was not impressed with the offer.

"I don't want a new car, I just want my existing OnStar service to work. From what I understand they would just have to install a new digital radio for this to work, but they are not willing to do so."

OnStar services include monitoring emergencies and vehicle diagnostics, and giving directions and noting which airbags were deployed and the intensity of any impact before notifying paramedics of an accident. The service costs about $199 a year.

Some soon-to-be-abandoned OnStar subscribers are suing GM because the automaker refuses to offer an upgrade for their system. As many as 500,000 of OnStar's 4 million subscribers are in the same predicament.

If your vehicle is a 2003, 2004, or 2005, you will need to update your OnStar system. An adapter will cost approximately $200. If your vehicle is a 2002 or older, there is no adapter available.

That's where Don finds himself and his 2002 Chevrolet Tahoe -- up a shallow creek in Long Beach, California.

"I was told that GM chose not to offer an upgrade but I was invited to purchase a new car," he wrote ConsumerAffairs.com. "No discount on the car, but 2 years free of OnStar by GM."

"What a slap in the face," Don said.

In a given month OnStar receives 900 automatic airbag notifications, helps with 500 stolen vehicles, connects 15,000 emergency calls, provides 44,000 remote door unlocks, takes 25,000 roadside assistance calls, receives 5,500 good Samaritan calls, offers 32,000 remote diagnostics and facilitates 12.6 million hands-free calls.

OnStar works much like a cell phone. Push the button and a signal is sent to a cell tower.

FCC rules require that cell towers support both digital and analog signals. But as of 2008, cell towers will no longer have to support analog so OnStar is disconnecting its analog equipment.

GM dealerships say there's nothing they can do.

 

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NYC Rat Report: Mistakes Were Made

Health Department Concedes Error but Fingers KFC as the Real Rat

Pedestrians walking past the glass doors and windows of the Greenwich Village eatery were treated to the sight of at least a dozen large rats frolicking th...

The New York City Health Department has released its report on February's KFC rat incident, which shocked even grizzled Gothomites. Pedestrians walking past the glass doors and windows of the Greenwich Village eatery were treated to the sight of at least a dozen large rats frolicking through the restaurant. TV news crews broadcast the rodent revelries live.

The incident was embarrassing enough to the city's health department, but to make matters worse, the restaurant had passed an inspection the day before. Still, health department officials looked on the bright side.

"Our restaurant program performs well overall," said Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, "but in this instance there were failings of personnel, policy and practice. We have identified weaknesses in our system for handling restaurant complaints and combating rodent infestations. Rats are an unfortunate fact of urban life, and although they are not associated with illness in New York City, we must do a better job of ensuring that restaurants and other prevent and control infestations."

Frieden said that restaurant owners and operators bear the responsibility for keeping their establishments clean.

"The KFC/Taco Bell was cited for rodent-related violations as recently as December," he said. "If the operators had responded appropriately, they could have prevented the February incident. We hope that most NYC restaurants will continue to recognize the advantages of holding their kitchens to the highest standards of cleanliness."

The report also discloses that the inspector who gave the restaurant a passing grade on February 22 observed more signs of rodent activity than she reported. Had she cited these violations accurately, the report argues, they would have justified a failing score and possibly a closure of the restaurant.

However, there were other clues that something was not quite right at the fast food restaurant. Calls to the health department's 311 hotline for citizen complaints had mentioned this particular restaurant frequently, the last time -- from an employee -- on February 12.

"He works at the Taco Bells and he has seen rats and rodent droppings in the oil where the food is fried, in the corn and nachos, and on soda machines," the 311 transcript says. "In addition, caller [says] the owner and the managers are not doing anything to fix the problem at all, and if a customer [says] they have seen rodents they are given their food for free. Caller also [says] workers are told not to eat the food. Caller [says] there are 2 restaurants in one and they both have the problem the restaurants are Taco Bell/KFC. Caller [says] the basement is the worst place of all. An employee was bit by a rat in the basement and did nothing about it."

The department says it responded by sending the restaurant a warning letter. In its report on the incident, the department acknowledged that it currently lacks an adequate mechanism to recognize and respond to multiple complaints involving a single food-service establishment. Multiple complaints about this establishment, including an alleged rat bite, were not responded to appropriately, the department admitted.

In response to the review, the health department said it would:

• Develop a system to actively monitor 311 records for repeated complaints about particular restaurants, and establish a threshold for inspection based on the nature, frequency and timing of complaints.

• Amend agency policy to ensure that sanitarians always conduct complete inspections when inspecting in response to complaints about restaurants. This change has already taken effect.

• Reassign the current Director of Customer Service and pursue relieving her of supervisory responsibilities. The sanitarian who conducted the February 22nd inspection has resigned from the agency.

• Revise the inspection system to place greater emphasis on conditions that attract and sustain pests.

• Expand and institutionalize the agency's new rodent-control academy for restaurant inspection staff. In March 2007, 145 environmental health technicians, public health sanitarians and managers from the food safety program were trained to better identify rodent-related conditions.

• Adapt the curriculum of the rodent-control academy to include a course for food service operators. The course will be mandatory for food service operators whose establishments have multiple rodent violations.

• Improve coordination between the agency's food-safety and pest-control programs, and require building owners to repair buildings that house rodent-infested restaurants.

• Pursue an initiative to monitor and combat rodent infestations at the neighborhood level. The New York City Health Department said it inspects approximately 700 restaurants in the city each week. It closes, on average, 20 to 30 for health code violations.



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Senate Hearing Will Probe Pet Food Safety

Pet Death Reports Continue; Many Blamed on Pet Food Not Included in Recalls

Senate Hearing Will Probe Pet Food Safety...

As a Senate subcommittee prepares to open a hearing this week on the massive recall of 60 million containers of tainted pet food, ConsumerAffairs.com continues to hear from dog and cat owners about illnesses and deaths in their animals.

And not all these illnesses and deaths are linked to products included in the recall of nearly 100 brands of pet food and treats.

Pet owner John S. of Little Rock, Arkansas, says his Cocker Spaniel became ill after eating Purina dry Dog Chow, which is not being recalled. John says the problems started last October.

"Our Cocker Spaniel had her first seizure in that month," he says, adding his dog hadn't had any previous problems with the food. "Since then, she had another seizure in March, which lasted longer than the first." His dog also developed a large rash after eating the dry Purina Dog Chow, he says.

"(It) covered her entire stomach and seemed to get worse as time went by. We took her to the vet and he ran a blood test on her and did a check-up, telling us she did not have worms or seem to have any other problems to cause the seizures.

"As far as the rash went, her white blood cell count was sky high and she was very sick," John says. "He (the vet) thought it might be an allergy, but was not sure ... and decided to put her on antibiotics for a week."

But the medication didn't help the rash. John says his dog's condition didn't improve until he stopped feeding her the dry Purina Dog Chow.

"The rash has cleared up a lot in the past three days . . . since she stopped eating the food," he says, adding he took her off that dry food even though it wasn't included in the recall. "And she seems to feel a lot better ... not sleeping all the time like she was. I don't know if the food caused the seizures as Cockers are know to have epilepsy, but the date when she had her first seizure dates back to the same month that the tainted pet food supposedly hit the shelves.

"I just hope if there is something wrong with this food, they take it off the shelves."

Another pet owner told us her dog became gravely ill -- and had to be put to sleep -- after eating Nutro dry food. That food isn't included in the recall, either.

Pet owner Judy R. of Williamston, South Carolina, also says she occasionally fed her Maltese two products that are part of the recall: Ol'Roy treats and Mighty Dog in pouches.

"The last canned food that I used was Mighty Dog pouches while traveling from South Carolina to Mississippi," Judy says. "My little Maltese, Angel, got really sick ... I took her to the vet and the blood work showed that she had been poisoned."

And with a specific type of poison: rat poison.

New York Agriculture officials said they discovered the rat poison, aminopterin, in some of the wheat gluten used to make the contaminated pet foods.

Judy wonders if there's a connection between all the pet food and treats her dog ate -- and Angel's rapidly declining condition.

Her veterinarian recommended one final option for Angel -- a complete blood transfusion.

"(But) Angel weighed three pounds, seven ounces, and the vet said that she had a 20 percent chance of making it through a transfusion," Judy said. "Angel was so very sick and we opted to have her put to sleep.

"This had been so very hard for our family, especially my nine-year-old daughter. I would like to find out if this (eating these pet foods and treats) could possibly have caused the death of our little Maltese."

Senate Hearing Scheduled

Durbin

So would U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill). The Senator, a member of Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, has called a special hearing this week to investigate the pet food recall-one of the largest in history.

"Many cats, dogs and other pets, considered members of the family are now suffering as a result of a deeply flawed pet food inspection system," Durbin said in a press release. "The Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) response to this situation has been tragically slow. Pet owners deserve answers. The uncertainty about what is safe to feed their pets has gone on far too long.

"I want to learn exactly when the FDA knew about the contamination, who is inspecting pet food manufacturing plants, and whether we need to force the FDA to update their regulations to protect our pets. Most importantly, I want to hear how the FDA is going to work to resolve the current crisis and ensure this doesn't happen again," Durbin said.

Witnesses expected to be called for the hearing later this week include FDA officials who will be questioned on the timeline of the investigation, the source of the contamination, and the agency's regulatory and inspection responsibilities.

Other witnesses expected to testify include outside experts who will discuss the current state of the pet food industry and regulatory or resource shortfalls that led to the widespread recall of tainted pet food.

Durbin said he will urge the FDA to take action in three specific areas:

Reporting delays -- Menu Foods first noticed a potential problem on February 20, 2007, but did not contact the FDA until March 15, 2007, the Senator's office pointed out. In the meantime, other companies were selling tainted product and the supplier didn't know it had provided wheat gluten contaminated with the chemical, melamine. Durbin wants companies that delay reporting to the FDA and endanger human and animal health to face penalties.

Lack of inspections -- The Emporia, Kansas, Menu Foods facility where many of the tainted products were made had never been inspected by the FDA, the Senator said. According to Durbin, the agency relied on the states to conduct inspections. But the FDA has jurisdiction over all pet food manufacturing facilities and the ultimate responsibility to ensure facilities comply with FDA standards, the Senator said. Where there should be federal regulation, there is instead a patchwork of state inspection systems and voluntary guidance, he said. Durbin wants to require the FDA to work with the states to establish a standardized set of regulations and inspection requirements.

Incomplete data and reporting from the FDA -- Blogs and Web sites have filled a gap and become the most efficient way to share information on the pet food contamination, Durbin said. The Senator wants to direct the FDA to create a similar information sharing system that would allow state veterinarians, pet owners, and others to alert the FDA of possible contaminations.

Durbin is working with Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, on the hearing. Witnesses expected to testify are:

• Dr. Stephen F. Sundlof, D.V.M, Ph.D., Director, Center for Veterinary Medicine, Food and Drug Administration;
• Duane Ekedahl, Executive Director, Pet Food Institute;
• Eric Nelson, President, American Association of Feed Control Officers,
• Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins, Veterinarian;
• Dr. Claudia A. Kirk, Associate Professor of Medicine and Nutrition, University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.

In a related development, Durbin and Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) sent a letter on March 26, 2007, to the Commissioner of the FDA requesting the agency provide:

• Information on the number of pet food manufacturing inspections and violations;
• A detailed timeline of the situation;
• An analysis of the FDA's oversight of pet food manufacturing facilities;
• And a report of action taken since the recent pet food recall.

A response is due by April 10, 2007.



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Road To Ruin: Subprime Lending In The Auto Industry

Road To Ruin: Subprime Lending In The Auto Industry...


Wall Street is beginning to worry that subprime lending, currently unraveling in the mortgage industry, will deliver a double whammy to the economy as more and more consumers, who financed their cars with subprime loans, default. If it happens, consumer activists say banks and car dealers only have themselves to blame.

"Car dealers are destroying their market, with phony loan documents and hidden charges that are driving their subprime customers into default," said Duane Overholt, founder of StopAutoFraud.com.

Overholt is a shady car dealer's worst nightmare. In the business for 25 years, Overholt stood up and blew the whistle in 1997. At the time, by his calculation, he had swindled consumers out of $33 million. Today, he says, abuses at auto dealerships are even worse.

"In 1997, the average rip-off that I could identify, because I did it, was about $1,200 a car. Today it's over $4,000 per automobile."

The rip-offs don't just come on the price of the car, but on the financing. And Overholt says the subprime customer has provided an easy mark for the unscrupulous dealer.

The customer who has little money and poor credit gets saddled with a very high interest rate. In addition, the consumer is charged for things that aren't really there, inflating the price of the car and -- more critically -- the amount the consumer must finance.

They're doing it, he says, by falsifying documents. On the credit application, income is inflated and length of employment is increased to make the subprime borrower look more credit worthy, so they can afford a more expensive car, with those higher than necessary monthly payments.

"They're taking other documents the bank requires, such as a book-out sheet, showing the equipment on the car, and falsifying that," Overholt charged. "Now, that's a very key document because it establishes the value of the car. These two documents they falsify consistently."

For example, a consumer may want to purchase a used SUV that is actually worth $12,000. But as chrome wheels, alarm systems and premium sound systems are added on paper -- but not installed -- the price of the car rises to $15,000. As a result, the bank lends more money on the car than it's actually worth.

"The customer is not only upside down because of the interest rate, there's equipment on the car that doesn't really exist, and they've been put into an automobile they know they really can't afford," Overholt said. "The consumer always believes that the bank is the good guy, that it's not going to lend them money they can't afford to repay. But that's not the case."

How many car dealerships engage in these fraudulent practices?

Overholt admits that it's hard to know for sure, but he believes it could be as many as 60 percent, with more succumbing to the pressure all the time. One rule of thumb, he says, is the bigger the car dealer, the more likely it is to be ripping off its subprime customers. Recently, automotive site Edmunds.com hired an undercover reporter to expose fraud in the showroom.

Overholt says there was very little subprime lending on cars until about 1992. Prior to that time, when a person wanted to buy a car but didn't have credit, they depended on their parents to co-sign for them, or they saved up more money for a down payment, so they could get a decent interest rate.

Car dealers embraced subprime lending because it opened up a vast new market of previously unqualified consumers, allowing Detroit to turn out more cars and fueling dealership growth, turning many into publicly-traded chains selling cars nationwide. With that growth came increasing pressure to bend the rules.

