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Childrens Metal Jewelry Sold at Limited Too and Justice Stores

Childrens Metal Jewelry Sold at Limited Too and Justice Stores...

May 31, 2007
Tween Brands Inc. is recalling about 103,000 sets of children's metal jewelry sold at Limited Too and Justice Stores.

The jewelry contains high levels of lead which can cause adverse health effects and is toxic if ingested by young children.

Some of the recalled necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and charms are metallic, multi-colored, and have High School Musical or pictures of High School Musical actors printed on them. Others have frogs, hearts, stars, dogs with dog bones, flowers, and monkeys that hang from silver, black or brown chains or cords.

The items were sold at Limited Too and Justice retail stores nationwide, the Limited Too catazine (catalog), and at www.limitedtoo.com from September 2005 through May 2007 for between $2 and $10.

Consumers should immediately take this recalled jewelry away from children and return it to any Limited Too or Justice stores for a full refund and a coupon for a 15 percent discount off a future purchase.

Consumer Contact: For additional information, call Tween Brands at (800) 934-4497 between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or visit the firms Web sites at www.limitedtoo.com and www.justicejustforgirls.com.

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

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FDA Issues Flu Vaccine Guidelines

Feds hope technology will produce enough vaccine

FDA Issues Flu Vaccine Guidelines...

With health officials expressing concern there wont be enough vaccine available in the event of a flu pandemic, the U.S. Government is counting on technology and innovation to increase supplies.

The Food and Drug Administration has issued final recommendations to increase production and enhance distribution of safe and effective influenza vaccines for both seasonal and pandemic use.

FDA continues its commitment to help increase the supply of influenza vaccines and support the development of new approaches to vaccine production, said Jesse L. Goodman, M.D., M.P.H., director of FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER).

Having additional manufacturers of licensed influenza vaccines will enhance the capacity to produce more doses of seasonal influenza vaccines, as well as contribute to the nation's pandemic preparedness, one of our top priorities.

In March 2006, FDA issued two draft guidance documents for public comment one for seasonal influenza vaccines and another for pandemic influenza vaccines. The draft documents outline specific approaches for manufacturers to develop new vaccines that are safe, pure, and potent. The final guidances reflect public input, including vaccine companies and public health officials, the agency said.

Both guidances recommend using recent technologies such as cell culture and recombinant manufacturing to enhance the development and evaluation of vaccines. They also recommend adding substances that improve the immune response from the vaccine.

The plans describe conventional and accelerated approval pathways to get vaccines licensed faster. Under the plan, companies selecting the conventional pathway must provide clinical evidence that the vaccine prevents influenza.

Adequate and well-controlled clinical trials are also required for accelerated approval but companies may use a biological indicator such as immune response to the vaccine to predict effectiveness, an approach that may reduce the vaccine's development time. Further clinical studies are then required to verify the vaccine's clinical benefit.

The guidelines tell manufacturers they should submit a new Biologics License Application (BLA) for the initial licensure of a pandemic or seasonal influenza vaccine to ensure that each pandemic and seasonal vaccine has its own trade name and labeling.

For companies with U.S. licensed seasonal influenza vaccines, the pandemic guidance outlines the regulatory pathway for obtaining licensure for a new pandemic vaccine in which the manufacturing process is the same as for the seasonal vaccine.

For manufacturers developing vaccines using a new manufacturing process, both guidance documents explain the process for obtaining licensure using the accelerated approval pathway.

 



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Two U.S. Companies Recall Melamine-Tainted Feed

Finding Takes Heat Off China, Blamed for Thousands of Animal Deaths

Two U.S. Companies Recall Melamine-Tainted Feed...

China, it turns out, isnt the only country that spikes its feed products with the industrial chemical melamine.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is alerting livestock and fish/shrimp feed manufacturers about a voluntary recall of U.S.-made products used in feed production because several have been found to contain melamine and related compounds.

The finding is likely to relieve some of the pressure on China, which has been roundly condemned for being lax, and even corrupt, in its food safety practices. Earlier this week, China's former food and drug safety chief was sentenced to death for what was termed "massive corruption."

The severe sentence was seen as a sign that the Chinese government wanted to make a strong statement about its determination to clean up shortcomings in its health and safety policies.

The feed ingredients were made by Tembec BTLSR Inc. of Toledo, Ohio and Uniscope, Inc. of Johnstown, Colo. Both U.S. firms have instituted recalls of the tainted products.

Tembec, a contract manufacturer for Uniscope, makes AquaBond and Aqua-Tec II, which it distributes for Uniscope. Uniscope makes Xtra-Bond using ingredients supplied by Tembec. All of the products are binding agents that are used to make pelleted feed for cattle, sheep, and goats, or fish and shrimp.

The companies have confirmed that Tembec added melamine as part of the formulation of the products to improve the binding properties of pelleted feed. Melamine is not approved as an additive for animal or fish/shrimp feed.

The companies have stopped adding melamine to the feed products, the agency said.

Based on the levels of melamine and related compounds in the initial ingredients, FDA estimated the probable level of melamine and related compounds in livestock feed as less than 50 parts per million (ppm) based on the recommended mix rate of two to four pounds of binding agent per ton of livestock feed.

The estimated levels in fish and shrimp feed are less than 233 ppm and 465 ppm, respectively, of melamine and related compounds. The estimated levels of melamine and related compounds vary in the livestock feed and the fish and shrimp feed because of differing levels of melamine in the binding agents used for each type of feed.

FDA said it is advising feed manufacturers and others who mix their own feed not to use these products, and to contact the manufacturers. FDA advises feed manufacturers to recall finished feed that is made from AquaBond or Aqua-Tec II due to the estimated levels of melamine and related compounds in the finished products.

FDA believes that no recall is warranted of the finished feed made from Xtra-Bond based on the estimated levels of melamine and related compounds in the finished product and based on currently available data and information.

The estimated melamine levels in feed made with these binding agents are similar to the levels discussed in the interim safety/risk assessment of melamine and related compounds made available by FDA earlier this month.

In that assessment, federal scientists determined that, based on currently available data and information, the consumption of pork, chicken, domestic fish, and eggs from animals inadvertently fed animal feed contaminated with melamine and its analogues is very unlikely to pose a human health risk.

FDA officials said the risk from the melamine is extremely small. The interim safety/risk assessment concludes that in the most extreme risk assessment scenario, when scientists assumed that all the solid food a person consumes in an entire day contained melamine and the melamine compound cyanuric acid in equal amounts, the potential exposure is about 250 times lower than the dose considered safe.

Translated to consumption levels, this means that a person weighing 132 pounds would have to eat more than 800 pounds per day of food containing melamine and its compounds to approach a level of consumption that would cause a health concern, the FDA said.

While that may be true for humans, melamine in pet food products is suspected of killing or injuring thousands of dogs and cats.

FDA is encouraging domestic feed suppliers to be vigilant in quality control in their supply chain and to monitor for any improper additives, including melamine and its analogs.

The Tembec and Uniscope products also reportedly contain a urea formaldehyde resin-type ingredient, a raw ingredient used to make the binding agent in these products. FDA said it is investigating this use of the urea formaldehyde resin-type ingredient in the Tembec and Uniscope products, and will take appropriate regulatory action if warranted.

 



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IRS Warns Of Virus Email Scam

IRS Warns Of Virus Email Scam...


The Internal Revenue Service says theres a new email scam making the rounds, masquerading as a stern warning from the tax collection agency. Those who click on an email attachment with the bogus message will unleash a nasty virus on their computers.

The e-mail purporting to be from IRS Criminal Investigation falsely states that the person is under a criminal probe for submitting a false tax return to the California Franchise Tax Board.

The e-mail seeks to entice people to click on a link or open an attachment to learn more information about the complaint against them. The IRS warned people that the e-mail link and attachment is a Trojan Horse that can take over the persons computer hard drive and allow someone to have remote access to the computer.

The IRS urged people not to click the link in the e-mail or open the attachment.

Similar e-mail variations suggest a customer has filed a complaint against a company and the IRS can act as an arbitrator. The latest versions appear aimed at business taxpayers as well as individual taxpayers.

The IRS said it does not send out unsolicited e-mails or ask for detailed personal and financial information. Additionally, the IRS never asks people for the PIN numbers, passwords or similar secret access information for their credit card, bank or other financial accounts.

Everyone should beware of these scam artists, said Kevin M. Brown, Acting IRS Commissioner. Always exercise caution when you receive unsolicited e-mails or e-mails from senders you dont know.

Recipients of questionable e-mails claiming to come from the IRS should not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the e-mails. Instead, they should forward the e-mails to phishing@irs.gov.

More Scam Alerts ...

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Meat Packer Clashes With Feds Over Inspections

USDA Won't Let Packer Test for Mad Cow Disease

Meat Packer Clashes With Feds Over Inspections...

Normally, its the government that presses for more inspections while industry that drags its heels, but just the reverse is true when it comes to a meat packer in Kansas.

Creekstone Farms wants to test all of its cows for Mad Cow Disease but the U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to stop them.

Under current regulations, USDA tests less than one percent of all slaughtered cows for the disease, which can be fatal if meat from affected animals is ingested by humans. To prevent that, Creekstone Farms has announced its intention to test every cow moving through its plant.

But the federal government has taken the company to court to try to stop it.

Why?

For one thing, testing all of its cattle could give Creekstone Farms an advantage over larger meat packers, who havent even considered such a move. If Creekstone can advertise the fact that 100 percent of its beef is tested, competitors worry they could lose market share.

USDA also argues that expanding the use of the test could lead to inaccurate results. A number of false positive readings, the agency says, could do the industry harm.

Though a federal judge ruled on behalf of Creekstone, USDA has said it would appeal. That means the meat packer will not be able to begin administering the tests until the appeals process is exhausted.

A Poor Record

USDA and the beef industry dont exactly have a stellar record when it comes to protecting consumers from Mad Cow Disease.

A 2005 report by the consumer group Public Citizen found more than 800 Mad Cow safety violations at U.S. meat packing plants. More than half the violations (460) occurred because slaughter plants did not have an adequate plan for dealing with BSE in their plants food safety plan, as required by the USDA, the analysis shows.

Of those 460 violations, 60 percent described plans that contained no mention of Mad Cow Disease at all.

There have been three known cases of cows infected with Mad Cow Disease in the U.S. since 2003. The disease originated in Europe, killing several consumers in Britain. Last year U.S. health officials confirmed that a Saudi-born man living in Virginia had a human form of mad cow disease, most likely from eating contaminated beef as a child.

 



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China Sentences Its Former FDA Head to Death

Survey Finds Safety of Chinese Toys Improving

China Sentences Its Former FDA Head to Death...

When the former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was caught violating the law, he was charged with two misdemeanors. When the former director of China's State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) was convicted on corruption charges, he was sentenced to death.

Zheng Xiaoyu and his family and associates allegedly took bribes amounting to more than five million yuan, about $650,000 in U.S. terms.

In October 2006, former U.S. FDA head Lester M. Crawford pleaded guilty to a conflict of interest charge and making false financial disclosures to the U.S. Senate and the Executive Branch. He was sentenced to three years probation.

Prosecutors said Zheng, 63, took the bribes to approve faulty medicines, including a bad batch of antibiotics that killed six patients and sickened 80.

The harsh sentence is seen as a signal that the Chinese government is serious about cleaning up the widespread corruption that is beginning to give the rapidly-developing nation a black eye in the global marketplace.

The safety of Chinese food and drugs is a growing concern, highlighted by the recent pet food poisonings that killed and sickened thousands of animals in the U.S. and elsewhere and the discovery that Chinese toothpaste sold in Latin America might be contaminated with a poisonous chemical.

Toy Safety

Meanwhile, a Chinese government study found that 23% of toys made in China failed to meet quality and safety standards.

The products were not intended for export, although China is among the world's biggest exporters of children's toys and clothing, as well as inexpensive household products. Many of the products recalled each year by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission are made in China.

In the latest survey, the government said many toys had small parts that could easily be swallowed by infants, sharp edges that could cut children or other obvious defects.

In 2004, a rash of infant deaths was blamed on fake milk powder sold by several manufacturers in Anhui province. An inspection this year found 95% of milk-powder companies met government standards.



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Camshaft Flaw in New Tundra Pickup

The camshaft can crack and fail

Camshaft Flaw in New Tundra Pickup...

Some of the giant Toyota Tundra pickup trucks have a flawed camshaft which can crack and fail.

Toyota Motor Corp. reports 20 engine failures in the truck and the automaker said it is trying to track down other trucks at risk for the problem.

Toyota has found the flawed camshaft in a limited number of 5.7-liter, V-8 engines installed in early versions of the Tundra.

Toyota calls the Tundra its most important product launch ever and the engine problems come as the Japanese automaker faces pressure to maintain its reputation for quality in the face of a stretch of fast growth that has made it the world's largest automaker.

Toyota engineers have determined that a flaw in the casting of a still-undetermined number of Tundra camshafts which were manufactured for Toyota's Alabama engine plant by an outside supplier caused the engine failures.

"The supplier has made changes and we think the problem is solved," a Toyota spokesman said. Toyota would not identify the component supplier.

In cases in which a Tundra camshaft fails, Toyota is replacing the truck engine at no charge, according to the spokesman.

The automaker does not plan to inspect every Tundra pickup for the flaw. The spokesman said Toyota is confident that the company can identify what it expects will be a small number of trucks at risk for developing the camshaft problem.

"We're still trying to get our arms around how many could have been affected," he said.

The 5.7-liter V-8 -- the largest engine made by Toyota -- has accounted for more than 70 percent of the new Tundra sales since the truck launched in February.

Toyota, which overtook General Motors Corp. as the world's largest automaker in the first quarter, sold more than 37,000 of the new Tundra trucks in the first three months of the year in the United States.

The truck, which is being built at a new Toyota assembly plant in San Antonio, Texas, takes aim at a profitable niche still dominated by the Detroit-based automakers.

Toyota has marketed the new Tundra as a full-size work truck fully competitive with the offerings from its Detroit rivals, including Ford Motor Co.'s market-leading F-series trucks.

Toyota held back the launch of the new Tundra until February in order to produce enough of the 5.7-liter, V-8 engines to meet expected demand.

The Tundra also received four-star safety ratings in U.S. government crash safety tests, a lower rating than Ford's competing F-150.

 

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"Fountain of Youth" Purveyor Fined

Promoters Sold Supposed Human Growth Hormone

'Fountain of Youth' Purveyor Fined...

Two operations that marketed oral sprays that were supposed to help users lose weight, reverse the aging process, and prevent or treat diseases have settled Federal Trade Commission charges that their claims were bogus.

The FTC alleged that these businesses falsely claimed the sprays were a fountain of youth, containing or causing the body to produce human growth hormone (HGH). The FTC also accused one company and owner of sending illegal spam messages.

One group of defendants will pay $172,500 for consumer injury.

The defendants marketed their oral sprays on Web sites and in emails, making false claims, such as:

LOSE WEIGHT WHILE YOU SLEEP without DIETING or EXERCISE

Experience up to an 82% IMPROVEMENT in body fat loss while erasing 10 YEARS in 10 WEEKS!

The defendants claimed the sprays would counter symptoms of aging and prevent, treat, or cure diseases and medical conditions associated with aging. The marketing pitches for the sprays referred to clinical studies and prestigious publications to give credibility to their claims.

In fact, the FTC alleged that those claims were unproven and untrue. The FTC charged that the sprays did not contain HGH, or cause the body to increase production of HGH, and did not offer anti-aging, weight loss, or disease prevention effects.

Consumers bought the sprays from the defendants Web sites. The sites assured consumers that the sites were safe with the message:

NOTE: To ensure your personal privacy, all of the information that you submit to us after this point will be secured using SSL encryption technology.

However, the FTC charged that encryption technology was not used, making the credit card information submitted for payment vulnerable to capture while in transit.

Court orders against all of the defendants prohibit misrepresentations in marketing food, drugs, devices, services, or dietary supplements, including misrepresentations about the product benefits, misrepresentations about studies and research, and representations made without possessing competent and reliable scientific evidence. The orders also prohibit misrepresenting the security of Web site pages.

The order entered against John A. Brackett, Jr. and his company, Pacific Herbal Sciences, Inc., also prohibits violations of the CAN-SPAM Act. The FTC charged that much of these defendants e-mail violated the CAN-SPAM Act by falsely identifying the sender, using deceptive subject headings, failing to include a mechanism for consumers to decline to receive future emails from the sender, and not disclosing the senders physical postal address.

Some of the e-mails sampled from the FTCs spam database included forgery of ftc.gov and uce.gov email addresses, making it appear the e-mails were coming from these legitimate sources.

The order also entered a $762,000 monetary judgment, suspended based on their financial disclosures. The order entered against Lei Lu and his companies, Natural Health Product, Inc. and New Star Marketing Group, Inc., requires them to pay $172,500 for consumer injury. The rest of their $2,218,261 monetary judgment is suspended, also based on their financial disclosures. For both monetary judgments, if it is found that the defendants lied about their financial status, then they will be liable for the full judgment amount.



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Are Your Pets Disaster-Ready?

Pets Can't Plan Ahead; That's Why There Are Humans

Are Your Pets Disaster-Ready?...

By Gina Spadafori
Universal Press Syndicate

Disaster preparedness is so easy to let slide. We get all worked up after something like the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina or even a false alarm like the turn of the century's perceived threat to our computer systems.

We read up, we stock up, we move on. And then, we forget. In a pinch, we take the can opener out of the emergency kit and don't replace it. We rotate the food and water into our kitchen cupboards, but we don't buy anything new to rotate into the supplies in the garage.

It's human nature, of course, to react to immediate threats and to put off preparing for something that might never happen.

If you're one of those people who figured your pets into your disaster planning after 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, good for you. Now it's time to review those plans. If you've never done any disaster planning, for you or your pets, this is a good time to start.

Hurricane and tornado season are at hand in many parts of the country. But no matter where you live, there could be a crisis heading your way, and your pets are counting on you.

Start your preparations with something you've probably already taken care of, by making sure your pets have ID.

Most animals will survive a disaster, but many never see their families again because there's no way to determine which pet belongs to which family if the animals go missing, a common occurrence even under normal circumstances. That's why dogs and cats should always wear a collar and identification tags. Add a microchip, too.

Once your pet has up-to-date ID, it's time to collect some equipment to help you cope in case of an emergency. A big storage bin with a lid and handles is an ideal place to keep everything you need together and on hand.

Keep several days' worth of drinking water and pet food as well as any necessary medicines, rotating the stock regularly. For canned goods, don't forget to pack a can opener and a spoon. Lay in a supply of empty plastic bags, along with paper towels, both for cleaning up messes and for sealing them away until they can be safely tossed.

For cats, pack a bag of litter and some disposable litter trays.

Even normally docile pets can behave in uncharacteristic ways when stressed by an emergency, which makes restraints essential for the safety of pets and people alike. For dogs, leashes should always be available.

Shipping crates are probably the least-thought-of pieces of emergency equipment for pets but are among the most important. Sturdy crates keep pets of all kinds safe while increasing their housing options. Crated pets may be allowed in hotel rooms that are normally off-limits to pets, or can be left in a pinch with veterinarians or shelters that are already full, since the animals come with rooms of their own.

The final item of restraint for dogs and cats: a soft muzzle, because frightened or injured pets are more likely to bite. And don't forget to put first-aid supplies in your disaster kit, along with a book on how to treat pet injuries.

You may never have to pull out your disaster kit, but it's always good to be prepared.

Free Brochure

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (in cooperation with the American Kennel Club, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Humane Society of the United States) has put together a free emergency preparedness brochure for pet lovers.

The brochure can be downloaded and printed out on your home computer or ordered by phone. Visit www.ready.gov or call 1-800-BE-READY for more information. -- G.S.


Q&A

Barking dog? Talk to your neighbor

Q: I've had it. I can't even step out of my own back door without the neighbor's dog barking at me. I've screamed at the dog, and it won't shut up. The neighbors leave it out all day when they're at work. I suppose I should be happy the thing doesn't bark all night, but shouldn't I be able to enjoy my own backyard in peace? -- W.F., via e-mail

A: Yes, you should, and you shouldn't have to ask for quiet, either. But since your neighbors appear to be oblivious to the problem, you'll need to work with them on a solution.

I always get barking-dog letters in the late spring, when people want to enjoy their backyards and find they can't because of a neighbor's yapper. In the last few months, I found myself in the same position. My kind neighbors took in a train wreck of a stray dog with all kinds of behavior problems.

I could barely take a breath in my own home without Mango piping up. She barked -- a high-pitched, ultra-annoying staccato -- from the minute they left for work until they came home and took her inside.

So I piped up myself and talked to the neighbors, again and again. They were understanding and cooperative. And finally, a combination of keeping the dog in a different part of the yard, using a citronella-spray no-bark collar and just letting Mango settle in brought down the barking to acceptable levels.

I recognize, though, that not every neighbor is as willing to work on a problem as mine are. I realize, too, that some neighbors are not safe to approach on a matter of potential conflict. For these, it may be prudent to collect some information on how to keep a dog quiet, along with a note explaining that you and the other neighbors are asking for the pet owner's help. And then mail them the package.

The authorities traditionally consider barking dogs a low priority. Although you can escalate your complaints through law enforcement or legal channels, it's always better to try to get the neighbor to fix the problem first.

The Denver Dumb Friends League has an excellent fact sheet covering why dogs bark and how pet owners can choose effective solutions. You can find it in the pet behavior section at www.ddfl.org. -- Gina Spadafori

(Do you have a pet question? Send it to petconnection@gmail.com.)


ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.

On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or visiting PetConnection.com.


PET BUY

Hale Pet Doors a hearty choice

Pets come in all shapes and sizes, so it only makes sense that pet doors would, too. Ready-made doors, however, don't usually come in a wide range of sizes, and can have limited features and little or no adaptability.

Hale Pet Doors makes ready-made and custom doors for installation in walls, doors, patio sliders, windows, glass, motor homes and screens. They come in sizes for the tiniest cats all the way up to the tallest giant-breed dogs. The flaps are made of high-quality vinyl that holds up well to heavy use and fastens securely, thwarting bad weather and small pests. The frames are made of extruded aluminum and come in four colors.

Hale Pet Doors are sturdy, infinitely customizable and come in sizes to suit any pet. They are adaptable to any kind of climate and about as attractive as a pet door can be.

Prices start as low as $90, but can go as high as just over $1,000 for the largest sizes and greatest level of customization.

More information on Hale Pet Doors is available at www.halepetdoor.com, or by calling 1-800-646-4773. -- Christie Keith


ON GOOD BEHAVIOR

Among dogs, a sniff is just a 'hello'

Normal greeting behavior for people may be a handshake or a hug, but among dogs it's a sniff in places that people would consider rude. Owners who don't know acceptable canine behavior often scold their pets for this normal behavior with another dog. Scolding confuses your dog, inhibits his social skills and creates tension with his own species.

If you take your friendly, socialized dog to dog parks, let him greet other dogs in a normal, natural manner -- with sniffing in private places. If you must, just look away. If your dog then starts humping another dog, you do need to interrupt that behavior.

Humping, especially in altered pets, is not a display of affection or a desire to mate. It's about dominance. Police this bullying behavior by not allowing it to continue, while praising normal, friendly canine behavior -- such as sniffing.

(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)


PET Rx

New test detects kidney disease early

If a pet's body had a picture window for internal health, the view would look directly at the kidneys. Did you know that the kidneys filter the entire blood volume every 30 minutes? Toxins in the blood can damage the kidneys during the filtration process, a danger recently revealed when pets consumed contaminated foods and went into renal failure.

Conventional urine tests -- measuring urine-specific gravity, BUN, creatinine -- don't detect damage until about 70 percent of kidney function is lost.

To catch kidney disease in its earliest stages before too much kidney function has been lost, there is a new urine test available to veterinarians called the E.R.D. (Early Renal Damage), from the Heska Corp.

Testing for albumin in the urine, this ultra-sensitive test takes less than five minutes to run. Available for both dogs and cats, the test is not only useful in detecting kidney damage from many common diseases, but also an excellent monitoring tool to gauge severity of disease, treatment success and progression of kidney damage.

Unlike a wound that heals, kidney damage is irreversible. That means the earlier you catch the loss of renal function, the better off your pet will be. With early detection, there are steps you can take to limit further kidney damage, minimize normal wear and tear to the kidneys, or begin treatment.

If the test is normal, you have peace of mind. If it's positive, your veterinarian has a number of treatment and management options available.

For more information, talk with your veterinarian. -- Dr. Marty Becker


PETS BY THE NUMBERS

Pets should be for life

With kitten season at hand, it's important to remember that adopting an animal is about more than taking home an adorable fuzzy baby. When you look at the list of why cats end up homeless, you'll realize that most of the reasons could have been avoided if people considered whether they really could handle another pet -- or any pet at all:

1. Too many in house

2. Allergies

3. Moving

4. Cost of pet maintenance

5. Landlord issues

6. No homes for littermates

7. House soiling

8. Personal problems

9. Inadequate facilities

10. Doesn't get along with other pets

Source: National Council on Pet Overpopulation Study and Policy


PETS ON THE WEB

Blogs bark loudest during food recall

Itchmo.com, a Web log for Seattle-area dog owners written by Ben Huh, was just cruising along comfortably with a reasonable local following. And then the pet-food recalls started.

Huh, a dog lover and journalist, started devoting all of his free time to covering the story. His Itchmo.com site soon became one of the handful -- including PetConnection.com -- that suddenly became a must-read for pet lovers trying to keep up on the recalls. These sites attracted the attention of national media as well as pet lovers and broke several stories along the way that kept the issue percolating. The Pet Food Tracker (petfoodtracker.blogspot.com) and The Pet Food List (www.thepetfoodlist.com) posted recall notices sometimes days before the FDA did.

"Itchmo" is Huh's term for a dog's "scratch me more" look. The site retains that whimsy and, as the urgency of the pet-food recall eases, Itchmo.com is returning to a lively mix of news and entertainment for dog lovers everywhere. -- Gina Spadafori


Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.

COPYRIGHT 2007 UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

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Contact Lens Solution Linked to Eye Infections

"Complete MoisturePlus" Recalled After Study Finds Rising Infection Rate

Contact Lens Solution Linked to Eye Infections...

Federal health officials are warning that a contact lens solution made by Advanced Medical Optics -- "Complete MoisturePlus" -- has been linked to a rare but serious eye infection that can cause blindness.

It's the second scare linked to the product in less than a year.

The company recalled 2.9 million packets of the solution last November after it found bacterial contamination in three lots sold in Japan. That recall included 183,000 units sold in the U.S.

At the time of the earlier recall, the company blamed it on a water-borne organism that got into some solution at the company's plant in China. The plant was temporarily shut down and the company insisted there was no problem with the lens solution's formula.

In the latest case, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it had found 138 "culture-confirmed" cases and has interviewed 46 patients in an investigation that covered 35 states and Puerto Rico.

Ironically, Advanced Medical Optics has been exploring the possibility of buying rival Bausch & Lomb Inc. which last year recalled its "MoistureLoc" contact solution, which was also linked to a serious eye infection in some users.

Of the cases identified by the CDC, 36 of the victims wore soft contacts and 21 reported using the Advanced Medical Optics product.

CDC epidemiologist Sharon Roy said consumers should stop using the product and discard it, along with their lens case and their current pair of contacts.

The organism involved is Acanthamoeba. It can cause a serious infection of the cornea. While such infections are quite rare, officials say they have been seeing a rising number of infections in recent years.

Acanthamoeba is commonly found in water, soil, sewage systems, cooling towers, and heating/ventilation/air conditioning systems. The infection it can cause -- Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK) -- is usually found among individuals who improperly store, handle and disinfect their lenses, swim or shower while wearing their lenses or come into contact with contaminated water.

"While AMO continues to work with the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to further assess the data, it is acting with an abundance of caution to voluntarily recall Complete MoisturePlus from the market," the company said.

What To Do

Contact lens wearers should immediately consult a physician if they have any of the following symptoms: eye pain, eye redness, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, sensation of something in the eye, and excessive tearing.

The symptoms, which can last several weeks to months, are not the same for everybody. Early in the infection, the symptoms of AK can be very similar to the symptoms of other more common eye infections but AK may eventually cause severe pain and possible vision loss with some patients requiring a corneal transplant if untreated.

Consumers who believe they are in possession of the recalled product should discontinue use immediately and call 1-888-899-9183.

Chicago Cases

The CDC was alerted to the problem by research conducted in the Chicago area at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where two researchers tracked 67 cases of the outbreak in the Chicago area since June 2003. Charlotte Joslin and Elmer Tu wrote a paper on their findings. It was accepted Friday for future publication in the American Journal of Ophthalmology.

The two are professors of ophthalmology at UIC. They speculated that the rising infection rate is linked to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandate to get certain harmful chemicals out of the water supply.

Since the EPA issued its mandate, doctors have been warning their patients to avoid showering while wearing contacts and to be careful not to come into contact with tap water while handling the lenses.

 



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Home Sales on a Roller Coaster

New Home Sales Up but Existing Home Sales Slump

Home Sales on a Roller Coaster...

You may get a case of vertigo if you follow the real estate market these days.

Sales of newly-made homes have taken a surprising jump, while sales of existing homes are slumping to levels not seen in years. And in both cases, prices are being slashed in an effort to get an excess inventory of unsold homes off the market.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported that sales of existing homes fell by 2.6 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.99 million units, the slowest sales pace since June of 2003. The median price of an existing home declined by 0.8 percent to $220,900, the ninth consecutive price decline in as many months.

Existing home sales declined in the North, South, and West, but the Midwest registered a 1.9 percent increase in home sale prices for the region.

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun attributed the slowdown of existing home sales to the drying up of the subprime market sector and tighter lending standards for sellers and buyers.

"A wide availability of conventional mortgage products and the 4.5 million jobs created over the past 24 months will help to stabilize the market going forward," Yun said.

