Current Events in June 2007

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    Toothpaste Scare Spreads to Hospitals, Prisons

    Recall List Expanded as Investigators Trace Contaminated Tubes

    The toothpaste scare that has led many countries to restrict any toothpaste imports from China may be more prevalent in the U.S. than originally thought.

    The New York Times reported this morning that about 900,000 tubes containing the potentially dangerous chemical, diethylene glycol, an ingredient found in antifreeze, were distributed to hospitals and detention centers in southern states.

    Initial reports from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and revealed that the tainted tubes were mostly found in discount stores.

    Officials in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina reported that mental health hospitals, prisons, juvenile detention centers and some hospitals serving the general public had received the Chinese toothpaste.

    Officials in those states said all tubes have been replaced with toothpaste made outside of China.

    Diethylene glycol is used as a cheaper alternative to the thickening agent, glycerin.

    A Georgia official told the Times that in 2002 the state paid about 9 cents a tube for the tainted toothpaste.

    The FDA said there are no reported deaths or illnesses from the Chinese-made toothpaste.

    The FDA is telling consumers to either return any tainted tubes for a refund or throw it away.

    This stuff does not belong in toothpaste, period, a spokesman for the agency, Doug Arbesfeld, said. No Chinese toothpaste has come into the country since the end of May.

    Recalled Brands

    Manufacturer: Goldcredit International Enterprises LTD Products:

    • Dr. Cool Coolmint
    • Superdent Coolmint
    • Cooldent Coolmint
    • Cooldent Spearmint
    • Cooldent Fluoride
    • Everfresh Assortment
    • BrightMax
    • DentaPro
    • Dentakleen
    • Dentakleen Junior Brand - Strawberry
    • Dentakleen Junior Brand - Blueberry

    Manufacturer: Gold Credit International Trading Co LTD Products:

    • Bright Max Peppermint Flavor
    • Clean Rite Toothpaste
    • Clean Rite Toothpaste Kit
    • Oralmax Extreme Action Kit
    • Oral Bright Fresh Spearmint Flavor
    • DentaKleen
    • DentaKleen Junior
    • DentaPro

    Manufacturer: Suzhou City Jinmao Daily Chemicals Co. Ltd.:

    • ShiR Fresh Mint Fluoride Paste
    • ShiRFresh Toothpaste
    • ShiRFresh Mint
    • ShiRFresh Ice Mint

    Manufacturer: Shanghai Light Industrial Products:

    • Freshh Spearmint

    Manufacturer: Unknown:

    • Crescent Toothpaste
    • Naturabella nino Dusanzo
    • Manufacturer:Suzhou Qing Xin Daily Chemical Co., Ltd.:
    • Pacific Fluoride Toothpaste
    • Pacific Fluoride Gel Toothpaste

    Manufacturer: Guangdong Wellknown Ceramics Co., Ltd.:

    • Tian Qi Toothpaste first discovered tubes of toothpaste being sold in the U.S. days before the FDA closed the nation's borders to Chinese toothpaste importers.

    Our investigation uncovered 17 tubes of illegal toothpaste being sold at D.C.-area discount stores.

    Toothpaste Scare Spreads to Hospitals, Prisons...

    Lasko Ceramic Heaters Recalled

    June 28, 2007
    About 1.2 million Lasko ceramic heaters are being recalled. The heaters cord can overheat where it enters the base of the unit, which could pose a fire hazard to consumers.

    Lasko has received 28 reports of failed power cords, including six reports of minor property damage. No injuries have been reported.

    This recall involves Lasko ceramic heaters manufactured in 2005. Model numbers included in the recall are: 5132, 5345, 5362, 5364, 5420, 5532, 5534 and 5566. Model numbers are located on the bottom of the unit or at the rear of the base of the heaters.

    The heaters were sold at Major retailers, home centers and discount department stores nationwide from September 2005 through April 2006 for between $20 and $50.

    They were manufactured in China.

    Consumers should immediately stop using the heaters and contact Lasko to receive a free replacement heater.

    Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact Lasko at (800) 984-3311 anytime, or visit the firms Web site at

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

    Lasko Ceramic Heaters Recalled...

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      Target Recalls Toy Barbeque Grills

      June 28, 2007
      Target is recalling about 2,300 Play Wonder toy barbeque grills. The circular ash tray attached to the stainless steel legs of the grill could contain sharp edges, posing a laceration hazard.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves the Play Wonder Barbeque Grill. The grill is metal and has an orange metal base and top, along with stainless steel legs and a removable circular ash tray. The grill set also includes tongs and a spatula. The Play Wonder logo is located on the lower right corner of the packaging.

      The grills were sold at Target Stores nationwide from December 2006 to February 2007 for about $20.

      The grills were manufactured in China.

      Consumers should immediately take the toy grills away from children and return them to Target for a full refund.

      Consumer Contact: For more information, consumers can contact Target at (800) 440-0680 between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. CT Monday through Friday, or log on to the firms Web site

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

      Target Recalls Toy Barbeque Grills...

      Supreme Court Okays Price Fixing

      High Court Says Manufacturers Can Set Retail Prices

      The suggested retail price is no longer a suggestion. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that manufacturers are within their rights to set prices for consumers, and to forbid discounting if they choose.

      A divided court voted 5-4 to overturn a 96-year-old law against retail price fixing.

      This is a court decision that consumers could quickly feel in the pocketbook. Under the old law, price competition could be fierce, resulting in loss leaders and door buster specials that stores used to draw customers. In the process, smart shoppers could sometimes find money-saving bargains.

      Now, if Sony decides its newest HDTV wide screen model will sell for $2,200, there's no point in running between Best Buy, Wal-Mart and the electronics boutique in the mall. You'll pay the same price at all three places.