"What the financial institutions have decided to do in order to get some of that revenue is to defraud customers," said William Cunningham, an investment advisor at Washington, D.C.-based Creative Investment Research. "The hard way to go about maximizing shareholder value is to provide absolutely excellent value to customers, but that's hard to do. It's easier to defraud a customer by adding $5,000 to the cost of a new vehicle, or by charging a higher interest rate than you should."

Cunningham, whose expertise is mortgage lending, has closely followed the implosion of the subprime mortgage market. He traces the problems to the very concerns Overholt has expressed.

"A lot of these predatory lending practices that are now showing up in the housing industry started out in the auto industry. When they weren't caught adding thousands of dollars to the cost of a car loan, those practices bled over to the housing sector," Cunningham said.

"A lot of these predatory practices were first put onto people in communities of color; in Hispanic communities, where there are language issues, and in African-American communities, where there is a problem just from a net-wealth standpoint. We've seen these practices that started out in communities of color now move into the broader community."

In fact, Cunningham charges the subprime category has an inherent gender and racial bias, with women and minorities making up the bulk of subprime borrowers.

"Fifty years ago there weren't many women and minorities in that group of prime borrowers so you didn't really have a solid database that you could use to estimate the probability of repayment," Cunningham said. "And remember, that's what all these credit rating systems are supposed to do. They're supposed to evaluate your ability to repay a certain loan. Strangely enough, your ability to repay a loan goes down as the cost of the loan goes up."

It's also young people who tend to make up the bulk of the subprime market. A young person just out of college with a decent job may have to settle for a subprime loan on that first car.

"You start off at a higher rate, so you're behind the eight ball from the beginning," Overholt said.

After the young person gets married, buys another car and then a house, the couple are firmly entrenched as subprime customers. As a result, they're paying double-digit interest rates on both vehicles and their home mortgage payment may be adjusted upward by $240 a month. Suddenly the young couple has a credit problem.

"Now, did they create that credit problem, or did the lenders and the dealers create that problem?" Overholt asks.

It's these kinds of consumers Overholt says he is trying to help. When consumers contact him with a complaint, he studies their documents, looking for signs of predatory lending. If he sees the signs, he sends in undercover "secret shoppers," sometimes wired with microphones and hidden cameras if state law allows. He has helped consumers bring lawsuits against a number of dealers. He's helping, he says, because no one else will.

"The American public should realize the federal government is not protecting them anymore," he said. "Most states have abandoned, abolished or modified their deceptive trade practices laws."

But lawmakers may have gotten the message, not so much from consumers as from Wall Street. When a major subprime lender like New Century Financial goes from making a $60 billion profit in 2006 to declaring bankruptcy in 2007, Washington and Wall Street take notice.

The director of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. joined lawmakers recently in calling for a national standard to crack down on predatory lending. Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress have scheduled a number of hearings on predatory lending as a prelude to promised legislation. Overholt, however, remains highly skeptical.

"There are laws on the books now to protect the consumer from predatory lending," he said. "Nobody is enforcing them."

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Study Warns Ibuprofen May Increase Heart Attack Risk

Some patients may be nine times more likely to suffer a heart attack

Study Warns Ibuprofen May Increase Heart Attack Risk...

There's new evidence that people with an increased cardiovascular risk need to be careful when using over-the-counter pain medication.

A team lead by researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine has found that ibuprofen increases the risk for osteoarthritis patients already prone to a heart attack.

The researchers compared combination treatments of low-dose aspirin with the drugs ibuprofen, naproxen and the cox-2 inhibitor lumiracoxib. They have found that high cardiovascular risk patients taking ibuprofen and aspirin combined are nine times more likely suffer a heart attack.

This new study, published in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, suggests that ibuprofen interferes with the blood thinning properties of aspirin in patients at high risk for cardiovascular disease.

Past evidence suggests that both selective cox-2 inhibitors and non-selective non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs increase the risk of cardiovascular events. However, research has been lacking in the high cardiovascular risk population of patients taking aspirin, in combination with these pain medicines used for osteoarthritis.

Mount Sinai researchers are among the first to study this area and have found that the common painkiller ibuprofen used for osteoarthritis, may boost the likelihood of heart problems in high cardiovascular risk patients who are already taking aspirin.

"Ibuprofen has a significantly higher rate of major cardiovascular events, mostly heart attacks, when compared to a COX-2 inhibitor," said Dr. Michael E. Farkouh, M.D., of Mount Sinai Heart. "The findings underscore the importance of not only considering the class of NSAIDs used in high risk cardiac patients with osteoarthritis but also making physicians aware of the interaction of NSAIDs with aspirin, diminishing any beneficial effects."

The cardiovascular health of 18,523 patients over 50 years age with osteoarthritis were compared by researchers in the TARGET trial. Patients were taking high doses of lumiracoxib (Cox-2 inhibitor), or either of the NSAIDs- ibuprofen or naproxen.

In patients with osteoarthritis at high cardiovascular risk not taking low-dose aspirin treatment, the rate of heart attacks was higher for those on lumiracoxib than it was for patients on naproxen. It was no higher for patients on ibuprofen. However, in patients at high cardiovascular risk taking low dose aspirin, ibuprofen was associated with a higher incidence of cardiovascular events than lumiracoxib and naproxen.

The findings show interference of ibuprofen on the effects of aspirin in high cardiovascular risk patients.

"This is the first randomized trial evidence to show risk of interaction between ibuprofen and aspirin to be real," said Farkouh. "Doctors should not give high risk cardiovascular patients ibuprofen for pain while they are taking aspirin for their heart. Cardiologists, rheumatologists and gastroenterologists need to work together to fully evaluate the evidence at hand to make proper recommendations to primary care physicians."

 



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Air Travelers Association Opposes Passenger Bill of Rights

Air Travelers Association Opposes Passenger Bill of Rights...


An advocacy organization, the Air Travelers Association (ATA), says it opposes the Passengers Bill of Rights legislation under consideration by the U.S. Congress.

ATA president David Stempler says the bill would actually make things worse for air travelers. He cites the following reasons:

• Cancellations would increase
• Air fares would rise
• Safety could be compromised
• A single passenger could wield veto power over pilots, dispatchers, controllers, and other trained officials.

In addition, according to Stempler, penalties to punish airlines for extensive delays already exist and no further penalties are needed.

The ATA's position coincides with that of the airline industry, which insists it can police itself.

Congressional impetus for a Passengers Bill of Rights followed a Feb. 14 ice storm that snarled air traffic in the northeast and resulted in nine JetBlue flights waiting on the JFK tarmac for 6-10 hours apiece.

The ATA insists passage of the congressional bill would create even more chaos.

For example, it says the bill would give one passenger the right to leave a plane that sits three hours on the ground prior to departure or upon arrival, with two 30-minute extensions, except if there is a risk to safety or security.

The ATA says airlines would deal with that caveat by canceling, rather than delaying flights, thus making it harder for passengers to reach their destinations -- sometimes for days -- because of unavailable seats on subsequent flights.

Because such cancellations reduce revenues and raise costs for airlines, and because the Passenger Bill of Rights requires food to be carried aboard every flight, the ATA predicts carriers would probably respond to passage by raising fares.

Because the bill places penalties on airlines for delays, cancellations, and diverted flights, airline safety could be jeopardized by carriers that decide to do anything to avoid potential fines, ATA argues.

Allowing a single passenger to order a flight cancellation also works against the greater good, the ATA says, since operational control of planes should remain in the hands of pilots, dispatchers, air traffic controllers, meteorologists, and others working in concert for airline safety.

"Passengers angry at the airlines tend to be in favor of the Passenger Bill of Rights because they want to punish the airlines," Stempler says. "But in fact, they will punish themselves ... the PBOR will hurt passengers, not help them."

Stempler is an aviation attorney and has a background in all areas of aviation. He has been president of two regional airlines and a senior vice president of a jet charter company. He was part of the legal team that was responsible for the grounding of all DC-10 aircraft in 1979.

ATA says it "advocates for airline passengers on airline safety, security, savings, and service." Its Web page says the organizaiton "is not currently offering memberships." Its Web site offers no information on how many members the association has. Calls to its office were not answered.



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Vonage Gets a Reprieve but its Future is Murky

Verizon Wins Patent Infringement Case, a Potentially Fatal Blow

Vonage Gets a Reprieve but its Future is Murky...

Internet telephone pioneer Vonage got at least a temporary reprive from an almost certain death sentence when a federal appeals court temporarily stayed a federal judge's order that Vonage stop signing new customers until it stops infringing on patents held by Verizon.

U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton ruled Friday morning that Vonage stop signing new customers after a jury found that it had infringed on several patents held by telecom giant Verizon. Hilton said he considered the possibility that his order could result in bankruptcy for Vonage, which has seen its stock price plummet in recent months.

But Hilton said he concluded that there is adequate competition in the telecommunications industry and that, whether or not Vonage survives, the public will have adequate access to telephone service.

Vonage is running low on cash and has promised its investors it will grow quickly to reach profitability. It's been losing customers nearly as fast as it signs new ones, so if the judge's no-new-customers order is reimposed, Vonage could see its existing base of 2.2 million customers erode quickly.

It's also possible existing customers will begin deserting Vonage more quickly, fearing that it could go out of business and leave them without service.

Customers Restless

Vonage says it is working to find ways around the patented processes so that it can get back in the race. But even if it solves the technical and legal hurdles, Vonage faces a growing chorus of consumer complaints that may be nearly as effective as a court order in stemming future sales.

Although it advertises extensively and attracts a steady stream of new customers, Vonage has had a hard time hanging onto customers. Many complain about the audio quality of their phone calls, while others are never able to master the hook-up process, which requires installing a router between their Internet connection and their telephone. Billing disputes are also a common theme in the more than 400 Vonage complaints filed with ConsumerAffairs.com.

"I had dropped calls, couldn't call or receive calls, etc. So, I decided to go back to my land line," said Ashby of Forest Hill, Md.

"Vonage promised service that could not be delivered, stalled for several months and have billed me for service not delivered," said Peter of Big Bear Lake, Calif. "I have called for a resolution on this matter many times, they simply shuttle the calls from one nincompoop to another until the customer gives up."

Vonage also faces a consumer class action filed in U.S. District Court in California which charges that it misled consumers about the quality and reliability of its service and engaged in false advertising and deceptive business practices.

Verizon Suit

Verizon sued Vonage in June, claiming that Vonage had illegally used key technologies owned by Verizon to connect Internet calls to regular telephone networks and claimed it had lost hundreds of thousands of customers to Vonage as a result of the infringement.

Like many companies that try to capitalize on new technology, Vonage has attracted numerous competitors, including the huge telephone and cable companies it had hoped to displace. Much of the growth Vonage had hoped for has instead gone to the cable companies, which have aggressively rolled out telephone service packages bundled with high-speed Internet and video services.

Between them, Cablevision and Time Warner have signed more than 3 million customers, business that Vonage had been counting on to meet its projections.

Vonage has also run afoul of the regulatory thicket that is the telecom market. It has been required by regulators to add many of the very fees and surcharges already collected by its old-line competitors. That has taken away much of the low-cost advantage Vonage had been counting on.

Since it sells itself as a replacement for traditional telephone service, Vonage also found itself required to beef up its 911 service, a major unanticipated expense.

Defenders

Not everyone is critical of Vonage. The president of CompTel, a telecommunications trade association, says Verizon is using its market dominance to stamp out competition.

"We're seeing a still-dominant monopoly aggressively using its monopoly revenue to pursue and drive out of the market competitors," Earl Comstock told The Washington Post. "This isn't about protecting their patents. It's about crushing their competitors."

Comstock predicted Verizon will use the same tactic to go after other competitors.

 

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Airline Passenger Revolt Spreads to Europe

Americans aren't the only ones tired of being stuck, stranded and ignored

Airline Passenger Revolt Spreads to Europe...

Passengers of U.S. airlines arent the only ones demanding an end to the cycle of delays, cancellations, tarmac holds, lost luggage, and poor communication tendencies.

Europeans are in the same boat -- or perhaps wish they were in a boat, a train, or a car.

Anything but an airplane.

Roiled by repeated complaints from consumers on the other side of the Atlantic, the 27-member European Union has given member states six months to comply with passenger protection rules.

If they dont enforce those rules, which were enacted two years ago, legal actions may follow.

The country with the most complaints is Great Britain, where more than 6,000 passengers went on record between February 2005 and September 2006.

According to Jacques Barrot, the EUs Transport Commissioner, several member countries do not have specific offices to handle complaints. Even those that do, he said, are obligated to require responses from airlines.

In an official report, the EU stated that too many complaints received no answer, while others were answered poorly by carriers.

In the United States, legislation designed to enact a Passenger Bill of Rights was introduced after wild winter weather caused a myriad of diversions, delays, and cancellations.

At least two planes left without their passengers after being diverted to other cities, while several airlines left planes idling for up to 10 hours on icy runways.

During a Feb. 14 ice storm, nine JetBlue planes sat for hours on the JFK runway and US Airways encountered a luggage snafu that enveloped its Philadelphia hub. Both carriers needed almost a full week to recover.

 



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American Bullie Pet Chews Contaminated with Salmonella

Pet Chews Contaminated with Salmonella...


The Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers not to use American Bullie A.B. Bull Pizzle Puppy Chews and Dog Chews manufactured and distributed by T.W. Enterprises, Ferndale, WA, because they have the potential to be contaminated with salmonella, which can cause serious infections in dogs and cats, and, if there is cross-contamination, in people, especially children, the aged, and people with compromised immune systems.

The recall is not related to the massive recall of wet dog food, snacks and other products made with contaminated wheat gluten.

Consumers who have the pet treats manufactured or distributed by T.W. Enterprises listed below should not feed them to their pets, but instead dispose of them in a safe manner (e.g., in a securely covered trash receptacle).

Salmonella can potentially be transferred to people handling these pet treats, especially if they have not thoroughly washed their hands after having contact with the products or any surfaces exposed to these products. Salmonella-infested peanut butter sickened consumers nationwide late last year.

Healthy people infected with salmonella should monitor themselves for some or all of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever.

Rarely, salmonella can result in more serious ailments, including arterial infections, endocarditis, arthritis, muscle pain, eye irritation, and urinary tract symptoms. Consumers exhibiting these signs after having contact with this product should contact their healthcare providers.