The NAR announcement came on the heels of the Commerce Department releasing statistics showing a 16.2 percent increase in sales of new homes for April 2007, the highest monthly jump since April 1993 saw a 16.4 percent gain.

The spike was attributed to favorable weather conditions in the country, particularly the south, and heavy price-cutting moves by builders to reduce excess inventory of unsold homes.

The subprime market continues to drag down both the real estate sector and the overall economy, with lenders closing up shop left and right and holders of subprime loans going into default and foreclosure at increasing rates.

Top subprime lender New Century filed for bankruptcy and laid off the majority of its employees while firms bid for its various assets.

Foreclosure notices surged 47 percent from March 2006 to March 2007, according to RealtyTrac. The company reported high rates of foreclosure in states such as Nevada, Colorado, and California, all of which had foreclosure notices far above the national average and even local norms from the previous year.

Realtors Don't Keep It Real

And even the Realtors themselves had to temper their sunny market optimism this year. Lawrence Yun had predicted in April that home prices would decline by .07 percent, and that the market would not recover as quickly as earlier forecasts had estimated.

Yun's colleague, former NAR head economist David Lereah, had consistently predicted that the market would stay successful and who authored a 2005 book entitled "Are You Missing The Real Estate Boom?", stepped down on May 19 to join online real estate company Move Inc.

Lereah was often heavily criticized for claiming that the housing bubble did not exist and there was no danger in extending loans into the subprime market. But inIn an interview he conducted before stepping down, Lereah gave a much gloomier assessment of the market.

"We're in a real estate recession," Lereah said."We're all partly guilty. But the lenders and the speculators, they had the most in it. Making zero down payments with no documentation, that's just irresponsible. But the Realtor, the lender, the title attorney, they all got wrapped up in the frenetic pace of the boom."

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Chinese Toothpaste Scare Spreads to Canada

Some Chinese Toothpaste May Contain Poisonous Chemical

Chinese Toothpaste Scare Spreads to Canada...

The toothpaste scare that has the U.S. Food and Drug Administration scrambling to check all toothpaste imports has spread to Canada.

Chinese toothpastes labeled Mr. Cool and Excel contain diethylene glycol, a poisonous chemical used in antifreeze. The discovery alarmed Panama officials because that same ingredient killed 51 Panamanians a year ago after it was found in Chinese-imported cough syrup.

In response to Chinese shipments of poisonous toothpaste found in Central America, the Caribbean and Australia, the U.S. has decided to check all toothpaste shipments from China.

Canadian officials are considering taking similar actions.

Although neither of those products have been licensed in Canada, officials warned that they may still be on the market.

It is possible that these products could be purchased by Canadians traveling abroad, or have been brought into Canada through personal importation, or purchased over the Internet, said Renee Bergeron, Health Canada spokeswoman.

Health Canada is monitoring this issue and will take the appropriate compliance and enforcement action if the product is found to be on the Canadian market, Bergeron continued.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not said whether any tainted tubes may be in the U.S., a recent story by ConsumerAffairs.com found illegally imported toothpaste being sold in in discount stores.

Our story found 17 tubes of illegally imported toothpaste being sold in D.C.-area discount stores. The tubes were all manufactured in other countries and are not intended for sale in the U.S. One illegal tube of toothpaste was from China.

Imported toothpaste found in D.C.-area stores

The tubes are illegal because they do not follow the FDAs over-the-counter drug labeling requirements. Two tubes didnt even list all the ingredients while many of the others are in foreign languages.

After almost three weeks of ignoring many of our questions, the FDA told ConsumerAffairs.com that companies who manufacture, market and distribute the toothpastes could all face prosecution for selling the illegal products.

Over-the-counter drug products that do not comply with FDA labeling requirements are misbranded and may also be unapproved new drugs, both of which violate the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, FDA spokeswoman Veronica Castro wrote in an e-mail.

Enforcement regarding products that violate the FDCA include regulatory correspondence, seizure, injunction, and in some cases criminal prosecution.

Most of the illegal tubes were common U.S. names designed for foreign use.

Colgate representative Tom Paolella, said regardless of the tubes origin, all their products are safe.

Crest representatives have not returned two phone calls and two e-mails.

The worst retail offender was discount store chain, National Wholesale Liquidators, which has not returned two e-mails and does not answer the phone.

When shopping at discount stores, consumers should ensure the product has the over-the-counter drug facts labeling that includes: a list of active ingredients, a description of the products use, warnings, directions, a list of inactive ingredients and a toll-free phone number.

Correction:

Yesterday, ConsumerAffairs.com reported in some versions of an earlier story that the recent Chinese shipment of toothpaste killed 51 Panamanians. In fact, it was cough syrup distributed last year. We regret the error.

 



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Connecticut Sues Best Buy

State Charges Stores with Deceiving, Overcharging Customers

Connecticut Sues Best Buy: Best Buy used in-store computer kiosks to deceive consumers about product prices and overcharge them, according to a lawsuit....

Best Buy used in-store computer kiosks to deceive consumers about product prices and overcharge them, according to a lawsuit filed by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) Commissioner Jerry Farrell.

Best Buy operates an internal site accessible only at kiosks in its stores. The site is virtually identical to BestBuy.com, the company's web site, except for listing in-store instead of online prices.

Consumers access information at the in-store kiosk by clicking on a tab labeled "BestBuy.com," even though they are not connecting to the Internet site.

Since 2005, the company's stores have pledged to match any lower online price, including from their own Internet site. Many Best Buy salespeople falsely told consumers searching for or seeking to confirm lower online prices that the kiosk connected them to BestBuy.com, the lawsuit charges.

When the site displayed the higher in-store price, salespeople allegedly suggested that consumers, who thought they were viewing BestBuy.com, previously misread the lower online price or the online price had expired.

"Best Buy gave consumers the worst deal --- a bait-and-switch-plus scheme luring consumers into stores with promised online discounts, only to charge higher in-store prices," Blumenthal said.

"The company commonly kept two sets of prices --- one on its Internet site and an often higher set on its in-store, look-alike, available on kiosks. The in-store site was an Internet look-alike, commonly with higher prices, which were charged to consumers," he said. "Best Buy broke its promise to give the best price -- an Internet version of bait-and-switch - a technological bait-and-switch-plus.

"It is extremely unfortunate that this company misled consumers as to what the 'best buy' actually was," said Farrell. "Putting into their stores a kiosk that led shoppers to believe they were getting the online price when that was far from certain, seems to have been an intentional effort to mislead. I hope that this lawsuit, filed under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, puts retailers on notice that purposeful efforts to mislead consumers will be met by equally purposeful and vigorous enforcement of the law."

In reaction to Connecticut's investigation, Best Buy in March added a banner to its in-store site reading "This Kiosk Reflects Local Store Pricing," but Blumenthal and Farrell said the kiosks remain deceptive.

The kiosk's appearance remains virtually identical to BestBuy.com; customers still access information by clicking a tab marked "BestBuy.com."

"The store's minor changes to its kiosks -- made in response to my investigation - are inadequate and incomplete," Blumenthal said. "The in-store kiosks are still mislabeled 'BestBuy.com,' falsely leading consumers to believe they are connecting to the Best Buy Internet web site."

 

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Americans Alarmed about Dependence on Oil Imports, High Gas Prices

Survey Finds Support for Tougher Fuel Economy Standards

Americans Alarmed about Dependence on Oil Imports, High Gas Prices...


In a recent national survey commissioned by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), a large majority of Americans expressed great concern about the nation's dependence on oil imports.

They see this dependence as increasing gas prices, threatening future gas supplies, and funding terrorism.

This concern about oil dependence is a major reason why a large majority of Americans support increases in federal corporate average fuel economy standards (CAFE) -- by one mpg per year over the next ten years -- even when these higher standards increase the price of cars.

Surprisingly, there is significantly more support for these increases in the auto-dependent North Central region of the country than in the other three regions. Legislation in both houses of Congress, which is gaining support, would mandate these improvements, annually reducing gas consumption by 46 billion gallons and saving more than $125 billion at current prices.

At the same time, most Americans greatly overestimate the nation's domestic oil reserves and ability to substantially increase production.

More than half (55%) of Americans mistakenly believe the nation holds more than twenty percent of the worlds oil reserves. In fact, the U.S. has less than 3% of this oil. Those who overestimate domestic oil reserves also are most likely to think we can produce enough oil to reduce our dependence on oil imports.

Fuel-Saving Tips

As well as supporting increases in CAFE, Americans can reduce the nation's dependence on oil imports by taking fuel-saving actions. Two of the most effective, which don't involve changes in driving, are replacing dirty air filters and making sure tires are aligned.

Drivers who take these two steps can reduce their gas consumption by nearly 20%, effectively reducing the price of gas by over $.50 per gallon. A recent analysis released by CFA reveals that consumers are paying $1,000 more annually for gasoline than five years ago.

Oil Imports

Americans are aware of the nation's dependence on oil imports. When asked what percentage of the oil consumed in the United States is imported from other countries, more than two-thirds gave percentages between 40 and 80, and only 14% said less than 40. The actual percentage is a little more than 60.

Over four-fifths (84%) of Americans are concerned about this oil import dependency, with more than one-half (52%) expressing great concern. When asked why they were concerned, large majorities expressed concern about future gas prices and supplies, and funding unfriendly foreign governments and terrorism, with majorities expressing great concern about each.

"Americans clearly understand the relationship between oil imports and not only future price hikes but also funding of terrorism," said Stephen Brobeck, CFA's Executive Director. They are also clearly feeling the pinch of rising gasoline prices, added Brobeck, since average household expenditures on gasoline have increased $1,000 over the past five years.

Auto Fuel Efficiency

The survey asked three kinds of questions about the public's support for mandated increases in motor vehicle fuel efficiency (CAFE). In response to a question about "supporting required increases in motor vehicle fuel economy," four-fifths (80%) said yes.

In response to a question about support for specific legislation requiring auto companies to increase new car gas mileage by about one mile per gallon a year for ten years, over four-fifths (81%) said they favor, with over half (55%) saying they favor strongly.

Then in response to the same question, with a statement that the legislation would "increase the cost of cars somewhat," but these costs would be offset by lower costs from lower gas consumption, support for the legislation remained high, at 73% (with 41% strongly favoring it).

Surprisingly, there is significantly more support for these increases in the auto-dependent

North Central region of the country than in the other three regions. In the region stretching from Ohio to the Dakotas and from Minnesota to Missouri, where the facilities of U.S. auto companies are disproportionately located, 88% of Americans support CAFE increases compared to only 82% support in the Northeast, 78% support in the South, and 79% support in the West.

The legislation moving through Congress (S.357, Inouye-Stevens in the Senate and H.R.1506, Markey-Platts in the House), which aims to increase new vehicle fuel efficiency by 10 miles per gallon in ten years, sets appropriate goals for increasing CAFE standards.

"Support for the legislation mandating higher fuel economy is very strong and undoubtedly related to concern about oil import dependency," said Travis Plunkett, CFA Legislative Director. But the devil is in the details, Plunkett cautioned. Unless the standards are mandatory for at least a decade and the criteria for evaluating progress thereafter rigorous, we could end up where we have been for the past decade, stuck in neutral.

Too Optimistic

Slightly more than half of Americans (51%) think "we can produce enough new oil in the U.S. to reduce our dependence on oil imports, with 46% disagreeing.

This optimism is clearly related to the widespread belief that the nation contains far larger oil reserves than it in fact has. More than half (55%) of Americans think we hold at least one-fifth of the world's oil, with nearly one-third (32%) thinking we hold over 30%. Only 3% of Americans think that we hold less than 5% of the world's oil reserves, which is the correct answer, since the nation holds less than 3% of the world's oil reserves.

Domestic U.S. oil reserves equal just three years of current annual U.S. consumption and 12 years of current annual U.S. production.

Those who overestimate our oil reserves tend to be the most optimistic about domestic production. Well over half of those who believe we have at least 20% of the world's oil think we can cut oil import dependence through increased U.S. production. But only one-fifth (20%) of those saying we hold less than 5% of the world's oil reserves think we can reduce oil dependence through domestic production.

"Most Americans are sorely misled when it comes to how much oil America controls. If they truly understood how little we have, they would know we cannot drill our way out of oil dependency. The only way to energy independence is through greater efficiency and alternative fuels," said Mark Cooper, CFA's Director of Research.

To appreciate the tough spot we are in, added Cooper, if we compare our remaining reserves in the U.S. to current levels of consumption and production, we find that proven reserves equal just three years of current consumption and just 12 years of current production.

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FDA Bans Toothpaste from China after 51 Deaths in Panama

Foreign-Made Toothpaste Found in Many Discount Stores

FDA Bans Toothpaste from China after 51 Deaths in Panama...

The Food and Drug Administration said it is blocking all shipments of toothpaste from China after reports of contaminated toothpaste entering Panama.

The toothpaste containted diethylene glycol, the same poison that the Panamanian government mistakenly mixed into cold medicine last year, killing at least 100 people. The poison, falsely labeled as glycerin, also originated in China.

However, a ConsumerAffairs.com investigation reveals the FDA's action may be too little too late and that importers still may be able to sneak tubes past FDA inspectors.

ConsumerAffairs.com recently discovered illegal tubes of toothpaste being sold in discount stores in the Washington, D.C. area.

The tubes were manufactured in other countries and not intended for sale in the U.S. We found 17 different tubes of all makes being illegally imported from countries such as India, Peru, South Africa, Thailand and China.

Although most of the tubes appear safe for use, none of them followed the FDAs fluoride toothpaste labeling requirements. Two tubes didnt even list all the ingredients.

The FDA is focusing on the issue after Panama discovered diethylene glycol, a potentially dangerous chemical used in antifreeze, in tubes branded Mr. Cool and Excel.

Imported toothpaste found in D.C.-area stores

These efforts will not affect major brands such as Crest and Colgate as their U.S. products are made in the U.S. However, many of the illegal tubes we discovered were Crest and Colgate, manufactured overseas and illegally imported. Although the Crest and Colgate tubes failed the FDAs labeling requirements, they all contained the FDAs fluoride dosage requirement, making them safe for use.

Regardless of the country where we manufacture it, Colgate toothpaste is made in strict adherence to our global safety and quality standards, Colgate spokesman Tom Paolella wrote in an e-mail.

The FDAs increased scrutiny will likely be aimed at knock-off brands.

The one illegal tube of toothpaste we discovered from China is called Classic and is packaged in colors and a font similar to that found on Crest products. It does not contain diethylene glycol, but appears to be many years old and does not have the correct labeling.

When shopping at discount stores, consumers should ensure the product has the drug facts labeling that includes: a list of active ingredients, a description of the products use, warnings, directions, a list of inactive ingredients and a toll-free phone number.

FDA's Problems

The toothpaste alert follows Congressional and Government Accountability Office charges that the FDA is not doing enough to protect American citizens from dangerous foods and drugs.

While FDA spokeswoman Veronica Castro did confirm that it was in fact illegal for those tubes of toothpaste to be sold in the U.S., the agencys spokespeople, including Castro, refused to say whether the manufacturer, distributor, importer or store would be held legally liable.

Agency spokespeople also refused to say what penalties might be applied and how the tubes made it past the FDAs import inspectors. Agency spokespeople then refused to say why they refused to comment.

Fluoride a Concern

Some of the stores where we found illegally imported toothpaste

The primary concern with foreign toothpastes is the level of fluoride.

Much of the water consumed in the U.S. is fluoridated, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But in many other countries, particularly poorer countries, there is limited or no fluoridation. Because of that, individual countries may require more fluoride in their toothpaste a recipe that could be detrimental for Americans.

Fluoride can be found naturally and artificially in many of the products consumers eat and drink everyday and generally, those levels of fluoride are considered safe for the body and healthy for teeth, Lydia Hall, American Dental Association spokeswoman, said.

But too much fluoride can lead to fluorosis, Castro wrote in an e-mail. Fluorosis usually afflicts infants and children. It destroys enamel and gums. In severe cases, which are very rare in the U.S., it can lead to a crippling skeletal breakdown in both children and adults.

The FDA requires that fluoride toothpaste manufacturers include a list of active ingredients, a description of the products use, warnings, directions, a list of inactive ingredients and a toll-free phone number. These drug facts requirements are identical to those found on the back of any over-the-counter medication, Castro wrote.

 



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Nutra Nuggets Recalled as Melamine Poisonings Continue

Humane Society of Canada Wants Criminal Investigation

Nutra Nuggets Recalled as Melamine Poisonings Continue...


The recall of melamine-tainted pet food continues as Diamond Pet Foods pulls a limited number of 40-pound bags of Nutra Nuggets Lamb Meal and Rice dry dog food off the market.

Meanwhile in Canada, the Humane Society is calling for a criminal investigation of Menu Foods and other processors involved in the disastrous wave of pet food contamination.

The Nutra Nuggets follows reports by ConsumerAffairs.com earlier this week that samples of Nutra Nuggets tested positive for melamine and had caused kidney problems in at least four dogs in California.

The Missouri-based Diamond Pet Foods announced its recall of the product yesterday and cited melamine cross contamination as the reason.

The recalled product was manufactured at the same facility following production of other products that contained rice protein concentrate later found to be tainted with melamine, which is not an approved food substance,Diamond said in a press release posted on the companys Web site.

The company said its manufacturing plant in Lathrop, California, produced the tainted food and distributed it to retailers in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, Canada.

The 40-pound bags of recalled Nutra Nuggets have the production codes of NLR0404A2SL or NLR0404B2SL, Best Before Oct. 9, 2008. No other Nutra Nuggets products are involved in this action.

Diamond Pet Foods said pet owners should immediately stop feeding their dogs the recalled Nutra Nuggets.

Pet owners with questions about this food -- or any other Diamond product -- can call the company at 1-866-214-6945.

Canada Inquiry

In Canada, the Humane Society is putting pressure on the government to investigate Ontario-based Menu Foods and other pet food makers. The group says its still waiting for an answer from government officials.

The society said it made formal requests to Canadas Prime Minister, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, called and the Ontario Securities Commission and other securities regulators asking them to conduct their own independent investigations to determine if criminal animal cruelty charges and securities charges should be laid.

We need hard answers about the names of key officials at these pet food companies. We need to find out what they knew about the problems, when they knew about it and if there were any delays in alerting the public and government agencies, said the animal charity's Western Regional Director Al Hickey.

Unlike other countries, here in Canada, for all intents and purposes, pet food companies are allowed to regulate themselves, with disastrous results. There are over 13 million dogs and cats living with their families across Canada and we need to do everything in our power to protect them right now. We need to take care of our own, said Hickey.

The group says any investigation should have four primary objectives:

1) to determine if criminal animal cruelty charges should be brought before the court;

2) to determine if charges should be brought with respect to insider trading by shareholders in pet food companies;

3) hold public hearings into how to best regulate the pet food industry;

4) to pass new laws to regulate the pet food industry.

Since the initial recall the number of other pet food companies, including Del Monte, Hills Pet Nutrition, Nestle Purina, Royal Canin and Sunshine Mills, product recalls continue to grow and now include more than 150 brand names and over 5,600 products.

The Canadian group notes that the pet food crisis continues to worsen and has now spread to the human food supply with contaminated "scrap pet food" fed to hogs and chickens; and contaminated feed ingredients from China fed to farmed fish.

The society cites published reports, indicating that Ontario based Menu Foods has received more than 300,000 complaints and there have been reports of deaths as high as 39,000 in the U.S. alone. Menu Foods says there have been only 16 confirmed pet deaths.

The Canadian group complains that U.S. officials and agencies have taken the lead in exposing the contamination, while Canada has done little.

Whatever you may say or think about U.S. politicians, they care about animals, said Humane Society of Canada's Chairman & CEO, Michael O'Sullivan. Here in Canada, the inaction and arrogance of Canadian politicians and civil servants is truly breath-taking.

Detective Work

California veterinarian Matt Humason of the Lone Oak Veterinary Clinic in Visalia, became suspicious of the Nutra Nuggets after four of his clients healthy dogs suddenly went into renal failure.

I saw the first two dogs around the beginning of May, Dr. Humason told ConsumerAffairs.com. These were normal, healthy dogs and they both had become lethargic, one was vomiting, they werent eating, and they were drinking lots of water.

Dr. Humason ran blood tests on the dogs and discovered they were both in renal failure.

At first I thought maybe somebody threw something over the fence and thats what made these dogs sick, he told us. The pet food recall didnt cross my mind because these dogs were both eating dry food and their food wasnt on the recall list.

A few days later, however, Dr. Humason saw another dog with the same symptoms.

This was a younger Lab who was also a healthy dog, but now was sick and vomiting, and in renal failure. The owners happened to bring in their other Lab, who is older, and wanted that dog tested, too. That dog didnt have any symptoms, but test shows its kidney values were elevated, too.

Using his own detective skills, Dr. Humason uncovered the following clues that helped him solve the mystery of these ailing dogs:

• All four dogs -- Labs and Lab-mixes -- ate Nutra Nuggets dry food;

• The dogs owners had purchased the food from the same Costco store in Visalia, California;

• The dogs owners made those purchases within days of each other -- in Mid-April.

To confirm his suspicions, Dr. Humason decided to have the food tested.

I sent samples to the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory, which is working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Dr. Humason said. And those samples tested positive for melamine.

Melamine

Melamine is a chemical used to make plastics and fertilizers. It is not approved for use in human or pet food.

The FDA, however, discovered melamine and melamine-related compounds in the wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate imported from China used to make many brands of pet food.

That finding triggered one of the largest pet food recalls in U.S. history. Since March, 18 companies have recalled more than 5,600 pet food products.

Thousands of dogs and cats that have eaten tainted foods have suffered kidney problems or died.

Dr. Humason said the four dogs hes treated for renal failure are improving.

The first two are going home (probably today) and their owner is going to give them fluids under their skin. This will keep them hydrated; what were trying to do is flush out the kidneys. Theyve been here for about a week on IV fluids. Theyre still not quite back to normal, but theyre happy and eating again.

He added: The second two dogs are still here and have been on IV fluids since May 10th. Theyre having a little harder time, but theyre doing much better and they may go home by the end of the week.

Dr. Humason says hes only treated a few cats for kidney problems since Menu Foods announced its massive recall of 60 million containers of wet pet food in March.

I was actually starting to think this was getting more overkill until this happened. But now Im looking for this all the time.

In fact, I saw two other dogs yesterday that were showing the same signs (of renal failure), he told us on Tuesday. I tested them, but their blood work came back normal as far as their kidneys were concerned. But I sent their food for testing because they were eating that same Nutra Nuggets as the other dogs and their owners had purchased it about the same time.

More about the Pet Food Recall ...



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Detroit Fights Back Against Higher Mileage Standards

Ad Campaign Targets Soccer Moms, Pick-Up Owners

Detroit Fights Back Against Higher Mileage Standards...

By Joe Benton
ConsumerAffairs.com

May 24, 2007
Big automakers are striking back over the Memorial Day weekend at efforts in Congress to impose higher mileage standards.

Despite rising gas prices and growing public concern about climate change and dependence on foreign oil, the auto industry will set out to convince Americans they should oppose dramatically higher fuel economy requirements.

The Detroit Big Three along with Toyota Motor Corp. will spearhead a print and radio advertising campaign warning consumers that fuel regulations under consideration by the U.S. Senate will lead to higher vehicle prices and smaller and less safe vehicles.

The ads feature rural pick-up owners and SUV-driving soccer moms in a effort to make the case that a Senate proposal would limit consumer choice and tie the hands of automakers.

The Senate is scheduled to vote sometime in June on a bill that would require automakers to raise fuel economy 40 percent by 2020 to a fleet wide average of 35 miles per gallon for passenger cars and light trucks.

The ad campaign coincides with the highest gasoline prices on record as many American are choosing to stay at home for the Memorial Day weekend rather than pay $3.35 and more for a gallon of regular.

The automakers are counting on getting a better hearing from minivan owners and truck lovers than they have among political leaders and environmentalists.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade association that represents General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler AG, Toyota, BMW and four other automakers will kick off the campaign with two radio ads in more than 10 states urging people to contact their representatives in Congress to oppose "extreme fuel economy mandates."

The radio campaign will cost in excess of $1 million for ads to be run in Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all states with high percentages of truck and SUV owners.

The alliance also plans a Web site that will offer people a toll-free phone number that connects to members of Congress as well a way to send an e-mail to their Congressional representative.

GM and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler are sending letters to retirees, employees and dealers warning them of the downside of dramatically higher fuel economy standards.

GM will also launch a Web effort and Ford also plans some "grassroots communication with our employees and some retirees," according to a Ford spokesman.

One radio ad features a couple of farmers talking about buying a new pick-up against a backdrop of cackling chicken. "You might want to do that fast," one says, adding the new fuel standards "are going to really jack up the price."

The second ad focuses on people who could lose the ability to pick larger and safer vehicles if new rules pass. "Congress is about to pass a law that's going to make it harder and harder to find bigger cars. the response: "Why can't they let me make the choice? I'm all for better fuel economy, but for me safety is my top concern."

See what's free at AOL.com.
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Bush Pick to Head Safety Agency Withdraws

Baroody Spokesman Blames "Smear Campaign" for Lobbyist's Retreat

Bush Pick to Head Safety Agency Withdraws...

President Bushs pick to head the Consumer Product Safety Commission succumbed to pressure from Democratic Senators and consumer advocates who vehemently apposed having an industry lobbyist head the consumer agency.

Just one day before the Senate Commerce Committee was set to vote on Bushs controversial pick, Michael Baroody, the executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers withdrew.

It became clear that he wasnt going to get the vote, so I think he realized there just wasnt any point in going forward, Hank Cox, NAM spokesman and Baroodys self-described close friend, said somberly.

Bushs nomination drew so much heat because Baroody has virtually built his career around fighting against consumers' rights for the benefit of industry.

His nomination to this critical post was astoundingly inappropriate and would have put American families at further risk because of his interest in weakening safeguards against potentially dangerous products, Joan Claybrook, president of the nonprofit consumer watchdog group Public Citizen, said in a prepared statement.

Within days of Bushs nomination, Democratic Senators showed dismay that Bush would pick someone with Baroodys background.

Even an ex-CPSC commissioner couldnt believe it. This had shock and awe written all over it, Ann Brown, who chaired the commission from 1994 to 2001 said. He was the worst possible choice to lead the CPSC.

Cox said some Senators lied in their smear campaign against Baroody.

The unprincipled smear campaign waged against Mike, aided and abetted by unethical release of his financial records, was inexcusable, NAM president John Engler said in a prepared statement.

The financial records Engler refers to is a $150,000 severance NAM was set to give Baroody if he became the CPSCs chairman. That sum would have legally been considered excessive and would have precluded Baroody from partaking in any actions involving NAM a rarity at the agency.

In a prepared statement, the White House said it is reluctantly accepting Baroodys withdrawal.

We are disappointed he will not have the opportunity to strengthen the CPSC's ability to protect American consumers, according to the statement.

In the likely event Baroody would not have won the vote before the Commerce Committee, Bush still would have had the opportunity sneak Baroody in through a recess appointment. Recess appointments are generally reserved for emergencies. However, Bush has frequently relied on it to get controversial nominations into high level posts.

Cox said Baroody did not want it to come to that.

Mike Baroody has been in town (Washington, D.C.) almost 40 years and he is a man of dignity and character.

Consumer advocates are pleased with the outcome, but are concerned about the future of the commission.

No Quorum

The good news is that the Bush administrations candidate has been withdrawn, Consumer Federation of America spokesman Jack Gillis said. The bad news is that this agency remains leaderless and without a quorum of commissioners.

The CPSC needs at least three commissioners to perform regulatory activities and to levy fines. The commission has not had three commissioners since former chairman Hal Stratton, another Bush appointee, abruptly resigned July 15, 2006 to become a lobbyist.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Act, which created and governs the CPSC, the two remaining commissioners can continue their regulatory activities for six months after a vacancy has been created. After those six months, their powers are stripped until the President fills the vacancy and as of Jan. 15, 2007, that has been the case.

If Bush takes as long as he did last time to find a replacement, the commission will remain powerless for another six months.

Regardless, Consumer advocates and Brown are still hailing this a success.

Not having a quorum is definitely better, Brown said. Not that we want to be down a commissioner, but who knows how long he wouldve been in there. Possibly well into the next administration.

The Baroody nomination drew attention to the important mandate of the CPSC to be the nations strongest advocate for consumers and the safety of their products, Sally Greenburg, senior product safety counsel for the Consumers Union wrote in an e-mail. We urge the administration to look for a candidate with the qualifications to further that mission.

Now there needs to be some pressure on the White House to nominate a qualified candidate, Brown said.

For months, CPSC spokespeople have assured ConsumerAffairs.com that no new regulations were being held up by the lack of a quorum. But CPSC spokesperson Julie Vallese changed her tune today.

The time is coming where the lack of a quorum may start holding things up, she said.

Vallese said nothing is being held up currently, but thats not going to last forever. In the coming months, things are going to come up for a vote.

Vallese wouldnt say what regulation is soon to be pending a vote, however, the agency is currently working on:

• A rule that would limit the percent of lead found in childrens jewelry.
• Legislation that would make upholstered furniture less flammable.
• Updated design legislation for portable generators.
• Safety standards for all-terrain vehicles.

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Anti-Spyware Bill Passes House

Bill Bans Consumers from Suing Spyware Distributors

New Anti-Spyware Bill Passes House...


The House of Representatives has passed a bill designed to toughen penalties on spyware vendors and criminalize the act of installing potentially dangerous software on a user's machine.

But the bill must pass the Senate as well, and Congress' record of crafting useful legislation to combat Internet threats is mixed at best.

The House cleared the "Internet Spyware Prevention Act" (aka "I-SPY") on a voice vote on May 22. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), who sponsored the bill along with Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), hailed it as a success for consumers.