      The old law stemmed from a 1911 anti-trust case, in which a maker of patented medicines successfully argued that price-fixing arrangements between manufacturers and retailer were illegal.

      Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy concluded the rule was out of date and out of step in the global economy.

      Resale price maintenance can increase inter-brand competition by encouraging retailer services, Kennedy wrote.

      The justices rejected arguments that competition would suffer as a result of overturning the law. Manufacturers will still compete with one another on price, the court said.

      Thursday's ruling stemmed from a case involving a California handbag maker. The owner had insisted that retailers sell his products at a set price and not offer discounts.

      The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that manufacturers are within their rights to set prices for consumers, and to forbid discounting if they choose....

      FDA Should Reconsider Aspartame Cancer Risk, Say Experts

      A new long-term animal test from an Italian cancer institute raises new safety questions about the artificial sweetener aspartame, which is marketed generically as well as under the NutraSweet and Equal brand names.

      A dozen toxicology and epidemiology experts and the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest are calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to review the study, which found increases in lymphomas, leukemias, and breast cancers in rats.

      If FDA concludes that aspartame does cause cancer in animals, the agency is required by law to revoke its approval for the controversial sweetener, which is used in Diet Pepsi, Diet Coke, tabletop packets, and countless other foods.

      The new study, conducted by the Ramazzini Foundation and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found statistically significant increases in lymphomas and leukemias in rats that were fed as little as 20 milligrams of the sweetener per kilogram of body weight -- an amount thats in the ballpark of what some people consume.

      The new study is superior to a similar one released in 2005 in that it began exposing the rats to aspartame before their birth.

      Because aspartame is so widely consumed, it is urgent that the FDA evaluate whether aspartame still poses a reasonable certainty of no harm, the standard used for gauging the safety of food additives, said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. But consumers, particularly parents, shouldnt wait for the FDA to act. People shouldnt panic, but they should stop buying beverages and foods containing aspartame.

      The Acceptable Daily Intake of aspartame in the United States is 50 mg per kg of body weight. The new study looked at doses less than that (20 mg per kg) and greater (100 mg per kg).

      Though few people would consume aspartame at the higher dose, the lower does is equivalent to a 50-pound child drinking 2 cans of a diet soft drink per day, or a 150-pound adult drinking about 7 cans per day.

      But aspartame also enters the diet through sugar-free or reduced-sugar gums, candies, yogurts, and hundreds of other products. Many aspartame-containing products are likely to be consumed by kids, including sugar-free Kool-Aid, Jell-O gelatin dessert and pudding mixes, and some Popsicles.

      A 2006 National Cancer Institute study seemed to ease cancer fears related to aspartame, but that study had major limitations, including its reliance on imprecise food-frequency questionnaires, and it included only subjects between the ages of 50 and 69 who first consumed aspartame as adults.

      The effects of consuming aspartame from infancy or childhood might be very different, says CSPI, as suggested by the new animal study.

      Among those who called on FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach to review the new aspartame study are former Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials John Froines (now at UCLA) and Peter F. Infante (now at George Washington University); James Huff, current Associate Director for Chemical Carcinogenesis at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS); and Kamal M. Abdo, a toxicologist formerly at the National Toxicology Program of the NIEHS.

      As a result of the new study, for the first time CSPI downgraded aspartame on its online Chemical Cuisine directory from a use caution rating to everyone should avoid.

      CSPI also urges everyone to avoid the artificial sweeteners acesulfame potassium and saccharin. It rates sucralose, also known by the brand name Splenda, as safe.

      CSPI also called on the food industry to voluntarily switch to other sugar substitutes.

      Switching to safer ingredients now could be a wise precautionary action, Jacobson wrote to Cal Dooley, president of the Food Products Association/Grocery Manufactures Association.

      FDA Should Reconsider Aspartame Cancer Risk, Say Experts...

      Inside The Mind Of A Spam Scammer

      How could anyone fall for this stuff? Read on ...

      On the surface, many email scams seem so obvious you wonder how anyone could fall for them. But in fact, millions do.

      A new study by McAfee, a computer security firm, says victims arent stupid or careless they simply fall for the criminals ever more sophisticated mind games.

      Scam spam works best by providing recipients with a sense of familiarity and legitimacy, either by creating the illusion that the email is from a friend or colleague, or providing plausible warnings from a respected institution, said Dr. James Blascovich, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the studys principal author.

      The study, Mind Games, focuses mostly on the use of phishing emails. These messages on the surface may look like they are from reputable and well-known companies such as eBay, Bank of America or Paypal.

      Once the victim opens the email, criminals use two basic motivational processes, approach and avoidance, or a combination of the two, to persuade victims to click on dangerous links, provide personal information, or download risky files. By scamming $20 from just half of one percent of the U.S. population, cyber criminals can earn $15 million each day and nearly $5.5 billion in a year, a powerful attraction for skillful scam artists, Blasovich said.

      Once scammers lure victims into opening the message and clicking on a link that takes them to a fraudulent site, they employ fear and familiarity to pry sensitive information from them.

      The scammer often tells the victim the security of their account has been breached. Victims are led to believe that failure to click on the links will result in extra charges or cancellation of important accounts.

      While these emails are not exactly a new threat, the study says they are more sophisticated and harder to spot. Fraudulent emails used to contain misspellings, grammatical errors and poor quality graphics. These days the bogus sites more nearly mimic pages from legitimate websites.

      Spam scammers also employ the emotion of greed. In fact, thats the primary force behind those stock touting emails that have been flooding inboxes in the last year or so.

      The emails often promise hot stock tips, highlighting a small company whose stock sells for a few pennies a share. What the victim doesnt know is the scammer has purchased thousands for shares. If enough people buy the stock, it goes up. An increase of just a few pennies is enough to net the scammer a tidy profit.

      Whats the harm, you ask? Because as soon as the scammer dumps his stock, the price plunges again, leaving the recent investors holding the bag.