Pets with salmonella infections may be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. Some pets will have only decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain. Well animals can be carriers and infect other animals or humans. If your pet has consumed the recalled product and has these symptoms, please contact your veterinarian.

The products covered by this alert include all sizes and lots of American Bullie A.B. Bull Pizzle Puppy Chew and Dog Chew (made from all American beef pizzle).

Following is a list of the affected products:

• A.B. Small Chew, small, 3-4 inch
• A.B. Puppy Chew, 4-6 inch
• A.B. Dog Chew Medium, 6 inch
• A.B. Dog Chew Large, 10 inch
• A.B. Dog Chew XL, 13 inch
• A.B. Dog Chew Mega, 16 inch
• A.B. Dog Chew Jumbo, 26 inch

FDA collected samples of packages of three different sizes of bull pizzle (beef) dog chews manufactured by T.W. Enterprises and, after analysis, found salmonella in one of them. FDA is including in its alert all sizes and all lots of bull pizzle chews manufactured by T. W. Enterprises because pizzles used in manufacturing the chews are processed at the same time, cut into chews of the desired sizes, and then packaged for sale.

Differently sized chews are thus obtained from the same batch or lot of pizzles and manufactured under conditions that facilitate cross-contamination within batches or lots. It is impossible to differentiate chews manufactured by T. W. Enterprises by lot or batch numbers or dates of manufacture because packages of the firm's chews are not coded with batch or lot numbers, and do not specify the dates of manufacture or bear expiration dates.



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IRS Loses Nearly 500 Computers Over Three Years

IRS Loses Nearly 500 Computers Over Three Years...

By Martin H. Bosworth
ConsumerAffairs.com

April 6, 2007
More bad news for the IRS as tax time approaches -- an audit performed on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by the Treasury Department's Inspector General found that the IRS has lost 490 computers between 2003 and 2006, and that the personal information of roughly 2,359 taxpayers is at risk as a result.

Moreover, the report found the IRS had poor security practices for protecting its machines, including easy-to-guess passwords and weak or no encryption, and that the total amount of exposed taxpayer data is difficult to estimate.

Deputy Inspector General Michael Phillips and his team performed inspections of 100 laptop computers in use at the IRS. Of those laptops, 44 contained sensitive, unprotected information on agency personnel and taxpayers. Many of the examined laptops had simple username and password combinations, making them easy to access.

"[W]e believe it is very likely a large number of the lost or stolen IRS computers contained similar unencrypted data," Philips said in the report. "Employees did not follow encryption procedures because they were either unaware of security requirements, did so for their own convenience, or did not know their own personal data were considered sensitive."

Among the report's findings:

• 111 laptop computers were lost or went missing from IRS offices between 2003 and 2006, the highest overall percentage of the total of missing computers. The audit found 89 instances of laptops lost or taken from vehicles, and 35 instances of laptops taken from residences.

• Of the 100 employees interviewed for the audit, 20 had portable "flash drives" or memory sticks that they stored data on without using any encryption, and 54 of the employees stored sensitive data on CD's, DVDs, and floppy disks.

• Several of the examined computers were set to boot up from locations other than the primary hard drive, such as a CD drive, which enables any user with operating software to operate the computer and bypass password protection.

The Treasury IG noted that the IRS was already taking steps to address its concerns and implement its recommendations, chiefly centering on more stringent education and training in protecting sensitive information and securing laptops. IRS Commissioner Mark Everson told Computerworld that the issue of data security is a top priority for him and the agency.

"Historically, missing laptops were treated by us and [the Inspector General for Tax Administration] as a loss of IT hardware rather than as a potential loss of taxpayer data or personally identifiable information," Everson said. "Clearly, this was not the proper response."

The Government Accountabiliy Office (GAO) has issued several reports criticizing the IRS for failing to provide proper security procedures for its data, such as not limiting access privileges on machines containing sensitive data, and not ensuring training of employees in data security. The most recent report was issued on April 2.

One area of laptop theft protection the IRS does employ is in using remote systems linked to the computer to track it whenever it logs on to the Internet. Companies such as CyberAngel and Absolute have been ramping up their marketing efforts to government clients in order to get agencies using their laptop-tracking software.

The Treasury report is available as a free PDF download.
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Judge Orders Vonage to Stop Signing New Customers

Decision in Verizon Patent Case is a Major Blow to Vonage

Judge Orders Vonage to Stop Signing New Customers...

In the latest blow to Internet telephone carrier Vonage, a federal judge has ruled the company must stop signing up new customers until it stops infringing on patents held by Verizon.

Vonage has promised its investors it will grow quickly to reach profitability -- something it won't be able to do if it can't sign new customers. The company said it will immediately appeal the judge's ruling, which followed a decision by a jury in Alexandria, Va., that Vonage had infringed on key Verizon patents.

Vonage also faces a consumer class action filed in U.S. District Court in California which charges that it misled consumers about the quality and reliability of its service and engaged in false advertising and deceptive business practices.

In his decision, U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton said he considered whether the order could result in bankruptcy for Vonage, which has seen its stock price plummet in recent months. He said he concluded that there is adequate competition in the telecommunications industry and that, whether or not Vonage survives, the public will have adequate access to telephone service.

Verizon sued Vonage in June, claiming that Vonage had illegally used key technologies owned by Verizon to connect Internet calls to regular telephone networks and claimed it had lost hundreds of thousands of customers to Vonage as a result of the infringement.

Vonage, which currently has 2.2 million subscribers, says it is working on alternative means of handling calls.

 

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Subprime Loans Led To Decreased Homeownership

Study Finds No Net Increase in Home Ownership Despite Lending Bonanza

Subprime Loans Led To Decreased Homeownership...

Subprime loans, currently at the center of a crises in the mortgage industry, were supposed to be a good thing. Designed for consumers with little or no credit, subprime loans were supposed to allow millions of Americans shut out of the housing market to have a shot at the American Dream.

Nine years and $2 trillion in subprime loans later, critics charge there has not been a net increase in homeownership. In fact, the Center For Responsible Lending says homeownership numbers are moving in the opposite direction.

According to a CRL report, about 1.4 million first-time home buyers purchased their homes using subprime loans from 1998 through 2006. The group estimates that over 2.2 million borrowers who obtained subprime loans will lose or have already lost their home to foreclosure.

Updating the analysis to include subprime originations for fourth quarter 2006 increases the total number of projected subprime foreclosures to 2.4 million.

CRL estimates that subprime loans made during 1998-2006 have led, or will lead to a net loss of homeownership for almost one million families. In fact, the group argues, a net homeownership loss occurs in subprime loans made in every one of the last nine years.

How can that be? Because, says CRL, most subprime loans are not made for the purchase of a home. They are made to refinance an existing mortgage.

The report argues that until the recent boom in housing prices, the overwhelming majority of subprime loans were refinances. Even in 2006, subprime refinance loans accounted for a majority (56%) of all subprime loans originated.

These loans were made to people who already owned homes, but who were tapping into their homes' increasing equity, while being saddled with high interest rates and risky features.

CRL estimates that since 1998, only nine percent of subprime loans have actually gone to first time home buyers. The rest went to people responding to all those TV commercials about how easy and inexpensive it is to tap into your home's equity.

"History has shown that borrowers with lower incomes or blemished credit can be successful homeowners when given suitable mortgages with reasonable terms and fees," the authors wrote. "But lax underwriting practices, dangerous loan products, and a disregard for affordability have set up vulnerable homeowners to fail.

"As a result, millions of families with the most to gain from ownership have lost their homes and billions of dollars in equity."

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Pet Food Recall Expanded to Sunshine Mills Dog Biscuits

Menu Foods Expands Its Recall to Foods Made in November

Pet Food Recall Expanded to Sunshine Mills Dog Biscuits...


The Sunshine Mills Co. announced today that it's recalling some of its dog biscuits after learning the products were made with tainted wheat gluten imported from China.

The company said the dog biscuits involved in the recall were made at its Red Bay, Alabama, plant during part of March, 2007, and include such brands as Nurture Chicken & Rice, Pet Life Large, Lassie Lamb and Rice, and Pet Life People Pleasers Dog Treats.

The Red Bay, Alabama, company used wheat gluten that may contain melamine, the toxin blamed for a fast-growing number of animal deaths throughout North America.

"We still have a lot of work in understanding why melamine is involved," said Stephen Sundlof, the director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, at a news conference.

The company said no illnesses or deaths have been reported -- to date -- in connection with these dog biscuits. It also said none of its small and medium sized biscuits -- or its dry dog and cat food and soft and chewy treats for dogs and cats -- are involved in the recall. A complete list of the recalled products is available on the company's Web site: www.sunshinemills.com. Pet owners can also call the company at 1-800-705-2111.

In related news today, Menu Foods announced it's extending its original recall of 95 brands of "cuts and gravy" style cat and dog food to include a broader range of dates.

The company said it's expanding its recall to include all products manufactured with wheat gluten -- that was purchased from ChemNutra Inc. -- from November 8, 2006 to March 6, 2007.

Menu Food's earlier recall included products manufactured during a three month window-from December 3, 2006 through March 6, 2007.

Dry Food Implicated

Meanwhile, consumers who fed their dogs dry food say their pets are now becoming sick or drying. And their dogs' symptoms, they say, mirror those in pets who have eaten one of the recalled wet foods.

There are no dry dog foods on the recall list.

Hills Pet Nutrition recalled some of its dry cat food -- Prescription Diet m/d Feline Dry Food -- because the company that supplied its wheat gluten also supplied that same melamine-tainted product to Menu Foods.

But in the past few days, ConsumerAffairs.com has heard from pet owners across the country who say their dogs become seriously ill or died after eating dry food.

They're pet owners like John P. of San Diego, California, who fed his dog Nutro Max dry food.

"My Dobie died today," he told ConsumerAffairs.com on Monday. "And my Beagle has been throwing up. This problem (of tainted pet food) is larger than anyone is admitting yet. Please feed your pets human food until this is corrected."

Ayden

Cindy C. of Tallahassee, Florida, says her three-year-old dog also became seriously ill after eating Nutro Max dry food.

"He became very lethargic, was drinking a lot of water, and breathing heavy," she says of her dog, Ayden. "Then his belly began to swell ... it was really huge."

Cindy's veterinarian originally suspected heartworms because Ayden's belly was so distended. But those tests came back negative.

The vet then put Ayden on a diuretic and told her to bring him back in five days.

"During this same time, I took Ayden off the Nutro Max and started feeding him chicken and rice," Cindy says, adding her dog had eaten Nutro Max for about a year and hadn't had any problems. "When I took him back to the vet a second time, I had enough money for more tests. Those tests showed Ayden's creatine levels were high, so the vet said to take him off the diuretic."

Cindy says this occurred in February -- weeks before Menu Food announced its massive recall of 60 million containers of pet food.

That's why she didn't think twice about giving Ayden the Nutro Max dry food again.

"But his belly immediately began to swell up again," she says. "That same week, the news came out about the tainted pet food and I saw that Nutro Max was on the list. It was the wet food, but I thought I'm not taking a chance, and I took him off the dry food."

How's Ayden doing now?

"He's fantastic," she says, adding she now feeds him a brand of dog food that doesn't contain corn or wheat gluten. "Since I stopped feeding him the Nutro Max, his belly is back to normal, his breathing is fine, and he has his energy back. We took our first walk together this past weekend."

Cindy says she contacted ConsumerAffairs.com to warn other pet owners about potential problems with dry dog food.

"I'm convinced that the dry food was also contaminated with poison," she says. "It just seems so odd to me that when I started giving him the Nutro Max dry food again -- before I knew about the recall -- that he started getting bloated again.

"I don't want to start a scare. I just felt a responsibility to share my experience with others."

On its Web site, Nutro Products' President and CEO Dave Kravis states: "There are NO Nutro dry pet foods included in this recall, our dry pet foods contain NO wheat gluten and NONE of our dry pet foods are manufactured by Menu Foods."

He adds: "Nutro is preparing to implement additional guidelines that will ensure that the quality control measures used by our co-manufacturers and their suppliers are strengthened so that this deeply troubling situation never happens again."

Two California pet owners also contacted ConsumerAffairs.com this week with concerns about other brands of dry dog food. One of those pet owners says she had to put her dog to sleep because he became so sick after eating Iams dry food.

"My dog was 15, but very active and spunky," says Angela of Alamo, California. "He was fed Iams dry dog food and became very ill, very quickly ... he was lethargic, lost weight rapidly, was vomiting, urinating in the house, and could not walk."

Angela says her dog went into acute renal failure and she had to make the difficult decision to put him to sleep.

"It was horrible. I am still so upset and confused and saddened by his loss. I don't understand what happened. He survived a fall off of a 15' ledge, a hernia, and other things and was still spry and happy. "This renal failure took him by surprise and was so devastating," she adds. "He could not even lift his head when he was being taken to the vet."

Another pet owner, Joanne M. of Desert Hot Springs, California, says her dog became sick after eating another brand of dry dog food -- Stater Brothers.

"My mini-doxie can't keep his hind legs under him anymore and he is lethargic," she says. "My toy rat terrier threw up all the time and suffered from bloating.

"I believe Stater Brothers dry pet food reduced calorie for adult dogs should be tested," she says. "Someone needs to test the dry food."

ChemNutra

The FDA says that it has traced all of the foods containing melamine to wheat gluten imported from China by ChemNutra Inc. of Las Vegas. ChemNutra has recalled all the wheat gluten it received from the Chinese company that supplied the tainted product.

ChemNutra said it took the action after the Food and Drug Administration discovered the chemical melamine in samples of the wheat gluten it imported from Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd. of China.

ChemNutra said it shipped 792 metric tons of the contaminated wheat gluten from its Kansas City warehouse to three pet food manufacturers -- and one distributor. Those shipments started on November 9, 2006 and ended March 8, 2007.

Sundlof said melamine is a "relatively non-toxic: substance and suggested it may be linked to another substance that has not yet been identified.

No Human Food

ChemNutra said it did not ship any of the melamine-tainted wheat gluten to facilities that make human food. It also said the distributor that received the contaminated wheat gluten only supplies products to the pet food industry.

ChemNutra said in a press release that one of its pet food manufacturers -- which it did not name -- notified the company on March 8, 2007, that the wheat gluten it sold them -- from Xuzhou Anying -- was one of the ingredients linked to the deaths and illnesses of cats and dogs across the county.