"[I-SPY] is a bipartisan measure that identifies the truly unscrupulous acts associated with spyware and subjects them to criminal punishment," Lofgren said. "It targets the worst forms of spyware without unduly burdening technological innovation."

I-SPY prohibits "intentionally accessing a protected computer without authorization, or exceeding authorized access, by causing a computer program or code to be copied onto the protected computer, and intentionally using that program or code" in order to obtain personal information, which the bill defines as a Social Security number, bank account number, credit card number, and so on.

The bill also authorizes disbursements of $10 million a year through 2011 to the Justice Department, in order to fund efforts to combat spyware, phishing, and pharming.

Lofgren, who represents tech-heavy San Jose, California, won the support of the software industry for the bill. A competing bill, the "Securely Protect Yourself Against Cyber Trespass Act (aka the SPY Act)," mandated that companies create clear, upfront disclosures of any software they wanted to install on a user's machine, which vendors objected to as overly burdensome.

Although clear disclosures of potential spyware seems like a win for users, the SPY Act also preempted state-level antispyware laws, limiting venues of redress to state Attorneys General and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In addition, it contained many exemptions that could enable security vendors to install spyware on users' machines and monitor their activities.

Consumers Can't Sue

Both I-SPY and the SPY Act prevent individual legal actions against spyware purveyors. If I-SPY becomes law, cases such as the Sony rootkit scandal could not be pursued in civil court, or as part of a class action suit.

Lawsuits filed against Sony in New York, California, Texas, and other states caused bad publicity for the company and forced it to settle the cases for millions of dollars.

Congress' previous benchmark for legislation against Internet threats, the CAN-SPAM Act, was widely derided as a failure when it came to stopping spam, with spam traffic actually increasing since the act's passage in 2004.

With the Senate currently occupied with battles over funding the Iraq war and passing immigration reform, the possibility of getting a companion bill to I-SPY passed are chancy at best. And given the bill's potential restrictions on consumer redress for spyware threats, many in the security sector believe it may be best for Congress to "first do no harm," and let existing laws, better user education, and stronger security products do the job of combating spyware.

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Toothpaste from Foreign Lands Illegally Imported, Sold in U.S.

Foreign-Made Toothpaste May Contain Dangerous Levels of Fluoride

Toothpaste from Foreign Lands Illegally Imported, Sold in U.S....

In what appears to be yet another hole in the Food and Drug Administrations safety network, ConsumerAffairs.com has found illegal tubes of toothpaste, intended for sale in foreign countries, in U.S. discount stores.

Like over-the-counter medication, the great majority of toothpastes are subject to labeling requirements because they contain fluoride, a cavity-fighting ingredient that can be dangerous in high doses.

Because of this, only tubes that meet the FDAs guidelines are allowed to be sold in the U.S. But a quick glance at seven Washington, D.C.-area discount and dollar stores found 17 tubes of toothpaste not intended for sale in the United States.

The finding coincides with reports that potentially deadly toothpaste manufactured in China was exported to Panama. The toothpaste contained a deadly chemical that is being blamed for 51 deaths in the Central American country.

Although ConsumerAffairs.com did not find the same toothpastes that were shipped to Panama, we did discover Chinese-manufactured toothpastes that are not intended to be sold in the U.S.

This follows Congressional and Government Accountability Office charges that the FDA is not doing enough to protect American citizens from dangerous foods and drugs.

No Comment

While FDA spokeswoman Veronica Castro did confirm that it was in fact illegal for those tubes of toothpaste to be sold in the U.S., the agencys spokespeople, including Castro, refused to say whether the manufacturer, distributor, importer or store would be held legally liable.

Agency spokespeople also refused to say what penalties might be applied and how the tubes made it past the FDAs import inspectors. Agency spokespeople then refused to say why they refused to comment.

Fluoride a Concern

Some of the stores where we found illegally imported toothpaste

The primary concern with foreign toothpastes is the level of fluoride.

Much of the water consumed in the U.S. is fluoridated, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But in many other countries, particularly poorer countries, there is limited or no fluoridation. Because of that, individual countries may require more fluoride in their toothpaste a recipe that could be detrimental for Americans.

Fluoride can be found naturally and artificially in many of the products consumers eat and drink everyday and generally, those levels of fluoride are considered safe for the body and healthy for teeth, Lydia Hall, American Dental Association spokeswoman, said.

But too much fluoride can lead to fluorosis, Castro wrote in an e-mail. Fluorosis usually afflicts infants and children. It destroys enamel and gums. In severe cases, which are very rare in the U.S., it can lead to a crippling skeletal breakdown in both children and adults.

The FDA requires that fluoride toothpaste manufacturers include a list of active ingredients, a description of the products use, warnings, directions, a list of inactive ingredients and a toll-free phone number. These drug facts requirements are identical to those found on the back of any over-the-counter medication, Castro wrote.

No Drug Facts

None of the foreign-manufactured tubes of toothpaste met the FDAs labeling requirements. Two tubes didnt list any ingredients at all.

Although many of the tubes ConsumerAffairs.com discovered appear to be safe and most met the FDAs fluoride requirement, it can be difficult to tell since much of the packaging is not written in English.

American Brands

Familiar American brands such as Colgate and Crest manufacture many of the foreign tubes discovered.

Regardless of the country where we manufacture it, Colgate toothpaste is made in strict adherence to our global safety and quality standards, Colgate spokesman Tom Paolella wrote in an e-mail.

Crest ignored our inquiry and did not return two phone calls and two e-mails.

Although many of the illegal toothpastes were limited to small local discount stores, one chain, National Wholesale Liquidators, had a dozen different kinds of illegal tubes for sale. National Wholesale Liquidators did not return two e-mails. Repeated phone calls to the phone number on the company's website were not answered.

Castro said consumers should ensure that the toothpaste has the drug facts labeling before they buy it.

 



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Tests Find Melamine in Diamond Pet Foods Brands

Doubts Grow that All Contaminated Pet Food Been Found

Tests Find Melamine in Diamond Pet Foods Brands...


Samples of another brand of dog food have tested positive for melamine and caused kidney problems in at least four dogs in California.

The dry dog food is Nutra Nuggets, manufactured by Diamond Pet Foods of Meta, Missouri.

Dr. Matt Humason of the Lone Oak Veterinary Clinic in Visalia, California, became suspicious of the pet food after four of his clients healthy dogs suddenly went into renal failure.

I saw the first two dogs around the beginning of May, Dr. Humason told ConsumerAffairs.com today. These were normal, healthy dogs and they both had become lethargic, one was vomiting, they werent eating, and they were drinking lots of water.

Dr. Humason ran blood tests on the dogs and discovered they were both in renal failure.

At first I thought maybe somebody threw something over the fence and thats what made these dogs sick, he says. The pet food recall didnt cross my mind because these dogs were both eating dry food and their food wasnt on the recall list.

A few days later, however, Dr. Humason saw another dog with the same symptoms.

This was a younger Lab who was also a healthy dog, but now was sick and vomiting, and in renal failure. The owners happened to bring in their other Lab, who is older, and wanted that dog tested, too. That dog didnt have any symptoms, but test shows its kidney values were elevated, too.

Using his own detective skills, Dr. Humason uncovered the following clues that helped him solve the mystery of these ailing dogs:

• All four dogs -- who are Labs and Lab-mixes -- ate Nutra Nuggets dry food;

• The dogs owners had purchased the food from the same Costco store in Visalia, California;

• The dogs owners made those purchases within days of each other -- in Mid-April.

To confirm his suspicions, Dr. Humason decided to have the food tested.

Positive for Melamine

I sent samples to the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory, which is working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Dr. Humason says. And those samples tested positive for melamine.

Melamine is a chemical used to make plastics and fertilizers. It is not approved for use in human or pet food.

The FDA, however, discovered melamine and melamine-related compounds in the wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate imported from China used to make many brands of pet food.

That finding triggered one of the largest pet food recalls in U.S. history. Since March, 18 companies have recalled more than 5,600 pet food products.

Thousands of dogs and cats that have eaten tainted foods have suffered kidney problems or died.

Dr. Humason says the four dogs hes treated for renal failure are improving.

The first two are going home (probably today) and their owner is going to give them fluids under their skin. This will keep them hydrated; what were trying to do is flush out the kidneys. Theyve been here for about a week on IV fluids. Theyre still not quite back to normal, but theyre happy and eating again.

He adds: The second two dogs are still here and have been on IV fluids since May 10th. Theyre having a little harder time, but theyre doing much better and they may go home by the end of the week.

Dr. Humason says hes only treated a few cats for kidney problems since Menu Foods announced its massive recall of 60 million containers of wet pet food in March.

I was actually starting to think this was getting more overkill until this happened, he says. But now Im looking for this all the time.

In fact, I saw two other dogs yesterday that were showing the same signs (of renal failure), he adds. I tested them, but their blood work came back normal as far as their kidneys were concerned. But I sent their food for testing because they were eating that same Nutra Nuggets as the other dogs and their owners had purchased it about the same time.

Dr. Humason says hes not sure if the food is from the same lot, though.

The first two owners dont have the bags of food anymore. And there are some questions about the lot numbers on those bags.

That could present problems for Diamond Pet Foods and its distributors. And also to pet owners who feed their dogs this brand of food.

Without the lot number, it might be difficult to know where the tainted bags were distributed. And if any are still on the market or in pet owners homes.

Costco Concerned

Were in a real quandary here, Craig Wilson, with Costcos Food Safety Department, told ConsumerAffairs.com today. Were not the only ones who were selling this product. This was not a Costco brand; this went to many other sellers of this item. What were trying to do is get the batch (lot) number.

He adds: This happened so long ago sometime in April. The turnaround time in Costco for these items in less than in a week in other words, they dont sit on our shelves for more than a week. Id be more concerned about stores where theres not that much turnaround.

A spokeswoman for Diamond Pet Foods called this an isolated incident. When asked if the tainted bags are still on store shelves, however, she said she wasnt sure.

Spokeswoman Becky Johnson also said Diamond Pet Foods is running its own tests on the Nutra Nuggets.

Were not disputing those finding (of melamine), she told ConsumerAffairs.com. Were just waiting for our own results. We anticipate well have those back late Wednesday or Thursday.

More Concerns about Diamond

Meanwhile, an Indiana pet owner contacted ConsumerAffairs.com on Sunday with concerns about another brand of Diamond Pet Foods.

Sharen C. of La Fontaine, Indiana, says her two dogs became sick after eating Diamonds Chicken Soup for the Dog Lovers Soul.

I normally cook for my dogs, but I wanted to supplement them with this brand, Sharen says, adding her dogs, Cassie and Star, are Lab-mixes. When I tried it, though, my dogs became sick. They were lethargic and had diarrhea. And this lasted for a couple days.

Sharen immediately stopped feeding the food to her dogs.

When their conditions improved about a week later she tried giving them the food again.

But they got sick again and had the same symptoms, she says. So this wasnt a coincidence. It made them sick -- twice. Sharen contacted Diamond Pet Foods, but says the company downplayed her concerns.

The response I got from the company were simply suggestions on how to feed my dogs.

But shortly after her call, Diamond recalled its Chicken Soup for Puppy Lovers Soul and Chicken Soup For Kitten Lovers Soul. The company, however, didnt recall the brand that made Sharens dogs sick Chicken Soup for the Dog Lovers Soul.

And I have no idea why they didnt recall that brand, she says. It definitely made my dogs sick.

Sharen says Cassie and Star havent eaten that brand of food in weeks. And theyre now doing fine.

Will she ever feed them another brand of commercial dog food?

No, Im just not comfortable using commercial pet food, Sharen says. I cook for my dogs and my advice would be that everyone should cook for their dogs.

Diamond Pet Foods in April recalled its Chicken Soup for the Kitten Lovers Soul and Chicken Soup for the Puppy Lovers Soul after the FDA confirmed the products contained melamine-tainted rice protein concentrate.

Diamond said those products were not formulated or labeled to contain rice proteinand that ingredient was added to the products as a manufacturing deviation by American Nutrition.

Diamond also said no other Chicken Soup brands of canned or dry pet food were included in the recall and none of the companys dry food contain rice protein or wheat gluten.

Regarding the concerns Sharen raised about Diamonds Chicken Soup for the Dog Lovers Soul, spokeswoman Becky Johnson said her company takes all customers calls seriously. And she promised to have someone with the company contact Sharen.

Johnson also said customers with concerns about any Diamond products should contact the company at 1-866-214-6945.

More about the Pet Food Recall ...



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Image Spam On The Rise

Unpleasant Surprises Await Those Who Take the Bait

Image Spam On The Rise...


It's said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and nowhere is that more evident than for spammers who have replaced their mangled offers of Viagra and charitable Nigerian enterprises with pictures of hot women in stilettos.

But make no mistake -- the picture may be prettier, but it's a bigger risk than ever.

Image spam is a prime cause of the overall rise in spam traffic over the last few years, with image spam climbing from 5 percent of to 40 percent of all spam in just the last year, according to the Symantec security firm.

The reason is simple -- as antispam filters get stronger and more capable of recognizing the typical "word salad" that makes up a spam e-mail, spammers are using images that are harder for filters to parse, and thus easier to get through to your inbox.

As CSO's Scott Berinato put it, "The conceit behind image spam is graceful in its simplicity: Computers cant see...Parsing an image can confound a filter because it sees only noise millions of 0s and 1s in no discrete pattern."

Researchers for the Secure Computing security company recently publicized findings on an even more devious version of image spam. Rather than attaching spam images to an e-mail, spammers use popular photo and image hosting sites to host their spam images, and embed them directly in the e-mail, making it all the easier to get past a spam filter and into an unwitting reader's inbox.

Spammers Turn to Sex

It's another old truism that sex sells, and image spammers are taking full advantage. The latest scam involves sending unwitting users a "girl finder" spam that purports to open a link to an online prostitute locator.

The e-mail itself is harmless, but by getting users to click on it, they open themselves up to potential spam attacks in the future.

Graham Cluely of security firm Sophos told Information Week that "[p]eople need to learn that responding to unsolicited e-mails only encourages the spammers to send even more spam -- something none of us really want."

Image spam scams aren't limited to e-mail. The recently-discovered Pykse.A virus worm attacks users of the Skype PC-calling service through its embedded instant messaging program. The user gets a picture of an attractive model, but clicking on the image downloads the worm to wreak havoc on the user's PC.

How To Protect Yourself

• Don't open e-mails unless they're from people you know. If it comes from an unfamiliar address and contains an image, the good odds are that it's probably spam. E-mails purporting to be from your bank or PayPal are invariably "phisher" e-mails designed to get you to open the link and provide your financial information. Move any unfamiliar e-mails to your spam or junk folders until you have verified they're safe.

• Disable graphics in e-mails you receive. Most e-mail services such as Microsoft Outlook 2007 and Mozilla Thunderbird automatically prevent graphics from showing in e-mails you receive unless you click on them or enable the graphics yourself. While this can slow things down a bit, it also reduces the chances that you will be caught clicking on a piece of image spam. You can also configure your e-mail account to only receive plain text, blocking rich text and graphics altogether.

• Use multiple e-mail accounts. Setting up e-mail accounts for specific needs (One for business, one for personal use, one for shopping and offers) reduces your exposure to spam, and setting up e-mail messages by category can help push spam to your junk folder faster. Web-based e-mail services such as ConsumerAffairs.org, Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail have built in antispam and image-blocking tools to prevent any unpleasant surprises when reading your mail.

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Pet Owners Blame Nutro Products for their Dog's Illnesses

Menu Foods Phases Out Chinese Ingredients

Pet Owners Blame Nutro Products for their Dog's Illnesses...


A California pet owner is furious that Nutro Products continues to claim its dry dog foods are safe.That companys senior dry food, she says, nearly killed her two dogs.

In another development, Menu Foods said it is phasing out ingredients from China until it is assured they're safe. Chinese ingredients have been blamed for the wave of pet poisonings across the country.

I cannot even begin to describe the hell our pets have gone through, Cynthia H. of West Hills, California, says of her six-year-old Pomeranian, Killer, and her nine-year-old American Eskimo-Sheltie mix, Juliet. This has been weeks of vomiting and diarrhea and illness -- skin infections, bladder infections, not eating, lethargy -- basically, they were poisoned by this bad food.

Cynthia says shed just started feeding her dogs Nutro Maxs Senior Dry food around the first of this month, and chose that brand because it wasnt included in the nationwide recall of more than 60 million containers of pet foods.

Thats the irony of the whole thing. This food was something new that I started feeding them because of the pet food recall. I was being very careful not to give things on that recall list.

Since March, 18 companies have recalled more than 5,600 pet food products. That action came after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed two ingredients used to make the products -- wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate -- were tainted with melamine and melamine-related compounds.

Melamine is a chemical used to make plastic and fertilizers. It is not approved for use in pet or human food.

The FDA also discovered the Chinese companies that exported those ingredients to the United States intentionally spiked the products with melamine to increase the protein content.

Thousands of dogs and cats that have eaten the contaminated pet food have suffered kidney problems or died.

In Cynthias case, her dogs became sick shortly after they started eating Nutro Maxs dry food. And their symptoms mirror those in pets that have eaten the tainted -- and recalled -- foods.

Juliet got sick first, Cynthia says, adding she bought the Nutro Max dry food in April, but didnt start feeding it to her dogs until May. And she has been very ill for nearly three weeks. Shes had bloody diarrhea, repeated vomiting, and her system also started shutting down, resulting in a bad bladder infection. She has also been on two different types of medications.

Cynthias Pomeranian experienced similar problems.

He has vomited and had severe diarrhea for more than a week. His system started to shut down, and he ended up with a serious skin infection. Hes still on antibiotics and is not yet well.

Both dogs, she says, were also extremely lethargic.

I was down at the vets office with both of them and I didnt think theyd come back. Theyve been through hell.

Is it possible that anything besides of the food made the dogs sick?

No way, Cynthia says.

My dogs have been incredibly healthy dogs. Theyre indoors dogs and only go outside with me supervising them. Theres nothing else they could have gotten into; theres nothing else that could have done this to them.

She adds: I just know it happened because of the food.

Her vet agrees. She concurred with me that I should stop feeding them Nutro Max.

Contacted FDA

To protect other dogs from getting sick, Cynthia contacted the FDA and Nutro Products with her concerns about the dry food.

I filed a compliant with the FDA, but theyre being very unresponsive. I called the Los Angeles office in Orange County and got a call back from someone in Arizona. Apparently, Los Angeles got a lot of bad pet food and there are a massive amount of people calling the FDA office in Orange County.

Orange Countys FDA office wanted samples of the food and they were going to send someone over to my house to pick it up, she adds. But they havent called me in three weeks. I thought there should be some urgency because this stuff is still on the shelves.

Deaf Ears

How did Nutro Products respond?

My concerns fell on deaf ears, Cynthia says. I did speak to someone in their corporate office and they kept saying that they feel their dry food is safe. They are also refusing to do anything for anyone. And Im out $500 in vet bills.

Cynthia isnt the only pet owner who has contacted ConsumerAffairs.com with concerns about Nutros dry food.

Consider some of the similar complaints weve received in the past few months:

• Kevin S. of Roseville, California, wrote: I have to put down my dog of six years today as she has the same symptoms as the other animals that have eaten contaminated foods. I realize that there has been no official recall of dry dog food, but my dog has only eaten two products in her life, Nutro Max dry dog food and Purina Beggin Strips. Please stop this nightmare and help keep other animals safe for this tragic event. I have spent over two thousand dollars attempting to save my dog. Today is her last day as she is being put to sleep this afternoon.

• Bonita L. Wachs of Germantown, Wisconsin, told us: My three-year-old Shih Tzu became very ill in the fall of 2006. She was extremely thirsty, drank excessively, lost her appetite, lost weight, had diarrhea and vomiting, was lethargic, and was very ill. She refused to eat her food, but, as many owners did, we forced her to eat the food she didn't want. She developed a high level of glucose in her urine and a urinary tract infection.

"The vet was stumped with her condition. I had asked if it could be her dry dog food -- Nutro Max. The vet said that was a good brand and did not think so. In the spring, when the pet food scare was in full force, I called the service line and reported my dogs illness to the company. They said they had not had any problems with the dry food or Nutro treats, but would document my complaint. I switched to Purina dog food back in January, and now my dog is clear of glucose in her urine. The vet is still stumped, but happy she is well. Molly had a rough few months, and we have a few hundred dollars in vet bills. We pray there is no physical damage to her kidneys.

• Angelique of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, told us: My dog (only four-years-old) died within 4 days of me buying a new bag of Nutro Max dry dog food. This is not on the list of recalled foods, but this was the only major change in his diet and he was never out of my sight. He was fine on Sunday until 2 a.m. when he started having diarrhea,vomiting, lethargy, bloody diarrhea, and by the time I took him to the hospital at 1 p.m. the next day he was in shock. His system shut down and he died at around 4:30 p.m. This needs to be stopped. The company refuses to acknowledge there is a problem, but if you search on the Internet you will find many people saying the exact same thing happened to them. This food needs to be recalled now.

No Response

ConsumerAffairs.com tried to reach Nutro Products, but the company did not return our calls.

A press release on the companys Web site, however, states: Nutro wishes to reassure its customers that Nutro's dry dog and cat foods are safe to feed their petsand none of Nutro's dry pet foods are involved in the latest dry pet food recall announcements involving contaminated rice protein from China.

The press release also states: None of Nutro's dry dog or cat foods have been involved in any of the melamine related recallsand an independent testing laboratory has tested the rice protein used in Nutro's dry pet foods and no melamine was detected.

In the current environment, we want to communicate frequently with our customers about Nutro's products and reassure you that our dry dog and cat foods are safe.

Cynthia vehemently disagrees. And she plans to continue warning other pet owners about Nutros dry dog food.

This food was supposed to be safe and it isntit nearly killed our two dogs.

Menu Foods Makes a Change

In related pet food recall news, Menu Foods announced this week that it will no longer source vegetable proteins --like wheat gluten or rice protein concentrate -- from China until those ingredients are deemed safe.

Menu is phasing out all ingredients from China until such time as Menu and its customers are convinced of their safety, attorney David Lillehaug told ConsumerAffairs.com on Tuesday.

Menu isnt the only pet food manufacturer taking this stance against China.

Royal Canin USA announced last week that it will no longer source vegetable proteins from that country.

More about the Pet Food Recall ...



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FDA Issues Safety Alert on Diabetes Drug Avandia

Studies Find Increase in Heart-Related Deaths

FDA Issues Safety Alert on Diabetes Drug Avandia...

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a safety alert on diabetes drug Avandiatoday after studies found an increase in heart-related deaths among patients taking the drug.

The consumer group Public Citizen said it has warned FDA repeatedly about the dangers of the drug.

"The New England Journal of Medicine study just released showing a 43 percent increase in heart attacks in people using Avandia should come as no surprise either to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or to Glaxo," said Sidney Wolfe, MD, Director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen.

"In animal studies done prior to its approval, one of the most constant findings was damage to the heart, and within the first six years of approval there have been 689 cases of heart failure reported to the FDA in patients using the drug," Wolfe said. "In addition, there have been reports of anemia which, along with heart failure, increases the risk for a heart attack."

But FDA was more cautious in its description of the risk, calling it "potential."

"Safety data from controlled clinical trials have shown that there is a potentially significant increase in the risk of heart attack and heart-related deaths in patients taking Avandia. However, other published and unpublished data from long-term clinical trials of Avandia, including an interim analysis of data from the RECORD trial (a large, ongoing, randomized open label trial) and unpublished reanalyses of data from DREAM (a previously conducted placebo-controlled, randomized trial) provide contradictory evidence about the risks in patients treated with Avandia," the agency said.

FDA said that patients who are taking Avandia, especially those who are known to have underlying heart disease or who are at high risk of heart attack should talk to their doctor about the latest study.

Last Choice

Public Citizen said the drug should be a "last-choice" option.

"Despite prior knowledge of serious cardiac problems, the FDA has failed to require Glaxo to adequately warn about the dangers of this drug that should be, at best, a last-choice treatment for Type II diabetes," Wolfe said. "In addition to the accumulating evidence of its risks, it is not even as effective as other diabetes drugs in lowering blood sugar or hemoglobin A1C, a measure of glucose control."

"Because of inadequate warnings about Avandia and massive advertising campaigns, its popularity has grown so that 11 million prescriptions were filled for the drug in the United States in 2006 alone," Wolfe noted. He urged patients to avoid the drug.

FDA Still Studying

FDA said it was still analyzing the data and has not "confirmed the clinical significance of the reported increased risk in the context of other studies."

FDA noted there is "inherent risk associated with switching patients with diabetes from one treatment to another even in the absence of specific risks associated with particular treatments" and said for that reason it is not asking GlaxoSmithKline to take any specific action at this time.

"FDA is carefully weighing several complex sources of data, some of which show conflicting results, related to the risk of heart attack and heart-related deaths in patients treated with Avandia," said Steven Galson, M.D., M.P.H., director of FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "We will complete our analyses and make the results available as soon as possible. FDA will take the issue of cardiovascular risk associated with Avandia and other drugs in this class to an Advisory Committee as soon as one can be convened."

Approved in 1999

Avandia was approved in 1999 for treatment of type 2 diabetes, a serious and life threatening disease that affects about 18 to 20 million Americans. Diabetes is a leading cause of coronary heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and limb amputation.

Since the drug was approved, FDA has been monitoring several heart-related adverse events (e.g., fluid retention, edema and congestive heart failure) based on signals seen in previous controlled clinical trials of Avandia alone and in combination with other drugs, and from postmarketing reports. FDA has updated the product's labeling on several occasions to reflect these new data, most recently in 2006.

The most recent labeling change for Avandia also included a new warning about a potential increase in heart attacks and heart-related chest pain in some individuals using Avandia. This new warning was based on the result of a controlled clinical trial in patients with existing congestive heart failure.

 



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FTC Urged to Crack Down on Enviga

Calorie Burning and Weight Loss Claims Disputed

The Federal Trade Commission should take enforcement action against Coca-Cola and Nestl for their unlawful deceptive advertising for Enviga, their green-te...

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Debt Collectors Cash In On Uninformed Consumers

Collectors sometimes purchase old debts that aren't legally collectable

Debt Collectors Cash In On Uninformed Consumers...

Some consumers across the country are being contacted by a company called Midland Credit Management and told the company has purchased their Citibank USA credit card debt. In some cases, the consumers are being offered a discount to settle the debt.

Some people will undoubtedly just send them a check. I called the company and asked for the fraud department and stated I was giving them one chance to verify before sending everything to my Attorney General's office, Richard Gunter, a ConsumerAffairs.com reader, said.

Gunters suspicions were aroused because he didnt have a Citibank USA account, and hadnt for over two decades.

After speaking with someone at Midland Credit Management and disputing the charge, he said he was promised the account would be deleted. Indeed, a week or so later Gunter said he received a letter telling him he, in fact, owed no money.

Midland Credit Management is a subsidiary of Encore Capital Group, a publicly traded company. It makes money by approaching banks and credit card companies and purchasing their charged off -- or, bad debt -- for pennies on the dollar. Since the credit card company considers the account uncollectible, it's only too happy to get something for it.

Why would Encore Capital and its subsidiaries, like Midland Credit Management, pay good money for bad debt? Because chances are, if consumers are pressured to pay it, many will, even if the creditor is not legally allowed to sue.

For the first three months of 2007, Encore Capital Group reported gross collections of $90.5 million, earning a profit of $5.7 million.

When banks charge off debts, its usually because they consider it uncollectible. While the debt remains valid, the legal remedies to collect it have dimished. Often, the statute of limitations has expired. When that happens, the creditor is no longer able to take the borrowers to court, but unless consumers know this when the new bill collector calls, they are likely to quickly fold under heavy collection pressure.

Its not illegal to collect debt whose statute of limitations has expired, as long as the debt collector is complying with the law, said Craig Shapiro, an attorney with Horwitz, Horwitz & Associates in Chicago. They cant threaten to sue or threaten to garnish the consumers wages, for example, because they dont have that right.

What To Do

What should a consumer do when contacted by a debt collector who claims to have purchased the consumers debt from another lender?

The first thing they should do is demand proof that the claim is legitimate, Shapiro told ConsumerAffairs.com.

For starters, they should require, in writing, the name and address of the original debt holder, the account number, the date of the last transaction, and the amount of the original debt. As consumers, they have a right to that information.

If the statute of limitations has expired on a debt, it cannot be entered on the consumers credit report. If the new creditor threatens to report non payment to the credit agencies, it is a violation of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act.

Each state has its own statute of limitations on old credit card debts. The statute of limitations refers to the period after which creditors cannot sue you to collect the debt. The length of time is calculated from your last payment date or last activity date, which is why it is important for consumers to receive that information from the debt collector.

Consumers who pay the debt, no questions asked, are likely paying money they are not legally required to pay. Gunter says a little skepticism is a healthy thing.

It just looked weird to me because they offered a 25 percent discount for immediate payment, he said. Anyone with a Citibank card may have paid it thinking they were getting a good deal.

 

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Credit Tips And Tricks

Consumer don't need to worry about paying off low-interest accounts like auto, home and student loans until they have all their other debts paid off and ha...


Although we've made great strides in educating consumers as to the ins and outs of credit over the last few years -- how credit reports work, how to get and understand your credit score, and how to pay off credit card debt smartly -- many people still don't understand the intricacies of the plastic they may use on a daily basis.

Much of this is due to the credit industry itself, which thrives on ensuring people use plastic for almost every purchase without knowing why. Much of it is due to poor financial literacy and education provided by parents and schools. And much of it is because these things are just naturally confusing.

So with that in mind, here are some of the questions I get asked most frequently:

Q. I have debt on a few different credit cards, and/or debts from auto or student loans. What should I pay off first, and why?

A. These represent two kinds of debt -- secured and unsecured. Unsecured debt is debt that isn't backed by anything and can be a lot riskier for lenders, while auto, home, and some personal loans are considered secured debt, because they're backed by material assets like your house or car.