      More Scam Alerts ...

      Inside The Mind Of A Spam Scammer: On the surface, many email scams seem so obvious you wonder how anyone could fall for them. But in fact, millions do....

      Summer Car Sales Start to Sizzle

      July 4th a big car-shopping day

      July 4th is traditionally a big car-shopping day, and automakers are hoping this year will be no exception. Incentives and rebates will be thick as gnats on car lots this summer, as automakers try to reduce their inventory.

      Two of the biggest deals identifed by Consumer Reports magazine offer potential savings of up to 30 percent off the sticker price of a Jeep Liberty Sport 4WD, and up to 29 percent off a fun-to-drive Ford Focus ZX4 SES sedan.

      General Motors will offer zero-percent financing for three years with an additional $1,000 cash-back on select vehicles as it tries to boost sales at the end of the month.

      But the offer is only good for buyers GM considers to be qualified.

      The discount program will be available on select Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac and GMC vehicles and runs from June 26 through July 9.

      The vehicles include 2006 and 2007 models of the Chevrolet HHR, Tahoe and Silverado, the Buick Lacrosse and Lucerne, the Pontiac G5 and G6, and the GMC Envoy, Yukon and Denali.

      Ford Motor Co. is expected to announce a new incentive program this week as well.

      Both GM and Ford have held incentive spending largely flat this year as part of an attempt to move away from the kind of sales and volatile monthly tallies that dogged results for the Detroit automakers for the last several years.

      U.S. automakers typically offer big consumer incentives in the summer months just as they are working down inventory levels in anticipation of a new year of model launches beginning in the fall.

      Detroit's automakers have been struggling to hold their retail market share amid near record-high gasoline prices, a weak housing market and fierce competition from Japanese rivals led by Toyota Motor Corp. -

      Toyota, meanwhile, has announced a rebate of up to $3,500 on the new Tundra pickup truck.

      Not all the savings are obvious to consumers. For example, Acura is offering a $3,500 incentive to dealers on the 2007 Acura RL with Navigation. Because dealer incentives are not typically communicated to consumers, this luxury sedan has more negotiation room than it may appear.

      The Consumer Reports Bottom Line Price factors such hidden dealer incentives and holdbacks, in addition to rebates and invoice price, to identify a good starting point for your negotiations. Right now on the RL, the Bottom Line Price shows a total potential savings of up to $9,188.

      CR experts warn, however, that a great price isn't necessarily a good deal if the vehicle doesn't measure up.

      That is why each vehicle on the Consumer Reports' Best New Car Deals list has received the organization's coveted Recommended rating. To be recommended, a vehicle must have performed well in testing, received average or better reliability ratings, and performed well in government or insurance industry crash and rollover tests, if tested.

      Sales Sluggish

      U.S. auto sales rose just under 1 percent in May, adjusted for an extra selling day. On the same basis, GM's sales rose 6 percent, while Ford's sales fell 10 percent.

      GM's average incentive spend per vehicle through May this year was $2,775, up slightly from $2,704 a year earlier, according to an estimate by industry tracking firm Edmunds.Com.

      Ford's average was $3,084, down slightly from $3,131 a year earlier.

      Summer Car Sales Start to Sizzle...

      Feds Recall Chinese Tires Blamed for Fatal Van Accident

      Light Truck Radial Tires Prone to Tread Separation

      The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has ordered the recall of as many as 450,000 tires purchased from a Chinese manufacturer and sold in the U.S.

      An inspection of several tires made by Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. Ltd. in China found that the light truck radial tires were made without a gum strip or with an insufficient gum strip between the belts. The gum strip keeps the belts of a tire bonded.

      Foreign Tire Sales Inc. of Union, New Jersey asked NHTSA to recall four tire models the company found to have separations at the belt edges.

      The Chinese tire manufacturer has not provided NHTSA with a remedy or recall schedule for the faulty tires.

      In ordering the recall, NHTSA stated that these tires fail to comply with the requirements of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 119 the regulates pneumatic tires.

      NHTSA warned that treads on the recall tires could separate while driving at highway speeds, possibly resulting in a crash, property damage or death.

      The problem with the recalled tires is similar to that which led to the nations largest tire recall in 2000, involving Bridgestone and Firestone tires when the two companies recalled 6.5 million Firestone tires.

      Those tires, which were mounted mostly on Ford Explorers, were blamed for causing 148 deaths and more than 500 injuries in the United States.

      Foreign Tire Sales Inc. said it imported an unknown number of the light truck radials from 2002 to June 2006. The tires were shipped directly to distributors.

      FTS also warned that other importers may have sold tires made by Hangzhou Zhongce. The Chinese company has failed to provide information that would allow FTS or NHTSA to determine exactly how many tires, and which batches, have the problem.

      The Hangzhou tires were sold under at least four brand names -- Westlake, Compass, Telluride and YKS. The tires were sold in sizes LT235/75R-15; LT225/75R-16; LT235/85R-16; LT245/75R-16; LT265/75R-16; and LT3X10.5-15.

      FTS on May 31 sued Hangzhou in U.S. District Court in Newark, charging that its tests found that the tires may fail earlier than those originally provided by Hangzhou and that a recall would put FTS out of business.

      FTS reported in its filing that Hangzhou sold tires Tireco, in Compton, California; Strategic Import Supply, in Wayzata, Minnesota; Omni United USA Inc., in Jacksonville, Florida.; Orteck International Inc., in Gaithersburg, Maryland.; K&D Tire Wholesalers LLC, in Carlsbad, California; and Robinson Tire, in Laurel, Mississippi.


      According to Foreign Tire Sales report to NHTSA, it contracted the Hangzhou Rubber Company in 2000 to design and manufacture light truck tires that FTS, of Union, N.J., would import and sell. Hangzhou worked with FTS engineers to ensure that the tires could meet all federal safety standards.