The company said it immediately quarantined its entire wheat gluten inventory.

The FDA did not find any other contaminants in the wheat gluten it imported from Xuzhou Anying, the company said. It also said the FDA did not find any impurities in the wheat gluten the company imported from two other Chinese suppliers.

The recalled wheat gluten came from China in 25 kg. paper bags and each shipment had the certificate of analysis information from the supplier, including batch number and the supplier's content analysis and test results.

"ChemNutra is extremely concerned about the purity of all of its products," the company said in its press release. "The company is particularly troubled that the certificates of analysis provided by the above-named supplier did not report the presence of melamine."

Vitamin D

The animal rights group People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) yesterday suggested that excessive amounts of vitamin D in pet food might be the cause of the growing number of kidney problems and deaths in cats and dogs across the country.

PETA also called for the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration to immediately resign for his "complete failure" in handling the Menu Foods recall of 60 million containers of wet dog and cat food.

PETA Vice President Bruce Friedrich -- citing laboratory evidence -- today urged the FDA to refocus its investigation beyond wheat gluten and consider other possible contaminants in the pet food.

In his letter to Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinarian Medicine, Friedrich said: "Wheat gluten is used almost exclusively in wet foods. However, the mounting number of complaints of illness and death in cats and dogs who had eaten only dry food strongly suggests that there is a second source of the poisoning, another toxic ingredient.

"Evidence from reputable laboratories indicates that an as yet unnamed ingredient may be to blame, perhaps a form of vitamin D."

Friedrich cited the following examples to illustrate his contention:

• A manufacturing error last year in the production of Royal Canin pet food resulted in excessive amounts of vitamin D3 in the food. This caused hypercalcemia, an abnormally high level of calcium in the blood that caused animals' kidneys to malfunction;

• Research in endocrinology at Cleveland Clinic has confirmed that high levels of vitamin D3 in animals' blood causes kidney malfunction;

• Symptoms associated with excessive vitamin D3 appear identical to the symptoms now being reported in dogs and cats. This has led "us to believe that this vitamin may be implicated in this new horror," Friedrich writes.

Friedrich asked Sundlof to let him know if the FDA is testing a wide sample of implicated cat and dog foods -- both wet and dry -- for vitamin D3 levels.

He also implored Sundlof to "please tell the public what other measures you are taking to get to the bottom of this crisis."

Wheat Gluten

FDA officials said last week the wheat gluten in the recalled pet foods is contaminated with melamine, a chemical commonly used in plastics.

But the New York Department of Agriculture and an agricultural laboratory in Canada dispute that finding. They say the pet food is contaminated with a rat poison called Aminopterin.

The New York lab has 42 scientists and support staff and a $3.5 million annual budget. It tests about 20,000 samples of food annually. It has some of the latest high-tech equipment, some of it purchased with Homeland Security funds as a safeguard against bioterrorism.

The director of the New York lab, Daniel Rice, told USA Today that all of pieces of the poisoning puzzle have not yet been found.

"I guess we don't think this is a closed case yet," he said.



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Former Morgan Stanley Employee Arrested On Data Theft Charges

Former Morgan Stanley Employee Arrested On Data Theft Charges...


A former Morgan Stanley client service representative was arrested and charged with stealing proprietary information relating to the brokerage firm's hedge fund clients. Ronald Peteka surrendered yesterday and was charged with conspiracy, according to the U.S. Attorney's office in New York.

Peteka is alleged to have accessed information on Morgan Stanley's hedge fund clients and the rates they pay while he worked for another company, and sending the information to his personal e-mail account several times between December 2005 and February 2006.

Peteka received the documents from Ira Chilowitz, a former computer consultant for the firm. Peteka is accused of using the information from Chilowitz to help set up his own financial consulting business with another unidentified Morgan Stanley employee.

Chilowitz was arrested in July on charges of conspiracy, theft, and unauthorized computer access in July 2006. He pled guilty to the charges in February 2007.

A U.S. magistrate judge set bail for Peteka at $35,000 at his hearing in federal court. Neither Peteka or his lawyers had any comment.

"The actions by the U.S. Attorney's Office today are just a continuation of those undertaken last summer, which were based on information supplied by Morgan Stanley," the company said in a statement. "A second individual has now been arrested and charged in connection with the misappropriation of proprietary and confidential firm data.

"Morgan Stanley continues to place the highest priority on maintaining the integrity of confidential information," the company said.

Ironically,the British branch of Morgan Stanley's Consumer Banking division released a report in January 2007 predicting a rise in identity theft and related crimes. The report cited young people as being the most vulnerable, due to reuse of passwords and not shredding documents with personal information.

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Monsanto Wants Feds to Silence Dairies

No Need to Eliminate Growth Hormones, Chemical Giant Argues

Monsanto Wants Feds to Silence Dairies...

Monsanto, the giant chemical company, wants Big Brother to protect it from those bullies that hang around the dairy barns.

The problem, to hear Monsanto tell it, is that dairies such as New England's Hood and California's Alta Dena are making a big deal about how their milk comes from cows that haven't been treated with an artificial growth hormone made by Monsanto.

The hormone -- recombinant bovine somatotropin -- or rBST -- was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1993. But many parents fear the substance can cause cancer, premature development or other conditions in children. Some European countries prohibit using the chemical.

Farmers like the chemical additive because it causes cows to produce about ten percent more milk.

Some major dairies made the move to rBST-free cows last year to compete more effectively against organic milk and Monsanto argues the dairies have been making health claims that aren't true, causing consumers to spend more for "natural" milk while in fact getting nothing in return.

Monsanto has complained to the FDA and also to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), claiming the ads amount to false advertising.

Monsanto beefed that, on its Web site, Alta Dena says, "By not using rBST, we protect the health of our cows, their milk and our customers." But Monsanto says a study it commissioned looked at 98 brands of milk in 48 states and found no differences in the milk, regardless of whether it was rBST-free or rBST-fed cows.

Hood and another new England dairy, Garelick, make no health claims but their milk bottles carry labels saying their farmers have pledged not to use artificial growth hormones. Monsanto says that implies that artificial growth hormones are unhealthful.



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American Importer Recalls All Wheat Gluten

None of the Melamine-Contaminated Material Used in Human Food, Company Says

American Importer Recalls All Wheat Gluten...

The American company that imported the contaminated ingredient linked to the death and illnesses of pets nationwide has recalled all the wheat gluten it received from the Chinese company that supplied the tainted product.

ChemNutra said it took the action after the Food and Drug Administration discovered the chemical melamine in samples of the wheat gluten it imported from Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd. of China.

ChemNutra said it shipped 792 metric tons of the contaminated wheat gluten from its Kansas City warehouse to three pet food manufacturers -- and one distributor. Those shipments started on November 9, 2006 and ended March 8, 2007.

The Las Vegas, Nevada, company said it did not ship any of the melamine-tainted wheat gluten to facilities that make human food. It also said the distributor that received the contaminated wheat gluten only supplies products to the pet food industry.

ChemNutra said in a press release that one of its pet food manufacturers -- which it did not name -- notified the company on March 8, 2007, that the wheat gluten it sold them -- from Xuzhou Anying -- was one of the ingredients linked to the deaths and illnesses of cats and dogs across the county.

The company said it immediately quarantined its entire wheat gluten inventory.

The FDA did not find any other contaminants in the wheat gluten it imported from Xuzhou Anying, the company said. It also said the FDA did not find any impurities in the wheat gluten the company imported from two other Chinese suppliers.

The recalled wheat gluten came from China in 25 kg. paper bags and each shipment had the certificate of analysis information from the supplier, including batch number and the supplier's content analysis and test results.

"ChemNutra is extremely concerned about the purity of all of its products," the company said in its press release. "The company is particularly troubled that the certificates of analysis provided by the above-named supplier did not report the presence of melamine."

Vitamin D

The animal rights group People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) yesterday suggested that excessive amounts of vitamin D in pet food might be the cause of the growing number of kidney problems and deaths in cats and dogs across the country.

PETA also called for the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration to immediately resign for his "complete failure" in handling the Menu Foods recall of 60 million containers of wet dog and cat food.

PETA Vice President Bruce Friedrich -- citing laboratory evidence -- today urged the FDA to refocus its investigation beyond wheat gluten and consider other possible contaminants in the pet food.

In his letter to Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinarian Medicine, Friedrich said: "Wheat gluten is used almost exclusively in wet foods. However, the mounting number of complaints of illness and death in cats and dogs who had eaten only dry food strongly suggests that there is a second source of the poisoning, another toxic ingredient.

"Evidence from reputable laboratories indicates that an as yet unnamed ingredient may be to blame, perhaps a form of vitamin D."

Friedrich cited the following examples to illustrate his contention:

• A manufacturing error last year in the production of Royal Canin pet food resulted in excessive amounts of vitamin D3 in the food. This caused hypercalcemia, an abnormally high level of calcium in the blood that caused animals' kidneys to malfunction;

• Research in endocrinology at Cleveland Clinic has confirmed that high levels of vitamin D3 in animals' blood causes kidney malfunction;

• Symptoms associated with excessive vitamin D3 appear identical to the symptoms now being reported in dogs and cats. This has led "us to believe that this vitamin may be implicated in this new horror," Friedrich writes.

Friedrich asked Sundlof to let him know if the FDA is testing a wide sample of implicated cat and dog foods -- both wet and dry -- for vitamin D3 levels.

He also implored Sundlof to "please tell the public what other measures you are taking to get to the bottom of this crisis."

Wheat Gluten

FDA officials said last week the wheat gluten in the recalled pet foods is contaminated with melamine, a chemical commonly used in plastics.

But the New York Department of Agriculture and an agricultural laboratory in Canada dispute that finding. They say the pet food is contaminated with a rat poison called Aminopterin.

The New York lab has 42 scientists and support staff and a $3.5 million annual budget. It tests about 20,000 samples of food annually. It has some of the latest high-tech equipment, some of it purchased with Homeland Security funds as a safeguard against bioterrorism.

The director of the New York lab, Daniel Rice, told USA Today that all of pieces of the poisoning puzzle have not yet been found.

"I guess we don't think this is a closed case yet," he said.

PETA Demands Resignation

In other news, PETA has called for the commissioner of the FDA to resign in the wake of the agency's handling of Menu Food's massive recall. It issued a timeline that it said documented the agency's failings.

"The FDA is feeding the public a line, and the American people's faith in the government is dying along with dogs and cats," Friedrich says. "The agency's failure to pinpoint the cause of death for animals who have eaten only dry food is cause for the commissioner to resign or be fired."

In an April 2, 2007 letter, PETA's president Ingrid Newkirk, outlined four specific reasons for FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach to resign:

• The FDA's failure to recommend a recall of Menu Foods' products -- or tell the public the pet foods might be harming or killing their animals -- before the company announced its recall on March 16, 2007. PETA says Menu Foods knew "its food was sickening animals as early as February 20, 2007, and killed more animals in a crude feeding test at the end of the month."

• The FDA's refusal to recommend a recall or advise the public that dry pet food might also be contaminated -- even though the "FDA knew from numerous consumer complaints that dry food has been implicated in this tragedy."

• The FDA's refusal to name the dry pet food manufacturer that received a contaminated ingredient used in the recalled pet foods. "The FDA refused to name the company or advise consumers which foods to avoid in order to ensure that no more beloved animals would be killed by the FDA-approved food fed to them," Newkirk wrote is the letter.

• The FDA's apparent cover-up of evidence that reveals melamine is not what's causing cats and dogs to become sick and die. "At the FDA's press conference on March 30, the agency did not report the fact that the New York Department of Agriculture and a top Canadian agricultural laboratory both dispute the FDA's finding," Newkirk wrote.

She also cited a New York Times article that quoted a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture saying: "We don't think this is the final conclusion. Melamine is not a known toxin ... we are confident we found Aminopterin, and it makes sense with the pathology."

Newkirk's letter to the FDA's commissioner also states: "Under your leadership, the FDA adopted a wait-and-see attitude while animals went into renal failure and households and children lost cherished members of their family.

"Your failure to act in a timely fashion, let along speedily, to demand a recall showed that your interests lie in the protecting the pet food industry's profit margin, not animals and those who love them."

FDA MIA

PETA Vice President Friedrich described the FDA as "MIA when it comes to protecting dogs and cats."

"The FDA has completely abdicated its responsibility of regulating the pet food industry," he told ConsumerAffairs.com today. "It has handed over pet food regulations to a non-governmental agency with no power at all-the Association of American Feed Control Officials."

PETA has also called for criminal investigations into Iams, Menu Foods, and other companies to determine if there were delays that caused more suffering and deaths of animals.

In a letter to the Prosecuting Attorney of Hamilton County, Ohio, PETA writes: "As we see it, Iams and its agents may have violated Ohio (anti-cruelty) law. Iams' manufacturer, Menu Foods, reportedly knew about the food contamination issues as early as February 20, yet a product recall was not announced until March 16 -- almost a full month later -- a month in which peoples' animal companions were sickened and may have died.

"Iams, by delaying its recall announcement, should be held fully accountable for every pertinent death, to the extent allowed by Ohio law."

 


 

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PETA Suggests Vitamin D to Blame for Animal Deaths

Group Demands FDA Head Resign for Ignoring Complaints about Dry Animal Food

PETA Suggests Vitamin D to Blame for Animal Deaths...

The animal rights group, People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), says that excessive amounts of vitamin D in pet food might be the cause of the growing number of kidney problems and deaths in cats and dogs across the country.

PETA also called for the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration to immediately resign for his "complete failure" in handling the Menu Foods recall of 60 million containers of wet dog and cat food.

PETA Vice President Bruce Friedrich -- citing laboratory evidence -- today urged the FDA to refocus its investigation beyond wheat gluten and consider other possible contaminants in the pet food.

In his letter to Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinarian Medicine, Friedrich said: "Wheat gluten is used almost exclusively in wet foods. However, the mounting number of complaints of illness and death in cats and dogs who had eaten only dry food strongly suggests that there is a second source of the poisoning, another toxic ingredient.

"Evidence from reputable laboratories indicates that an as yet unnamed ingredient may be to blame, perhaps a form of vitamin D."