Because unsecured debt is riskier, it tends to carry higher interest rates, so the longer you let that pile up, the higher your interest will go and the longer it will take to pay off.

Although it may seem intuitive to pay off your smallest debts first and get them out of the way, credit expert and "CreditBloggers" author Emily Davidson argues that you should go after the largest debt with the highest interest rates first.

"Consumers don't need to worry about paying off low-interest accounts like auto, home and student loans until they have all their other debts paid off and have built up some savings," Davidson told ConsumerAffairs.com. These loans help boost credit scores and are relatively inexpensive to carry for long periods of time."

"Let's say someone has a credit card with a $5,000 balance and a 20% APR (Annual Percentage Rate), another credit card with a $2,000 balance and a 12% APR and a $10,000 auto loan with an 8% APR," Davidson said. "They should pay the minimum due for each account every month and then put as much as possible toward the 20% APR card. When that account is paid off, move on to do the same with the 12% card."

Q. I've paid off my credit card(s) and don't plan on using them again. Should I cancel them?

A. Credit experts are divided on this question. Some, like Davidson, feel that canceling unused accounts harms your credit score, because it reduces your overall access to credit, which is one of the factors used in calculating your score. Lots of open accounts with no balances, or very low balances, indicates someone who is financially responsible enough to have credit but not use it too frivolously.

Others feel that too many open accounts leaves you open to identity theft, as thieves can get access to your information and start making charges on credit accounts you may have forgotten about. Your best bet is to cancel things like store credit cards or gas cards, and retain credit cards, but keep your balances clear or minimal.

Q. How many free credit reports can I get in a year? I'm told you can get one or three. Which is it?

A. Both. All Americans can now order free credit reports directly from the three major bureaus--Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. You can order one report from each bureau per year, for a total of three. So you can order a report from Equifax, one from Experian, and one from Trans Union.

Your best bet is to stagger your orders to get one every four months, in order to track progress you've made in paying off loans and checking for changes to your information.

The only legitimate place to order your free credit reports is from the AnnualCreditReport.com Web site, calling 877-322-8228, or filling out the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mailing it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.

Other sites may advertise "free" credit reports, but look out! They may also trick you into paying for credit monitoring services you don't need.

Q. Will "opting out" of credit offers hurt my credit score?

A. "Opting out" enables you to stop receiving prescreened offers for credit in your mailbox. These prescreened offers are from companies, creditors, and banks that conduct inquiries into consumers' credit on a regular basis. Inquiries that you make for credit are considered "hard" inquiries and may hurt your credit score if you make too many in too short a time, but prescreened offers are "soft" inquiries and generally have no effect on your credit score directly, and neither does opting out of receiving them.

Lenders such as Capitol One often blitz consumers' credit accounts with dozens of inquiries in short spans of time. These offers often end up in the wastebasket, which in turn can increase your vulnerability to identity theft, as crooks "dumpster dive" to get access to your information. This can hurt your credit if thieves open up accounts using information from unwanted credit solicitations, so it's best to restrict credit inquiries to the ones you make yourself.

To opt out of unsolicited offers, visit OptOutPrescreen.com or call 1-888-567-8688.

Q. My bank just reduced my credit limit and charged me a late fee, even though I paid my balance on time! Can they do that?

A. Unfortunately, yes. That small fine print on the back of your credit card agreement -- the "terms and conditions" -- can be changed at will, any time the bank likes, with no previous notification.

Credit card agreements are notorious for being written in such dense, complex terms that Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), who recently chaired hearings on abusive credit card practices, said they were written at a "twenty-seventh grade level." These agreements can be used to justify levying fees of almost any kind, changing your credit limit, increasing your interest rate, and so on.

Consumer advocates have lobbied Congress seeking greater transparency in credit card fees and writing credit card agreements on an eighth-grade level, clearly enumerating the terms and conditions of the agreement you're getting into when you sign up.

Q. The interest rate and penalty fees on my credit cards is killing me! How can I lower them?

A. The crippling interest rates on many credit cards comes from lenders being based in states with lenient laws governing lending, such as Delaware and South Dakota. It can be nigh impossible to pay off even a moderate balance with an interest rate of 29 percent, but there are ways to ease the burden slightly.

Lenders compete furiously for new customers, so try negotiating with several banks to open new credit cards and take advantage of low introductory interest rates. This won't help you pay off your debt completely, since you're just transferring it from one card to another, but it can net you a low interest rate for a brief period of time that can help you pay off that balance faster.

Be careful -- once that "teaser" rate's period is over, you may be in even worse straits, so do your research thoroughly to make sure you get the best deal.

Telling your bank that you're considering transferring your card balance to another card can also entice them to lower your interest rate or waive penalty or late fees. This can be risky, as it often depends on the bank's policies and the attitude of the customer service representative you're dealing with.

One customer representative for a major credit card company said, "I waive a lot of late fees and overlimit fees and credit back residual finance charges quite often. The girl who sits next to me almost never gives back full fees, but likes to offer to fix half of the problem."

Your own income and credit history can also determine your likelihood of scoring a better interest rate.

"If you have a long, good history with the company, they're more likely to be flexible with you," the representative told ConsumerAffairs.com. "Same if you're a new customer. But if you've been with them for only a year and a half and you've made three late payments, you're probably screwed."

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GM Promises "Star Treatment," Dumps Old OnStar Subscribers

Existing Customers Abandoned as GM Rolls Out New Ads

GM Promises...

As the Onstar sun sets for 500,000 loyal General Motors customers, the stars are coming out to promote the feature on GM's new-car line-up.

The odd constellation of events takes a little explaining, but you can talk til the stars go dim and it won't satisfy owners of older GM cars who are being abandoned by the switch from analog to digital transmission.

Why would a company walk away from 1/8 of its existing customers? Talking out of one side of its mouth, GM blames it on the government while on the other hand it launches a glitzy new ad campaign aimed at attracting new OnStar customers.

Although GM gives the impression that OnStar is some kind of unique Star Tech technology, in reality it works through the nation's network of cell towers in pretty much the same manner as an ordinary cell phone.

Currently, FCC rules require that cell towers support both digital and analog signals. But as of 2008, the cell towers will no longer have to support analog so OnStar is hanging up on the 500,000 of its 4 million OnStar customers who have older analog units.

Consumers with a 2003, 2004, or 2005 vehicle will need to update their OnStar system. An adapter will cost approximately $200. Those whose vehicles are a 2002 or older are simply out of luck; there is no adapter available.

Customers are blazing mad, but GM is going merrily on its way, signing the Deutsch advertising agency to put together a new OnStar ad campaign that features a galaxy of celebrities like Tiger Woods and Kelly Ripa touting the theme that having OnStar is like getting star treatment.

Star Treatment

New 30-second and 60-second spots will hit the nation's airwaves tomorrow as part of a nationwide "branding effort," ad execs say. The spots close with the tag: "Get the OnStar treatment, no matter who you are."

The automaker spent $80 million advertising OnStar last year, according to Nielsen Monitor, and is expected to exceed that figure this year. That's certain to further inflame angry GM motorists, who are already feeling they've gotten the bum's rush instead of the star treatment.

Many motorists think GM could -- and should -- offer them a free or cut-rate digital upgrade that would keep their service working. It's not as though it's free -- customers pay a monthly fee in addition to the upfront cost. The typical annual subscription costs $199.

GM, supposedly desperate to sell cars, could not even be bothered to offer a rebate on a new car for existing OnStar customers.

Those who bought a GM car because of OnStar's much-touted safety features are particularly irate.

"I shouldn't have to sell my car to get a piece of safety equipment to work," said a San Diego Pontiac owner. "if my air bag or seat belts stopped working GM would figure a way to upgrade the airbags and seat belts."

False Advertising

Barbara of Derry, New Hampshire, thinks GM is guilty of false advertising because she wasn't informed that the service had a sunset date.

"I purchased my SAAB 9-3 in the fall of 2002. At no time during the sale was I informed that within 5 years of owning the vehicle I would no longer have access to OnStar."

Unlike Tiger Woods and Kelly Ripa, many GM customers -- like Gordon of Kennett Sq., Pennsylvania -- aren't young, vigorous multi-millionaires.

Gordon, who is 91, bought an OnStar-equipped Saab in 2001 and says the safety feature enables him to drive to doctor appointments and run other essential errands.

"I may have to give up driving or curtail my visits to the doctors offices. I certainly can't afford to spend thousands for a new car. My whole lifestyle will be changed in the few years I have left," Gordon wrote.

Gordon also thinks GM knew -- or should have known -- it was selling obsolescent technology.

"I am sure that in late 2001 GM/Saab/OnStar were well aware of the analog/digital fiasco. The prospective buyer should have been informed. Silence is golden...at least for GM," he said.

Unlocking Doors

In the past, GM has put heavy emphasis on OnStar's safety features, airing dramatic commercials of the "I've fallen and I can't get up" genre -- e.g., mothers calling for help as their vehicle sinks into a lake or after it has rammed another vehicle.

The new ad campaign plays up convenience features.

In one spot, Tiger Woods rushes to his Buick and, using a cell phone, asks OnStar to open his door remotely so he can remove his Nike shirt, Advertising Age reported.

To demonstrate "On Demand Vehicle Diagnostics," Kelly Ripa, driving her Yukon Danali, discovers through OnStar that she didn't replace her gas cap. In an even sillier spot, Jimmy Kimmel calls OnStar to report his Pontiac Solstice stolen, then is embarrassed to discover that the valet is delivering it to him.

As expected, GM dealerships shrug and say there's nothing they can do -- unless, of course, you'd like to buy a new car.

Lawsuits Planned

Some soon-to-be-abandoned OnStar subscribers are suing GM because the automaker refuses to offer an upgrade for their system. Most of the suits charge the automaker knew for years that the analog network would eventually be shut down but did nothing to inform consumers of that.

"I was told that GM chose not to offer an upgrade but I was invited to purchase a new car," Don of St. Louis 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.

 

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Chenango Valley Recalls More Pet Food

Chickens Released; Are Bees Being Poisoned?

Chenango Valley Recalls More Pet Food...


Chenango Valley Pet Foods announced today that its recalling even more of its dry dog and cat food -- and one brand of ferret food.

 

The products in this recall do not contain any melamine-tainted ingredients, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said today.

But they were made at the same time Chenango Valley Pet Foods manufactured other products containing melamine-tainted rice protein concentrate imported from China.

Melamine is a chemical used to make plastic and fertilizer. It is not approved for use in pet or human food.

Since March, 18 companies have recalled more than 5,600 pet food products made with imported melamine-tainted ingredients.

These adulterated ingredients are blamed for the deaths and illnesses of thousands of dogs and cats nationwide and triggered one of the largest pet food recalls in U.S. history.

The FDA said this latest recall of Chenango Valley Foods is precautionary due to the possibility of cross-contamination.

The products included in todays recall are:

• DOCTORS FOSTER & SMITH LAMB & BROWN RICE FORMULA ADULT DOG FOOD, NET WT. 6 LBS. (UPC 25141 28244), 15 LBS. (25141 30074), and 30 LBS. (UPC 25141 06043); Date Codes: Best By Feb 09 09 and Best By Feb 26 09;

• SHOP RITE REDI-MIXT DOG FOOD FOR DOGS, NET WT. 25 LB. (UPC 41190 00555), Date Code: Code C7107;

• LICK YOUR CHOPS KITTEN & CAT FOOD, NET WEIGHT 4 LBS. (UPC 32976 25915), and 18 LBS. (UPC 32976 25925); Date Code: Best Used By April 29 08;

• SHEP chunk style dog food, NET WT. 20 LBS. (UPC 41498 14142); Date Code: Best By March 14 08;

• Bulk Lamb & Brown Rice Formula Dog Food, Date Code: Feb 09, 08, sold to one consignee SmartPak;

• Health Diet Cat Food Chicken & Rice Dinner NET WT. 1.81 kg/4 LB (UPC 78198 01594), 4 kg/8.8 LB (UPC 78198 01599), and 8 kg/17.6 LB (UPC 78198 01585); Code C7072;

• EVOLVE KITTEN FORMULA, NET WT. 3 LBS. (UPC 73657 00250) and 7 LBS. (UPC 73657 00251); Date Code: Best Used By Sept 13 08. Evolve has recovered 99.5% of the product from its distributors and is working with dealers to recover the remaining inventory;

• 8 in 1 Ferret ULTRA-BLEND ADVANCED NUTRITION DIET, NET WT. 20 LBS, UPC 26851 00413, Code: C7072

The FDA has not received any reports of illnesses linked to these products, but warned pet owners to immediately stop giving their animals the food.

Chickens Release

In related news today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released for processing approximately 80,000 chickens that consumed melamine-tainted pet food scraps.

Tests confirmed meat from the chickens -- held on farms in Indiana -- is safe for human consumption. Federal testing also revealed that melamine does not accumulate in chickens and is quickly eliminated by the kidneys.

In a written statement, the USDA said: The testing also reinforces the conclusions of a human health risk assessment that there is a very low risk of illness from the consumption of meat from animals exposed to the feed in question. Poultry held on farms appear healthy, which will be confirmed upon the rigorous inspection that USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service conducts on all poultry during processing.

The USDA said a person weighing 132 pounds would have to eat more than 800 pounds of chicken a day -- that contained melamine and its compound cyanuric acid, at levels present in the poultry -- before it would cause a health concern.

In related pet food recall news:

• The FDA said Thursday that fish on two commercial farms -- one in Hawaii and the other in Washington State -- have tested negative for melamine. Those fish farms -- Kona Blue in Hawaii and American Gold in Washington State -- had received feed made with melamine-tainted ingredients from a Canadian company. Based on these latest test results, Kona Blue has resumed harvesting the fish;

• The FDA confirmed that 196 hatcheries also received melamine-tainted feed from that same Canadian company -- Skretting. But the FDA said those fish pose no public health risk because theyre small, theyre no longer exposed to the tainted feed, and theyll ultimately be released into public waterway -- not directly into commerce. Skretting received the melamine-tainted wheat gluten from China;

• The FDA said it has detained 46 shipments of vegetable protein products -- including wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate -- from China since April 27. None of the importers have proved that the shipments are melamine-free, so these products remain in detention, Dr. David Acheson, assistant commissioner for food protection with the FDA, told reporters Thursday. And before any of these shipments are released, the FDA will review the analytical reports for technical accuracy, and we may collect and analyze samples of the product to confirm any submitted reports . . . as I've said, (these products) will remain in detention until we are satisfied.

• The FDA has run tests for melamine on 63 samples of vegetable proteins imported from China and used by manufacturers in six states. Samples were taken from manufacturers in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Minnesota and New Hampshire. There have been no positive results for melamine on any of these samples collected so far, Acheson said Thursday. Of those 63, 37 of them were negative, 23 are pending, and 3 could not be analyzed because there was no method to do that-- and that was because essentially they were a mixture of rawhide dog chews, clearly of low risk, and gel capsules. So that's why there wasn't a method for those three samples.

• The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported on Thursday that it has not found any melamine in the imported wheat gluten, corn gluten, and rice protein concentrate its tested since April 30. Dr. Vera Adams with the CBP said her agency has tested these ingredients -- imported from China and other countries--that are destined for human or animal consumption. She said the CBP has tested samples from about 80 percent of all shippers of these products and the analysis is complete on about 80 percent of those samples. Adams said her agency started testing these products as a precautionary measure and to supplement federal efforts to detect and prevent the importation of specific products contaminated with melamine.

Bees Stung?

The Pittsburg Tribune-Review reported today the federal scientists are researching whether melamine --the chemical linked to the deaths and illnesses of thousands of dogs and cats -- is also responsible for destroying the honeybee population in the United States.

The paper said researchers at the Department of Agriculture's Bee Research Laboratory and the FDAs Center for Veterinary Medicine are testing commercial bee feed for melamine-related compounds and doing feed tests on honeybees. So far, no link has been found.

"I was curious enough and wanted to be complete enough that I thought it was worth doing," Jeffery Pettis, the bee lab's research leader, told the newspaper. The paper said honeybees in the United States started dying in unprecedented numbers late last year. That threatens the countrys human food supply because one-third of it is dependent on bee pollination. A quarter of the countrys 2.4 million honeybee colonies died last year from what scientists dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder, the paper reported.

More about the Pet Food Recall ...

 

 

 

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New York Sues Dell on Consumer Fraud Charges

Dell Accused of False Advertising, Failure to Provide Services

New York Sues Dell on Consumer Fraud Charges...

New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo has filed suit against Dell, one of the worlds leading computer companies, and Dell Financial Services, LP (DFS).

At Dell, customer service means no service at all. Dells consumers were intentionally misled, and they had to pay for that privilege. I hope this lawsuit sends a message to companies large and small that delivering a product is simply not enough the promises they make must be delivered as well, Cuomo said.

The lawsuit accuses Dell and DFS of engaging in bait and switch financing tactics and failing to provide their customers with adequate customer service.

It also charges Dell and DFS with perpetuating numerous other deceptive business practices relating to their technical support services, promotional financing, rebate offers, and billing and collection activity.

DFS is a joint venture between Dell and CIT Bank, which offers financing to consumers for their Dell purchases.

Poor Tech Support

According to court papers, Dell deprived consumers of the technical support to which they were entitled under their warranty or service contract by:

• Repeatedly failing to provide timely onsite repair to consumers who purchased service contracts promising onsite and expedited service;

• Pressuring consumers, including those who purchased service contracts promising onsite repair, to remove the external cover of their computer and remove, reinstall, and manipulate hardware components;

• Discouraging consumers from seeking technical support; those who called Dells toll free number were subjected to long wait times, repeated transfers, and frequent disconnections;

• Using defective refurbished parts or computers to repair or replace consumers equipment.

"No Interest" Promises

The lawsuit accuses Dell of luring consumers to purchase its products with advertisements that offered attractive no interest and/or no payment financing promotions. In practice, however, the vast majority of consumers, even those with very good credit scores, were denied these deals.

In a classic bait and switch scheme, DFS instead offered consumers financing at high interest rates, which often exceed 20%. Dell and DFS frequently failed to clearly inform these consumers that they had not qualified for the promotional terms, leaving many to unwittingly finance their purchase at high interest rates.

The lawsuit also alleges that DFS incorrectly billed consumers on cancelled orders, returned merchandise, or accounts they did not authorize Dell to open, and then continually harassed these consumers with illegal billing and collection activity.

Although many consumers repeatedly contacted Dell and/or DFS to advise them of the errors, DFS did not suspend its collection activity and Dell failed to expeditiously credit consumers accounts, even after assuring consumers it would do so.

As a result, many consumers have been subjected to harassing collection calls for months on end and have had their credit ratings harmed.

In filing the lawsuit, Cuomo seeks to require Dell and DFS to pay restitution to aggrieved consumers, pay civil penalties, and adopt measures to ensure that they do not engage in deceptive, illegal, and fraudulent practices in the future.

 

 

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Safety Of Chinas Seafood Questioned

Contaminants Found in Samples Studied by Researchers

A new study published in ETC found samples from Chinese markets that contained concentrations of contaminants high enough to pose threats to human health....

It may have started with pet food, but now the safety of a wide variety of food products from China is coming under close scrutiny.

A new study published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry found samples from Chinese markets that contained concentrations of contaminants high enough to pose threats to human health.

China has become the worlds largest producer and exporter of fish and fish products.

Organochlorine pesticides such as DDT can accumulate in top predators, including humans. Though these pesticides were officially banned in 1983, China had been using them for decades prior to the ban. Twenty-five years later, there is evidence that new sources, particularly of DDT, may be present and contaminating seafood, researchers say.

The current study focused on seafood from markets in 11 coastal cities in Guangdong Province.

The last two decades have witnessed explosive economic growth in that province. Rapid industrialization, urbanization, and conversion of agricultural lands to commercial use have accelerated the environmental deterioration in this region.

Samples of shrimps, crabs, and mollusks were analyzed for 21 organochlorine pesticides. Of those, DDT and HCH (hexachlorocyclohexane) were detected most frequently and measured at the highest concentrations.

These highest concentrations were observed in mollusks, specifically oysters, mussels, and squid. Concentrations of DDT in some of this seafood were high enough to pose human health threats. Other organochlorine pesticides present were at concentrations high enough to pose human cancer risks.

The studys researchers said further research was urgently required to identify the new sources of organochlorine pesticide contamination, so the food safety issues could be dealt with. Human health risk assessments are required to determine potential risks from local and overseas consumption and potential limits that should be imposed on such consumption.

China exports 3.2 million metric tons of seafood products, which is 10 percent of the global export volume. Exports primarily go to Japan, Korea, Canada, the United States, and the European Union.

 



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Menu Foods Says It's Ready to Process Claims from Pet Owners

But Consumers Face a Number of Hurdles in Receiving Reimbursement

Menu Foods Says It's Ready to Process Claims from Pet Owners...

Menu Foods has posted claims information on its Web site for pet owners whose pets were killed or injured by contaminated feed.

The Canadian-based company in March recalled more than 60 million containers of melamine-tainted pet food -- linked to the deaths and illnesses of thousands of dogs and cats nationwide -- and now says it will address any reasonable expense incurred by pet owners that we can identify as being caused by contamination of Menu Foods products.

The company also advised pet owners of the ramifications of settling directly with Menu Foods instead of joining one of the more than 50 class-action lawsuits filed in the United States and Canada.

Pet owners, for example, are told any mutually agreeable settlement of your claim would require you to sign a settlement agreement that would release any and all claims for damages that you may have arising out of the recall and/or related to the injury and/or death of your pet.

The company also indicated that it plans to oppose the class action lawsuits.

We expect Plaintiffs lawyers will make motions for class certification, and Menu Foods expects to oppose those motions, the company stated on its Web site. At this point, no court has ruled on the question of whether class certification is appropriate.

Menu Foods also stated that several other companies have recalled pet food products. And pet owners who file claims with their company need to sure they relate to pet food manufactured by Menu Foods.

The company, which estimates the recall will cost anywhere from $40 to $45 million, added: Subject to any court order, which would prevent Menu Foods from proceeding with the settlement contemplated herein, we will proceed with the settlement processwe sincerely hope that we are able to work together to bring this matter to a prompt conclusion.

Hurdles to Clear

Pet owners who choose this settlement route, however, have several hurdles to clear.

The company requires them to file the following documentation, which many pet owners may not have:

• Receipts from the purchase of the affected products;
• Copies of any labels from the products;
• Copies of any records from a veterinarian, clinic or other healthcare facility;

Pet owners are also asked to save all opened and unopened cans and pouches of the affected dog and cat foods.

In addition, pet owners must fill out a lengthy questionnaire that asks for such information as the UPC codes on the recalled foods, dates the products were manufactured, dates when their pets ate the food, number of cans or pouches their pets ate, and whether their pets had any pre-existing conditions.

An Arizona pet owner -- whose 13-year-old Sheltie suddenly died after eating one of the recalled foods -- told ConsumerAffairs.com today that shes torn about which avenue to take to resolve this matter.

It seems like Menu Foods wants to pull you away from going the class action route, says Jerri L. of Goodyear, Arizona. It seems like they want you to settle directly with them and their claims people.

Uneven Contest

What's a consumer to do? The options include:

• Hire an attorney and file a lawsuit;
• Hope that a class action succeeds;
• File an action in Small Claims Court; or
• Take whatever the pet food manufacturer feels like giving you.

The unfortunate truth is that the law regards pets as property, not as sentient beings -- and therefore, unlike relatives of humans killed or injured by another's actions, pet owners can't recover damages for their pet's pain and suffering.

Nor can one claim compensation for an animal's lost wages, as is the case when a family breadwinner dies or is disabled.

"What this means is that -- at best -- pet owners who spend time and money going to court might be able to recover their veterinarian bills and at least a portion of the deceased animals' fair market value, which is probably less than the original purchase price," said an attorney who is not involved in the case, is not accepting any cases involving contaminated feed and did not want to be identified.

"Class action claims may or may not succeed, the process will be lengthy and consumers will very likely get a minuscule settlement," the attorney said. "On the other hand, they don't have to spend any time or money in pursuing the claim."

"An alternative some pet owners might consider is to file a claim against the pet food manufacturer in Small Claims Court. They do not need an attorney and the likelihood is that the pet food maker won't appear to defend. Consumers who take this route should be sure to take receipts, vet bills and pictures of the pet to court with them."

The Small Claims option might be appropriate for animal owners who spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on medical care, the lawyer suggested.

One thing's certain, the attorney said: Consumers who sign a settlement form with Menu Foods are closing all of their options and are at the mercy of a giant corporation.

"They'll be lucky to get a free can of dog food," she predicted.

Emotional Toll

In Jerris case, shes had to endure the emotional turmoil of losing her beloved dog, Sandy Boy.

And then theres the financial loss.

Our vet bills are around $700, Jerri says. Sandy Boy was also a champion show dog and I paid $300 for him. That was years ago and was pretty expensive at that time.

Im just hoping to have some type of resolution so this doesnt drag on and on, she says, adding Sandy Boy was in perfect health before she fed him Nutra Max dog food.

Sandy Boy suddenly died last Memorial Day months before Menu Foods announced its massive recall. But Jerri says he had symptoms that mirror those in dogs and cats that became sick or died after eating the melamine-tainted pet food.

Melamine

Melamine is a chemical used to make plastic and fertilizers. It is not approved for use in human or pet foods.

The Food and Drug Administration confirmed two imported and mislabeled ingredients used to make the pet food -- wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate -- contained melamine and melamine-related compounds.

FDA officials say those ingredients were really wheat flour. And they were intentionally spiked with melamine to increase the protein content.

All the tainted ingredients came from two now-defunct companies in China: Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. and Futian Biology Technology Co. Ltd.

Thousands of dogs and cats that have eaten the tainted pet food have suffered kidney disease or died. The FDA says its received reports of 4,100 deaths of cats and dogs linked to the adulterated pet food.

The Pet Connection Web site has received unconfirmed reports of 4,867 pets -- 2,519 cats and 2,348 dogs -- that have died from the contaminated food. It also said the total number of pets affected by the tainted food is 14,646.

Jerris not surprised by the number of pets that have become sick or died after eating the tainted food. Or that the pet food contamination has spread to chickens, pigs, and fishand the human food supply.

The FDA, however, said the risk to humans who eat meat from farm animals or fish that consumed the tainted feed is minimal.

As I started reading more and more about the recall, I expected more things to come out, Jerri says. It just seems to be spreading everywhere.

Whats the solution to this crisis?

Jerri told ConsumerAffairs.com the first step is for the United States to cut all trade agreements with China.

I think most people would agree that we should stop doing business with China. Theyve taken away jobs from us for years and years.

She adds: We cant get prescription medicines from Canada, but were getting these things (food products) from China that arent even regulated.

More about the Pet Food Recall ...



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People to People Executive Sentenced to Prison

Financial Director Convicted of Embezzling $148,000

People to People Executive Sentenced to Prison...

A federal judge has sentenced the former financial director of People To People International to 20 months in prison for stealing $148,144 from the non-profit organization founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple also ordered David E. Schlotzhauer of Leawood, Kansas, to pay $128,144 in restitution.

In a plea agreement reached in February 2006 with the U.S. Attorneys Office, Schlotzhauer admitted that he embezzled thousands of dollars from the organizations checking account and used its credit card for personal use.

Prosecutors say the scheme lasted two years -- from 2001 to 2003.

One of those thefts occurred on August 13, 2003. In that case, Schlotzhauer admitted that he wrote an $18,125 check on People To People Internationals checking account to his wife identified in court records as Kathleen P. Zimmerman. Schlotzhauer then transported the money from Missouri to Kansas action that led federal prosecutors to charge him with interstate transportation of stolen property.

This check was fraudulently issued by defendant on his employers -- People International -- bank account as part of a scheme devised by defendant to defraud the employer, according to the plea agreement.

Specifically, defendant fraudulently caused checks to be issued on his employers account for his own personal purposes and fraudulently used the company credit card to pay personal expenses.

Loss Amount Disputed

While federal prosecutors say People to People International lost $148,144, Schlotzhauer has contended the loss is much less around $70,000.

That dispute surfaced again during Thursdays hearing, according to The Kansas City Star.

Schlotzhauer and his accountant argued the loss to the Kansas City-based non-profit group is much less than the governments calculations because some of the missing funds were loans approved by the organizations president, Mary Eisenhower, President Eisenhowers granddaughter.

Eisenhower testified her organization does not make loans to employees, according to The Kansas City Star.

The newspaper also reported that Schlotzhauer used the money he embezzled from People To People to pay the taxes on his Johnson County, Kansas, home and an attorney to represent him on a personnel matter. In addition, prosecutors said he used the organizations credit card for such personal expenses as golf equipment, ski lessons, and a youth sports camp.

The attorney for People To People International, Don Lolli, declined to comment on the sentencing when contacted today by ConsumerAffairs.com.

Schlotzhauers attorney did not return our call today.

People to People International sponsors student exchange programs and other peace initiatives in 135 countries.

Marketing Tactics Questioned

The company that markets People to Peoples Student Ambassador programs came under fire last year for sending letters to the parents of deceased children stating their teenagers were named for educational trip overseas.

In one case, that marketing company -- the Ambassador Group of Spokane, Washington -- sent a letter to parents in Florida stating a teacher, former Student Ambassador, or national academic listing, named their daughter for one of these expensive trips abroad.

Their daughter, however, died in 1992. She was 18 days old and suffered multiple birth defects.

The marketing company also sent a letter in September 2005 to an Iowa mother --whose infant son died in 1993 -- stating her child was named for a 20-day trip to Europe.

The Iowa Attorney Generals Office criticized that letter, saying it misled parents into believing that their child was selected on merit when that is not the case, and that parents may be manipulated into making substantial expenditures they might otherwise decline to make.

Assistant Attorney General Steve St. Clair added: The letter raised concerns that parents were being led to believe that their child had been chosen for an honor based on recommendations or academic performance, criteria that could not possibly have applied to the infant who died years ago at seven weeks of age.

