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    Pet Food Safety Summit Set for July

    Safety of Chinese Imports Questioned in Congress

    By Lisa Wade McCormick

    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 ...

    Pet Food Safety Summit Set for July...
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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?

    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.

    Suit Charges Honda Conceals Fire Risk in CR-V, Element Models...
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      Consumer ReportsWeighs In On the New Diets

      Volumetrics Diet the Editors' Top Pick

      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.

      Consumer Reports Weighs In On the New Diets...
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      Cutting Calories, Not Exercise, Best Way to Lose Weight

      Study Finds Calorie-Cutting is Best Long-Term Solution

      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.

      Cutting Calories, Not Exercise, Best Way to Lose Weight...
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      Royal Canin Recalls 15 Pet Foods

      Company Used Contminated Rice Protein

      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 ...

      Royal Canin Recalls 15 Pet Foods...
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      Chinese Companies Blamed for Pet Poisonings Closed Down

      U.S. Inspectors Find the Plants Deserted; One Executive Detained

      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 ...

      Chinese Companies Blamed for Pet Poisonings Closed Down...
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      BlueHippo Funding Settles $1 Million Case

      Company Will Refund Consumers' Money, Pay Penalties

      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.

      Please make sure your flash player is up to date. Click here to update.

      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.

      BlueHippo Funding Settles $1 Million Case...
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      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.

      Evenflo Infant Seats Recalled...
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      Wisconsin Questions Wal-Mart's "Organic" Claims

      Inspectors Find Regular Products Mixed in with Organics

      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.

      Wisconsin Questions Wal-Mart's...
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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 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 ...

      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...
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      Fish Were Fed Contaminated Feed; Recalls Expanded

      Melamine Was Actually in Wheat Flour, Not Gluten

      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.

      More about the Pet Food Recall ...

      Fish Were Fed Contaminated Feed; Recalls Expanded...
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      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.

      REAL ID Revolt Spreads to 33 States...
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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, 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.

      More Scam Alerts ...

      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. ...
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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 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.

      Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has taken legal action against Texas-based EZCORP Inc., and its subsidiary, EZPAWN, for systematically exposing its cust...
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      Feds Shut Down "Asset Protection" Scam

      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.

      More Scam Alerts ...

      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 ...
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      Little Risk to Humans from Tainted Animal Feed, Feds Assert

      Quarantined Chickens & Pigs Said Safe to Eat

      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;

      More about the Pet Food Recall ...

      Little Risk to Humans from Tainted Animal Feed, Feds Assert...
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      Blood Pressure Drugs May Provide Alzheimers Protection

      ACE inhibitors reduce inflammation, study finds

      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.

      Blood Pressure Drugs May Provide Alzheimers Protection...
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