      At a May 2002 meeting, FTS stressed the importance of tire safety, informing the Chinese manufacturer that light truck tires had been the focus of many recalls and were under government scrutiny. FTS urged Hangzhou to produce tires with nylon cap plies to increase their endurance.

      Initially, the tires passed endurance tests, the report said. But once the warranty claims rose in 2005, FTS began conducting its own tests. A visual analysis revealed that some tires seemed to have an insufficient or missing gum strip -- a key safety feature to preserve the integrity of the belts.

      After the May crash, FTS said it removed tires from other ambulances and found insufficient or missing gum strips on tires manufactured in 2004 and 2005. In September 2006, Hangzhou finally admitted to FTS that it had reduced or omitted the gum strip from an unspecified number of tires, FTS alleges.

      But Hangzhou officials told FTS that in January 2006, it began to reintroduce some amount of the gum strip back into the tires. In March 2007, FTS did further testing and analysis on Hangzhou tires and found that they experienced tread / belt separations at 25,000 miles.

      "These tires could pose an immediate danger to consumers and should be removed," said Sean E. Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, a safety advocacy and consulting firm that has been pushing for tougher tire safety standards.

      Feds Recall Chinese Tires Blamed for Fatal Van Accident...

      Vet Sounds Warning on Internet Pet Sales

      Click for a Puppy?

      By Gina Spadafori
      Universal Press Syndicate

      When Dr. Helen Hamilton of Fremont, Calif., noticed an upswing in very sick puppies coming into her veterinary practice, she started asking her clients where they got their pets.

      What she found surprised her: They were coming from the Internet.

      Consumers can buy anything from a book to a car online, so it might seem perfectly logical to buy a new family pet the same way. But when Hamilton and her staff went to the source of some Internet puppies, what she discovered horrified her.

      "There were dogs with no eyes, dogs missing ears, dogs with old, untended bite wounds and cage wire injuries," she said. "We saw, over two days, two different females in labor go on the auction block."

      Hamilton was part of a team of veterinarians and veterinary technicians who brought back 49 dogs from the dispersal auction of a breeding operation. The dogs were not only in poor physical condition, but most of them were also fearful and shy of people. That's because they'd spent their lives isolated from loving human contact while producing puppies for the pet trade.

      One such dog was Sunshine, a golden retriever so afraid of people that she had to be lifted out of the van, shaking so hard her teeth chattered -- a hard thing to see, given the usual happy, tail-wagging, people-crazy nature of the breed. Another was Savannah, a miniature dachshund who huddled in her crate, crusted with diarrhea and weighing only 6 1/2 pounds -- around half her healthy body weight.

      "She was suffering from malnutrition from being loaded with hookworm and whipworm," Hamilton said. "She was emaciated. And she must have been starved, because I can find no other medical problems to account for her condition."

      All the dogs brought back on their most recent trip to a dog auction site in Oklahoma were suffering from health problems, many of them genetic. There were dogs missing an eye or an ear or part of a tail, dogs with inguinal hernias from having too many litters, dogs with evidence of do-it-yourself C-sections.

      All of these dogs were cleaned up, vaccinated, spayed or neutered, wormed and treated for other medical conditions. All are now being placed in loving homes. But while everyone involved knows that they're making a difference for these particular dogs, they acknowledge they're not even making a dent in the overall problem.

      "There are thousands of dogs that run through the auction. You can only buy a few," Hamilton said. "But that's not the point. Of course we want to get the dogs out and get them in loving homes. But the real point of doing this is to draw attention to the lives these dogs live.

      "We want someone who feels the impulse to get a puppy on the Web to stop and think -- not about that cute puppy, but about his mother and father back at the puppy mill," she said. "Those dogs are spending their entire lives in tiny cages and cramped, filthy runs. And once they realize that, they'll think again and walk away."

      Hamilton is working to place the dogs she brought back into new homes. But she stresses that the only real way to help the Sunshines and Savannahs still in the well-documented filth of puppy mills is simple: Stop buying those kinds of puppies.

      "It's a money-driven industry, and the only way to stop it is when people become educated not to buy puppies from these sources," she said.

      What Is a Puppy Mill?

      The appeal of puppies as a retail item goes back at least as far as the old song "(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?" But cruelty in the high-volume breeding operations that feed the pet trade has been documented for decades.

      While there are operations that practice husbandry at least as humane as that offered to livestock, other breeding businesses care little for their animals. And even the "good" commercial breeders do not offer what behaviorists argue is essential for a temperamentally sound family pet: constant in-house exposure to normal family life and gentle socialization by all manner of people.

      "Commercial kennels" become "puppy mills" when animals are housed in inhumane and filthy conditions, offered little in the way of proper medical care and disposed of when they're no longer productive as breeding stock.

      There's really no way to determine what misery may exist behind the puppy you're buying unless you investigate. At the very minimum, buy only from people who are happy to show you their kennels in person. Even better is when the puppies aren't kenneled at all, but raised and socialized in the house.

      While investigating a puppy's background isn't as easy as ordering with a few online clicks, you'll likely get a healthier, happier pet -- and you'll know you won't be supporting a puppy mill. -- Gina Spadafori


      'Speed eating' the sport of the Labrador

      Q: One of our dogs (our yellow Lab) doesn't eat his dinner -- he inhales it! It can't be very healthy, and we'd like to slow him down. He has been with us since he was a puppy, so it's not as if he doesn't know where his next meal is coming from. Suggestions? -- L.L., via e-mail

      A: Dogs only have about 1,500 taste buds, vs. 10,000 for people, so in their minds, haste beats taste. Eating is often a mechanical act designed to fulfill a nutrient need as opposed to a gourmet experience. Although few household pets have to worry about starving -- in fact about half of all dogs are overweight -- dogs never stray far from their prehistoric roots. When your dog's ancestors were sharing an elk they'd pulled down, they each wanted to make sure they got their own share. They don't call it "wolfing down" food for no reason, after all.