Iowa officials did not take issue with the merits of the Student Ambassador trips, which cost an average of $5,000. That offices investigation focused on the organizations letter and its marketing tactics.

During an interview last year with ConsumerAffairs.com, Eisenhower said called the situation in Iowa devastating.

I was mortified when that happened. Ive lost a baby so I know how devastating that is.

What happened in Iowa was an unfortunate mistake caused by a mailing list, Eisenhower said. It was human error, and it unfortunately caused people to doubt our mission. We are sincerely sorry people feel misled or hurt. Believe me, nobody wants to dupe anybody.

Eisenhower said her organization donated $5,000 to the Iowa SIDS Foundation and $20,000 to Blank Childrens Hospital in honor of the baby who died.

After the Florida incident, Eisenhower told ConsumerAffairs.com: We all feel very badly that this has happened. This was a matter of human error. It was a mistake and were trying to make it right. Our intent is to spread happiness--not to hurt people.

When asked what action her organization will take in the wake of the Florida incident, Eisenhower referred questions to the president and chief executive officer of the for-profit company that markets the Student Ambassador programs.

Thats Jeffrey D. Thomas, president and CEO of the publicly-traded Ambassador Group, Inc. (EPAX). He also lists his title as CEO of People To People, which Eisenhower says he has contractual authority to do.

Were trying to work out a solution with the family in Florida, Thomas told ConsumerAffairs.com last year. He declined to elaborate.

Thomas said a list service his company used provided the name of the Florida child. He also said People To People changed the wording of its letter.

Weve moved quickly to make sure this doesnt happen again. Weve changed the letters wording so that there will be no way people can misconstrue anything about how we came to get their childs name. Our letter wont say their child was named or nominated unless we can trace the source. The letter will talk about the benefits of the program.

He added: This is devastating. And were investigating how it happened. Our goal is to do the right thing and were working to get this fixed.

Shortly after that interview, though, ConsumerAffairs.com learned the parents of a deceased cat received that same letter from People To People.

The Parents of Earl Gray received a letter--dated October 4, 2006--stating their son was eligible for a trip to Europe and named for this honor by a teacher, former Student Ambassador or national academic listing.

Earl was the couples all white, one-eyed, cat.

But he died ten years ago and is buried in the couples back yard. He was 14 years old, about the age at which students start getting letters from the organization.

Earl was a smart cat, joked his owner, Susan G. of Cabot, Arkansas. And as an all white cat he might have fit right in going bobsledding in Austria.

Weve gotten a few laughs from this, she said, adding this is second letter she and her husband have received from the organization in the past two years. But then I thought of all the real people who are getting these letters and knew how excited their kids would be. And then I read about the parents whod lost a child and received one of these letters. That just broke my heart.

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GAO: Consumers Still Held Hostage by Movers

Congress Protects Movers at Expense of Consumers

A federal report finds that although there have been improvements, consumers are still being ripped off and held hostage by interstate movers....

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Study Warns of Dangerous Chemicals in Child Car Seats

Study Warns of Dangerous Chemicals in Child Car Seats...


An Ann Arbor-based environmental group says some child car safety seats are much better than others when it comes to exposing children to potentially dangerous chemicals.

Car seats save lives. Its absolutely essential that parents put their children in them while driving, said Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Centers clean car campaign director. However, some car seats are safer than others when it comes to chemical composition. Healthycar.org makes it easy for parents to choose the least toxic car seat for their child.

The center tested 62 models of safety and booster seats for chemicals including bromine, chlorine, lead and heavy metal allergens,substances which have been linked to major health problems such as liver, thyroid and developmental problems in children,according to the center

Children have the highest exposure and are the most vulnerable population in terms of exposure to chemical-laden dust and inhaling toxic fumes, since their systems are still developing.

The Ecology Center is the same group that recently released the consumer guide to toxic chemicals in cars and they used the same research methodology to test child car seats.

The new study found that the best seats had no brominated flame retardants, no PVC and low levels of other chemicals tested.

While more than 40 percent of seat cushions tested contained no brominated flame retardants and 77 percent of the seats were free of PVC-plastic, more than 33 percent of all seats tested had one or more components which contained higher levels of toxic chemicals.

A complete ranking of all of the car seats that were tested can be found on the web site.

While there are numerous substances in car seats that can lead to health and environmental problems, the Ecology Center selected those for testing with known toxicity, persistence, and tendency to build up in people and the environment.

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GE Recalls Dishwashers Due to Fire Hazard

Brands Include Eterna, GE, GE Profile, GE Monogram, Hotpoint, Sears-Kenmore

GE Recalls Dishwashers Due to Fire Hazard...

May 16, 2007
GE is recalling about 2.5 million dishwashers because of a fire hazard.

The company said that liquid rinse-aid can leak from its dispenser onto the dishwasher's internal wiring which can cause an electrical short and overheating, posing a fire hazard.

GE has received 191 reports of overheated wiring including 56 reports of property damage. There were 12 reports of fires that escaped the dishwasher. Fire damage was limited to the dishwasher or the adjacent area. No injuries have been reported.

The recall includes GE built-in dishwashers sold under the following brand names: Eterna, GE, GE Profile, GE Monogram, Hotpoint, and Sears-Kenmore. The dishwashers were sold in white, black, almond, bisque and stainless steel. The brand name is printed on the dishwasher's front control panel. The following model and serial numbers can be found inside the dishwasher tub on the front left side of the dishwasher.

BrandModel Numbers Must Begin WithSerial Numbers Must Begin With
EternaEDW20, EDW30SS, TS, VS, ZS, AT, DT, FT, GT, HT, LT, MT, RT, ST, TT, VT, ZT, AV, DV, FV, GV, HV, LV, MV, RV, SV, TV, VV, ZV, AZ, DZ, FZ, GZ, HZ, LZ, MZ, RZ, SZ, TZ, VZ, ZZ, AA, DA, FA, GA, HA, LA, MA, RA, SA, TA, VA, ZA
GE and GE ProfileGHD50, GSD40, GSD41, GSD43, GSD46, GSD4910Z, GSD4920Z, GSD4930Z, GSD4940Z0, GSD50, GSD51, GSD521, GSD522, GSD523, GSD531, GSD532, GSD533, GSD535, GSD536, GSD55, GSD56, GSD57, GSD58, GSD59, GSDL3, GSDL6
GE MonogramZBD3500Z0
HotpointHDA3400F, HDA35SS, TS, VS, ZS, AT, DT, FT, GT, HT, LT, MT, RT, ST, TT, VT, ZT, AV, DV, FV, GV, HV, LV, MV, RV, SV, TV, VV, ZV, AZ, DZ, FZ, GZ, HZ, LZ, MZ, RZ, SZ, TZ, VZ, ZZ
GE and GE ProfileGHD35, GSD21, GSD2200D, GSD2200F, GSD2200G, GSD2201F, GSD2220F, GSD2221F, GSD2230F, GSD2231F, GSD2250F GSD23, GSD26, GSD27, GSD3115F, GSD3125F, GSD3135F, GSD3200G, GSD3210F, GSD3220F, GSD3230F, GSD33, GSD341, GSD342, GSD343, GSD345, GSD3610F, GSD3620F, GSD3630F, GSD3650F GSD37, GSD381, GSD382, GSD383, GSD385, GSD391, GSD392, GSD393, GSD4525F, GSD4535F, GSD4555F, GSDL122F, GSDL132F, GSDL24, GSM2100F, GSM2100G, GSM2100Z0, GSM2110D, GSM2110F, GSM2130D, GSM2130F
Sears-Kenmore363.1438, 363.1447, 363.1445, 363.1448, 363.1457, 363.1467, 363.1475, 363.15161792, 363.1517, 363.1521, 363.1527, 363.1528, 363.1531, 363.1532, 363.1546, 363.1547, 363.1548, 363.1556, 363.1565, 363.1567, 363.1617, 363.1655SS, TS, VS, ZS, AT, DT, FT, GT, HT, LT, MT, RT, ST, TT, VT, ZT, AV, DV, FV, GV, HV, LV, MV, RV, SV, TV, VV, ZV, AZ, DZ, FZ, GZ, HZ, LZ, MZ, RZ, SZ, TZ, VZ, ZZ

The dishwashers were sold at department and appliance stores from September 1997 through December 2001 for about $400.

Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled dishwashers and contact General Electric for a free repair, a $150 rebate towards the purchase of a new GE dishwasher, or a $300 rebate towards the purchase of a new GE Profile or GE Monogram dishwasher.

Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact General Electric toll-free at (877) 607-6395 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET Monday through Saturday. Consumers also can visit the firm's Web site at www.geappliances.com

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

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IBM Contractor Loses Employee Data

IBM Contractor Loses Employee Data...


Corporate giant IBM has been touting its services as a data security vendor and consultant in recent years. It was among the companies hired by TJX to investigate the company's breach of 46 million customers' credit and debit card data in late 2006.

So it was a black eye on several levels when the company announced that a contractor had misplaced a data tape containing personal information on an unverified number of current and former IBM employees. The missing data tape contained such information as names, addresses, and Social Security numbers.

The unidentified vendor allegedly lost the tapes in transit to IBM's headquarters in Armonk, New York.

IBM put out an ad in a local paper asking for help in locating the tape, and began notifying affected individuals early last month.

Following the standard response to data breaches, IBM spokespersons said that there was no evidence the data had been misused, but said the company would provide a free year of credit monitoring to all affected individuals.

IBM had just unveiled a new suite of security and compliance products designed to track potential problems and generate compliance with regulatory measures such as Sarbanes-Oxley -- an announcement overshadowed by news of the data breach.

Outsourcing business tasks to third parties is a common cause of data breaches.

Many large companies and government agencies have contracted business processing tasks to smaller companies or third-party vendors, only to bear the burdens when the companies misplace data tapes, laptops, or other equipment containing personal information.

Most recently, Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), a technology company hired by Georgia's Department of Health to process health care claims and billing for the state, lost data discs containing information on 2.9 million members of the state's Medicare and child health care programs. The disc was lost while being shipped from ACS offices in Atlanta to Maryland.

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Senate Bill Would Curb Abusive Credit Card Practices

Senate Bill Would Curb Abusive Credit Card Practices...

By Martin H. Bosworth
ConsumerAffairs.com

May 16, 2007
Two Democratic Senators have introduced legislation that they say would rein in the most abusive practices of the credit card industry by limiting interest rate hikes and curbing punitive fees that can prevent consumers from ever paying off their debt.

The "Stop Unfair Practices In Credit Cards Act" was introduced on May 15 by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO).

Credit card issuers too often sock consumers with sky-high interest rates and excessive fees, making it harder and harder for families to climb out of debt, Levin said. The goal of this legislation is to put an end to unfair and abusive credit card practices that outrage so many American families."

"We have to fight for those who have not hired dozens of lobbyists to make sure that American consumers are not getting ripped off and are fully informed of how these companies are manipulating their financial security," McCaskill said.

The act's provisions include:

• Prohibiting interest charges on any portion of a credit card debt which the card holder paid on time during a grace period.

• Prohibiting added "trailing interest" charges on credit card debt which the card holder paid on time and in full.

• Preventing the charging of interest on credit card transaction fees, such as late fees and over-the-limit fees.

• Restricting the charging of repeated overlimit fees for a single instance of exceeding a credit card limit.

The bill also requires that cardholder payments be automatically directed to the credit line with the highest balance, and prevents fees from being levied if a payment was late due to a card issuer's action.

The Consumer Federation of America's Travis Plunkett called the act important legislation will stop credit card companies from using a variety of traps and tricks that harm consumers and illegitimately pump up profits.

Owning a credit card company is often a license to steal," said Ed Mierzwinski of U.S. PIRG, "But Senator Levins legislation makes him the new sheriff in town. His bill bans some of the most unfair credit card company practices that strip money out of consumer pocketbooks and wallets.

Levin chairs the Permanent Investigations Subcommittee, which McCaskill serves on, and held hearings earlier in the year blasting banks and credit card issuers for inscrutable agreements, cryptic practices, and sky-high interest rates.

Representatives from Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase were thoroughly grilled on their business practices during the hearing, with many promising to end practices such as "universal default" in order to avoid regulatory action.

Levin had earlier requested a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on credit card fees and disclosure statements. The GAO report found that penalty fees for credit cards had nearly doubled from $13 in 1995 to $34 in 2005, and that credit card disclosures were written at a level much higher than the average American could understand, with important information often buried deep in agreements that readers would miss.

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Miami Tops Road Rage Survey

NY, Boston, Los Angeles, DC Close Behind

Miami Tops Road Rage Survey...

Miami has the meanest drivers in the country and the highest rate of road rage followed closely by New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.

The "In the Driver's Seat Road Rage Survey" was conducted by Prince Market Research for AutoVantage, a Connecticut-based automobile membership club offering travel services and roadside assistance.

From January to March, more than 2,500 drivers who regularly commute in 25 major metropolitan areas were surveyed by telephone to rate road rage and rude driving.

Miami came out on top with the rudest drivers for the second straight year.

The nicest drivers are found in Portland, Pittsburgh; Seattle-Tacoma, St. Louis and Dallas-Fort Worth according to the survey.

People participating in the survey were asked to rate drivers who ran red lights, slammed on their brakes, talked on cell phones, tailgated or engaged in other common road rage and bad driving traits.

According to the survey, St. Louis drivers were the least-likely to swear at another driver, while Portland drivers were the least likely to tailgate.

The most frequent cause of road rage cited in the survey was impatient motorists. Drivers also cited poor driving in fast lanes and driving while stressed, frustrated or angry.

"The best piece of advice is to take a deep breath. Slow down, be aware and be careful," AutoVantage spokesman Todd Smith said, adding the aim of the survey is to increase driver safety across the nation.

The list, ranked from those reporting the most incidents of road rage to the fewest:

1. Miami

2. New York

3. Boston

4. Los Angeles

5. Washington, D.C.

6. Phoenix

7. Chicago

8. Sacramento, Calif.

9. Philadelphia

10. San Francisco

11. Houston

12. Atlanta

13. Detroit

14. Minneapolis-St. Paul

15. Baltimore

16. Tampa, Fla.

17. San Diego

18. Cincinnati

19. Cleveland

20. Denver

21. Dallas-Ft. Worth

22. St. Louis

23. Seattle-Tacoma

24. Pittsburgh

25. Portland, Ore.

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Pet Food Safety Summit Set for July

Safety of Chinese Imports Questioned in Congress

Pet Food Safety Summit Set for July...

By Lisa Wade McCormick
ConsumerAffairs.com

May 15, 2007
The company that imported melamine-tainted ingredients linked to the deaths of thousands of dogs and cats nationwide called today for a national Pet Food Ingredients Safety Summit.

ChemNutra, of Las Vegas, said it wants manufacturers, ingredient importers, and analysis laboratories to work together at the summit -- tentatively set for July 14, 2007 in Las Vegas -- on import standards and specifications for pet food ingredients from China and around the world.

Just as E. coli incidents have forced retailers and restaurateurs to get more directly involved with ensuring the safety of growers, the melamine adulteration of pet food mandates that importers and manufacturers establish new protocols for ensuring the safety of our suppliers, ChemNutras CEO, Steve Miller, said in a written statement.

I am hopeful that those who import and use imported pet food ingredients will set aside any competitive differences we may have to unite for what I know is a common purpose, the safety of pets."

Since March, 18 companies have recalled more than 5,600 pet food products because they contained imported and mislabeled ingredients tainted with melamine and melamine-related derivatives.

Melamine is a chemical used in plastics and fertilizers. It is not approved for use in pet or human food.

Importers originally thought those ingredients were wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate.

But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has since learned those tainted ingredients were wheat flour intentionally spiked with melamine to give a higher protein count.

Two Chinese companies exported those tainted ingredients to the United States -- Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. and Futian Biology Technology Co. Ltd.

U.S. food inspectors sent to China to investigate the companies discovered last week that both manufacturers had closed and all their equipment was dismantled.

We visited the two facilities, but there's essentially nothing to be found in that they are currently closed down, not operating, Walter Batts, deputy director of the FDAs Office of International Programs, told reporters. There's essentially nothing, as they have determined, that is available to be seen at the facilities. They've been closed down, machinery dismantled, nothing to really get access to.

The FDA also confirmed that China detained the manager of one of those companies Mao Lijun of Xuzhou Anying.

The Los Angels Times reported that Mao Lijuns factory has sickened people and plants for years.

Farmers in this poor rural area about 400 miles northwest of Shanghai had complained to local government officials since 2004 that Mao's factory was spewing noxious fumes that made their eyes tear up and the poplar trees nearby shed their leaves prematurely, the paper reported.

Yet no one stopped Mao's company from churning out bags of food powders and belching smoke until one day last month when, in the middle of the night, bulldozers arrived and tore down the facility.

The story added, It wasn't authorities that finally acted: Mao himself razed the brick factory days before the investigators from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration arrived in China on a mission to track down the source of the tainted pet food ingredients.

And those tainted ingredients havent just shown up in pet food. Theyve made their way into feed for pigs, chicken, and fish.

FDA officials, however, say the risk to humans who eat meat from these farm animals and fish is minimal.

Congressional Concern

Meanwhile in Congress, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) have asked the countrys trade representative to examine Americas trade relationship with China.

"There is significant evidence that China is failing to meet international food safety standards -- from deceptive labeling and intentional contamination of products to unsanitary conditions, DeLauro said in a written statement.

In a modern, globalized food supply system significant amounts of food imports are a reality. And the Chinese need to be aware that their regulations need to be strengthened because trade should not trump public health."

In a letter to Ambassador Susan Schwab, the United States Trade Representative, Durbin and DeLauro, wrote: The safety of food imports from China extends beyond the pet food recall. China is especially poor at meeting international food safety standards, which is particularly disturbing considering that China exported approximately $2.26 billion in agricultural products to the United States in 2006.

"A recent news article noted that, in February, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) blocked the entry of several food products from China because they contained banned additives, were tainted by pesticides or were contaminated with salmonella. Some products were simply unsanitary.

Durbin and DeLauro asked Ambassador Schwab to answer two specific questions:

• What sanitary measures are included in current free trade agreements and other permanent trade relations in which the United States is currently engaged?

• What legal recourse does the United States possess with respect to imported food products that pose a threat to public health, in the event that the country where the offending product originated is not cooperative?

"Not that long ago, the vast majority of products at the local grocery store were from domestic manufacturers, and subject to standard regulations, Sen. Durbin said. Today, an increasing amount of our food, food additives, and over-the-counter drugs are imported from other countries -- where the laws governing food and drug safety are often lax or entirely absent.

"Fewer than one in 50 food products from overseas are inspected. Those are poor odds for any bet, and not a risk American families should have to take."

Meanwhile, the massive pet food recall sparked increased traffic and interest in pet-related Web sites.

Nielsen//NetRatings, a Internet media and market research company, said Monday that Web traffic to pet-related sites grew 115 percent in March over the previous month--from 9.1 million visitors to 19.5 million.

The company said worried pet owners flocked to online sites to learn more about that products affected by the nationwide recall of dog and cat foods.

More about the Pet Food Recall ...



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Suit Charges Honda Conceals Fire Risk in CR-V, Element Models

"Double Gasket" Explanation for Oil Leak Fires a Red Herring?

Suit Charges Honda Conceals Fire Risk in CR-V, Element Models...

In a class action suit against American Honda Motor Corporation, an Illinois man charges that a design defect in certain Honda CR-V and Element models makes them prone to fast-spreading engine fires.

The oil filter is dangerously close to the exhaust manifold on 2003, 2004 and 2005 model CR-Vs, the suit charges, and is mounted vertically, creating a situation where leaking oil can spray directly on the hot exhaust manifold.

The suit said the alleged defect also occurs in Element models equipped with the 2.4-liter DOHC i-VTEC engine.

The allegation is similar to an observation made by a ConsumerAffairs.com reader, Rob of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, who complained about the problem in 2004:

"I have worked as a general automotive technician in a nearby Honda dealership. Honda designs the engine with the oil filter in a very ungodly place: between the block and the firewall. They even have special 'shields' sent to the dealership, so that when an oil change is done, the technician can put that on the exhaust, because the filter is also located directly above the hottest part of the exhaust, and oil will get on the exhaust during an oil change."

"I used to cringe when I saw a new Honda SUV coming in for service because I did my job correctly, and made sure the filters were tight. But doing so means getting burns from the exhaust, which I still have scars from a year later. To fully understand its positioning, you really need to get a new honda SUV on the lift, and look at the beast from below. I don't know WHAT they were thinking when they designed it this way. It's like, here's the oil filter, now, lets make an SUV around it."

The plaintiff, Hal Pilger of Springfield, Ill., alleges that Honda has known of the supposed defect but has failed to issue a recall. Pilger's 2003 CR-V burst into flames while he was driving it, he said.

Honda has denied all of the allegations and says any fires that have occurred have been the result of improper installation of the oil filter.

The suit notes that, beginning with 2002 models, Honda modified its engine design to improve compliance with clean air standards. The changes resulted in significantly higher temperatures in the exhaust manifold and exhaust pipes, creating a situation where leaking oil is more likely to ignite.

Attorneys for Pilger said tests performed by consulting engineers found that the CR-V and Element's front exhaust pipe exceeded 800 degrees (F) during both city and highway driving tests.

This mirrors an observation made by a ConsumerAffairs.com reader, Matt of Columbus, Ohio, who wrote in October 2004 of a bizarre sight he had witnessed during his morning commute on a Columbus freeway.

"In morning daylight, 8:30 AM, 50 degree temperature in Columbus Ohio, I was astonished to see a Honda CRV travelling at 65 mph beside me on the freeway with its exhaust system glowing so brightly I first mistook it for an orange neon lighting system," Matt wrote.

"The first thing that came to mind was 'this poor guy's car is going to catch on fire,'" said Matt, who said he is an experienced mechanic and member of a Sports Car Club of America racing team.

Honda Blames Mechanics

While not denying that fires have plagued CR-V and Element owners, Honda has taken the position that the fires are not the result of a design defect but rather the fault of poor workmanship by the mechanics who perform oil changes on the vehicles.

Excerpts from internal American Honda reports submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) "contain numerous admissions ... and clearly establish that it is the defective engine and exhaust system design and configuration" that has caused the engine fires, the suit charges.

Officially, Honda has blamed the problem on a "double gasket" problem, often when a vehicle gets its very first oil change. In December 2004, Honda sent letters to vehicle owners saying that oil filter's rubber gasket tends to remain stuck in the engine block, which prevents the new filter from sealing properly. Oil then leaks out onto a hot manifold, potentially starting a fire, the company said.

NHTSA accepted the explanation, though somewhat reluctantly. Initialy, in July 2004, Honda blamed the fires on mechanics and issued revised instructions to dealers. But the fires continued. In September, there had been at least 44 fires and NHTSA re-opened its investigation.

Honda stuck with its story. Honda officials said that technicians were leaving the rubber gasket from the factory-installed oil filter on the engine block and placing the new filter on top of it.

"When that happens, the filter doesn't seal properly, allowing oil to leak out. After a few minutes of driving, the CR-V's manifold heats up and ignites the leaking oil," said a story published at the time.

Honda's Explanation Questioned

But Pilger's lawsuit casts doubt on Honda's explanation. It charges that the company's own internal investigation found that 68.4% of the oil leaks and fires did not "in any way" involve the so-called "double gasket" problem.

In addition, says the suit, Honda's attempt to cast blame onto auto mechanics doesn't wash.

"Millions of oil changes are performed every day throughout the country -- and an untold number of these oil changes are performed improperly and result in oil leaks," the suit says, but few of the leaks result in fires.

"That is, in large part, due to the engine and exhaust system design configurations used by automotive manufacturers," configurations that it says Honda ignored in the design of the CR-V and Element.

The suit asks the court to award damages to owners of vehicles that were damaged by fire and to launch a recall campaign to repair or replace the allegedly defective vehicles.

 

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Consumer ReportsWeighs In On the New Diets

Volumetrics Diet the Editors' Top Pick

Consumer Reports Weighs In On the New Diets...


The June issue of Consumer Reports features an in-depth report on dieting, identifying "The Volumetrics Eating Plan" as the top-rated clinically tested diet plan and "The Best Life Diet" as the top-rated diet book.

The article also outlines eight winning strategies for losing weight and three tactics that are unlikely to help.

New Diet Plan Winners

CR rated eight popular diet plans that have been studied in clinical trials. Ratings are based on adherence to nutritional guidelines (the 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans) and the results of published randomized clinical studies that reported short-term (3-6 months) and long- term (12 months) results and together studied at least 40 subjects per diet.

The top-rated Volumetrics diet employs a strategy of consuming "low-density" foods and encourages dieters to first take the edge off of hunger by consuming a low calorie soup or salad. The magazine notes that other diets, while not as explicit about employing this promising strategy, recommend ways to reduce calories while consuming larger volumes of food to stay satiated.

While Volumetrics was top-rated, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and Slim- Fast followed closely together.

Weight Watchers uses weekly meetings and weigh-ins for motivation and behavioral support for diet and exercise changes. It scored average on weight loss but first in long-term adherence. CR experts found recipes appetizing and fairly easy to prepare.

Jenny Craig enlists dieters to sign up for individual counseling and meal plans at company outlets, by phone, or online. A study of client histories revealed high dropout rates, though those who stuck with the plan lost considerable weight. A clinical trial revealed better adherence. The Jenny Craig diet requires minimal food preparation.

Slim-Fast is a brand line of controlled calorie shakes and bars, widely available in drugstores and supermarkets. The menu analyzed by Consumer Reports meets dietary guidelines. Clinical studies show above-average long-term weight loss but a high long-term dropout rate.

Diet Books: What the Experts Say

Consumer Reports rated seven diet books in the June issue based on an expert-panel questionnaire and CR's own analysis of nutritional quality. Unlike the diet plans, the books rated by Consumer Reports have never been put to the acid test of a large clinical trial.

"The Best Life Diet" was the top-rated, followed by three closely ranked books, "Eat, Drink & Weigh Less," "You On a Diet," and "The Abs Diet." All the books offered fairly healthful menus. But when the panelists evaluated the nutrition advice, they found noticeable differences in the restrictiveness of various books. They also found variations in the quality of the exercise information and the explanations of the science and nutrition behind the plans.

Eight Dieting Strategies That Work

Consumer Reports highlights strategies based on the latest research and statistics gleaned from the National Weight Control Registry, which enrolls people who have documented that they lost 30 pounds and kept the weight off for at least a year. Here are some of the strategies outlined in the report:

Start right: Eating a substantial morning meal is recommended by every diet book Consumer Reports analyzed. Seventy-eight percent of the successful losers at the National Weight Control Registry say they eat breakfast, typically some cereal and fruit.

Crank up the activity: Dieters should get off the couch if they want to lose weight and keep it off. Increasing time spent doing formal exercise and activities such as housework and yard work will help burn calories.

Fill up on low-density foods: One way to spare calories and still eat a satisfying amount of food is to focus one's diet on foods that have fewer calories per bite. The "Volumetrics" diet, which finished at the top of the Consumer Reports ratings, is based on this strategy.

Bring back the scale: Dieters who stay vigilant about their weight can make quick corrections before the pounds add up. While many of the books reviewed discourage the practice of frequent weighing in, 75 percent of the members enrolled in the National Weight Control Registry weigh themselves at least once a week.

Bore yourself thin: This approach is outlined in "The South Beach Diet," "The Sonoma Diet," and "Ultra Metabolism." Since variety stimulates the appetite, the more monotonous one's diet, the less one will eat. People should steer clear of buffet tables, which can be a dieter's worst enemy.

Three Diet Doubtfuls

Consumer Reports informs readers about these dubious tactics, which, though hyped, are unlikely to help:

Diet pills: Weight loss pills have a discouraging track record. "Fat burners" such as amphetamines and ephedra have been linked to heart palpitations, strokes, heart attacks, and deaths, even in healthy people.

Angel and devil food: Though it makes sense to purge one's diet of junk food, there's no evidence that the presence or absence of any individual food will make or break a diet of the right calorie level.

The glycemic index: Research studies have reached conflicting conclusions about whether cutting the glycemic load of a weight-loss diet actually improves results.



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Royal Canin Recalls 15 Pet Foods

Company Used Contminated Rice Protein

Royal Canin Recalls 15 Pet Foods...


Add another 15 varieties to the growing list of recalled pet foods.

 

Royal Canin USA has recalled eight Sensible Choice dog food products and seven Kasco dry dog and cat food products.

The company said it took that action late Friday after tests revealed traces of a melamine derivative in the Chinese rice protein concentrate the company received from its supplier, Cereal Byproducts of Illinois.

Cereal Byproducts on May 4 recalled the rice protein concentrate it received from Chinese supplier Binzhou Futian Biology Technology Co. Ltd. after the FDA discovered melamine and melamine derivatives in the product.

The company said it shipped the tainted rice protein to three unnamed customers in the Midwest between July 19, 2006 and March 14, 2007. Two of those companies recalled their contaminated products around April 19, 2007.

In a written statement on Royal Canins Web site, Olivier Amice, president and CEO, stated: We deeply regret the concern and anxiety this announcement today will cause our loyal customers and the entire pet community. While a very limited number of Sensible Choice and Kasco products in this recall tested positive for trace levels of a melamine derivative, Royal Canin USA is voluntarily withdrawing these products out of an abundance of caution and because we are fully committed to the welfare of our customers pets.

The company, which announced last month that it would no longer use any Chinese vegetable protein suppliers, said it had not received any confirmed cases of illnesses linked to the recalled products.

The products involved in this recall have date codes between July 28, 2006 to April 30, 2007 and were sold in pet stores nationwide.

Since March, 18 companies have recalled more than 5, 600 pet food products.

Thousands of dogs and cats that have eaten the melamine-tainted pet food have suffered kidney disease or died.