Friedrich cited the following examples to illustrate his contention:

• A manufacturing error last year in the production of Royal Canin pet food resulted in excessive amounts of vitamin D3 in the food. This caused hypercalcemia, an abnormally high level of calcium in the blood that caused animals' kidneys to malfunction;

• Research in endocrinology at Cleveland Clinic has confirmed that high levels of vitamin D3 in animals' blood causes kidney malfunction;

• Symptoms associated with excessive vitamin D3 appear identical to the symptoms now being reported in dogs and cats. This has led "us to believe that this vitamin may be implicated in this new horror," Friedrich writes.

Friedrich asked Sundlof to let him know if the FDA is testing a wide sample of implicated cat and dog foods -- both wet and dry -- for vitamin D3 levels.

He also implored Sundlof to "please tell the public what other measures you are taking to get to the bottom of this crisis."

Wheat Gluten

FDA officials said last week the wheat gluten in the recalled pet foods is contaminated with melamine, a chemical commonly used in plastics.

But the New York Department of Agriculture and an agricultural laboratory in Canada dispute that finding. They say the pet food is contaminated with a rat poison called Aminopterin.

The New York lab has 42 scientists and support staff and a $3.5 million annual budget. It tests about 20,000 samples of food annually. It has some of the latest high-tech equipment, some of it purchased with Homeland Security funds as a safeguard against bioterrorism.

The director of the New York lab, Daniel Rice, told USA Today that all of pieces of the poisoning puzzle have not yet been found.

"I guess we don't think this is a closed case yet," he said.

PETA Demands Resignation

In other news, PETA has called for the commissioner of the FDA to resign in the wake of the agency's handling of Menu Food's massive recall. It issued a timeline that it said documented the agency's failings.

"The FDA is feeding the public a line, and the American people's faith in the government is dying along with dogs and cats," Friedrich says. "The agency's failure to pinpoint the cause of death for animals who have eaten only dry food is cause for the commissioner to resign or be fired."

In an April 2, 2007 letter, PETA's president Ingrid Newkirk, outlined four specific reasons for FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach to resign:

• The FDA's failure to recommend a recall of Menu Foods' products -- or tell the public the pet foods might be harming or killing their animals -- before the company announced its recall on March 16, 2007. PETA says Menu Foods knew "its food was sickening animals as early as February 20, 2007, and killed more animals in a crude feeding test at the end of the month."

• The FDA's refusal to recommend a recall or advise the public that dry pet food might also be contaminated -- even though the "FDA knew from numerous consumer complaints that dry food has been implicated in this tragedy."

• The FDA's refusal to name the dry pet food manufacturer that received a contaminated ingredient used in the recalled pet foods. "The FDA refused to name the company or advise consumers which foods to avoid in order to ensure that no more beloved animals would be killed by the FDA-approved food fed to them," Newkirk wrote is the letter.

• The FDA's apparent cover-up of evidence that reveals melamine is not what's causing cats and dogs to become sick and die. "At the FDA's press conference on March 30, the agency did not report the fact that the New York Department of Agriculture and a top Canadian agricultural laboratory both dispute the FDA's finding," Newkirk wrote.

She also cited a New York Times article that quoted a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture saying: "We don't think this is the final conclusion. Melamine is not a known toxin ... we are confident we found Aminopterin, and it makes sense with the pathology."

Newkirk's letter to the FDA's commissioner also states: "Under your leadership, the FDA adopted a wait-and-see attitude while animals went into renal failure and households and children lost cherished members of their family.

"Your failure to act in a timely fashion, let along speedily, to demand a recall showed that your interests lie in the protecting the pet food industry's profit margin, not animals and those who love them."

FDA MIA

PETA Vice President Friedrich described the FDA as "MIA when it comes to protecting dogs and cats."

"The FDA has completely abdicated its responsibility of regulating the pet food industry," he told ConsumerAffairs.com today. "It has handed over pet food regulations to a non-governmental agency with no power at all-the Association of American Feed Control Officials."

PETA has also called for criminal investigations into Iams, Menu Foods, and other companies to determine if there were delays that caused more suffering and deaths of animals.

In a letter to the Prosecuting Attorney of Hamilton County, Ohio, PETA writes: "As we see it, Iams and its agents may have violated Ohio (anti-cruelty) law. Iams' manufacturer, Menu Foods, reportedly knew about the food contamination issues as early as February 20, yet a product recall was not announced until March 16 -- almost a full month later -- a month in which peoples' animal companions were sickened and may have died.

"Iams, by delaying its recall announcement, should be held fully accountable for every pertinent death, to the extent allowed by Ohio law."

Chinese Blamed

The Food and Drug Administration yesterday blocked the Chinese manufacturer suspected of producing melamine-tainted wheat gluten -- and linked to scores of kidney-related illnesses and deaths in pets across the country -- from importing the product into the United States.

In an import alert dated March 31, 2007, the FDA identified the Chinese manufacturer as Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Company -- www.xzay.com -- of Peixian, China.

"In March, 2007, the FDA became aware of the illness and death of cats and dogs associated with certain pet foods," the alert states, referring to the massive recall of 60 million containers of wet pet food produced by Menu Foods of Canada.

"Subsequently, samples of the implicated pet food were analyzed and found to contain melamine. The consumption of pet food containing melamine may be associated with acute renal failure in cats. Investigations have revealed that the source of the melamine was wheat gluten, which is an ingredient in the pet food.

The alert adds: "Appropriate screening criteria have been set for wheat gluten from China and the Netherlands, as a country through which trans-shipping of Chinese wheat gluten may occur. "

A sales manager for Xuzhou Anying told MSNBC the company was aware of the FDA's import alert. But manager Geng Ziujuan said her company had not made the contaminated wheat gluten, claiming it purchased the product from companies in neighboring provinces of China.

The sales manager also said Xuzhou Anying sold the wheat gluten to another company called Suzhou Textile Import and Export Company.

"There are many other exporters and I don't see why they would just blame us," Geng told MSNBC, adding the company was inspecting its products. It's too early, she said, to announce any results.

Massive Recall

Menu Foods' massive recall affects such national brands as Procter & Gamble's Iams and Eukanuba, Nestle SA's Purina Mighty Dog and others, including some sold at Wal-Mart and Safeway.

Other pet food companies, including Del Monte Pet Products and Hill's Pet Nutrition, are now recalling products made with the same melamine-tainted wheat gluten imported from China.

Del Monte Pet Products recalled some of its wet pet foods and pet treats sold under the Jerky Treats, Gravy Train Beef Stick and Pounce Meaty Morsel brands.

It also recalled some of its dog snacks sold under private label brands. The company said it took that action after learning from the FDA that wheat gluten supplied to Del Monte Pet Products -- from a manufacturing plant in China -- contained melamine.

 


 

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Feds Sue Jackson Hewitt, Claiming "Pervasive" Tax Fraud

Preparers Fabricated Deductions, Took Kickbacks, Suit Charges

Feds Sue Jackson Hewitt, Claiming ...

The Justice Department has sued five Jackson Hewitt tax preparation franchises who operate more than 125 retail tax preparation sotes in the Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit and Raleigh-Durham, N.C., areas., claiming they prepared fraudulent tax returns for their clients.

The suit also names 24 individuals who manage or work at the franchises.

The suits allege that one of the individual defendants, Farrukh Sohail of Atlanta, Ga., owns an interest in each of the five corporations, which prepared and filed over 105,000 federal income tax returns last year.

According to the government complaint, Sohail and other defendants "created and fostered a business environment" at the Jackson Hewitt franchises "in which fraudulent tax return preparation is encouraged and flourishes."

Examples of fraud alleged in the lawsuits include filing false returns claiming refunds based on phony W-2 forms; using fabricated businesses and business expenses on returns to claim bogus deductions; claiming fuel tax credits in absurd amounts for customers clearly not entitled to any credits; and massive fraud related to claiming the federal earned income tax credit.

One complaint cites a Jackson Hewitt franchise customer whose Jackson Hewitt-prepared tax return claimed he was a barber who was entitled to a fuel tax credit for buying 25,000 gallons of gasoline for off-highway business use. The complaint alleges the customer would have had to drive 1,370 miles each day, seven days a week, to consume that much fuel in one year, leaving little if any time to cut hair.

Last December, the Justice Department sued a Miami tax preparer alleging similar fraudulent claims of the fuel tax credit. In July 2006, a federal court in Miami enjoined a large Jackson Hewitt franchise from asserting frivolous positions on tax returns.

The suits further allege that some of the Jackson Hewitt franchises' managers and employees received kickbacks from customers for helping the customers file fraudulent tax returns. The suits further allege more than $70 million in combined losses to the U.S. Treasury, and seek court orders barring the franchises and other defendants from preparing tax returns for others.

"Preparing federal income tax returns based on falsehoods and fabrications is a serious violation of the law," said Eileen J. O'Connor, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Tax Division. "The Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service are working vigorously to put a stop to these activities."

"When practitioners prepare a false tax return, it has a corrosive impact on the tax system," said IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson. "I am deeply disturbed by the allegation that a major franchisee of the nation's second-largest tax preparation firm is intentionally preparing improper tax returns with inflated refunds."

"I'm particularly concerned that many taxpayers of modest means could actually end up owing the government thousands of dollars if they claimed an improper refund," Everson said.

Since 2001, the Justice Department's Tax Division has obtained more than 230 injunctions to stop the promotion of tax fraud schemes and the preparation of fraudulent returns.

The current round of litigation is at least the fourth time that investigators have targeted Jackson Hewitt since July. In the most recent case, Jackson Hewitt agreed in January to pay $5 million to settle claims it steered low-income people in California to high-cost loans to tide them over while they awaited refunds.

In January, Jackson Hewitt agreed to pay $5 million, including $4 million in consumer restitution, to settle a lawsuit filed by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer.

The suit alleged that the nation's second-largest tax preparation firm violated state and federal laws in marketing high-cost refund anticipation loans (RALs) mainly to low-income customers.

 

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Consumer Reports Pushes For Generic Cholesterol Drug Use

Generic statins just as effective as high-priced spreads

Consumer Reports Pushes For Generic Cholesterol Drug Use...

Lipitor is among the most widely prescribed drugs to lower cholesterol, but Consumer Reportssays doctors should consider its price before writing a prescription.

The consumer group says generic statins are as effective as high-priced brands for most people who need a statin drug, and can help consumers save more than $1,000 a year.

"The three generics available to lower cholesterol and help prevent heart attacks can save consumers significant amounts of money, and that is critical for those patients who have trouble paying for their medicines," said Gail Shearer, director of Consumer ReportsBest Buy Drugs. "A person is much more likely to continue taking a needed medicine if they can afford it."

"Generic statins are becoming increasingly less expensive over time," Shearer said. "Every person with high cholesterol or who is at elevated risk of heart attack or stroke should discuss generic statins with their physician, and determine which drug is best for their condition."

The group cites news reports saying that Pfizer, the maker of Lipitor, has been sending letters to doctors to slow the tide of patients switching from that drug to one of the three generic statins. In particular, Lipitor is competing with two new generics -- pravastatin and simvastatin -- that came onto the market late last year. The generics are versions of Pravachol and Zocor, respectively.

Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs selected lovastatin, pravastatin and simvastatin as "Best Buys" for most types of cholesterol reduction. Lovastatin and pravastatin are recommended if "bad" cholesterol, or LDL, needs to be reduced by less than 30 percent.

Simvastatin is recommended if LDL reduction of 30 percent or greater is needed and/or the patient has had a heart attack or diabetes; or if the patient has had a heart attack and their LDL level is not highly elevated.

Lipitor is a recommended "Best Buy" for a select group of patients -- those who have had a heart attack or have acute coronary syndrome with a highly elevated LDL level. Consumer Reports recommends using the drug for two years and then reconfirming the need or switching to simvastatin after consulting with a physician.

A February analysis of the statin market by CR Best Buy Drugs found that despite the introduction of new generics, the brand-names retained a significant share of all statin prescriptions -- 71 percent. Lipitor alone accounted for an average 43 percent of all statin prescriptions in the latter half of 2006.

 



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Texas Cites RadioShack for Exposing Customers to Identity Theft

Texas Cites RadioShack for Exposing Customers to Identity Theft...


Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has sued Radio Shack for violating state laws regarding the protection and destruction of personal information, after employees at a store in Portland, Texas, dumped thousands of records outside the store, exposing the customers to identity theft.

Abbott's office published an example of the records on their Web site--a receipt of purchase for a shredder, ironically bought by a woman who wanted to protect herself from possible fraud. Other information found in the records included Social Security numbers, credit and debit card numbers, names, and addresses, according to investigators.

Under Texas' "Identity Theft Enforcement and Protection Act" of 2005, businesses can be charged $50,000 for each potential violation. In addition, Abbott charged Radio Shack with violating Chapter 35 of the state's Business and Commerce code, which requires businesses operating in Texas to develop and maintain procedures for retaining and disposing of customer data. Each exposed record could cost the retailer $500.

Radio Shack spokespersons said the incident was not typical, and that stores are required to shred customer information as part of a chain-wide policy. Retailer representatives pledged to work with Abbott's office to resolve the issue.

Abbott had been recently campaigning to stop Texas court and county clerks from posting Social Security numbers online, saying it was a violation of state and federal privacy laws. His efforts were thwarted when Governor Rick Perry signed into law on April 2 a bill permitting clerks to post information containing Social Security numbers "in the normal course of business."

Abbott was also among the first to sue electronics giant Sony for embedding harmful software "rootkits" in copy-protected CDs, which could not be removed from users' computers and exposed them to outside hacks.

The Dangers of Data Dumping

Careless disposal of personal information is one of the leading factors contributing to identity theft. Thieves and fraudsters will spend hours rifling through trash looking for credit card solicitations, receipts, canceled checks -- anything with enough personal information on it to be sold and reused to create new "synthetic" identities and open false accounts.

J.P. Morgan Chase was criticized for accidentally destroying personal data on accountholders of co-branded Circuit City cards in September 2006. The tapes were allegedly buried in a landfill.

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Free No More: Conversion to Digital TV Carries a Price Tag

Feb. 17, 2009 is DTV Day

Free No More: Conversion to Digital TV Carries a Price Tag...

As a nursing student and single mom of two boys, Stephanie Orr doesn't like to pay for TV. The balls of tinfoil clumped around her antenna don't bother her because she gets free reception of her local stations without the expense of cable or satellite.

But on February 17, 2009, tinfoil may become obsolete for receiving local channels as the United States' television system switches to digital-only.

This means all analog TV sets will need a digital converter box (receiver), or a subscription to cable, telephone-company video, or satellite programming.