      You can slow down your dog some, though. Dogs tend to eat more quickly when other dogs are around. So since you have more than one dog, feed them at different times or out of sight of each other. Also, give them more time to eat before you pick up their bowl, or leave their empty bowls on the floor for a half-hour after they finish eating. Other experts suggest putting a large object in the bowl along with the food. The dog has to eat around the object, thus slowing him down. A plastic ball or Kong toy works well -- a big size for big dogs and a smaller size for the little guys.

      Don't be too disappointed, though, if nothing slows down your Labrador. Retrievers in general seem to be about the most enthusiastic eaters around, with Labs at the top of the list for fast eating and putting on weight easily. (Roly-poly Labs are more common than not and seem, along with beagles and pugs, to lead in the ability to pack on the pounds.) Labs love eating so much that most pet food companies have banned them from the testing rooms as they won't slow down enough to discriminate one flavor from the next.

      You can try to slow down your dog, but as long as he's healthy and not overweight, don't worry too much about the wolfing. -- Dr. Marty Becker

      (Do you have a pet question? Send it to


      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 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 or visiting

      PET Rx

      New vaccine is promising

      "Man's best friend" took on a new meaning and a step forward recently at the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine's national convention in Seattle.

      After 6 1/2 years of research and testing at Animal Medical Center and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, a vaccine aimed at treating canine skin cancer (melanoma) patients was introduced by the drug company Merial, after receiving conditional approval March 26 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

      Dr. Philip Bergman, director of AMC's Donaldson-Atwood Cancer Clinic and Flaherty Comparative Oncology Laboratory, who partnered the research lead with Dr. Jedd Wolchok, an oncologist on the Clinical Immunology Service at Sloan-Kettering, called the breakthrough a landmark in veterinary medicine.

      Not only is this the first veterinary cancer vaccine on the market, but it also offers hope for human patients with melanoma. The conditional licensure is for surgically removed oral melanoma, but Bergman sees many oncologists using it off-label for other melanomas.

      "The vaccine," Bergman said, "tricks the body into recognizing cancer as a foreign entry. Then the body acts to eliminate it. The same strategy we have used in dogs is now working in people." The aggressive diseases are very similar and metastasize in the same places (namely the mouth, toenail bed and foot pad), and are chemotherapy-resistant.

      While the vaccine is still on a USDA conditional status, it nevertheless offers canine melanoma patients' owners considerable hope. Prior to testing in 2000, dogs diagnosed with the disease and treated with conventional means (surgery, radiation and chemotherapy) survived only weeks or months. Patients from that initial study enjoyed a median survival of 389 days, but some lived between three and five years, succumbing to a cause other than melanoma.

      The vaccine will be available only through veterinary oncologists, since it is still considered a test product, which allows Merial stronger data control. Four vials (one is injected every two weeks into the inner thigh) begin the treatment, followed by boosters at six-month intervals for the remainder of the animal's life. The four-vial packet is priced at $1,000 to practitioners, who will then determine the markup price. Dosage is the same for a 150-pound Great Dane and 10-pound Chihuahua. -- Ranny Green


      Catnip a perfectly safe 'trip' for cats

      Not all cats like catnip. The ability to appreciate the herb is genetic, with slightly more cats in the fan club than not. These hardwired preferences aren't immediately apparent, though, since kittens under the age of 3 months don't react to catnip at all.

      Among those cats who do like catnip, you'll find two basic kinds of reactions: Your cat may seem to become a lazy drunk or a wired-up crazy. Credit a substance called "nepetalactone," which is found in the leaves and stems and causes the mood-altering behavior.

      Is catnip safe? While some cat experts recommend that you buy only organically raised products, the consensus is that you can treat your cat as often as you (and your cat) wish. Catnip is considered to be nonaddictive and harmless.

      It's also relatively easy to grow. Get seeds or seedlings from any garden-supply center, and put the pots in a place where your cat can't get to them. That's because some enthusiastic cats will pull the plants out by the roots!

      When you have your catnip plant well-established, snip off fresh sprigs and rub them on scratching posts and cat trees, or stuff them into toys. Your cat will love the fresh stuff even more.

      Another plant that provides pleasure to cats is valerian, so grow some of that, too. And don't forget that still other plants are just good eating, especially grasses. Keep tender shoots of grasses growing in low, long planters, and your cat will love nibbling them. -- Gina Spadafori


      Getting help with the cat

      Hiring a pet sitter is by far the most common service hired by cat lovers, and it's becoming even more popular. In 2002, 50 percent reported using a cat sitter in the last six months; in 2004, 62 percent had. Popular cat services, in 2004:

      Pet-sitting at home 62 percent

      Other service 16 percent

      Boarding 15 percent

      Pet transport 7 percent

      Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association


      Follow 'bad stuff' with a good treat

      Do you remember when you were a child and you got to dig through that treasure chest in the dentist's office or got that lollipop after a doctor's visit or haircut? You can apply the same principle to increasing good behavior from your pet.

      Just as with children, dogs will learn to anticipate a treat after predictable events such as getting brushed, bathed or given pills. If you give them a treat every time, you will help get your dog's mind on the treat instead of the somewhat unpleasant activity.

      Always praise cooperative, good behavior during trying activities with a treat, and praise them as a final reward and a signal that you are done with the bad stuff.

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

      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 or by visiting


      Vet Sounds Warning on Internet Pet Sales...

      Chinese Tires Blamed for Fatal Van Accident

      1 Million Similar Tires Sold in U.S.

      First it was pet food, then toothpaste, then toy trains. Now it's tires.