The FDA said it has received reports of 4,100 deaths of cats and dogs linked to the tainted food, which is contaminated with the melamine and melamine-related compounds. Melamine is a chemical used to make plastics and fertilizers. It is not approved for use in human or pet food.

The Pet Connection Web site has received unconfirmed reports of 4,867 pets -- 2,519 cats and 2,348 dogs -- that have died from the contaminated food. It also states the total number of reports it's received about pets affected by the tainted food is 14,646.

More about the Pet Food Recall ...

 

 

 

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Cutting Calories, Not Exercise, Best Way to Lose Weight

Study Finds Calorie-Cutting is Best Long-Term Solution

Cutting Calories, Not Exercise, Best Way to Lose Weight...


Exercise is healthy, but its not an effective way to lose weight.

New research done at the University of Alabama at Birmingham suggests that for those who have been successful at losing weight, reducing calories is an effective way to keep weight off, especially when it is difficult to find time to exercise.

In findings published in the May issue of Obesity, the researchers report that 80 percent of study participants maintained their weight loss during two years of follow up, and most did it primarily by sticking to a low calorie, low energy density diet.

Our results show that individuals who successfully maintain body weight after completing the Universitys EatRight Weight Management System consume fewer calories and have a lower energy density dietary pattern than those who do not maintain body weight, said Jamy Ard, M.D., assistant professor of nutrition sciences and medical director of EatRight Weight Management Services.

This calorie control led to successful weight maintenance despite the fact that these individuals did not meet recommended exercise levels.

Ard and colleagues followed 89 former EatRight participants for two years. The 80 percent who had successfully maintained their weight loss consumed fewer calories than those who gained weight, and tended to eat a diet consisting of low energy density foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

A low energy density diet means an individual can eat more yet take in fewer calories than with high energy density foods.

While the importance of physical activity is well established, our study demonstrates that adopting a lower calorie, low energy density dietary pattern may reduce the amount of physical activity that is truly necessary for weight maintenance, said Tiffany Cox, M.P.H., program coordinator for the EatRight follow-up study.

This could have a positive long term effect on weight maintenance by giving individuals a more easily attainable physical activity goal, which they may be more likely to pursue.

Ard says research indicates that failing to reach an exercise goal can cause a decrease in self-efficacy and self-satisfaction, eventually causing individuals to cease exercising altogether.

Its clear that exercise combined with a low energy density diet is the best approach for weight loss and overall good health, said Ard. But many people report finding time to exercise is a major obstacle. Its encouraging to report that weight loss can be maintained primarily through a low calorie diet.

EatRight, created at UAB more than 30 years ago, is based on the concept of time-calorie displacement, which encourages a substantial intake of foods that have fewer calories by volume such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while limiting consumption of foods that are calorie-dense such as meats, cheeses, sugars and fats.



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BlueHippo Funding Settles $1 Million Case

Company Will Refund Consumers' Money, Pay Penalties

BlueHippo Funding Settles $1 Million Case...

As the result of a settlement with the Maryland attorney general, BlueHippo Funding, a layaway computer sales company, will have to forfeit all of its profits to Maryland consumers who received overpriced products and make full refunds to those who received nothing for their money.

The office of the Maryland attorney general will also resolve BlueHippo complaints for consumers outside the state of Maryland. Those consumers should call the Consumer Protection Division at (410) 528-8662.

BlueHippo CEO Joseph Rensin (left) begs off questioning by WJLA-TV's Ross McLaughlin.

Maryland attorney general Douglas Gansler and BlueHippo settled after a two-year investigation stemming from 1,320 complaints filed with the Maryland Better Business Bureau.

This company has misled customers nationwide and as of today, they have agreed to halt their deceptive business practices, Gansler said.

Gansler estimated the settlement will cost BlueHippo $1 million on top of $300,000 the company must pay in restitution to the attorney generals consumer protection division.

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WJLA-TV's Story

The company, which ConsumerAffairs.com dissected in a January 2007 investigation in January, makes big profits by selling desktops, laptops and televisions to consumers with bad credit on a layaway plan. However, consumers often end up paying as much as five times the value of the product and in many cases, never receive anything.

ConsumerAffairs.com has received 199 complaints from consumers as of this writing. The story is always the same:

I have repeatedly tried to cancel my order with BlueHippo Funding, wrote Karonise of Detroit, Mich. I have spoken to over six representatives in the last four weeks. Each representative said over and over again as if reading from a script: 'Why would you want to cancel? This is a great offer.'

"I have spoken with Ronald Campbell who identifies himself as a supervisor. He would not listen as I told him I have requested to cancel my order over four times now. He said he's sorry, but they cannot refund my money, Karonise told ConsumerAffairs.com.

But for BlueHippos Maryland costumers who received nothing, they will be getting their money back and for Maryland consumers who overpaid for products will be receiving the difference of how much they paid for the product versus how much BlueHippo paid.

Consumers should be receiving checks in the mail no later than early 2008, Ganslers spokeswoman, Raquel Guillory, said.

Consumers will not have to do anything to receive restitution because the attorney general is using sales documents to identify who will be receiving the checks and will then mail them accordingly.

Gansler estimates that as many as two-thirds of BlueHippos Maryland customers never received the computers or televisions they ordered. Additionally, when consumers failed to receive the goods and requested to cancel their orders, BlueHippo allegedly refused to refund the consumers payments, violating Maryland law.

In addition, the attorney general alleged that BlueHippo and Rensin:

• illegally deducted payments from consumers accounts;
• hid important terms of the transaction from consumers until after the company had deducted payments from consumers bank accounts;
• charged illegal late fees;
• misled consumers regarding promised discounts and rebates;
• failed to disclose conditions related to gifts and promotional items;
• misrepresented the type of credit being offered to consumers; and
• failed to disclose important loan terms.

The findings verify complaints receive by ConsumerAffairs.com.

BlueHippos founder and chief executive officer, Joseph Rensin, has feigned ignorance of any wrongdoing and still claims to have broken no laws.

The settlement agreement finds no wrong doing or violations of law occurred, according to a press release on BlueHippos website. Voluntary settlements of such allegations are a common business practice in corporate America BlueHippo believes it is in the best interest of consumers and its business to amicably resolve such claims without costly litigation.

In fact, companies often choose settlements rather than go to court because most of the documents used by the plaintiff against the company would become public record if the case went to trial.

In the criminal word, reaching a settlement before trial -- "on the courthouse steps," in common parlance -- is known as "copping a plea." It is generally a tactic used to avoid the stiffer sentence that often results if the case goes to a jury.

As a result of yesterdays settlement, BlueHippo must also comply with these conditions while doing business in Maryland:

• disclose all material terms and conditions regarding transactions including pricing, financing, delivery, customer default, quality/features of items offered for sale, free/promotional items and any rights consumers are purportedly waiving before entering into agreements that purport to bind consumers;

• provide Maryland customers with written, signed agreements setting forth all of the material terms of the sale before they take any payments from the customer;

• allow customers to cancel their orders and to receive refunds when required by Maryland lending laws; and

• stop charging Maryland consumers illegal late fees and comply with the Maryland Merchandise Delivery Law.

Maryland is the first state in the country to get BlueHippo to comply with consumer laws and make restitution to their customers, Gansler said in the statement.

West Virginia, Illinois and Florida have similar cases pending against BlueHippo. There is also a pending () class action lawsuit in California.

Consumers are urged to file complaints with their state attorney general and with ConsumerAffairs.com.

 

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Chinese Companies Blamed for Pet Poisonings Closed Down

U.S. Inspectors Find the Plants Deserted; One Executive Detained

Chinese Companies Blamed for Pet Poisonings Closed Down...


The two Chinese companies that exported the tainted -- and mislabeled -- ingredients linked to the deaths of thousands of pets in the United States are now closed and all their equipment is dismantled.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent food inspectors to China nearly two weeks ago to investigate the companies that made the melamine-tainted ingredients -- Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. and Futian Biology Technology Co. Ltd.

We visited the two facilities, but there's essentially nothing to be found in that they are currently closed down, not operating, Walter Batts, deputy director of the FDAs Office of International Programs, told reporters Thursday.

There's essentially nothing, as they have determined, that is available to be seen at the facilities. They've been closed down, machinery dismantled, nothing to really get access to.

All Ingredients Traced

The FDA traced all the tainted ingredients that triggered one of the largest pet food recalls in U.S. history to those two Chinese companies. Eighteen companies have recalled more than 5,500 pet food products since March.

The FDA on Thursday also reiterated that those Chinese companies mislabeled the melamine-tainted ingredients shipped to the United States. Those ingredients -- labeled as wheat gluten and rice protein -- are really wheat flour.

When our forensic chemistry center specifically looked into thatthey were able to measure the starch level of this product and determine that it wasn't in fact wheat gluten, but the wheat flour, said Dr. David Acheson, the FDAs new assistant commissioner for food protection.

He added: I can tell you that some of our testing has indicated that some of the melamine-positive material labeled as rice protein concentrate was not rice protein concentrate. It was indeed the ground up wheat flour with melamineso certainly some of the rice protein concentrate that we tested was mislabeled.

The FDA said the mislabeled melamine-tainted rice protein entered the U.S. in August of 2006; the mislabeled wheat gluten first came into the country in November 2006.

Those are the only two companies that we are aware of that sold this contaminated protein concentrate, said the FDAs Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine.

The FDA also confirmed that China has detained at least one official from these companies. U.S. food inspectors -- who are expected to return to the U.S. next week -- have not interviewed any officials with the Chinese manufacturers.

More Contaminated Fish Feed

In related news, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says additional hatcheries have received fish feed that is potentially tainted with melamine the same chemical found in the pet food linked to the deaths and illnesses of thousands of pets in the United States.

Melamine is used to make plastics and fertilizers. It is not approved for use in pet or human food in the United States.

Earlier this week, the FDA confirmed the presence of melamine in fish feed from the Canadian company, Skretting. FDA tests revealed one sample of fish feed at the Marion Forks Hatchery in Oregon contained that chemical.

The Skretting company recalled all the tainted fish feed -- made with contaminated rice protein from China -- earlier this week.

Recent testing by the USFDA has found a very low level of melamine in a batch of Bio-Oregon brand fish feed shipped to the United States, the company said in a written release. To date, Skretting has received no complaints related to unusual fish health issues.

Oregons Department of Fish and Wildlife said the following hatcheries received the tainted feed: Sandy, Willamette, Cole Rivers, Oak Springs, Oxbow, Salmon River, Butte Falls, Cascade, Wizard Falls, Marion Forks, Bonneville, Leaburg, South Santiam, Bandon, Elk River, Rock Creek, Fall River, Nehalem, Trask, McKenzie, Gnat Creek, Umatilla, Cedar Creek, Klamath, Looking Glass and Big Creek.

Based on our initial review it does not appear that any legal-sized rainbow trout from our hatcheries were fed any of the recalled product, said Steve Williams, Oregons deputy fish division administrator. However, we are working with the Oregon Department of Agriculture to test a sampling of fish that received the Skretting feed to determine if they contain melamine and in what levels.

Fish and Wildlife officials said the tainted product is a starter feed given to juvenile salmon and trout -- usually for a short time. These fish are eventually released and caught by anglers.

I want to emphasize that none of the fish appear to have any ill effects and there are no plans to destroy any of the fish, said Williams, adding his department is getting certification from all fish feed manufacturers to verify the products contain no melamine.

Minimal Risk to Humans

The FDA said the risk to humans who eat these fish is minimal.

Earlier this week, scientists from several federal agencies said the risk to humans who eat meat from the thousands of hogs and millions of chickens that consumed melamine-tainted feed is also minimal.

"We do not believe this poses any significant human-health threat," the FDAs Dr. Acheson said.

Regarding the specific health risks associated with these fish, Acheson added: Federal scientists from multiple agencies concluded that humans who may have eaten fish fed the melamine-containing feed face a very low health risk.

The FDA, however, will continue to sample fish that received the tainted feed.

Critics in Congress

Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) continues to criticize what she calls the countrys antiquated food safety system.

When the FDA announced last week that million of chickens in the U.S. may have consumed melamine-tainted feed, she said: The FDA initially tried to minimize the impact of the pet food recall and dismissed claims that the contaminated pet food could threaten the human food supply. And they were wrong.

"This discovery that as many as 20 million chickens on farms across the country may have been fed melamine contaminated feed highlights the egregious holes in our food safety system. Had this situation been approached with an open mind, these connections to animal feed could have been made sooner. We finally need to acknowledge that our antiquated food safety system has collapsed and is unable to protect the public health.

She added: This latest disclosure in the pet food recall demonstrates that our food safety system needs to be reformed. It is time to grant the FDA and other food safety agencies clear mandatory recall and inspection authority. These initial steps would help create a modern, comprehensive food safety agency that will be capable of protecting our food supply and restoring consumer confidence.

In other pet food recall news:

• All vegetable protein products -- like wheat gluten or rice protein concentrate -- imported from China cannot come into the United States unless they've been tested for melamine, cyanuric acid, or other melamine-derived compounds, the FDA said.

• The FDA is sampling pet food imported from China to see if those products contain melamine or melamine-related compounds. The agency said it will soon start sampling animal feed and fish feed imported from China;

• FDA officials are visiting manufacturers in the United States that use protein concentrates in human, pet, or animal foodsand testing samples of the companies products for melamine and melamine-related compounds. The agency said it will also sample some of the finished products;

• The FDA said there are no indications that melamine-tainted bulk products were shipped directly to firms that manufacture products for humans;

More about the Pet Food Recall ...



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Evenflo Infant Seats Recalled

Evenflo Infant Seats Recalled...

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have recalled 450,000 Evenflo Embrace Infant Car Seats and Carriers because the infant in the seat can unexpectedly fall causing serious injury.

Evenflo has received 679 reports of the handle on the car seat and carriers unexpectedly releasing, resulting in 160 injuries to children. These reports include a skull fracture, two concussions, cuts, scrapes and bruises.

The two agencies said the problem is that when used as an infant carrier the handle can unexpectedly release causing the infant seat to rotate forward.

The recall involves Evenflo Embrace Infant Car Seat/Carriers made before April 8, 2006. The recalled car seat/carriers have model numbers beginning with 317, 320, 397, 398, 540, 548, 549, 550, 556, 597, 598 or 599. The model number and production date information can be found on a white label on the bottom of the carrier and on the top of the convenience base.

Models beginning with 5 are units sold with the travel system (compatible stroller). Evenflo is on the carrying handle and car seat base. Embrace infant car seat/carriers made on or after April 8, 2006, are not included in this recall.

Stores nationwide sold the car seat and carriers from December 2004 through September 2006 for between $70 and $100 when sold alone and between $140 and $200 when sold with a compatible stroller.

The seats are manufactured both in the U.S. and China

The government agencies warn consumers that they not use the handle until the repair kit has been installed but the product can continue to be used as a car seat when secured in a vehicle.

Consumers should contact Evenflo to receive a free repair kit that strengthens the handle latch. The recall notice will be sent to all registered owners of the recalled product. The recalled units should not be returned to the retailer.

For additional information, contact Evenflo at (800) 490-7497 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday or visit the recall Web site at www.embracehandle.com.

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Study Links Whole Grain Diet To Heart Health

Wake Forest study finds 21 percent lower risk of heart disease

Study Links Whole Grain Diet To Heart Health...

May 10, 2007
Eating whole grain bread and other foods is associated with a significantly lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke. Thats the conclusion of a new analysis conducted by researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Consuming an average of 2.5 servings of whole grains each day is associated with a 21 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to consuming only 0.2 servings, said Philip Mellen, M.D., lead author and an assistant professor of internal medicine.

These findings suggest that we should redouble our efforts to encourage patients to include more of these foods in their diets.

The results were published online in Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases and will appear in a future print issue.

The findings are based on an analysis of seven studies involving more than 285,000 people. By combining the data from these seven studies, researchers were able to detect effects that may not have shown up in each individual study. The studies were conducted between 1966 and April 2006.

Mellen said the findings are consistent with earlier research, but that despite abundant evidence about the health benefits of whole grains, intake remains low.

A nutrition survey conducted between 1999 and 2000 found that only 8 percent of U.S. adults consumed three or more servings of whole grain per day and that 42 percent of adults ate no whole grains on a given day.

Many consumers and health professionals are unaware of the health benefits of whole grains, said Mellen.

A grain is whole when the entire grain seed is retained: the bran, germ and the endosperm. The bran and germ components are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats. These are the parts removed in the refining process, leaving behind the energy-dense but nutrient-poor endosperm portion of the grain.

Examples of whole grain foods include wild rice, popcorn, oatmeal, brown rice, barley, wheat berries and flours such as whole wheat.

In addition to protecting against cardiovascular disease, which accounts for one-third of deaths worldwide, there is evidence that whole grains also project against diabetes and other chronic conditions.

Years ago, scientists hypothesized that the higher rates of chronic diseases we have in the West, including heart disease, are due, in part, to a diet full of processed foods, Mellen said. Subsequent studies have born that out especially with whole grains. Greater whole grain intake is associated with less obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol major factors that increase the risk for heart disease and stroke.

According to nutritionists, consumers should look for 100 percent whole grain on food labels or look for specific types of whole-grain flour as the main ingredient, such as whole wheat.



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Wisconsin Questions Wal-Mart's "Organic" Claims

Inspectors Find Regular Products Mixed in with Organics

Wisconsin Questions Wal-Mart's...

Wal-Mart has been heavily promoting its "organic" food selection but Wisconsin investigators say the chain is misleading consumers.

After a three-month investigation, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection said it found numerous instances of conventional food products improperly labeled as organic.

"Use of the term 'Wal-Mart Organics' in combination with reference to a specific non-organic product may be considered to be a misrepresentation and therefore a violation" of Wisconsin state statutes, Wisconsin authorities said in a letter to Wal-Mart.

The Wisconsin officials said they had reached an agreement with Wal-Mart and expected that the chain would be more careful in the future.

The Wisconsin probe was at least partly prompted by complaints from the Cornucopia Institute, a watchdog group that said it found numerous incidents of fraudulent organic labeling in Wal-Mart stores in five states including Texas and Minnesota.

"This finding is a victory for consumers who care about the integrity of organic food and farming" said Mark Kastel, codirector of The Cornucopia Institute. "Wal-Mart cannot be allowed to sell organic food on the cheap because they lack the commitment to recruit qualified management or are unwilling to properly train their store personnel."

Kastel faulted federal agencies for doing nothing and said his group had notified the USDA of the problems last November, two months before Wisconsin officials were alerted.

"A six-month period without any federal enforcement action is absolutely inexcusable when the largest corporation in the country is accused of defrauding organic consumers," Kastel said. "Last November, we supplied photographic evidence and documentation to the USDA investigators who contacted us about our complaint."

Kastel said his group forwarded its complaint to Wisconsin after USDA failed to act.

The USDA's National Organic Program has been under fire from consumer advocates who have criticized it as being too cozy with corporate agribusiness. Two independent audits of the program, conducted by the American National Standards Institute and the USDA's Inspector General, were harshly critical of USDA's management of the program.

 

 

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North Carolina Slams Door on Magazine Peddler

Subscribers didn't get their magazines, or their refunds

Charlotte, North Carolina-based Trinity Public Relations sells magazines door to door nationwide, but from now on it wont be knocking on any doors in its h...

Charlotte, North Carolina-based Trinity Public Relations sells magazines door to door nationwide, but from now on it wont be knocking on any doors in its home state.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Copper says he has obtained a consent decree, barring the company from doing business in the state.

These door-to-door sellers agreed to change their ways but we continued to hear from people who werent getting their magazines or their money back, said Cooper. Now were shutting the door so they cant do business here.

Under the agreement, Trinity is permanently barred from owning or operating any business in North Carolina that sells magazines. The company must also cancel contracts with consumers who complained to Coopers office and refund their money.

The Attorney Generals Consumer Protection Division said it has received 70 consumer complaints against Trinity since 2005. Another 111 consumers complained to the Better Business Bureau in Charlotte, which helped with the case.

Consumers complained that Trinity sales agents tried to play on their sympathies by claiming to be ill, disabled or in financial need. Some even claimed that the proceeds would go to a local charity or school fundraiser. When the magazines didnt arrive, people who contacted the company said that Trinity made excuses and false promises.

Beware of companies that use sob stories to get you to open your wallet, Cooper cautioned consumers.

More Scam Alerts ...

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Fish Were Fed Contaminated Feed; Recalls Expanded

Melamine Was Actually in Wheat Flour, Not Gluten

Fish Were Fed Contaminated Feed; Recalls Expanded...

First it was dogs and cats.

Then pigs.

Then chickens.

And now the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirms an undisclosed number of fish consumed feed tainted with the same chemical that triggered one of the largest pet food recalls in U.S. history.

The FDA, however, said the level of melamine contamination does not pose any health threat to humans who might eat the fish, according to various media reports. FDA officials also said they did not know if any of these fish have entered the human food supply.

The contaminated fish feed -- made with a wheat ingredient imported from China -- came from a Canadian company called Westaqua, officials said.

Health officials are now investigating other U.S. aquaculture farms that used the contaminated feed. Farmed fish are usually sold for direct consumption or to stock lakes and streams.

The FDA said it would test samples of the fish for melamine, a chemical used in plastics and pesticides. Melamine, however, is not approved for use in pet or human food.

The presence of melamine and melamine-related compounds in the imported wheat and rice ingredients used to make pet food triggered a massive recall of more than 60 million containers of dog and cat food.

Since March, 18 companies have recalled more than 5, 600 pet food products.

Thousands of dogs and cats that have eaten the tainted pet food have suffered kidney disease or died. The FDA said it has received reports of 4,100 deaths of cats and dogs linked to the tainted food. The Pet Connection Web site has received unconfirmed reports of 4,633 pets -- 2,499 cats and 2,301 dogs that have died from the contaminated food.

It also said the total number of pets affected by the tainted food is 14, 553.

Other Animals Affected

But dogs and cats arent the only animals affected by the contaminated food.

Federal officials have confirmed that some 20 million chickens and thousands of pigs also received feed tainted with melamine. And thousands of those animals have entered the human food supply.

The FDA, however, said the risk to humans who eat meat from these animals is minimal.

It Wasn't Gluten

In related news, the FDA revealed the two ingredients believed to be the source of the melamine-contamination were mislabeled when they entered the U.S. from China.

Those ingredients -- wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate are really wheat flour.

What we discovered is these are not wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate but in fact are wheat flour contaminated by melamine, David Acheson, the FDAs assistant commissioner for food protection, told reporters.

Acheson said the FDA is considering enforcement options.

Two companies -- Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. and Futian Biology Technology Co. Ltd. exported the ingredients from China.

The Chinese government recently disclosed that Xuzhou Anying did not declare the contaminated wheat ingredients as a raw material for feed or food. Instead, it listed them as a non-food product, which meant they were not subject to mandatory inspection by China.

Chinese authorities have since detained the general manager of Xuzhou Anying, Mao Lijun.

Other Developments

In related pet food recall news:

• A second company that received rice protein imported from China has recalled the product. The Cereal Byproducts company announced earlier this week that the FDA found melamine and melamine-related derivates in the rice protein imported from Chinese supplier, Binzhou Futian Biology Technology Co. Ltd.

In a written statement, Cereal Byproducts said it shipped the tainted ingredient to three customers in the Midwest between July 19, 2006 and March 14, 2007. The company, however, said only two companies recalled the contaminated products around April 19, 2007. The FDA said more pet foods could be recalled in the wake of this action by Cereal Byproducts. The company said it has not received any confirmed reports of pet deaths linked to the tainted ingredient.

We are confident that our customers have implemented on-going recalls and the remaining rice protein concentrate, not previously distributed to these customers, is located at a separate warehouse facility under quarantine, the company said in a written statement;

• Pet food manufacturer Royal Canin family has announced it will no longer use vegetable proteins --like wheat gluten, corn gluten, and rice protein concentrate -- from China. The company also said it will start screening for melamine and melamine-related derivatives during its standard testing protocols.

In addition, the company offered to cover the costs of medical screenings for pets that have eaten any of the affected Royal Canin USA products;

• South Africa's Pet Food Industry Association (PFI) has advised pet food makers not to buy Chinese ingredients for use in their products. At least 25 dogs in South Africa have recently died after eating pet food made with tainted corn gluten imported from China. Tests revealed the corn gluten was contaminated with melamine and cyanuric acid. South Africas PFI is also encouraging pet food companies to test their ingredients for melamine.

Other Concerns

Meanwhile, its not just vegetable proteins from China that concern U.S. health officials.

The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries recently banned imported catfish from China. That action came after tests on samples of catfish tested positive for an antibiotic prohibited for use in the United States.

The state tested 20 samples of catfish. Of those samples, 14 tested positive for the antibiotic fluoroquinolones, which the FDA banned from use in food-producing animals in 1997.

We are sending notice today that we are not going to continue to sit by and let these foreign countries produce their food at a different standard than we ask our farmers to produce by and then send those products in here at a cheaper price," Alabamas Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks told reporters.

The Agriculture Department also tested 13 samples of basa fish from Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. Five of those samples tested positive for antibiotics. Those five samples came from Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia.

The states food safety director told reporters the presence of antibiotics in these fish in not accidental. He said theyre used to kill bacteria in the water.

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REAL ID Revolt Spreads to 33 States

REAL ID Revolt Spreads to 33 States...


States are revving up their opposition to the "REAL ID" national driver's license program.

At least 33 states are pushing for laws or resolutions blocking the program, the Senate recently held hearings on its implications for civil liberties, and the Department of Homeland Security's own privacy department gave the initiative the thumbs-down.

At Senate Judiciary Committee hearings yesterday, Jim Harper, policy analyst for the libertarian Cato Institute, testified that the program was a "dead letter." Harper criticized DHS for not providing strong federal guidelines for privacy and security for the program, leaving it to the states to handle.

"Were they to comply with the REAL ID Act, states would have to cross a mine-field of complicated and expensive technology decisions," Harper testified. "They would face enormous, possibly insurmountable, privacy and data security challenges.

"But the Department of Homeland Security avoided these issues by carefully observing the constraints of federalism even though the REAL ID law was crafted specifically to destroy the distinctions between state and federal responsibilities."

Senate Judiciary chair Patrick Leahy, whose home state of Vermont has expressed opposition to the program, shared his own criticisms.

"While the Federal government dictates responsibilities for what has traditionally been a State function and adding layers of bureaucracy and regulation to effectively create a national identification card there is no help in footing these hefty bills," Leahy said.

Most recently, Montana, and Washington have passed state laws rejecting participation in the REAL ID program, joining a chorus of governors and state legislatures that are protesting the financial burden of upgrading their motor vehicle agencies to handle REAL ID compliance.

Although DHS has appropriated $40 million to help develop procedures for the program, the bulk of the funding will come from the states -- and they're not happy about it.

At a town hall meeting convened in Davis, California to discuss REAL ID, DHS Assistant Secretary Richard Barth got an earful from angry protesters who called the program "racist" and said it would single out immigrants. Under REAL ID, only those with a REAL ID-certified license could enter federal buildings or board airplanes.

"We are trying to make sure no state is the weakest link in letting people do things they shouldn't do, whether that is boarding an airplane, or any other activity we want to prevent," Barth told the audience. "This is not a national ID card."

Dissent At DHS

But even parts of the Homeland Security juggernaut are at odds over the implications of REAL ID. The Data Privacy And Integrity Advisory Committee issued a series of comments on May 7 on REAL ID, stating that DHS' prior efforts to address privacy and security concerns were insufficient.

"Given that these issues have not received adequate consideration, the Committee feels it is important that the following comments do not constitute an endorsement of REAL ID or the regulations as workable or appropriate," the committee wrote (pdf file).

The committee, chaired by DHS Privacy Officer Hugo Teufel, recommended stronger minimum security standards for states to adhere to, as well as limiting "secondary uses" of information collected from the REAL ID authorization process for drivers' licenses.

DHS had previously issued a "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" to address the privacy issues raised by REAL ID and opened a comment period to solicit opinions from the public. Organizations opposing REAL ID such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) put out calls for Americans to submit comments against the act. The comment period closed Tuesday, May 8.

The ACLU's "Real Nightmare" Web site said that the REAL ID card was "a genuine national identity card and [would] impose numerous new burdens on taxpayers, citizens, immigrants, and state governments while doing nothing to protect against terrorism."

Security Failures

Privacy analysts and security experts have criticized the REAL ID act for creating new vulnerabilities for consumers to identity theft, fraud, and data breaches. The sharing of personal information across interlinked databases, collected through extensive gathering of "breeder documents" such as birth certificates and passports, and presented in public at motor vehicle agencies, represents a "gold mine" for hackers, fraudsters, and cybercriminals.

Security analyst Bruce Schneier, who also testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that the security risks of the overall REAL ID database were "enormous."

"The daily stories we see about leaked personal information demonstrate that we do not know how to secure these large databases against outsiders, to say nothing of the tends of thousands of insiders authorized to access it," Schneier testified.

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Texas Sues Pawn Shops for Privacy Violations

Personal Data Dumped in Trash Cans, State Charges

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has taken legal action against Texas-based EZCORP Inc., and its subsidiary, EZPAWN, for systematically exposing its cust...


Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has taken legal action against Texas-based EZCORP Inc., and its subsidiary, EZPAWN, for systematically exposing its customers to identity theft.

Investigators discovered that several San Antonio EZPAWN stores exposed customers' personal identifying information by discarding business records in easily accessible trash cans behind the stores.

According to investigators, the records included promissory notes and bank statements that contained names, addresses, Social Security and driver's license numbers, and checking account information.

"Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States," Attorney General Abbott said. "Texans expect their personal information to remain confidential. The Office of the Attorney General will take all necessary steps to protect consumers from identity thieves."

The lawsuit against EZPAWN Investigators also found evidence of similar instances of improper document dumping at a dozen other EZPAWN locations around the state, including stores in Austin, Houston, Lubbock and the Rio Grande Valley.