Although over-the-air television will continue to be free, the changeover won't be free for many consumers.

Those who have analog televisions and don't subscribe to programming services have two options: Buy a digital TV (DTV) and keep using a roof or set-top antenna, or purchase a digital-to-analog converter box, which decodes all digital broadcasts to analog TVs. The U.S. government will defer some of the cost of the converter box with a coupon program starting January 2008.

"The industry hasn't set a price yet, but converter boxes may run between $50 to $70," said Todd Sedmak, communications director for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's (NTIA).

Between January 1, 2008 and March 31, 2009, consumers can receive up to two $40 coupons toward two converter boxes. Sedmak says consumers can apply for coupons through an NTIA 800-number, website or fax number. Details will be announced later this year.

The U.S. government allocated $990 million for the program, and coupons are given on a first-come, first-served basis. If this amount runs out, Congress may add additional funding, but coupons will be given out one per household. Coupons will be mailed to consumer's homes, are redeemable at select retailers, and can only be applied toward this program.

The out-of-pocket expense for a digital-to-analog converter box may be between $10 and $30, still far less than the cost of a new digital TV. Orr was relieved to find her television is digital and can continue to receive over-the-air channels without an additional expense. She will still need her antenna but hopes to retire the tinfoil.

The Reason for the Change

The digital TV transition is part of a worldwide campaign that began four years ago to free up airwaves to assist emergency first-responders.

In the U.S., Congress enacted the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005. The conversion helps public safety responders, such as police and fire agencies, contact each other faster and more reliably. This is especially critical during widespread emergencies, such as the 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina tragedies, when telecommunication airways overloaded.

All televisions and communication devices, like cell phones and Blackberries work on digital or analog bandwidth airwaves. Analog's magnetic waves were the standard since television entered the marketplace in the 1920s, but analog takes up more airway spectrum than digital.

Once digital broadcasting takes over, higher, more powerful frequencies will be opened up and auctioned off to telecommunications companies and given away to emergency service agencies by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Dave Ebarle, support services manager for San Francisco Department of Emergency Management says the higher frequencies are more powerful and can penetrate walls, which enable police and fire agencies to communicate with, for example, firefighters trapped inside a building. Highway Patrol officers will be able to receive stronger signals for the long distances they travel.

In critical situations, emergency responders need to connect with ambulance services, utility companies, schools, airport security and government offices. Different agencies use different equipment depending on their needs.

"Some of this equipment doesn't work well together," Ebarle said.

Moving from 488 to 800 megahertz will put first-responders on stronger airwaves and will make it possible for them to communicate more readily with each other. One way to look at it is that public agencies will get some of the technology that has made consumer-grade cell phones so powerful and flexible.

Pros and Cons

Unlike Orr's foil-covered antenna, Noelle Tong-Villanueva uses a stereo speaker wire for her TV reception. Most of her local channels come in a little grainy, but the slim wires are more discreet than rabbit ear antennas. Unsure if her 2003 TV is digital, she placed a four-minute phone call to the set manufacturer. The customer service rep informed her it was analog.

If your set is older than 2003, chances are it's analog. Check your user's manual for the type of tuner or receiving system. Analog models are NTSC (TV insiders say this stands for "Never The Same Color"), and Digital/analog models are ATSC. HDTV models have analog, digital and high-definition receivers and are QAM. If you don't have a user's manual call your television's manufacturer customer support with the TV model number.

"If you get a decent analog picture than you should get gorgeous DVD-quality pictures" (with a converter box), said LG Electronics Vice President of Public Affairs, John Taylor.

LG Electronics is one of the converter box manufacturers and Taylor says the goal is to make connecting digital converter boxes "as simple as possible." Plug the box into an electrical outlet, one cord into the existing antenna, and another to the back of the TV. LGE and the NTIA will have toll-free numbers and customer support ready to answer any consumer installation questions.

However, consumers who continue to use an analog television with the converter box won't get the full benefits of digital broadcasting.

Digital TVs are wider, giving the movie-theater screen effect. Digital TVs have better sound and transmit twice as many horizontal resolution lines to give a superior picture, free of static and "ghosts" (or shadowing) that can appear on analog sets. Digital allows stations to broadcast more than one program over a single channel, which could lead to more channel choices.

In Berlin, the number of over-the-air channels increased from 12 to 27 when the switch to digital was made.

Most cable and satellite providers already transmit using digital airwaves; your service provider can confirm this.

Orr can still use the old analog TV in her son's room for video games and movies without change. Digital converter boxes cannot produce digital quality with analog video games, DVDs, camcorders and VCR's because they play to the devices' capabilities. Only a digital TV can produce the better quality and sound with analog devices.

By the February 2009 cutoff, Chris McCarty will need to decide what to do with the old TV set he keeps in his garage to play sports as background noise while he works outside.

Environmental Toll

Many consumers may be tempted to haul their old TVs to the dump. Be aware that your state or county has rules for disposing of electronic or hazardous waste and may charge a fee. Check the Environmental Protection Agency Web site for information.

This conversion may increase the plague of electronic waste worldwide.

Californians not only pay to dispose of electronic waste, but are also charged up to $10 at the time of purchase for most types of TVs, computer monitors and laptops for the "Advance Recovery Tax at Point of Sale." The program "hasn't been successful in achieving the recycling goals it promised," according to the Consumer Electronics Association

"California is the only state to charge this fee for electronic waste," said Jason Linnell, executive director for the National Center for Electronic Recycling. "In other states the manufacturer pays recycling costs."

It's Only $30

Unhappy with the idea of payign $30 to continue getting something that's been free all these years? You may want to consider the plight of German TV fans. They had to pay $200 for their conversion boxes.

 

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Skin Cancer Risk Linked To Gender

Men at Greater Risk, Researchers Find

Skin Cancer Risk Linked To Gender...

For years, health researchers assumed that lifestyle had a lot to do with the disparity in the incidence of the form of skin cancer called sqamous cell carcinoma -- believing that men spend more time outside and are less likely to use sun protection than women.

While that may be true, scientists at Ohio State have shown that there may be another, even more critical factor involved -- gender-linked differences in the amount of naturally occurring antioxidants in the skin. The study appears in the April 1 issue of Cancer Research.

Inherent gender differences -- instead of more sun exposure -- may be one reason why men are three times more likely than women to develop certain kinds of skin cancer, say researchers at Ohio State University Medical Center.

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer, accounting for nearly 200,000 new cases in the United States each year. While occurring more often than melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma is not nearly as worrisome. Still, it can be lethal in some patients, especially those with suppressed immune systems, including transplant recipients or people who are HIV-positive.

Dr. Tatiana Oberyszyn, an assistant professor of pathology and of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics at Ohio State University Medical Center, has been studying non-melanoma skin cancers for years. She had a hunch there might be gender-related variables that accounted for the difference between male and female rates of developing these malignancies, and designed an experiment to find out what they might be.

A doctoral student in Oberyszyn's laboratory, Jennifer Thomas-Ahner, subjected male and female mice to a single, identical, acute exposure to UVB light. It is UVB rays, as opposed to UVA or UVC rays in sunlight, that cause the most damage to the skin. Even a single, prolonged exposure is enough to cause inflammation (sunburn) and its attendant redness, swelling and increased vascular flow.

Thomas-Ahner compared various measures of the inflammatory response in the male and female groups, noting the degree of swelling, antioxidant levels, DNA damage in the skin and the levels of myeloperoxidase in the tissue.

Myeloperoxidase is an enzyme that reflects the extent of neutrophil infiltration, the first step in the inflammatory response. Antioxidants help repair damaged DNA and also help clean up toxic byproducts of injured tissue.

She discovered significant differences between the two groups. The male mice registered a weaker inflammatory response than did the females, as measured by the thickness of their skin and myeloperoxidase levels. They also had more extensive DNA damage in their skin and lower antioxidant levels in their skin than the females.

In a second experiment, Thomas-Ahner exposed male and female mice to longer, chronic sun exposure, irradiating them three times weekly for 16 weeks. When the mice were 25 weeks old, she examined them for differences in tumor growth, size and number.

She found that male mice developed tumors earlier and had more tumors than did female mice. The tumors in the male mice also tended to be larger and more aggressive than were those in the female mice.

Oberyszyn and Thomas-Ahner also noted that the difference in the antioxidant capacity between male and female mice was present in the untreated skin as well as the treated skin. Oberyszyn, a member of the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, believes that the greater amount of naturally occurring antioxidant capacity in the females accounted for their ability to thwart a certain degree of tumor growth and spread.

"This is the first time anyone has ever looked at the effect of gender on the development of UVB-induced skin cancers in such a controlled environment," says Oberyszyn. "It's given us clear evidence of a biological basis for the gender bias in developing squamous cell carcinoma."

Oberyszyn says other studies need to be done to validate the findings, but noted the data are compatible with other studies suggesting a potential biological basis for gender difference in the development of cancer and other diseases.



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Del Monte the Latest to Recall Pet Food

Melamine Hazard in Dog Snacks, Wet Dog Food

Del Monte the Latest to Recall Pet Food...


Del Monte is the latest to recall some of its pet food products. The company said it's recalling pet treats sold under the Jerky Treats, Gravy Train Beef Sticks and Pounce Meaty Morsels brands as well as select dog snack and wet dog food products sold under private label brands.

 

A full list of the recalled products appears below.

The company said it learned from the FDA that wheat gluten supplied to Del Monte Pet Products from a specific manufacturing facility in China contained melamine. Melamine is a substance used in floor tiles, kitchenware, and fire retardant fabrics, blamed for the massive recall of Menu Foods and other pet products.

The company said the recall affects less than one-tenth of one percent of Del Monte Pet Products' annual pet food and pet treat production. It said the adulterated ingredients were used over the last three months.

Earlier, and Nestle Purina added some of their products to the growing recall of products blamed for a wave of dog and cat deaths throughout North America.

Nestle Purina recalled all sizes and varieties of Alpo Prime Cuts in Gravy dog food marked with specific date codes. The company said some of the cans might be contaminated with melamine, the toxin suspected of causing the pet illnesses.

"We're very confident that we've isolated this problem," said Keith Schopp, a spokesman for Nestle Purina. "This is just one canned variety of Alpo, and it's one of many varieties of Alpo canned products. No dry products are involved. No cat products are involved."

But soothing corporate statements come as little comfort to affected pet owners, like Nicole of Key West, Fla.

"I have two small chihuahuas that ate Alpo Prime Cuts dog food. One of my dogs is currently in the hospital because her kidneys are failing. Sophie is only 6 months old and is very ill," she told ConsumerAffairs.com. "My other dog Charlie is beginning to show signs as well. This has caused me a great deal of stress, time off work, money and possibly the lives of my animals."

Del Monte Recall

Here are the products recalled by Del Monte, according to the company's Web site:

BRANDED

Production Code/Best By Date

Jerky Treats Beef Flavor Dog Snacks

Code:
Best By:

TP7C05
Aug 05 08

TP7B07
Aug 07 08

TP7B08
Aug 08 08

TP7B09
Aug 09 08

TP6B10
Aug 10 08

Code:
Best By:

TP7B15
Aug 15 08

TP7C05
Sep 02 08

TP7C06
Sep 03 08

Gravy Train Beef Sticks Dog Snacks

Code:
Best By:

TP7B19
Aug 19 08

TP7B20
Aug 20 08

TP7B21
Aug 21 08

Pounce Meaty Morsels Moist Chicken Flavor Cat Treats

Code:
Best By:

TP7C07
Sep 04 08

TP7C12
Sep 09 08

 

PRIVATE LABEL

Production Code/Best By Date

Ol' Roy Beef Flavor Jerky Strips Dog Treats

Code:
Best By:

TP7B06
Aug 06 08

TP7B07
Aug 07 08

TP7C05
Sep 02 08

TP7C06
Sep 03 08

TP7C07
Sep 04 08

Code:
Best By:

TP7C08
Sep 05 08

Ol' Roy Beef Flavor Snack Sticks Dog Treats

Code:
Best By:

TP7B19
Aug 19 08

TP7B20
Aug 20 08

TP7B21
Aug 21 08

TP7C08
Sep 05 08

TP7C09
Sep 06 08

Ol' Roy Bark'n Bac'n Beef & Bacon Flavor Dog Treats

Code:
Best By:

TP7C14
Sep 11 08

Ol' Roy with Beef Hearty Cuts in Gravy Dog Food

Code:
Best By:

BC6M21
Dec 21 09

Ol' Roy with Beef Hearty Strips in Gravy Dog Food

Code:
Best By:

BC7A19
Jan 19 10

Ol' Roy Country Stew Hearty Cuts in Gravy Dog Food

Code:
Best By:

BC6M15
Dec 15 09

 

Dollar General Beef Flavored Jerky Strips Dog Treats

Code:
Best By:

TP7C06
Sep 03 08

Dollar General Beef Flavored Beef Sticks Dog Treats

Code:
Best By:

TP7B20
Aug 20 08

TP7B21
Aug 21 08

Happy Tails Beef Flavor Jerky Strips

Code:
Best By:

TPY7B08
Aug 08 08

TP7B09
Aug 09 08

Happy Tails Meaty Cuts with Beef in Gravy Dog Food

Code:
Best By:

BC7A29
Jan 29 10

 

Del Monte said customers can call (800) 949-3799 for more information about the recall and for instructions on obtaining a product refund.

Recall Began Two Weeks Ago

The massive recall began two weeks ago, when Canada-based Menu Foods recalled 60 millions cans and pouches of "cuts and gravy" moist dog and cat food produced at its plant in Emporia, Kan., between Dec. 3 and March 6. It has since affected such national brands as Procter & Gamble's Iams and Eukanuba, Nestle SA's Purina Mighty Dog and others, including some sold at Wal-Mart and Safeway.

Joanne of Bentleyville, Penn., was an Iams customer. When her cat refused to eat the Iams Select Bites pouches Joanne brough home, she let her border collie eat them. The dog died a slow death from kidney failure.

"She loved cat food ... so I gave it to (her) as a treat she never gets. The following day I tried the food again with the cat but again he would not eat it so again I gave it to the dog. I had no idea that I thought the food was a treat for my dog was actually poison."

"My life will never be the same. I feel I poisoned one of my family," Joanne said in a complaint to ConsumerAffairs.com. "I trusted a company. I will never do that again."