      A lawsuit blames cheap Chinese tires for a fatal traffic accident in Pennsylvania. The suit says tread separation caused a cargo van carrying four passengers to crash, killing two passengers and injuring the other two. The light truck tires were sold under the names Westlake, Telluride, Compass and YKS.

      The case is reminiscent of the huge Firestone tire recall of 2000, when faulty tires were blamed for a series of accidents and rollovers, many involving the Ford Explorer.

      "This is a prime example of a private lawsuit with a substantial public benefit," said Jeffrey B. Killino, an attorney with Woloshin & Killino, which represents the families of the deceased and injured. "The Hangzhou Rubber Company deliberately and secretly removed a safety feature from these tires and two young men died as a direct result. This was a tragedy that didn't have to happen, but hopefully we can prevent future fatal crashes."

      The tires were manufactured by China's Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co. and imported by Foreign Tire Sales Inc. (FTS), of Union, N.J. FTS says a crucial safety feature was omitted from as many as 450,000 tires it imported from the Chinese company since 2002.

      Possible Recall

      In a filing with federal safety officials, FTS says that other U.S. distributors have also been selling the tires in question and warns that a recall may be necessary. It estimates there may be a million or more tires involved.

      FTS claims it can't afford to pay for the recall itself. It has filed suit in a New Jersey court, sekking to shift liability to Hangzhou.

      The safety feature in question is a six-millimeter layer of rubber that is supposed to be placed between the steel belts to strengthen the tire. But FTS says Hangzhou removed the safety feature without notifying its U.S. distributors.

      FTS says it noticed the problem a few years ago, as it received a larger than usual number of complaints from consumers. The company says it knows of at least one other accident, this one involving an ambulance in May 2006.

      After the ambulance crash, FTS examined the blown tire that caused the rollover. It said it found that the Chinese manufacturer had failed to include the 0.6 mm gum strip between the belts to keep them from separating. FTS stopped buying tires from Hangzhou in June 2006, the report said.

      According to FTS, the tires may meet minimal U.S. safety requirements but the company said it often requires its suppliers to add extra safety and durability features.

      Pennsylvania Accident

      The Pennsylvania accident occurred on August 12, 2006. Rafael B. Melo, Claudeir Jose Figueiredo and Carlos Souza were passengers in a 2000 Chevrolet Express 2500 Cargo Van, bearing a Compass Telluride steel belted radial made in China in 2004.

      The van was traveling south on Pennsylvania Route 476, when the tire experienced a tread/belt separation causing the van driver to lose control. The vehicle rolled over and the three passengers were ejected. Melo and Figueiredo died in the crash. Souza suffered a permanent brain injury. The driver, who remained in the vehicle, suffered less severe injuries.

      The families of three of the passengers sued FTS on May 4. The van driver also filed suit. The Melo, Figueiredo, and Souza lawsuit filed by Killino prompted FTS to file an $80 million lawsuit against the Hangzhou Rubber Company and notify NHTSA of the defect.


      According to Foreign Tire Sales report to NHTSA, it contracted the Hangzhou Rubber Company in 2000 to design and manufacture light truck tires that FTS, of Union, N.J., would import and sell. Hangzhou worked with FTS engineers to ensure that the tires could meet all federal safety standards.

      At a May 2002 meeting, FTS stressed the importance of tire safety, informing the Chinese manufacturer that light truck tires had been the focus of many recalls and were under government scrutiny. FTS urged Hangzhou to produce tires with nylon cap plies to increase their endurance.

      Initially, the tires passed endurance tests, the report said. But once the warranty claims rose in 2005, FTS began conducting its own tests. A visual analysis revealed that some tires seemed to have an insufficient or missing gum strip -- a key safety feature to preserve the integrity of the belts.

      After the May crash, FTS said it removed tires from other ambulances and found insufficient or missing gum strips on tires manufactured in 2004 and 2005. In September 2006, Hangzhou finally admitted to FTS that it had reduced or omitted the gum strip from an unspecified number of tires, FTS alleges.

      But Hangzhou officials told FTS that in January 2006, it began to reintroduce some amount of the gum strip back into the tires. In March 2007, FTS did further testing and analysis on Hangzhou tires and found that they experienced tread / belt separations at 25,000 miles.

      "These tires could pose an immediate danger to consumers and should be removed," said Sean E. Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, a safety advocacy and consulting firm that has been pushing for tougher tire safety standards. "Unfortunately, we saw during the Ford Explorer-Firestone tire scandal how deadly a defective tire can be -- especially if it is paired with a light truck. It is important that consumers are notified immediately, retailers and wholesalers stop selling them, and they are removed from vehicles until we get some answers."

      Tires Identified

      This is not a definitive list, but consumers should be on the lookout for steel-belted radial light truck tires sold under the names Westlake, Telluride, Compass and YKS in the following sizes:

      • LT235/75R-15
      • LT225/75R-16
      • LT235/85R-16
      • LT245/75R-16
      • LT265/75R-16 and
      • LT3X10.5-15

      According to FTS, tires manufactured by Hangzhou were also sold by the following distributors:

      • Tireco, Compton, California
      • Strategic Import Supply, Wayzata, Minnesota
      • Omni United USA, Inc., Jacksonville, Florida
      • Orteck International, Inc. of Gaithersburg, Maryland
      • K&D Tire Wholesalers LLC, Carlsbad, California
      • Robinson Tire in Laurel, Mississippi. Safety Research & Strategies, Inc.

      Chinese Tires Blamed for Fatal Van Accident...

      Food Fads: The Raw Truth

      A Reformed Nutrition Cultist Tells All

      Until I was about 16, I wouldnt eat anything that resembled a vegetable unless it was deep-fried and came with a burger. Then I took a yoga class, saw all the flexible babes and at once decided to become vegetarian. Ive always been a man of principle.