The defendants are accused of violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA) and the 2005 Identity Theft Enforcement and Protection Act, which requires the safeguarding and proper destruction of clients' sensitive personal information. Under the law, the Office of the Attorney General has the authority to seek penalties of up to $25,000 per violation of the DTPA and $50,000 per violation of the Identity Theft Enforcement and Protection Act.

The Attorney General also charged EZCORP and EZPAWN with violating Chapter 35 of the Business and Commerce Code, which requires businesses to develop retention and disposal procedures for their clients' personal information. The law provides for civil penalties of up to $500 for each abandoned record.

The Office of the Attorney General is investigating whether any exposed data has been used illegally. Consumers who interacted with EZPAWN stores should carefully monitor bank, credit card and any similar statements for evidence of suspicious activity.

The legal action against EZCORP is Abbott's fifth identity theft enforcement action in recent weeks. In April, Attorney General Abbott took legal action against CVS/pharmacy and RadioShack Corporation for exposing hundreds of customers to identity theft by failing to properly dispose of records that contained sensitive information.

In March, the Attorney General filed an enforcement action against Jones Beauty College in Dallas for improperly discarding student financial aid forms with Social Security numbers and other personal information. Also in March, Attorney General Abbott took legal action against On Track Modeling, a North Carolina-based talent agency that abruptly shut down its Grand Prairie office and abandoned more than 60 boxes containing hundreds of confidential client records.

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African Puppy Scam Bites Victims

Dog lovers are reporting a new scam cropping up on the Internet the puppy scam. Classified ads in newspapers and online promise a free puppy. ...


Dog lovers are reporting a new scam cropping up on the Internet the puppy scam. Classified ads in newspapers and online promise a free puppy, as long as the victim agrees to pay for shipping.

Actually, like most scams, the puppy scam has been around awhile. In fact, Canadas Phonebusters warned about the puppy scam several months ago.

Much like other advance fee scams this involves the promise of a puppy when all the necessary fees are paid, the anti-fraud site warns. Ads are placed in newspapers and the Internet and usually involve someone that has moved or is moving or resides in another country.

In this latest incarnation of the scam, the dog owner is said to reside in Africa. In some cases he says he is an American, serving in the Peace Corps. He promises to send the dog once the victim sends $200 to pay for shipping.

Usually there is another request for more money, explaining there were some complications clearing customs. If the victim pays the second fee, the scammer usually disappears.

In order to avoid these types of scams, Phonebusters offers this advice:

• Know whom you are dealing with - independently confirm your seller's name, street, address, and telephone number.

• Resist pressure to act now. If an offer sounds to good to be true it usually is.

• If the buyer wants to use a service you have not heard of, be sure to check it out to be sure it is reliable - check its Web site, call its customer service hotline, and read its terms of agreement and privacy policy. If you do not feel comfortable with the service, do not use it.

Even better advice, say animal protection organizations, is to never buy a puppy from anyone other than a local breeder. Shipping a puppy is cruel and inhumane in itself. Buying an animal via the Internet virtually ensures that you are supporting puppy mills.

The best place to get a pet is the local pound.

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Feds Shut Down "Asset Protection" Scam

A scammer who boasted that consumers could earn a six-figure income is banned for life from telemarketing and from selling any type of business program in ...


A scammer who boasted that consumers could earn a six-figure income if they purchased and used his $10,000 asset protection service business program, is banned for life from telemarketing and from selling any type of business program in the future.

The Federal Trade Commission previously charged that the scam artist falsely claimed consumers would make a substantial income, and that he failed to disclose that his companys references were paid to give favorable reviews.

An FTC order entered in 1997 barred those deceptive practices, but the scammer has violated the order by using the same deceptive business practices in his most recent scheme. In addition, he failed to disclose significant facts to consumers, especially his time spent in federal prison for money laundering and wire fraud a violation of the FTC order.

Richard C. Neiswonger, based in Las Vegas, Nevada, his business partner, William S. Reed, and their firm, Asset Protection Group, Inc., told consumers with no sales experience that by purchasing their APG Program they would become well-paid business consultants selling APGs asset protection services.

For $9,800, consumers received training materials, a one-day training session, and a business affiliation with APG, which defendants claimed would provide consumers with carefully-screened qualified prospective clients.

Consumers were supposed to make money by selling APGs asset protection services to clients who wanted financial privacy and wanted to make their assets less obvious to potential litigants or creditors. These services involved guidance on forming Nevada corporations and creating offshore corporations.

The defendants promised consumers that they would readily make a six-figure income; the company even provided references that consumers could call who would back up their claims.

In fact, consumers paid thousands of dollars for cold call lists, rather than pre-screened clients. Not only were they unable to achieve six-figure incomes, according to the receiver appointed to oversee the business, approximately 94 percent of the consultants failed to earn back their initial purchase fee for the program.

Only one person ever earned a six-figure income, while hundreds of consumers lost money. The companys references were, in fact, paid to deliver positive reviews of their experience.

In addition, the 1997 order required that Neiswonger provide written proof to the FTC of a $100,000 performance bond to the Commission before marketing any program, which he failed to do while continuing to market his business opportunity program.

The court ruled that Neiswongers new deceptive business practices violated the previous order entered against him. The court also ruled that William S. Reed and APG were bound by the order, along with Neiswonger, because they were aware of the order and acted in concert with him and his deceptive business practices.

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Little Risk to Humans from Tainted Animal Feed, Feds Assert

Quarantined Chickens & Pigs Said Safe to Eat

Little Risk to Humans from Tainted Animal Feed, Feds Assert...

Theres little risk to humans who eat meat from chickens or pigs that consumed feed made with melamine-tainted pet food scraps.

Thats the message scientists with five federal agencies issued today.

Even in a worst case scenario -- in which a person ate only foods for one day contaminated with melamine at the levels in the adulterated animal feed -- the potential exposure would be about 2,500 times lower than the dose considered potentially harmful, the scientists said.

In other words, it was well below any level of public health concern, according to a written statement released today by the federal agencies involved in the risk assessment.

Scientists with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conducted the study.

In related news today, the federal government recommended lifting the holds placed on millions of chickens and thousands of pigs after their feed tested negative for melamine and melamine-related compounds. That means these animals can be slaughtered and enter the food supply.

Thousands of other chickens and pigs that ate the tainted feed are expected to be held for another week -- until scientists can determine the overall risk of melamine to the animals health.

Scientists, however, say the risk to animals that ate the tainted food is minimal. Thats because melamine -- a chemical used to make plastic -- doesnt accumulate in these farm animals bodies.

Instead, its excreted in their urine.

When exposure levels are much higher, as was the case with cats and dogs, the melamine and its compounds appear to cause the formation of crystals in the kidney systems, resulting in kidney damage, the agencies said today.

There was no indication of kidney damage in hogs. Both hogs and chickens known to have been fed contaminated feed appear to be healthy.

The agencies added: This dilution factorhelps to support the conclusion that there is very low risk to human health from eating meat from animals that were fed the contaminated product. This conclusion supports the decision announced on April 28 not to recall meat from animals that were fed contaminated product.

The assessment done by the federal scientists is part of the ongoing investigation into wheat gluten and rice protein imported from China, which the FDA confirmed was tainted with melamine and three melamine-related compounds: cyanuric acid, ammelide, and ammeline.

The presence of these tainted ingredients triggered one of the largest pet food recalls in U.S. history. Since March, 18 companies have recalled more than 5,300 dog and cat food products.

SmartPak Canine Recall

The latest pet food company to pull its products off the shelves is SmartPak Canine. That company recalled all of its LiveSmart Adult Lamb and Brown Rice food last Wednesday after learning the product tested positive for melamine.

Thousands of dogs and cats that have eaten pet food tainted with melamine and melamine-related compounds have suffered kidney disease or died.

Last week, the FDA said it had received reports of 4,100 deaths of cats and dogs linked to the contaminated food.

The FDA also said more than 17,000 consumers had contacted the agency with complaints about the tainted pet food products. ConsumerAffairs.com has also received scores of complaints about dogs and cats becoming sick or dying from the tainted pet food.

A Cat's Death

One consumer who contacted us over the weekend is convinced her cat died from the tainted food.

And his death, she says, occurred a month before Menu Foods announced its massive recall in March of 60 million containers of wet dog and cat food.

I fed my cat, Boy, Iams and Pet Pride wet cat food, says Lee G. of Nevada City, California. Those cat food are now included in the recall. He was an 11-year-old, very healthy, male, Tabby cat.

In February, though, Boy suddenly became seriously ill.

He was lethargic, had no appetite, and was overly thirsty, she says. We took him to the vet and she smelled an ammonia type odor from his mouth. She said that indicated kidney failure.he was in acute kidney failure.

The vet hydrated him, had him on an I.V. and had to force feed him for nearly two weeks.

Lees cat, however, didnt respond to treatment.

Despite all their best efforts to save him, Boy was euthanized on February 6, 2007. That is before the recall but my vet is convinced Boy's death was due to tainted food.

He was my best little tiger buddy; I miss him terribly, she says. How horrible to think that I poisoned my own buddy. To feed your pet a food thats going to kill them this whole thing is heinous.

Imported Ingredients

Like many grieving pet owners, Lee wonders why the United States imports wheat gluten, rice protein, and other ingredients used in pet and human food from China.

I think it would be best to buy local, she says. We have great agriculture here (in California). I dont see why pet food companies are using foreign products. Thats ridiculous. I would pay more to buy something grown in the United States.

Lee says shell never trust another commercially made pet food product.

I cook my own cat food now. I dont buy that canned stuff any more This whole thing is all about money. And look what its doing to our pets.

More News

In related pet food recall news:

• SmartPak Canine said the discovery of melamine in its Adult Lamb and Brown Rice food was unexpectedsince the formula does not contain rice protein concentrate, wheat gluten, or any of the ingredients on FDAs import watch list. The company said all the ingredients in this formula -- with the exception of the lamb and lamb meal -- originate from U.S. sources. The lamb and lamb meal is from New Zealand.

According to the FDA, the pet food company has learned of two instances of vomiting and the death of a 10-year-old Rottweiler linked to this recalled food. We are all very upset to have exposed our customers and their dogs to this situation, SmartPak Canine wrote on its Web site. We and other responsible members of the pet community will be working hard over the next several months to learn from this situation and to re-earn your trust.

• Federal investigators believe theyve traced all sources of the melamine-tainted ingredients from China that are linked to the deaths of dogs and cats in this country. Thats what the countrys new food safety czar, Dr. David W.K. Acheson, told The Baltimore Sun. He also told the paper that Americans shouldnt worry about giving pet food to their dogs and cats. And the search for the pet food contaminant is "virtually closed" and investigators have a "very good handle" on its distribution;

• The U.S. continues to monitor imported wheat and corn gluten and rice protein concentrate -- from China and other countries -- earmarked for human and animal consumption. Federal officials say there is no evidence that products bound for the human food supply are contaminated;

PetHobbyist.com will hold a panel discussion of the pet recall crisis at 10 p.m. (EST) tomorrow, May 8. Interested pet owners can join the discussion, which will included panelist from PetConnection.com; PetSitUSA.com and PetFoodTracker;

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Blood Pressure Drugs May Provide Alzheimers Protection

ACE inhibitors reduce inflammation, study finds

Blood Pressure Drugs May Provide Alzheimers Protection...

Some high blood pressure medicines may help protect older adults from declines in memory and other cognitive function, according to new research from Wake Forest University School of Medicine, released today at the annual meeting of the American Geriatrics Society in Seattle.

The drugs that researchers believe are protective are part of a class known as ACE inhibitors specifically those types that reach the brain and may help reduce the inflammation that might contribute to Alzheimers disease.

For older adults who are going to take an ACE inhibitor drug for blood pressure control, it makes sense for their doctors to prescribe one that goes into the brain, said Kaycee Sink, M.D., M.A.S., lead researcher and an assistant professor of internal medicine gerontology.

Some ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors are known as centrally acting because they can cross the blood brain barrier, a specialized system of tiny blood vessels that protects the brain from harmful substances in the blood stream. Centrally acting drugs include captropril (Capoten), fosinopril (Monopril), lisinopril (Prinivil or Zestri), perindopril (Aceon), ramipril (Altace) and trandolapril (Mavik).

The study found a link between taking centrally active ACE inhibitors and lower rates of mental decline as measured by the Modified Mini-Mental State Exam, a test that evaluates memory, language, abstract reasoning and other cognitive functions.

For each year that participants were exposed to ACE inhibitors that cross the blood brain barrier, the decline in test results was 50 percent lower than the decline in people taking other kinds of high blood pressure pills.

The researchers also found that non-centrally active ACE inhibitors were associated with a trend towards an increased risk of dementia. However, the results were not statistically significant, which means that they could have occurred by chance. Dementia was diagnosed by a panel of physicians after reviewing results of magnetic resonance imaging and other tests.

These results suggest that there is more to treating blood pressure than achieving a goal of 140/80, said Sink. Which drug you choose for blood pressure control can have broader implications. We know that ACE inhibitors protect against heart failure and kidney failure, and now there is evidence that some of them may also protect against dementia.

Sink said the effects may be related to reducing inflammation in the brain.

The hypothesis for how they may slow cognitive decline is that they are decreasing inflammation in the brain, and we know that inflammation is important in the development of Alzheimers disease, she said.

The researchers analyzed data from the Cardiovascular Health Study, a long-term study of cardiovascular risk factors that involved 5,888 people over 65 years old from Forsyth County in North Carolina, Sacramento County, Calif., Pittsburgh, Pa., and Washington County, Md. The mean age of participants was 75 years old and most participants (64 percent) were women.

They specifically looked at 1,074 study participants who were free of dementia when they entered the study and who were being treated for high blood pressure. They evaluated whether exposure to ACE inhibitors in general and to the centrally active versus non-centrally active drugs was related to dementia and cognitive decline.

Compared to other anti-hypertensive drugs, there was no association between exposure to ACE inhibitors as a class and the risk of dementia. The benefits clearly came from taking the centrally active drugs.

We need to confirm the results in a study in which people are randomly selected to receive either ACE inhibitors that are centrally active or those that arent, said Sink. Hypertension is a risk factor for dementia, so its important to know if the type of drug pressure medication a person takes can cut that risk.

 



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Former FDA Chief Says Agency Is Broken

Agency isn't able to guarantee safety of food supply, critic says

Former FDA Chief Says Agency Is Broken...

Another food safety expert is questioning the Food and Drug Administrations ability to provide safeguards for the nations food supply. This time the criticism is coming from the man who used to head the agency, Dr. David Kessler.

Simply put, our food safety system is broken, Kessler told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The hearing was called to delve into the growing number of high profile and deadly -- breakdowns in the nations food inspection system, from last falls spinach E. coli cases to the current pet food contamination.

Kessler attributes many of the problems to what he called a confluence of factors, chronic under-funding, a lack of enforcement authority, and severely outdated scientific and regulatory frameworks. Its all led, he says, to a lack of confidence in the FDA.

Kessler, who served as head of the FDA during the Clinton Administration, said part of the problem is due to globalization of markets. But the bigger problem, he argues, is todays FDA is only geared to reacting to problems, not stopping them from occurring in the first place.

We have no structure for preventing food-borne illness in this country. The reality is that there is currently no mandate, no leadership, no resources, nor scientific research base for prevention of food safety problems, Kessler said. There is no one in the executive branch with the clout and Authority to prevent food-borne illness.

Kessler traces a two-decade debate about the agencies expanding role in drug approval and safety. He says he has watched as more and more resources are allocated to the FDAs drug approval process and management. Kessler says its time to allocate more resources to food safety.

Food safety cannot be delegated to second-tier management within the agency, and the fact is that food is a second-tier priority within the FDA, Kessler charged. In addition, the current structure is fragmented in FDA. Responsibilities for food are spread across the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, the Center for Veterinary Medicine, and the Office of Regulatory Affairs.

Kessler urged the committee to work with the Administration to strengthen FDA by meeting its resources needs and by unifying and elevating food safety leadership within FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) agreed with Kessler that there were clear warning signs that the FDA is in crises. He said the committee would focus on agency budget cuts, its ability to enforce regulations and the legal authorities the agency has to do its job.

 



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Wireless Hackers Suspected In TJ Maxx Breach

Wireless Hackers Suspected In TJ Maxx Breach...


Cyber-thieves using a telescoping wireless antenna to intercept payment information may be responsible for the "biggest data breach ever," investigators theorize.

The Wall Street Journal reported that hackers in St. Paul, Minnesota, parked outside a Marshalls' department store and used the antenna to decode data between hand-held payment scanners, enabling them to break into parent company TJX's database and make off with credit and debit card records of nearly 47 million customers.

Drive-by hacking, or "wardriving," was the first major threat to Internet access over wireless connections. Wardrivers drive by or park near Wi-Fi hotspots or open networks and use various means to siphon off data from unsuspecting users.

The TJX network was alleged to have less wireless network security protection than the networks of many home users. The hackers are believed to have had access to the network for as long as two years, going back to at least July 2005.

TJX was also alleged to be using the older Wireless Equivalent Privacy (WEP) protocol for its network, which has been largely discredited for the ease with which it can be broken. Security researchers in Germany recently published a paper documenting how WEP can be broken in as little as 60 seconds.

Most security experts recommend upgrading to the stronger Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) protocol, but TJX was apparently slow to adopt the new system.

Although TJX refused to comment on the wardriving allegations, the company previously acknowledged that it failed to meet security procedures mandated by the credit card industry. The company admitted to transferring credit card payment information to banks without any sort of encryption, making it easier for the wardrivers to pick up the information as they surfed the TJX network.

The hackers then most likely sold the purloined customer data in the underground economy" of black-market chats that specialize in the trading and selling of personal information. Data connected to the TJX breach turned upin a Florida fraud case involving credit cards "cloned" with the stolen personal information.

The fraudsters then used the clone cards to purchase gift cards from Wal-Mart, which they then redeemed for thousands of dollars in high-priced merchandise.

Although the TJX corporation claims its strong first-quarter sales numbers show that its shoppers don't care about the data breach, the company is still fending off numerous lawsuits from state Attorneys General and class-actions from irate customers.

Most recently, a coalition of banks in Massachusetts, Colorado, and Maine filed suit against TJX for forcing them to absorb the costs of canceling and reissuing thousands of credit and debit cards exposed in the breach.

The TJX breach has also spurred numerous bills in Congress to mandate stronger data security standards for both government agencies and private companies, and to ensure affected individuals are notified if a breach occurs.

Many of the bills are flawed, however, as they preempt stronger state data breach laws and enable numerous exemptions for law enforcement agencies to delay consumer notification of breaches, privacy advocates say.

 

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Senate Approves Measure to Strengthen Food Safety

Pet Food Crisis Far From Over, ASPCA Warns

Senate Approves Measure to Strengthen Food Safety...

By Lisa Wade McCormick
ConsumerAffairs.com

May 5, 2007
The Senate has approved an amendment introduced by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) to strengthen the countrys food safety system.

By a 94-0 vote, the Senate approved the measure that establishes an early warning and notification system for human and pet food, establish fines for companies that don't promptly report contaminated products, improves inspections and monitoring of imports, and provides more uniform pet food safety standards.

But one key piece from the original legislation is missing from the amendment--a proposal that would have given the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) power to issue recalls of contaminated or dangerous foods.

The FDA does not have that authority and must rely on the industry to voluntarily pull products. Durbins office told reporters the senator would address that provision later.

"With the passage of this amendment, we will make our nation's food safety system stronger on several fronts, Durbin said in a written statement. There is more work to be done to fix our food safety system, but today we have moved forward to address the growing concerns across our nation."

The FDA -- one of the federal agencies charged safeguarding the countrys food supply -- has come under fire in the wake of nationwide recalls of tainted pet food, spinach, and peanut butter.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate some 76 million people suffer from food poisoning each year, according to Durbins office. Of that number, approximately 325,000 will be hospitalized and more than 5,000 will die.

Under the new amendment, the FDA has authority to:

Establish an early warning and notification system for human food and pet food products. The legislation directs the FDA to work with professional organizations, veterinarians, and others to release information about pet food contamination. In cases of both pet and human food contamination, the FDA will keep up-to-date recall lists on its Web site;

Create an adulterated food registry for imported and domestically produced foods. This would improve the FDA's ability to detect problems and alert consumers of contaminants. The amendment requires the FDA to establish a registry to collect information about potentially dangerous food adulteration. Importers, domestic processors, and food manufacturers must submit information about actual or suspected food adulterations. This information would be included in the FDAs database. Durbins office said the sources of the recent human and pet food contamination were wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate imported from China. Neither shipment was inspected by the FDA; in fact, the FDA inspects less than 1.5% of imports. A database would give the FDA better information to base inspections;

Require companies to maintain records and make them accessible to the FDA. This would prevent delays that could keep the contamination from being traced as quickly as possible. When peanut butter was recalled last winter, an FDA report showed that inspectors were denied documents when they requested them;

Establish uniform federal standards and better labeling of pet food. Today, the standards for the pet food industry are done on a voluntary basis by manufacturers and state departments of agriculture. There is no requirement for states to adopt these practices and they don't have the force of federal guidelines. Inspections are not coordinated state-to-state and some states have standards that are different than others.

Crisis Isn't Over

Meanwhile, an animal rights group has warned dog and cat owners that the pet food crisis is far from over. And pet owners need to continue watching their animals for symptoms of kidney failure.

The warning from The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) came on the heels of Menu Foods expanded recall of more than 200 varieties of dog and cat food.

Menu Foods took that action on Wednesday after learning those products were made at the same time its plants produced foods that contained adulterated wheat gluten imported from China.

The foods involved in this latest recall, however, do not contain any of the wheat gluten tainted with the chemical melamine.

The company said it took this action to prevent any cross-contamination.

Menu Foods has received a report from a customer and has received study results, both of which indicate cross-contamination, the company said in a written statement.

That announcement prompted ASPCA to issue its warning to pet owners.

Given the fact that there is new evidence of cross-contamination in ingredients that may have been considered safe prior to this news, we need to be much more aware of where the ingredients in our pets food are coming from, said Dr. Steven Hansen, a board-certified toxicologist and senior vice president with the ASPCA. He manages ASPCAs Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) in Urbana, Ill.

Hansen added: We are strongly recommending that pet parents immediately investigate, via their pet food manufacturers Web site or by calling them directly, where the ingredients--specifically protein supplements--are sourced from.

ASPCA recommends pet owners only feed their dogs or cats products that contain U.S.-made protein supplements.

The continued expansion of the recall is extremely worrying, said Dr. Louise Murray, director of medicine at the ASPCAs Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital (BMAH) in New York City. The magnitude of this crisis leaves us frustrated as to how to best protect pets and prevent any more illnesses or deaths.

The FDA said this week that its received reports of 1,950 cats and 2,220 dogs dying from the tainted pet food.

The FDA also said its received more than 17,000 consumer complaints about dogs and cats becoming sick or dying after eating contaminated pet food.

Eighteen companies have recalled more than 5,300 pet food products since March, making this one of the largest pet food recalls in U.S. history. The companies recalled those products after learning they contained wheat gluten or rice protein tainted with two chemicals: melamine and cyanuric acid.

New Theory

A new theory surfaced this week that might explain why pets are getting sick and dying from the tainted foods.

Tests conducted at the University of Guelphs Animal Health Laboratory in Ontario revealed melamine and cyanuric acid can react to form crystals that block kidney function.

"This is a piece of the puzzle, a significant finding," John Melichercik, director of analytical services for Guelph's laboratory services, told The Toronto Star. "We have found these crystals in cats that have suffered renal failure."

Analysis of those crystals revealed their chemical make-up is approximately 70 percent cyanuric acid and 30 percent melamine. The crystals are also insolubleor cant be dissolved in liquid.

Researchers were also able to replicate these crystals when they mixed melamine and cyanuric acid in samples of cat urine.

ASPCA says this new study offers some hope to veterinarians who are trying to save pets that have eaten the contaminated food.

The fact that we have started to learn how the presence of melamine may be impacting these animals gives us a small glimmer of hope that at least we know we are on the right track when it comes to treating the animals affected, Dr. Hansen said. These findings really start putting everything else we have seen into perspective.

Now that we see that crystals are formed when melamine and cyanuric acid are combined in cat urine, it may be that the cause of renal failure is somehow related to the obstruction caused by these crystals.

The study, he said, also explains why animals whose symptoms were detected early -- and rushed to their veterinarians and put on aggressive fluid therapy -- survived. This treatment may prevent additional crystals from forming and help flush out the existing crystals from the animals urinary tracts, he said. That would relieve the obstruction and reverse the effects of renal failure.

Some pet owners who contacted ConsumerAffairs.com, however, say their animals died before they could get them in for treatment.

Thats what happened to Helen K. of Los Lunas, New Mexico.

She didnt know OlRoy had recalled some of its treats and accidentally gave them to her seven-year-old Golden Retriever and her three-year-old Pit Bull.

The next day, the young Pit Bull had twitches, but on April 27, 200, my baby Sammie (the Golden Retriever) had massive seizures and passed away -- after much agony -- after 50 minutes, she told us. She had been drinking excessive amounts of watermy vet said to bring her in for more blood work. We didn't make it.

Helen says the loss is devastating to her family.

The guilt and enormous sadness has been felt by all. My 91-year-old father with dementia cannot put this out of his mind -- nor can I or our other dog or cat. It is like losing a child (almost).

The United States, she says, should stop importing products from countries like China that have poor food safety standards.

The ramifications to our pets -- and potentially to humans -- are too dangerous, she says.

It seems that if another country wants to undermine us, they will through our pets as this country has high esteem for all, Helen says. I feel that we should never import any food products from a country that has no regard for the health and well-being of all of God's creatures. It will not be long before we will not be able to eat our own meats because of contaminated feed.

More about the Pet Food Recall ...



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Ubuntu: Too Good to be True?

A Curmudgeonly Review by a Very Irritable Webmaster

The news that Dell will begin making the fast-growing Ubuntu flavor of Linux available on some of its machines should be welcomed by consumers everywhere....

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Study Confirms Dangers of Secondhand Tobacco Smoke Outdoors

Study Confirms Dangers of Secondhand Tobacco Smoke Outdoors...


Tens of thousands of Americans die each year from secondhand tobacco smoke, according to a 2006 report by the U.S. Surgeon General. While the health risks associated with indoor secondhand smoke are well documented, little research has been done on exposure to toxic tobacco fumes outdoors.

Now, Stanford University researchers have conducted the first in-depth study on how smoking affects air quality at sidewalk cafs, park benches and other outdoor locations.

Writing in the May issue of the Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association (JAWMA), the Stanford team concluded that a non-smoker sitting a few feet downwind from a smoldering cigarette is likely to be exposed to substantial levels of contaminated air for brief periods of time.

"Some folks have expressed the opinion that exposure to outdoor tobacco smoke is insignificant, because it dissipates quickly into the air," said Neil Klepeis, assistant professor (consulting) of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford and lead author of the study.

"But our findings show that a person sitting or standing next to a smoker outdoors can breathe in wisps of smoke that are many times more concentrated than normal background air pollution levels."

Klepeis pointed to the 2006 Surgeon General's report, which found that even brief exposures to secondhand smoke may have adverse effects on the heart and respiratory systems and increase the severity of asthma attacks, especially in children.

"We were surprised to discover that being within a few feet of a smoker outdoors may expose you to air pollution levels that are comparable, on average, to indoor levels that we measured in previous studies of homes and taverns," said Wayne Ott, professor (consulting) of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford and co-author of the JAWMA study.

"For example, if you're at a sidewalk caf, and you sit within 18 inches of a person who smokes two cigarettes over the course of an hour, your exposure to secondhand smoke could be the same as if you sat one hour inside a tavern with smokers. Based on our findings, a child in close proximity to adult smokers at a backyard party also could receive substantial exposure to secondhand smoke," he added.

Unlike indoor tobacco smoke, which can persist for hours, the researchers found that outdoor smoke disappears rapidly when a cigarette is extinguished.

"Our data also show that if you move about six feet away from an outdoor smoker, your exposure levels are much lower," Klepeis added.

The public has become increasingly concerned about the effects of outdoor smoking, Ott noted. More than 700 state and local governments have passed laws restricting outdoor smoking at playgrounds, building entrances and other public areas, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation.

Some of the strictest ordinances are in California. The city of Santa Monica, for example, recently banned smoking at parks, beaches, ATM machines, theater lines, open-air restaurants and other outdoor locations.

"Throughout the country, cities and counties are looking at various laws against outdoor smoking, and some of the proposals are pretty drastic," Ott said. "The problem is that until now, there have been virtually no scientific data to justify such restrictions. In fact, our paper is the first study on outdoor smoking to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal."



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New Theory on Dog and Cat Poisonings

Food Safety Agencies "Asleep," Says Congresswoman

New Theory on Dog and Cat Poisonings...

Theres a new theory that might explain why thousands of dogs and cats that have eaten pet food -- made with contaminated ingredients imported from China -- have become sick or died.

Tests conducted at the University of Guelphs Animal Health Laboratory in Ontario revealed that two chemicals found in the tainted pet foods -- melamine and cyanuric acid -- can react to form crystals that block kidney function.

"This is a piece of the puzzle, a significant finding," John Melichercik, director of analytical services for Guelph's laboratory services, told The Toronto Star. "We have found these crystals in cats that have suffered renal failure."

Analysis of those crystals revealed their chemical make-up is approximately 70 percent cyanuric acid and 30 percent melamine. The crystals are also insoluble or cant be dissolved in liquid.

Researchers were also able to replicate these crystals when they mixed melamine and cyanuric acid in samples of cat urine.

This is still just a theory, but its a pretty compelling one, Tom McPheron, spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA), told ConsumerAffairs.com. His organization participated in discussions with scientists about these findings. These crystals are very unique. Theyre something that scientist havent seen before, except perhaps once in a cat from Asia.

Theyre now talking about trying to replicate the crystals in the urine of dogs. The original tests were done on the urine of cats.