Menu Food's President and CEO says his company still doesn't know how wheat gluten contaminated with a chemical commonly used in plastic wound up in its products.

President Paul K. Henderson also said the contaminated wheat gluten is not in any of its other product that are outside the scope of the company's massive recall of 60 millions containers of "cuts and gravy" style pet food.

Meanwhile, Hill's Pet Nutrition recalled its Prescription Diet m/d Feline dry cat food. The food included wheat gluten from the same supplier that Menu Foods used. The recall doesn't involve any other Prescription Diet or Science Diet products, the company said.

The Food and Drug Administration -- and an outside laboratory -- announced on Friday that tests found a chemical called melamine in samples of the tainted pet foods involved in the recall.

"Melamine has been found in the finished product that was the subject of recall and has not been found in other Menu Foods pet food outside of the recall," Henderson said at a press conference Friday afternoon.

Cornell University officials also confirmed they found melamine -- used in floor tiles, kitchenware, and fire retardant fabrics -- in the urine and kidney of a sick cat. New York officials say they've detected that chemical, too.

Henderson said the melamine-tainted wheat gluten came from a new supplier, who imported the ingredient from China. He said the company stopped using that supplier after dogs and cats across the country showed symptoms of kidney disease or died after eating Menu's pet foods.

"Needless to say, we have a great deal of interest in finding out why we were supplied with this kind of product," Henderson said of the tainted wheat gluten. "This is a subject of very great interest to us and our lawyers and you can expect that we will be following up."

He added: "For litigation purposes, we cannot elaborate at this time."

Grieving pet owners in the United States and Canada have filed lawsuits against Menu Foods, alleging the company was negligent and should have warned consumers about its tainted products before the March 16, 2007, recall.

Problem Solved?

Henderson said pet owners shouldn't worry about the safety of the cat and dog food the company is now producing.

"Let me be clear on this -- we have removed that (tainted wheat gluten) problem from our system," he said. "Our products are safe. We continue to engage in the highest levels of monitoring and testing in the pet food industry. These tests will be expanded as a result of this experience."

He also pointed out: "Melamine has not been found in the wheat gluten that we obtain from our other suppliers ... all of the testing that has been conducted, including the routine taste tests that were underway prior to the discovery of this problem, have demonstrated that those products not associated with the suspect wheat gluten performed very well and in a manner consistent with historic norms."

The tainted wheat gluten, however, might have been used to make dry dog food.

Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, said the melamine-tainted ingredient was shipped to an unnamed company -- one that manufactures dry pet food.

The federal agency is now investigating whether that contaminated ingredient was used to make any dry pet foods.

When asked if pet owners could be feeding unsafe food to their animals, Sundlof said: "It is possible, but I think we've been following every lead that we can. My sense is that we have gotten most of it under control."

Last week, New York officials announced they discovered the toxin aminopterin -- used as rat poison in other countries and as a cancer drug in the United States -- in Menu's contaminated products.

But the FDA said its tests -- and those by the outside lab -- did not reveal the rat poison in the recalled pet food. Or in the wheat gluten.

Wheat gluten is used a thickening agent and source of protein in pet foods, but it's also used in some human foods.

The FDA said today that it has found no indication the contaminated ingredient is in any food humans eat. The agency said it would alert the public if it found melamine in any other foods.

The FDA has confirmed at least 16 deaths linked to Menu's contaminated pet foods, but officials expect that number to dramatically increase. The FDA said it has received calls from more than 8,000 veterinarians and pet owners.

Earlier this week, the Veterinarians Information Network, a Web site of 30,000 veterinarians and veterinary students, announced its members have reported 104 deaths linked to Menu Foods' contaminated products. The majority of those deaths -- 88 -- involved cats.

The Web site also received 11 reports of dogs dying after eating Menu Foods' tainted food. The remaining five deaths did not list a species.

In addition, VIN said its members have seen 471 cases of kidney failure since Menu Foods announced its massive recall on March 16, 2007.

The Web site PetConnection.com says it has -- as of March 30, 2007 -- received 2,400 unconfirmed reports of dog and cat deaths linked to Menu Foods.

Henderson offered his company's condolences to grieving pet owners.

"All of us at Menu Foods want to express our sympathy to those people who have suffered with sickness and loss of pets," he said. "We are pet-people and we have almost 1,000 caring employees who are dedicated to making food that is safe, nutritious and palatable."

He added: "We are angered that a source outside of the company has apparently adulterated the product causing this regrettable loss."

As the investigation continues, pet owners are advised to watch their dogs and cats for symptoms of kidney failure, including loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, excessive drinking and either excessive or no urination.

Veterinarians, however, warn that animals do not show symptoms until about 70 percent of the kidney function is lost.

A complete list of the recalled Menu pet foods is available at Menu Food's Web site: www.menufoods.com/recall or contact the company at (866) 463-6738 or (866) 895-2708.

 

 

 

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GAO: IRS Still Not Doing Enough to Secure Data

GAO: IRS Still Not Doing Enough to Secure Data...


As tax time looms, a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has made "limited progress" in addressing significant security vulnerabilities, but many weaknesses "continue to threaten the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of IRSs financial and tax processing systems and information."

The GAO cited the IRS' failure to implement its information security program as a "primary reason" for the continued vulnerabilities.

"Until [the] IRS fully implements an agencywide information security program that includes...security plans, training, adequate tests and evaluations, and a continuity of operations process for all major systems, the financial and sensitive taxpayer information on its systems will remain vulnerable," the GAO said.

Among the GAO's findings:

• The IRS did not perform enough oversight of ensuring only authorized personnel had access to its systems. The GAO found evidence of personnel sharing usernames and passwords to access a database production server for the IRS' procurement system.

• The IRS often granted users more access than necessary for performing their duties to systems, and did not adequately police usage or receipt of anonymous e-mails, which increases the vulnerability to phishing scams.

• Physical security vulnerabilities at examined IRS offices included leaving the server for a procurement database in a cubicle, rather than a secured office, and handing out secure access cards to more employees than were necessary.

The GAO previously reported in March 2006 that the IRS had gaping holes in its security practices, such as leaving passwords for computers available for anyone to read, failing to verify photo identification of visitors as IRS employees, and not providing proper oversight and training for contractors in its employ.

The new report did note improvements on some of these fronts, such as improving password storage and creation policies, increased audits and monitoring for mainframe and Windows machines, and increased training for employees and contractors, particularly in the event of disaster.

IRS Commissioner Mark Everson acknowledged the failures of the IRS to provide a comprehensive security plan in his response to the report, but defended the steps the agency took, as he did last year.

"The IRS takes its security and privacy responsibilities seriously," Everson said. "While we have made significant progress, we recognize that continued diligence is required."

The GAO report comes on the heels of new evidence that the IRS is faltering in its ability to fill the "tax gap" of uncollected and underreported tax payments. National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson reported to Congress in January that noncompliance in tax collection forced compliant taxpayers to shoulder more of the burden. Many issues with taxpayer debt could be avoided through earlier negotiation with taxpayers, rather than waiting for debts to accrue interest and penalties, Olson said.

The IRS had planned to outsource data collection functions to an outside company, IAP World Services, as part of a large-scale privatization program, but eventually reduced the breadth of the program after IAP admitted it would not have many of the data centers ready in time for the upcoming tax season, and to ensure that the new employees would be properly trained.

The full GAO report is available as a PDF document.

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Downsize to Survive - In a Financial Bind? Take a Cue from Business: Cut Costs Now

In a Financial Bind? Take a Cue from Business: Cut Costs Now

Downsize to Survive - In a Financial Bind? Take a Cue from Business: Cut Costs Now...

Whenever financial troubles threaten the survival of a company, one of the first steps it takes to reduce costs is to downsize, which everyone knows is a corporate euphemism for layoffs.

But what if you're an individual in financial trouble? You can't lay yourself off. But you can downsize in other ways, in the process shedding expenses and, as they say in business school, enacting a strategy to move to the next level.

Personal downsizing certainly isn't a new phenomenon. Retirees and empty-nesters have been using this strategy for years as a way to simplify their lives and reduce their overhead. The difference today is that there are millions of Americans, many of them baby-boomers, who haven't retired yet but who still need to reduce costs because their expenses far outweigh their income.

We're not talking so much about people who are on the economic fringe, working as a Wal-Mart greeter or pulling the night shift at the 7-11. Chances are they don't have much room to downsize.

We're talking about people with first and second mortgages, who own two or three cars, who are having trouble keeping up with their credit card payments, who are paying huge college tuition bills and other costs for their children including teenagers or even adult children still in school, and who have just been hit with the added financial and emotional responsibility of caring for their aging parents.

If you're in this category and you're finding it hard to sleep at night because you are worrying about how you're going to pay for all this, then downsizing may be your best solution. It beats bankruptcy or foreclosure.

Your Assets

Your home is probably your greatest asset and therefore the cornerstone of your downsizing plan. So the first thing you need to do is to get a realistic independent appraisal of what your property is worth on the current market.

Then subtract how much you still owe on any mortgages, any realtor fees you may have to pay, the cost of any improvements you will need to make before you can even put your house on the market, such as painting, or repairs, as well as any legal fees related to the sale, and finally the cost of moving (which can vary widely depending upon how far you are moving as well as whether you are planning to move everything yourself or hiring a moving company to do it for you). What remains will be the amount you'll have to buy a smaller home.

Since your goal is keep as much of the money that you get from the sale of your home so you can use that income to live on or to invest for future expenses, you will now want to find the least expensive home that you can afford but that will still be comfortable for you and your family.

Chances are the new home will be smaller and in a less expensive community. You will be able to save even more money by downsizing since your mortgage payments on the new house will be smaller, as will your oil, gas or electric bills. (But remember to factor in the possible increased commuting costs -- train fares, tolls, and/or gasoline costs -- if you keep the same job but move farther away.)

Timing plays an important role in any downsizing decision. If your financial situation is very grave and you wait too long, you may not have time to sell your home before it goes into foreclosure. Also, you'll probably need to sell your home before you buy another one -- so put your time and energy into getting your current home or apartment ready for the assessment and the sale rather than the more fun task of finding a less expensive home or apartment to move to.

Getting Ready to Sell

You should get advice from a real estate attorney early in the process. Your attorney will help you prepare documents that will include several dates and conditions that will need to be met by both you and any buyer including those that could allow you to live in the house until you can move into your new home.

There are a number of options to consider when preparing to sell your home. One is to sell your home "as is," deducting from your asking price the cost of any necessary repairs such as a new roof, painting, or any problems detected by a licensed inspector. Another option is to pay for this work and include it in your asking price.

Some typical home improvement include a new paint job, inside and/or outside, upgrades to the electrical system and plumbing as well as changes in some of the rooms, especially in the master bathroom where a new, more modern sink, toilet or Jacuzzi could tip the scales in favor of a buy over a pass.

Realtors will often emphasize something called "curb appeal," which is how the home looks to someone passing by. It is the first time a potential buyer sees it, usually from the curb and before turning into the driveway. It falls into the category of first impression, and experts will tell you that those first impressions sometimes override any new interior improvements that you may have made.

So keep your property clean, well-landscaped and picture perfect. Put fresh mulch on beds around trees and trim lawns, shrubs and walkways. Pick up anything sitting on the lawn that could be an eyesore whether it's a broken old piece of summer furniture or old planters without any plants or flowers.

Inside, your home should be just as attractive and free of clutter. Clutter can kill a sale as easily as a leaky roof. So do a thorough house cleaning, removing from each and every room or hallway any item that gives even the hint of clutter which could imply that you lack enough room for storage.

Whether you sell the house yourself or use a realtor, set the right price so your house sells quickly. You will already have a realistic appraisal so any buyer should feel they are getting real value at a fair price.

A third option is to have an auction. You may want to hold off on this until your house has been on the market for a while but hasn't sold. Most auction services will charge a commission as well as any marketing costs such as newspaper advertisements, brochures and postcards.

There are some advantages to an auction. You sign a contract, there's a six-week marketing campaign, and after the auction is held, you close in 30 days.

Another advantage is that an auction is a cash transaction. You don't have to worry about the financing falling through. Any potential buyer has to arrange that ahead of time. One possible negative of an auction is that, chances are, you will have to accept a lower price than originally anticipated. But even here you can set a minimum acceptable price.

Where To Go?

Once you clear the hurdle of selling your existing home, you need to think about where to go next.

You may want to consider living in a condo instead of a standalone house. Condo living has certain advantages such as not having to worry about supervising lawn maintenance although you will probably still have to pay a maintenance fee, which will differ from property to property. Plus there's the noise factor of living so close to your neighbors and perhaps having to make do with less living space than in a standalone house.

If you decide to downsize by moving to a more affordable community, or even another state, you may actually find that you can move to a larger home or apartment while still paying far less.

For example, checking the current listings of the online site of a major real estate company (which includes listings from other companies as well) in the pricey Westchester, N.Y., suburb of Scarsdale, $369,000 will get you a 2-bedroom, 2-bath co-op measuring 1,350 feet. Or for $589,000, there is a 1,650-square-foot house for sale with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths on .11 acres of land.

By contrast, in Normal, Illinois, a house measuring 4,475 square feet with 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, an in-ground pool, and a large piece of property is listed for $375,000. (Normal might sound, well, abnormal but it's the home of Illinois State University and, like many college towns, offers not just inexpensive housing but cultural events, good medical care and lots of sporting events).

If moving several states away is not an option, even within commuting distance of most regions there are wide variations. For example, in Port Chester, New York, another community in Westchester which is not that far from Scarsdale, you could get a 1,584 square foot house, with 3 bedrooms and 1 bath, not just a condo, for $399,000.

Another option is to consider moving in with relatives after you sell your house rather than immediately rushing to buy something new. Whether you move in with your parents, adult children, extended family members, or even friends, if everyone agrees this is a temporary measure it could be an excellent way to get back on your feet financially.

You and your family member or friend will have to work out the details of your living arrangement and whether or not you will be expected to contribute to the monthly overhead or just pay your own food costs.

Whether you stay put or move to an exotic new locale, give serious thought to finding something more compact. After all, if you have less space you need less furniture and you should spend less on heating, air conditioning, utilities, insurance and so forth. Once you've found your new home, make sure you measure every room so you can determine which pieces of furniture will fit.

There are a number of options for the furniture you decide to leave behind. You can store it, sell it at a lawn sale or on eBay.com, or you can donate it to Goodwill or the Salvation Army.