      I overcame my aversion to anything that grew out of the ground by burying everything in curry sauce and schooling myself to the health advantages of becoming vegetarian, macrobiotic I even tried being fruitarian at one stage.

      I didnt achieve enlightenment or even get any dates but it did give me the moral high ground over the rest of my family and friends and, when youre an insecure teenager, youll grasp at any straw.

      Food fads and special diets have a long history, going back to the days when Moses descended from Sinai with a whole rulebook of dietary laws handed down from God no pork, no mixing milk with the meat and a whole system for discerning which foods were kosher on the basis of scales (or lack of them) and cloven hooves.

      Christianity decided to drop these restrictions pretty early on (bacon tastes good, after all) but Islam adopted similar food practices to those found in the Old Testament and today Halal butchers do a good business throughout the world and probably offer meat with the least E. coli risk going.

      But for the greater part of human history most people were hard pressed to get enough of any kind of food at all. Poverty and starvation when crops failed were the norm for most societies across the world for the last millennia or so, making it tough for the likes of the South Beach Diet to really make an impact. People ate natural, unrefined foods and relied upon folklore, prayer and luck to stay healthy.

      But then with the industrial revolution humans began to refine foods, pesticides entered the food chain in the 20th century and, soon after, the age of mass production and fast food chains spawned like bacteria across the globe.

      Coincidentally enough, the generations in post-war boom America were the most prone to heart disease and obesity ever seen and science was called in to deliver some answers.

      Congress to the Rescue

      The Senate Select Committee on Nutrition in 1977, led by none other than Sen. George McGovern, decided that red meat and dairy products were to blame and recommended that both should be cut down drastically for a better American diet.

      The meat and dairy lobbies immediately applied heavy pressure on the relevant senators (including South Dakota's McGovern) and the ruling was fudged to recommend a low-fat diet allowing lean meat and milk without the cream to stay firmly on Americans shopping lists.

      There was only one problem with counting on the low-fat diet to solve the obesity crisis in America it didnt work.

      While food companies reluctantly removed the lard from their products, they had to find something else to make their tasteless, processed food taste good. They hit upon chemical flavorings and refined corn syrup as good substitutes. Somehow it didnt occur to anyone that if wed been fattening up cows for centuries by feeding them carbohydrates, might it not do the same for us?

      Navigating the low-fat/low-carb nutritional labyrinth is beyond the reach of most of us (as Ill explain later) but it would seem theres something wrong in the whole way we relate to food. More than a source of calories and nutrients, it takes on whole political, cultural, even psychological agendas.

      Caf Attitude

      Having lapsed from my earlier diet regimes, a girlfriend tried to get me back on the straight and narrow by taking me to Caf Gratitude in Berkeley a while ago. It was a raw food caf and on a cold day I wanted something hot to eat carrot flax crackers and wheat grass juice just werent going to hit the spot.

      To be fair, the menu didnt help each item was titled something like I am Grace, I am Compassionate, I am Insightful and so on.

      The waitress would call out whos Awakening? and a customer would call out I am! It was enough to put anyone off their food. After being stung for $20 and still feeling hungry all I could say was I am Skeptical.

      The mainstream food industries havent had it all their own way in America. With the influx of Eastern traditions and counter-culture diets, there are plenty of groups around who profess to hold the secrets to eating well.

      Macrobiotics was one such fashion, a diet that measured the yin-yang dynamic of each food and allegedly inhibited carcinogens from taking any hold in the body. That its still around after both the founders contracted cancer is one of the modern unsolved mysteries.

      Now the raw food fad is in vogue in alternative circles, with figures like Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson giving it that necessary celebrity touch so essential for commercial success.

      Proponents claim that the raw regime is guaranteed to deliver perfect health, prevent the murder of innocent animals and, you know, bring world peace. The Raw Fooders make various claims for giving up cooking forever, some of them based on reasonable observations and others based on wild fantasy.

      On the bright side, people who eat lots of fruit, salad, nuts and seeds are going to be healthier than people who dont. Compared to someone who relies upon McDonalds to supply their daily nutrition, the smart money is on the muesli eaters in the longevity stakes.

      Raw Forever

      But when it comes to searching for scientific and historical backing for their claims, the Raw Fooders are on far shakier ground. They claim that we all survived exclusively on raw food until around 10,000 years ago and that when we cook food, important digestive enzymes are destroyed.

      Both claims are somewhat laughable.

      Firstly, humans have been controlling fire for at least 700-800,000 years and possibly much longer. Theres no way to prove that tough roots or meats were ever thrown on the flames but its hard to imagine that it didnt ever happen by accident while our ancestors were having their raw meals by the fireside.

      Secondly, the whole enzyme argument is a good example of how people take one scientific fact and blow it completely out of context and proportion.

      Yes, enzymes found in food do die when submitted to high temperatures. They also get dissolved in the acid of the stomach, however and in any case, the human body provides all the enzymes we need to digest food. Wouldnt you know it, its built that way.

      The appeal to science to back up lifestyle claims is at the root of the whole diet problem in the U.S. today. At the mercy of scientists who analyze our foods to the point that we dont recognize them any more, who are we to say whats good for us to eat?

      The history of nutrition goes all the way back to the days when the British Empire used to work Chinese laborers into the ground in the Far East. Noting that the Chinese were dying in large numbers of a disease called beri-beri, a bright researcher with the unlikely name Casamir Funk observed that it was because they ate white rice which lacked the wholesome husk of brown rice.

      He called the missing ingredient vitamine and a whole new industry was born.

      Today nutritionists hold the food industry at their mercy, alternatively declaring that a particular vitamin, mineral or fiber is the key to health and ought to be in all their main products. Walk down the aisles of a supermarket and few are the products that are not fortified with iron, enriched with vitamin c, with added fiber.

      In fact, the only products that dont advertise their goodness are the cheap and healthy ones when was the last time you saw a nutritional breakdown of a tomato?