McPherson said scientists suspect two other melamine-related substances -- ammelide and ammeline -- may also play a role in the animals illnesses. Those chemicals are now under investigation.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has confirmed the presence of melamine and cyanuric acid in the imported wheat gluten and rice protein used to make the contaminated pet foods.

Melamine is a chemical used to make plastic. Cyanuric acid is used to chlorinate pools.

Neither is approved for use in pet foods.

The presences of these chemicals triggered one of the largest pet food recalls in history 18 companies have recalled more than 5,300 pet food products in the past six weeks.

Case Solved?

Does this latest study finally solve the mystery surrounding the deaths and illnesses of pets who eaten the tainted food?

Not at all, says Daniel Rice, director of the New York State Food Laboratory.

I dont think weve found the solution, Rice told ConsumerAffairs.com today. No one has shown a cause and effect. Weve found some things in the urine; weve found some things in the feed. Right now, its just a hypothesis.

I think people are fairly open-minded about the possibility that there might be something else at play.

In March, Rices New York Laboratory and Cornell Universitys College of Veterinary Medicine identified another toxin in samples of the recalled pet food: aminopterin.

At the time, scientists thought this toxin might be the culprit behind the kidney failure and deaths in pets that ate the recalled foods.

Aminopterin is used as rat poison in some countries and as a cancer drug in the United States.

The FDA and other laboratories, however, downplayed that finding and focused their attention on melamine.

We still stand by our results, Rice says of the discovery of aminopterin in the recalled food. And were still testing for that and other toxins. Its possible that what we found was relatively rare...one early piece of the puzzle.

He adds: We found aminopterin in two pet food samples, but we havent found it in any other samples.

Focusing the investigation on melamine makes scientific sense, Rice says.

Its the one common feature. It appears that melamine and other-related compounds have been there (in the recalled products) and thats why scientists are focusing on that angle. Cyanuric acid has been found in the food; melamine has been found in the food.

Rice predicts scientists will continue to find melamine in other foods.

Im sure there will be other instances of finding melamine where it shouldnt be. Weve definitely identified a problem.

Will scientists ever solve this current pet food mystery, though?

I hope that well get an answer, Rice says. But I dont see anything on the imminent horizon.

There are a lot of excellent people all over the country who are working on the problem and theyre very interested and passionate about figuring it out. People arent going to just let this drop at least not in the scientific community. Were not considering it a dead issue.

3 Million Chickens

In related news, the FDA estimates that three million chickens and 500 hogs consumed feed made from tainted pet food scraps.

And a small percentage of those animals entered the human food chain.

The FDA, however, said the risk of illness to humans from eating these animals is minimal.

Why?

Federal authorities say the percentage of melamine in the feed is extremely low and only a small percentage of tainted pet food was used in poultry and hog feed.

To protect humans from these increasing problems with contaminated food, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced legislation on Tuesday to revise and upgrade the nation's food safety system.

The FDA -- one of the federal agencies charged with safeguarding the U.S. food supply -- has come under fire in the wake of nationwide recalls and quarantines of tainted pork, spinach, peanut butter, and pet food.

"The product recalls that we have seen in the past few weeks - first with pet food and then with food intended for human consumption - have shown us that food-borne illness is a dangerous and real threat in this country," Durbin said in a statement issued by his office.

"There are gaps in the inspection, monitoring, notification and enforcement elements of our food system and we must act now to address them. We simply cannot afford to let consumers continue to be the guinea pigs in our food safety system."

Food Safety Agencies Asleep

Representative DeLauro added: "After the countless recalls, alerts, and advisories from the past year, along with the latest Centers for Disease Control (CDC) numbers showing increases in various food-borne illnesses, the evidence is clear our food safety system is collapsing and one of the main agencies charged with protecting it, is asleep.

"This needs to change immediately - it is time to transform the FDA from the toothless agency it has become to one that takes the proactive steps necessary to protect our food supply and the public health."

The CDC estimates as many as 76 million people suffer from food poisoning each year, Durbin and DeLauro said. Of that number, approximately 325,000 will be hospitalized and more than 5,000 will die.

Under Durbin and DeLauros proposed legislation, the FDA would have authority to:

Issue mandatory recalls of contaminated or dangerous food. The FDA currently does not have this power. It must rely on the industry to voluntarily pull products from store shelves;

Establish an early warning and notification system for human food and pet food products. The legislation directs the FDA to work with professional organizations, veterinarians, and others to share information about pet food contamination. In cases of both pet and human food contamination, the FDA would be required to keep up-to-date recall lists on its Web site;

Establish uniform federal standards and better labeling of pet food. The practices that govern the pet food industry today are implemented on a voluntary basis by manufacturers and state departments of agriculture. There is no requirement for states to adopt these practices and they don't have the force of federal guidelines. Inspections are not coordinated state-to-state and some states have different standards than others;

Improve the FDA's ability to regulate imported food products. The sources of the recent human and pet food contamination were wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate from China. Neither shipment was inspected by FDA; in fact, the FDA inspects less than 1.5% of imports. The FDA does not currently certify that trading partners have food safety standards equivalent to those of the United States. Under the bill, foreign food safety systems and plants would be inspected by the FDA prior to certification and the United States could revoke certifications and deny importation of food that presented a public health risk;

• Require companies to maintain records and make them accessible to the FDA. This would prevent delays that could keep contaminations from being traced as quickly as possible. In the recent peanut butter recall, an FDA report showed that inspectors were denied documents when they requested them.

More about the Pet Food Recall ...



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Menu Foods Expands Recall, Questions about Other Brands

China Arrests Executive Involved in Tainted Exports

Menu Foods Expands Recall, Questions about Other Brands...

Menu Foods of Canada has expanded its recall to include more than 200 new varieties of canned dog and cat food.

The action comes on the heels of its April recall of wet pet foods made with melamine-tainted wheat gluten--imported from China--and supplied by ChemNutra, Inc.

The products involved in this latest recall do not include that tainted wheat gluten, the company said. These products were manufactured during the same time that ChemNutras wheat gluten was used at any Menu Foods plant.

The company said it took this action to prevent any cross-contamination.

Menu Foods has received a report from a customer and has received study results, both of which indicate cross-contamination, the company said in a written statement.

The latest recall involves 99 varieties of cat food sold under 42 brand names, including Sophistacat, Presidents Choice, Natural Ultramix, and Best Choice. The dog foods involved in this recall include 121 varieties sold under 25 brands, including Stater Brothers, Schnucks, Nu Pet, and Hill Country Fare.

Menu Foods also added two varieties of pet food--for its European market--to its recall list.

The company estimates its out-of-pocket expenses for the total recall will be $45 million.

In March, Menu Foods announced a massive recall of 60 million containers of wet dog and cat food sold throughout North America. The company recalled those products after learning pets that ate the food suffered kidney problems or died.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has since confirmed the presence of two chemicals in the imported wheat gluten and rice protein used to make these and other pet foods now under recall.

Those chemicals are melamine and cyanuric acid. Melamine is a chemical used in plastics and fertilizers; cyanuric acid is used to chlorinate pools. Neither is approved for use in pet foods.

The presences of these chemicals triggered one of the largest pet food recalls in history18 companies have recalled more than 5,300 pet food products in the past six weeks.

The FDA says its received reports that 1,950 cats and 2,220 dogs have died after eating the tainted pet food. The FDA also says its received more than 17,000 consumer complaints about dogs and cats becoming sick or dying after eating contaminated pet food.

Grieving Pet Owners

ConsumerAffairs.com has also received scores of complaints about pets becoming sick or dying from the tainted food. The complaints are from worried and grieving pet owners across the country.

Theyre pet owners like Christine P. of Colonia, New Jersey.

My dog died in two weeks from massive body shut down, liver and heart failure, she wrote us. I was feeding her Alpo Prime Cuts in Gravy that was on the recall list from Purina. She was an older dog, but healthy, and was just at the vet a couple months ago for her shots and nothing major was wrong.

Christine says she immediately stopped feeding her dog the Alpo Prime Cuts when she heard about the recall.

By that time, however, her dog was too far gone.

She refused to eat anything . . . she could not walk, was fainting, coughing, throwing up, and having loose bowels. I immediately brought her to the vet and had chest x-rays, and urine and blood sample done.

Her veterinarian recommended she immediately see a specialist. But before I could get her an appointment she died in my arms--gasping for air.

Emotionally I am a wreck. I had her for so long. She was my buddy and I cant get over it. . . I am in tears and mentally at a loss. No money can ever bring back my best friend.

Christine says tighter regulations are needed to protect the safety of human and pet food.

This should not be allowed to happen.

Nutro Max

Angelique H. of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, agrees.

Her dog--a Chow-mix she rescued off the streets--died after eating a brand of food that isnt on the recall list: Nutro Max dry dog food.

Makito

Makito was only four-years-old and died Monday, April 30, within four days of me buying a new bag of Nutro Max dry dog food, Angelique told us today. This (new bag) was the only major change in his diet and he was never out of my sight. He was fine on Sunday until 2 a.m. when he started vomiting, became lethargic, and had bloody diarrhea. By the time I took him to the hospital the next day he was in shock. His system shut down and he died around 4:30 p.m.

This needs to be stopped, she adds. The company refuses to acknowledge there is a problem, but if you search the Internet you will find many, many people saying the same thing happened to them. This food needs to be recalled now. No one should have to go through what I went through.

ConsumerAffairs.com has received a handful of similar complaints about pets becoming ill after eating Nutro Max dry food.

We left a message for the company this morning, but no one with Nutro had returned our call by late afternoon.

The companys Web site, however, states: No Nutro dry foods, biscuits, or treats are affected (in the recall).

Angelique is furious the company hasnt recalled its dry dog foodor listened to its customers.

What appalls me is that Menu Foods and Nutro have had, Im sure, many complaints like mine and theyre not doing anything. Its all a matter of dollars.

She adds: You trust that their food is going to be alright and then you find out that its not. This has been very tragic for me.

Pet owner Sondra K. understands that griefand frustration.

Her cat became sick after eating another brand of pet food thats not on the recall list.

My cat has been eating IAMS Dry Original cat food and has become ill with kidney problems, the Dallas, Texas, pet owner says. IAMS said they are not responsible (because) that dry food has not been recalled.

Sondra switched to another brandRoyal Canin. But a short time later, the company recalled that food, too.

The cat has been extremely ill and is starting to show symptoms again. He has to be checked every two weeks.

Sondra blames the pet food manufacturers and China for her cats illnessand the emotional and financial toll its had on her family.

The cat almost died and suffered tremendously after this gross act of negligence by the pet food manufacturers and the country of China.

In related news, Chinese authorities detained the general manager of one of the companies accused of selling contaminated wheat gluten to pet food suppliers in the United States, according to The New York Times.

A Chinese police spokesman told The Times that Mao Lijun, head of the Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Company, is being held in coastal Jiangsu Province, about 320 miles northwest of Shanghai.

The FDA has identified Xuzhou Anying and another Chinese company in nearby Shandong Province as the only sources of the contaminated ingredients that led to the massive pet food recall.

The Chinese government, however, said Xuzhou Anying purchased its wheat gluten from 25 different manufacturers--and the company may just be a supplier. Xuzhou Anying has said it did not manufacture the tainted wheat gluten shipped to the United States. The company said it received the tainted ingredient from other, unnamed sources.

The Chinese government also said Xuzhou Anying did not declare the contaminated wheat gluten it shipped to the United States as a raw material for feed or food. Instead, it listed the ingredient as a non-food product, which meant it was not subject to mandatory inspection by China.

Mr. Maos arrest may be a sign that China is stepping up its own investigation into the pet food scandal and show its willingness to cooperate with FDA officials, who arrived in that country on Monday.

U.S. food inspectors are in China to examine the plants that manufactured the melamine-tainted wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate.

The Chinese government had initially denied allegations that its exports could have caused the deaths in so many pets. The government now says its unlikely that melamine could cause such harm to these dogs and cats. China also banned the use of melamine in the vegetable proteins it exports or those used in domestic food.

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Property Deed Scheme Spreading

The deed is a public record and is available at most county courthouses for fees as low as $2. National Deed Service concedes as much on its Web site....


All over the U.S., consumers opening their mail this year have read official looking solicitations from a Washington, D.C., company stressing the importance of possessing a certified copy of their property deed.

Law enforcement officials say the mailing is part of a clever scheme that, while technically legal, seeks to exploit vulnerable consumers.

The solicitation, from the National Deed Service, offers to provide the homeowner a certified copy of their property deed for just $59.50.

The deed, of course, is a public record and is available at most county courthouses for fees as low as $2. National Deed Service concedes as much on its Web site.

Many government records are available free or at a nominal cost from government agencies, the company states.

The company says its clients are willing to pay $59.50 for a public document to avoid the hassle of a trip to the courthouse.

It is not an easy process to obtain public records from a governmental agency. It often requires people to travel to the recorders office, lose time from work and pay, locate the proper office, deal with the people at the office, and locate their document and wait for the document to be produced. Sometimes, the process will take two trips, and in some cities the cost of parking alone could be $20 plus each day. This is not an easy process. When considering all of the above, the service provided by National Deed Service, Inc. is a cost and time effective service, the companys Web site says.

Not true, says the people who issue those documents.

The National Deed solicitation was a big topic of discussion recently at the Recorders Association of Missouri, whose members returned home to warn local residents to be on the look out for the pitch.

In most cases, the homeowner already has a copy of the deed, provided to them at settlement when they purchased their property. Whatever they might receive from the National Deed Service is completely unnecessary, officials say.

The threat to consumers could be greater than the $59.50 fee charged for the superfluous deed. Solicitations received by some consumers in Missouri recently asked for consumers name, address and credit card information.

More Scam Alerts ...

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Temporary Reprieve for Internet Radio

Royalty hikes delayed, giving opponents more time to marshall their arguments

Temporary Reprieve for Internet Radio...

Supporters of Internet radio have briefly stalled new royalty rate increases that threatened to sink many stations, thanks to a large public and media outcry.

The U.S. Copyright Royalty Board (CRB), which shepherded through the rate increase, agreed to extend the deadline for the new rates to take effect, from May 15 to July 15, giving time for opponents of the ruling to marshal arguments and file appeals in court.

The CRB announced the extension in the Federal Register, stating that the first payments under the new law would be due 45 days after the end of the month in which the final rule determination was published.

The SaveNetRadio coalition hailed the extension as an opportunity to gain more media attention for their story and push for legislation in Congress to prevent the royalty increase from taking effect.

"SaveNetRadio will spend the next 45 days educating Members of Congress and their staffs about the incredible diversity of programming Internet radio offers us all," the group said in a statement.

"We will set the ticking clock back 60 days and continue our fight to free Internet radio from these devastating fee increases."

At the same time, new legislation proposed by Congressman Jay Inslee (D-WA) would overturn the CRB's royalty decision, returning Webcasters to the previous model of paying a percentage from the profits of the station, rather than a flat fee per song play as the CRB mandated.

You cant put an economic chokehold on this emerging force of democracy, Inslee said in a statement announcing the legislation. "There has to be a business model that allows creative webcasters to thrive and the existing rule removes all the oxygen from this space.

The Internet has provided us with amazing opportunities to enjoy music, and this unfair action by the CRB threatens to take it all away, added Inslee's co-sponsor Don Manzullo (R-IL). Our legislation overturns the huge rate increases and sets up a system that is fair to webcasters, web users and the artists whose music we all enjoy. And most importantly, it will keep music playing on the Internet.

The CRB's new rules were crafted by SoundExchange, the royalty collections division of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Critics have charged that SoundExchange's rules would force all but the richest radio broadcasters out of business, as the potential royalty payments would outstrip revenue that could be brought in from advertising.

Net radio broadcasters and supporters tried to persuade the CRB to review its ruling, but the CRB stuck by its decision.

The flat fee that Webcasters would pay even affected broadcasters such as National Public Radio (NPR), which offers regular Webcasts and streams of its programming over its Web site. NPR tried to stop the ruling in Washington, D.C.'s District Court.

Pandora's Boxed

Online radio service Pandora, which lets listeners create playlists and offers recommendations of other music they might like, has been both a major leader and the hardest-hit by the new royalty decision. Pandora founder Tim Westergren held a special "town hall" meeting for the SaveNetRadio coalition and its supporters in Washington on April 30.

"The outpouring of public support for internet radio over the past seven days has been nothing short of extraordinary," Westergren said.

"[E]very congressional office was flooded with constituent phone calls, emails and faxes.The entire fax system on the Hill was brought to a standstill. We had to hand deliver the faxes!"

But the music industry and its lobby doesn't take defiance lying down. Pandora announced on May 2 that it was blocking access to its service to listeners outside the United States, under pressure from record labels to comply with the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).

While the DMCA provides license for royalty payments from music streams in the United States, no such overarching law exists in other countries, and record labels were pressuring Pandora to negotiate with them directly or prevent them from broadcasting globally.

Technology blog TechCrunch obtained a copy of the letter sent to a Pandora listener in Austria explaining why the service was blocked.

"Other than the U.K., we have not yet been able to make significant progress in our efforts to obtain a sufficient number of international licenses at terms that would enable us to run a viable business," the letter read. "Streaming costs are very high, and since our inception, we have been making publishing and performance royalty payments for every song we play."

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Dell Breaks Microsoft Stranglehold On PCs

Coming Soon: Linux-Based Ubuntu

Dell Breaks Microsoft Stranglehold On PCs...


Thats one small step for Linux, but perhaps a giant leap for consumers who would like something besides Microsofts Windows operating system on their PC.

Dell Computer has announced that Linux-based Ubuntu will come pre-installed on some Dell PCs in the coming weeks.

Smaller PC dealers have long featured Ubuntu and other Linux-based software. One of the best-known is Linux Certified, which also offers training classes and support.

Ubuntu is a community-developed, Linux-based operating system that is designed for laptops, desktops and servers. It includes a web browser, presentation, document and spreadsheet software, instant messaging and other software.

"Many people are scared away from Linux because they think it's complicated," said one longtime computer user. "It's a lot simpler than anything Microsoft ever made. With Ubuntu, you literally just plug it in and turn it on."

It is supported by Canonical, Ltd, a South African software company.

In its new partnership with Canonical, Dell will offer Ubuntu 7.04 on select desktop and notebook products.

"We believe that Dells decision is a strong endorsement of Ubuntu and to the work of many in coding, translating and promoting open source software, said Jane Silber, Canonicals Director of Operations. It is also testament to the demand that exists for Ubuntu.

Dell said the decision to offer a Linux-based operating system originated with consumers.

In February when Dell launched a forum called IdeaStorm for customers to contribute ideas for product offerings, the company said it was inundated with requests for Linux on desktops and notebooks.

Canonical says Ubuntu will always be free of charge, including enterprise releases and security updates.

Ubuntu CDs contain only free software applications; we encourage you to use free and open source software, improve it and pass it on, the company said in a statement on its Web site.

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Melamine Shows Up In Chicken Feed

Feds Issue Expanded Import Alert; FDA Names Food Safety Czar

Melamine Shows Up In Chicken Feed...

Add chickens to the growing list of animals who have eaten feed contaminated with melamine -- one of the two chemicals at the center of the massive pet food recall and linked to the deaths and illnesses of scores of dogs and cats across the country.

The Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed chickens on 38 poultry farms in Indiana received feed made with melamine-tainted pet food scraps.

The federal agencies said these unidentified poultry farms received the contaminated feed in early February and gave it to the chickens within days after delivery.

Thirty of those chickens which came from a broiler farm have since been "processed" -- butchered and sold as food, in other words. The remaining eight chickens from a breeder poultry farm are under what the FDA calls a voluntary hold by the owner.

The agencies have not issued a recall of these chickens and say the likelihood of illness from eating them is low.

Just last week, federal authorities quarantined 6,000 hogs in eight states that were given melamine-tainted feed. The Associated Press reported meat from 345 hogs that ate tainted feed apparently entered the market.

This latest discovery about the chickens surfaced during a federal investigation of imported rice protein and wheat gluten, which the FDA has confirmed is tainted with melamine and a second chemical called cyanuric acid.

The FDA says cyanuric acid is used as stabilizer in outdoor swimming pools and hot tubs. Melamine is used in plastics and fertilizer.

"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 presence of these tainted ingredients has triggered one of the largest pet food recalls in history. In the past six weeks, 18 companies have recalled more than 5,300 pet food products because they were made with melamine-tainted ingredients imported from China.

Expanded Alert

In related news, the FDA has issued an expanded import alert that allows inspectors to detain vegetable protein products imported from China and believed to be tainted with melamine.

Under this new action, inspectors can detain several products, including wheat gluten, rice gluten, rice protein, corn gluten, soy protein, and Mung Bean.

In recent weeks, there has been an outbreak of cat and dog deaths and illness associated with pet food manufactured with vegetable proteins contaminated with melamine and melamine related compounds, the FDA wrote in its alert. In response to this outbreak, FDA has been conducting an aggressive and intensive investigation ... This has been one of the largest pet food recalls food recalls in history, a recall that continues to expand.

New Figures

Buried in the text of this alert, the FDA also released -- for the first time -- figures associated with this massive recall.

And those figures confirm the crisis is more widespread than the FDA earlier reported.

Consider:

• The FDA says its received more than 17,000 consumer complaints about dogs and cats becoming sick or dying after eating contaminated pet food;

• Its received reports of approximately 1,950 cat deaths and approximately 2,200 dog deaths linked to contaminated pet food;

• Its tested approximately 750 samples of imported wheat gluten and products made with this ingredient. Of those samples, 330 tested positive for melamine and/or melamine-related compounds;

• Its tested approximately 85 samples of rice protein concentrate and products made with that ingredient. Of those samples, 27 tested positive for melamine and/or melamine-related compounds.

The FDA says its still trying to determine how melamine and melamine-related compounds contributed to the pet deaths and illnesses and determine the underlying cause of the contamination.

New Questions

The alert also disclosed information about the FDAs investigation into the pet food recall, which appears to raise as many questions as it answers:

• The melamine-tainted vegetable proteins came from two Chinese firms -- Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd. and Binzhou Futian Biology Technology Co. Ltd. There is strong evidence, however, that these firms are not the actual manufacturers (of these ingredients), the FDA says in its report. Moreover, despite many weeks of investigation, it is still unknown who the actual manufacturer or manufacturers of the contaminated products imported from China are.

• All the contaminated wheat gluten has been traced to Xuzhou Anying. The Chinese government, however, says that company purchased its wheat gluten from 25 different manufacturers -- and Xuzhou Anying may just be a supplier. Xuzhou Anying has said it did not manufacturer the tainted wheat gluten shipped to the United States. The company says it received the tainted ingredient from other, unnamed sources;

• The Chinese government said Xuzhou Anying did not declare the contaminated wheat gluten it shipped to the United States as a raw material for feed or food. Instead, it listed the ingredient as a non-food product, which meant it was not subject to mandatory inspection by China;

• FDA officials dont know how widespread the problem of tainted vegetable proteins is in China. The FDA said it does not know which regions of the country may or may not be impacted by the problem, which firms are the major manufacturers and exporters of vegetable proteins to the United States, where these vegetable proteins are grown in China, and what controls are currently in place to prevent against contamination.

The FDA says it has not found melamine in food imported from China for human consumption, but it is now sampling those products as a precaution.

FDA Creates New Position

To respond to increasing problems with U.S. food safety, the FDA today announced the creation of a new position -- Assistant Commissioner for Food Protection.

The FDA appointed Dr. David Acheson to the post.

Acheson is the chief medical officer and director of the Office of Food Defense, Communication and Emergency Response at the FDAs Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

In his new role, Acheson will work with FDA product centers and the Office of Regulatory Affairs to coordinate the agencys food safety and defense assignments.

He will also serve as the liaison to the Department of Health and Human Services and other U.S. departments and agencies on food safety and food defense related initiatives.

We've seen a rapid transformation of the food safety system due to advances in production technology, rapid methods of distribution, and the globalization of food sources, said FDA Commissioner, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach.

Dr. Acheson's wealth of experience, and knowledge of the science behind food protection, will help the agency keep pace with this transformation in order to ensure that the safety and nutritional value of our food supply is second to none."

More about the Pet Food Recall ...

 



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Spiked Pet Food Nothing New to Chinese,TimesFinds

Latest Recalls: Harmony Farms, Natural Balance

Spiked Pet Food Nothing New to Chinese, <em>Times</em> Finds...


Entrepreneurs in China have -- for years -- secretly added the chemical at the heart of the nationwide pet food recall into animal feed in that country.

Its been done to artificially inflate the protein levels in the feed. Thats the startling discovery made by reporters for The New York Times.

The Times reported that powdery scraps of melamine -- a chemical used to make plastics and fertilizers -- were secretly mixed into animal feed in China.

The melamine powder has been dubbed fake protein and is used to deceive those who raise animals into thinking they are buying feed that provides higher nutritional value, The Times reported.

The newspaper also said the practice is widespread in China, which has little regulatory supervision.

Now the question is: Did the Chinese companies that supplied the wheat gluten and rice protein used in pet foods in America follow this same practice?

Did those companies intentionally spike these ingredients with melamine to dupe U.S. importers that the products had higher protein contents?

U.S. food inspectors heading to China this week will try to answer those questions when they examine the facilities that manufactured these tainted ingredients, which are linked to the illnesses and deaths of scores of pets in the Unites States, Puerto Rico, and South Africa.

The president of Menu Foods -- the first of several companies to recall pet foods -- is convinced thats what happened.

What this appears to be is a case of deliberate contamination of wheat gluten in order to pass off substandard products, the companys Paul Henderson told a U.S. House committee last week. Menu Foods recalled 60 million containers of pet in March after learning dogs and cats suffered kidney problems or died after eating the foods.

For a seller who knows how industry testing methods work, this would allow them to cheat the buyers, Henderson said.

The Chinese government disputes reports that melamine-tainted products from its country caused pets to die. But on Friday, that country banned the use of melamine in wheat gluten, rice protein, and other vegetable proteins exported from China or used in domestic food supplies.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says the California company that imported tainted rice gluten from China has done business with that overseas supplier since August 2006. Wilber-Ellis, however, says it did not learn the products were tainted until this month.

Swimming Pool Chemical

FDA officials confirmed the rice protein is contaminated with melamine and a second chemical cyanuric acid.

That second contaminant -- detected in the rice protein and wheat gluten in some pet foods -- is used to boost the protein content of foods, FDA officials said. Its 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.

Meanwhile, the FDA is tracing all the pet food and animal feed made with the rice protein Wilbur-Ellis has imported since August 2006.

More Recalls

As the investigation continues, so do the recalls. Two more pet food companies have recalled their products because they may contain adulterated rice protein imported from China.

And that tainted ingredient, the companies say, was added without their consent.

Sierra Pet Products recalled its Harmony Farms canned dog and cat foods and Health Bar biscuits.

The manufacturer of all Harmony Farms cans and biscuits informed (us) that they had been adding rice protein concentrate to Harmony Farms canned dog and cat foods without (our) approval, Sierra Pet Products said on its Web site.

The company added: It appears that American Nutrition, Inc. (ANI) had been adding the unauthorized rice protein concentrate to Harmony Farms products for some time and only told (us) when the FDA was about to conclude that some of ANIs rice protein concentrate (supplied by Wilber-Ellis) was contaminated with melamine.

Sierra Pet Products said it has stopped doing business with ANI. The company also said none of its products have tested positive for melamine and it has not received any reports of illnesses linked to its foods.

We intend to re-introduce our canned products and dog biscuits as soon as we can obtain a manufacturing partner who shares our values of honesty and integrity, the company said.

Natural Balance Pet Foods also recalled more of its food after learning ANI added potentially-tainted rice protein to four of its canned productswithout the companys knowledge or consent.

Those recalled products are:
• Chicken Formula Canned Dog Food 13 oz;
• Lamb Formula Canned Dog Food 13 oz;
• Beef Formula Canned Dog Food 13 oz;
• Ocean Fish Formula Canned Cat Food 3 oz & 6 oz

Natural Balance says there are no reports of illnesses linked to these foods.

To make sure that this does not happen in the future, we are demanding from each of our co-manufacturers daily production record of all of our formulas before they are shipped to us and written certification of NO rice protein or any deviation of our formulas, the company wrote on its Web site.

We have reviewed all of our other products and determined that they are free of rice protein concentrate and that all of our other product labels are accurate.

Service Dog

Spencer

News of any Natural Balance recall strikes a frightening chord with Laura F. of Lakeport, California.

Her survival, she says, depends on the health and safety of her dog, Spencer.

The seven-year-old Standard Poodle is a specially-trained service dog, who helped her learn how to walk after a debilitating back injury.

He goes everywhere with me, the Lakeport, California, woman says. He picks up things for me and helps me with my stabilityhe gives me an extra four legs.

Thats why she panicked when Spencer became sick earlier this month after eating a new bag of Natural Balance Venison and Brown Rice dog food.

He started throwing up and continued to throw up for two days in a row, Laura says. He just had a hard time keeping food down.

Her fears increased when she learned Natural Balance had recalled its Venison and Brown Rice formula for dogs because it was made with potentially contaminated rice gluten.

I was very, very frightened. If I didnt have a service dog, I dont know what Id do. Spencer is so important to me.

Laura immediately took the 60-pound service dog to her veterinarians office.

They ran some blood tests on him and hes fine, she says. But how do I test for melamine in my dogs body? Does it show up in three days, a monthI still dont know.

Spencer, who is also a trained therapy dog, is now eating another brand of Natural Balance one thats not on the recall list.

And thats working out OK. He hasnt thrown up since.

Of the entire pet food recall, Laura says: I think its awful and its very frightening for people. Why dont the manufacturers know whats going into their foods and why isnt the food being tested as well as it should be?

Something positive, however, may come from this crisis, Laura says.

In the long run, I think more testing will be involved and there will be more scrutiny by pet food companies about what they put into their foods.

She adds: I just hope this will all be over soon.



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