If you donate your old furniture, many legitimate charities will come and cart it away for you -- and you get to claim it as a charitable donation on your tax return. Check what the procedures are with any charity you plan to donate to.

Speaking of tax returns, use the move as an opportunity to prune your files. Ask your tax adviser to let you know what tax returns and records you have to keep, going back how many years, and get rid of everything else.

If you're an empty-nester, you need to decide what to do with your children's toys, clothes and collectables. The best thing you can do is contact your children and ask them to take away the stuff they want to keep and then get rid of the rest, again either by selling or donating it.

Some people put whatever won't fit into their new home or apartment into storage. But unless you plan on moving into a larger house, you might as well get rid of those possessions now, especially if you can use the extra income from selling everything or you will get a tax deduction from the donation.

Storage, however, was a good choice for a friend of mine from college, who downsized by selling his house and buying a large RV (recreational vehicle) that he and his wife live in for most of the year, traveling throughout the country, although they do stop and park it for a couple of weeks at a time when they visit their grown children. Since my friend wasn't sure how long he and his wife would want to live this nomadic lifestyle, they put their furniture into storage so they could use it in the future. Storage is expensive, though, so think twice.

If you are leaving behind a lot of expensive furniture as well as other valuable objects, you may want to consider an auction. There are services that catalog furniture, silver, china, art works, and an assortment of other items to assist you in getting the best price. They will also conduct the auction either for a fee or a percentage of the profits. Another option similar to auction is to offer your items for sale on eBay.

If you don't have the time or patience to sell each item individually, there are eBay consignment stores that will do this for you and charge a commission.

For those items that you can't sell or even give away because of damage or simply because the object is too old to be useful anymore, there are refuse companies that will haul away your garbage. You can even rent a dumpster to put the stuff in. Some garbage companies let you leave items to be picked up with your regular garbage. Some municipalities have special cleanup days when residents can leave large items at the curb for pickup.

Moving into a smaller space takes some adjustment. One way to do that is to make multiple uses of items such as trunks than can also serve as coffee tables while being used for extra storage. You can also use rooms for more than one purpose such as putting a computer desk in your bedroom or dining room. Buy a washer and dryer that stack on top of each other. They'll will take up less space than side-by-side units.

Also, if it's now just you and your spouse, you can probably cut down on the amount of china, pots, pans and silverware that you need to have around.

Ditch the Hummer

Besides your home, you may be able to downsize your cars. You can consider trading in your gas guzzling SUV if you don't really need four-wheel drive for something more economical.

What about that expensive sports car, motorcycle, or $600 bicycle that you only rode once? Consider trading in or selling selling.

If you really want cheap wheels, you may actually drive for free if you're willing to display advertising on your vehicle. If you move to a metropolitan area with mass transit, you may not need a car at all. You can always rent one when you take a weekend drive or trip. Zipcar and Flexcar rent cars by the hour and day.

To round out your downsizing plan, think about whether you need so many phone lines. You may be able to survive with a single cell phone.

With fewer rooms, you'll also need fewer television sets and therefore fewer cable boxes. Now that you can download television shows on your computer, do you even need cable anymore (except for basic cable if that's a necessity for the TV and/cable as well as broadband reception)?

Be Ye Upbeat

The most pivotal aspect of the personal downsizing challenge is your attitude. If you see this as a necessary but exciting next step, you will convey that enthusiasm and positive attitude to your spouse and family. If, by contrast, you feel this is a symbol of your financial failure, that too will be communicated -- which will certainly not be in anyone's best interest, especially when you're trying to get the best price for your home or apartment.

You definitely do not want to give the impression that you're desperate, even if it's true. Or, as the poker players say, "Don't let them see you sweat."

The best way to look at it? The way businesses do.

The most successful companies, by and large, are the ones that are constantly implementing new strategies that make them more efficient and customer-centered. You're your own customer so you need to be as efficient as possible in meeting your needs, right?

If anyone asks what you're up to, just be honest and say that you've reevaluated your situation and decided that downsizing is the best step to take.

After all, you're taking control of your financial destiny before the banks or your mortgage company take your property away from you so pat yourself on the back for being pro-active in this new venture as you aim for better economic horizons down the road.

 

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FDA Wants Irritable Bowel Drug Shelved

Public Citizen Has Warned of Zelnorm's Dangers for Years

FDA Wants Irritable Bowel Drug Shelved...

The Food and Drug Administration has told Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation that it wants it to suspend marketing of Zelnorm, used to treat irritable bowel syndrome. The agency said it requested the voluntary action based on recent findings of an increased risk of serious heart problems associated with use of the drug.

But Public Citizen says there's nothing recent about and notes that in March 2001, it petitioned the agency not to approve Zelnorm because it was only marginally effective and posed serious safety concerns. Besides heart problems, risks included ovarian cysts and fainting spells.

"We noted in this petition that receptors with which this drug interacts exist not only in the intestinal tract ... but also in the heart," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, M.D., director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group.

"We pointed out that cisapride, a gastrointestinal drug which also caused fainting and was taken off the market because of cardiac arrhythmias, also affected this same receptor in the heart," Wolfe said.

"Once again, the FDA has approved a drug with marginal effectiveness in the face of serious questions about its safety -- putting at risk the millions of people who have already used it," Wolfe said.

He noted that the FDA has only asked the company to withdraw the drug from the market despite "even clearer evidence of harm.

"This again raises questions about both the adequacy of the FDA's pre-approval review and post-marketing surveillance," Wolfe said..

Zelnorm was approved by the FDA in July 2002 for short-term treatment of women with irritable bowel syndrome whose primary symptom is constipation. It was subsequently approved in August 2004 for treatment of chronic constipation for men and women under age 65. Zelnorm is currently marketed in 55 countries.

There were 2.13 million prescriptions issued for Zelnorm in 2005 alone, making it one of the top 200 drugs in the U.S., according to Public Citizen.

FDA said it advises patients who are using Zelnorm to contact their health care providers to discuss treatment alternatives. Patients who are taking Zelnorm should seek emergency medical care if they experience severe chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, sudden onset of weakness or difficulty walking or talking, or other symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, the FDA said.

FDA said it had only recently become aware of the drug's hazards. Its statement did not make any mention of the agency's ignoring Public Citizen's petition six years ago.

"This decision reflects the FDA's commitment to continuously monitor approved drugs throughout their marketing life, and take action when we believe the risks exceed the benefits," said Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, Deputy Director for the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "Here, a potential risk of very serious harm to patients who have this non-life-threatening condition was recently identified, making this action necessary."

Throughout February and March 2007, Novartis reported to FDA the results of a new analysis of 29 short-term randomized, controlled clinical trials of Zelnorm. FDA has concluded, based on these data that for most patients the benefits of this drug no longer outweigh the risks, the agency said.

The analysis included more than 11,600 patients treated with Zelnorm and over 7000 patients treated with placebo. The data showed that the risk of serious cardiovascular adverse events (e.g., angina, heart attacks, and strokes) associated with use of Zelnorm is higher than with placebo treatment.

Thirteen Zelnorm-treated patients (or 0.1%) had confirmed cardiovascular ischemic events, and only 1 placebo-treated patient (or 0.01%) with an event.



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Is Cell Phone Insurance Worthwhile?

Consumers often find it isn't what they thought it was

Buying new wireless phone typically means hearing a sales pitch for cell phone insurance. "Peace of mind for that important device that might be lost or st...

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Alpo Adds Some Dog Food to Massive Recall List; Pet Food Problem Solved, Says Menu Food CEO

Hill's Recalls its Prescription Diet Cat Food

Alpo Adds Some Dog Food to Massive Recall List; Pet Food Problem Solved, Says Menu Food CEO...


Add Alpo to the list of pet food brands recalling wet pet food after a wave of dog and cat deaths throughout North America.

Nestle Purina PetCare Co. announced late Friday that it was recalling all sizes and varieties of Alpo Prime Cuts in Gravy dog food marked with specific date codes. The company said some of the cans might be contaminated with melamine, the toxin suspected of causing the pet illnesses.

"We're very confident that we've isolated this problem," said Keith Schopp, a spokesman for Nestle Purina. "This is just one canned variety of Alpo, and it's one of many varieties of Alpo canned products. No dry products are involved. No cat products are involved."

But soothing corporate statements come as little comfort to affected pet owners, like Nicole of Key West, Fla.

"I have two small chihuahuas that ate Alpo Prime Cuts dog food. One of my dogs is currently in the hospital because her kidneys are failing. Sophie is only 6 months old and is very ill," she told ConsumerAffairs.com. "My other dog Charlie is beginning to show signs as well. This has caused me a great deal of stress, time off work, money and possibly the lives of my animals."

The massive recall began two weeks ago, when Canada-based Menu Foods recalled 60 millions cans and pouches of "cuts and gravy" moist dog and cat food produced at its plant in Emporia, Kan., between Dec. 3 and March 6. It has since affected such national brands as Procter & Gamble's Iams and Eukanuba, Nestle SA's Purina Mighty Dog and others, including some sold at Wal-Mart and Safeway.

Joanne of Bentleyville, Penn., was an Iams customer. When her cat refused to eat the Iams Select Bites pouches Joanne brough home, she let her border collie eat them. The dog died a slow death from kidney failure.

"She loved cat food ... so I gave it to (her) as a treat she never gets. The following day I tried the food again with the cat but again he would not eat it so again I gave it to the dog. I had no idea that I thought the food was a treat for my dog was actually poison."

"My life will never be the same. I feel I poisoned one of my family," Joanne said in a complaint to ConsumerAffairs.com. "I trusted a company. I will never do that again."

Menu Food's President and CEO says his company still doesn't know how wheat gluten contaminated with a chemical commonly used in plastic wound up in its products.

President Paul K. Henderson also said the contaminated wheat gluten is not in any of its other product that are outside the scope of the company's massive recall of 60 millions containers of "cuts and gravy" style pet food.

Meanwhile, Hill's Pet Nutrition recalled its Prescription Diet m/d Feline dry cat food. The food included wheat gluten from the same supplier that Menu Foods used. The recall doesn't involve any other Prescription Diet or Science Diet products, the company said.

The Food and Drug Administration -- and an outside laboratory -- announced on Friday that tests found a chemical called melamine in samples of the tainted pet foods involved in the recall.

"Melamine has been found in the finished product that was the subject of recall and has not been found in other Menu Foods pet food outside of the recall," Henderson said at a press conference Friday afternoon.

Cornell University officials also confirmed they found melamine -- used in floor tiles, kitchenware, and fire retardant fabrics -- in the urine and kidney of a sick cat. New York officials say they've detected that chemical, too.

Henderson said the melamine-tainted wheat gluten came from a new supplier, who imported the ingredient from China. He said the company stopped using that supplier after dogs and cats across the country showed symptoms of kidney disease or died after eating Menu's pet foods.

"Needless to say, we have a great deal of interest in finding out why we were supplied with this kind of product," Henderson said of the tainted wheat gluten. "This is a subject of very great interest to us and our lawyers and you can expect that we will be following up."

He added: "For litigation purposes, we cannot elaborate at this time."

Grieving pet owners in the United States and Canada have filed lawsuits against Menu Foods, alleging the company was negligent and should have warned consumers about its tainted products before the March 16, 2007, recall.

Problem Solved?

Henderson said pet owners shouldn't worry about the safety of the cat and dog food the company is now producing.

"Let me be clear on this -- we have removed that (tainted wheat gluten) problem from our system," he said. "Our products are safe. We continue to engage in the highest levels of monitoring and testing in the pet food industry. These tests will be expanded as a result of this experience."

He also pointed out: "Melamine has not been found in the wheat gluten that we obtain from our other suppliers ... all of the testing that has been conducted, including the routine taste tests that were underway prior to the discovery of this problem, have demonstrated that those products not associated with the suspect wheat gluten performed very well and in a manner consistent with historic norms."

The tainted wheat gluten, however, might have been used to make dry dog food.

Stephen F. Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, said the melamine-tainted ingredient was shipped to an unnamed company -- one that manufactures dry pet food.

The federal agency is now investigating whether that contaminated ingredient was used to make any dry pet foods.

When asked if pet owners could be feeding unsafe food to their animals, Sundlof said: "It is possible, but I think we've been following every lead that we can. My sense is that we have gotten most of it under control."

Last week, New York officials announced they discovered the toxin aminopterin -- used as rat poison in other countries and as a cancer drug in the United States -- in Menu's contaminated products.

But the FDA said its tests -- and those by the outside lab -- did not reveal the rat poison in the recalled pet food. Or in the wheat gluten.

Wheat gluten is used a thickening agent and source of protein in pet foods, but it's also used in some human foods.

The FDA said today that it has found no indication the contaminated ingredient is in any food humans eat. The agency said it would alert the public if it found melamine in any other foods.

The FDA has confirmed at least 16 deaths linked to Menu's contaminated pet foods, but officials expect that number to dramatically increase. The FDA said it has received calls from more than 8,000 veterinarians and pet owners.

Earlier this week, the Veterinarians Information Network, a Web site of 30,000 veterinarians and veterinary students, announced its members have reported 104 deaths linked to Menu Foods' contaminated products. The majority of those deaths -- 88 -- involved cats.

The Web site also received 11 reports of dogs dying after eating Menu Foods' tainted food. The remaining five deaths did not list a species.

In addition, VIN said its members have seen 471 cases of kidney failure since Menu Foods announced its massive recall on March 16, 2007.

The Web site PetConnection.com says it has -- as of March 30, 2007 -- received 2,400 unconfirmed reports of dog and cat deaths linked to Menu Foods.

Henderson offered his company's condolences to grieving pet owners.

"All of us at Menu Foods want to express our sympathy to those people who have suffered with sickness and loss of pets," he said. "We are pet-people and we have almost 1,000 caring employees who are dedicated to making food that is safe, nutritious and palatable."

He added: "We are angered that a source outside of the company has apparently adulterated the product causing this regrettable loss."

As the investigation continues, pet owners are advised to watch their dogs and cats for symptoms of kidney failure, including loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, excessive drinking and either excessive or no urination.

Veterinarians, however, warn that animals do not show symptoms until about 70 percent of the kidney function is lost.

A complete list of the recalled Menu pet foods is available at Menu Food's Web site: www.menufoods.com/recall or contact the company at (866) 463-6738 or (866) 895-2708.



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