      The problem with nutrition is that its really tough to understand. Yes, flax seeds may hold more omega 3 than fish but its far easier and more satisfying to eat 100 grams of the latter than a bowl of flax seeds. Salmon doesn't get stuck between your teeth, for starters. And what does omega 3 do for you anyway? Is it better than omega 6? Are the two friends?

      Our helplessness plays right into the hands of nutritionists, as Ben Goldacre of observes:

      Nutritionists and their kin sell the idea that diet is somehow more complicated than that; something that requires access to arcane and detailed knowledge to which only they have access; knowledge of the breakdown of exactly what is in each food.

      Not only that but it isnt enough to just identify mysterious chemical elements in foods and then draw conclusions that are valid for everyone. As Marion Nestle of New York University notes:

      The problem with nutrient-by-nutrient nutrition science is that it takes the nutrient out of the context of food, the food out of the context of diet and the diet out of the context of lifestyle.

      Some people have enzymes in their gut to absorb milk, some dont. It depends on their genes. The evidence really does suggest that were all different and that theres no one way to eat for everybody. For sure, a diet of refined, processed food with no fresh fruit or vegetables will be bad for almost everyone but do we really need nutritionists to tell us that?

      And when they do get all excited about some life-saving nutrient, it often tends to work out quite differently in real life than in the laboratory.

      Take beta-carotene, for instance, a nutrient found in carrots that was thought to have strong anti-carcinogenic properties. Scientists were so sure of their results that you could buy beta-carotene pills for a while, right up to the point that they realized that it might actually exacerbate certain forms of cancer. Oops.

      Just chuck the supplements and you can safely go on eating carrots and enjoy good health. Your great grandparents were doing just that long before anyone told them why they should do so.

      Gluttons for Punishment

      The Onion, widely read in sophomore dorm rooms, recently reported that a shocking number of Americans had become too fat to commit suicide.

      While this is something of an exaggeration, it's sadly apparent that Americans are in a terrible state of affairs today as far as eating habits go, with 4 of the top 10 causes of death linked to diet.

      Youve only to look at how quickly immigrant populations to the U.S. increase in weight to see that something is wrong with the American diet. Yet we dont need a band of nutritionists or radical food fadders to tell us what to eat. We need some common sense.

      Some years ago, I was still worrying a good deal about what foods were healthy for me. I learned that my Ayurvedic constitution meant that I should avoid beans while Chinese Medicine recommended beef for the strength of my kidneys. With vast amounts of contradictory information circling around in my head, an acupuncturist finally advised me:

      Listen, 70% of diseases all start in the mind. If you worry about what you eat then your chances of getting sick are vastly increased. Just relax about it!

      The Secret Revealed

      So, after years of deliberation, neurotic research and trying various diets, Im finally in a position to tell you how to eat a good, healthy diet.

      The secret is this: if it came out of the ground or the ocean, grew on a bush or a tree and doesnt come wrapped in plastic, its probably pretty good for you. You know, stuff like vegetables, bread and fruit that dont have PR teams working for them.

      Its boring, I realize and maybe it wont sell but therein lies the rub, as Michael Pollan of the New York Times observed:

      If youre concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that its not really food, and food is what you want to eat.

      Science, it has been observed is in many ways the modern religion. We cede the ground of common sense to chemical breakdowns and we end up paying through the nose for it.

      Ultimately, the whole cult of nutrition serves 3 groups: the people who produce the packaged food, the nutritionists who get consulted and, ah, the people who get paid to write about it all.


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

      Food fads and special diets have a long history, going back to the days when Moses descended from Sinai with a whole rulebook of dietary laws handed down f...

      Furious Travelers Blame Feds For Passport Mess

      Travel Industry Feels the Pinch as Vacationers Stay Home

      Pointing fingers is easy. Official Washington does it all the time.

      Besieged by a barrage of taxpayer complaints over massive passport delays, Washington agencies are ducking responsibility, trying to pass the blame on to the next guy.

      Neither the State Department, the agency assigned to renew and issue passports, nor the Department of Homeland Security, charged with keeping terrorists out, is giving an inch. Neither is Congress, rattled by raucous constituent complaints.

      Then theres the U.S. Treasury Department and Citigroup, the contractor it hired to handle initial processing for passports.

      Millions of passports have been waiting more than three months more than double the promised turnaround time and many summer travel plans have been postponed or cancelled, hurting both individual consumers and such businesses as hotels, restaurants, airlines, and tour operators.

      Its a mess and Americans are screaming bloody murder. Heres a sampling from the website:

      • "With the U.S. border with Mexico the way it is, what terrorist needs a U.S. passport? They can just come and go as they please into the U.S. and buy a $10 passport from Mexico."

      • "I sent my passport in for name change only. This is free of charge if you submit it within a year of getting your other passport. I sent it in the beginning of March and still have not received it back. Its not right. Can you imagine taking this long to pay your taxes?"

      • "Hmmm. I applied for a renewal of my passport in March. Hope it arrives before my trip to England next summer. Im getting a little concerned."

      • "Wow: 150 seconds per application. Cost: almost $100. Thats over 50 cents per second ($1800 per hour)."

      • "What is going to happen in 10 years when everyone has to renew their passports? Were going to have the same issue."

      • "My husbands employer decided in March to send him to Germany in April. OMG. worry. He works for the govt. He received his passport in about a week."

      • "Just another way for political appointees and civil servants to make more money. Create a backlog and the public will send in more and more money to expedite their passport. Why not let the market decide how much getting a passport within a week is really worth? Auction them off on eBay."

      • "I feel like Im a prisoner of my own country. This passport thing is a little overkill. I cant even go to Mexico or Canada on a cruise for my honeymoon."

      • "This is the worst nightmare we are experiencing with the passport office. None of the procedures are working well, nor the website, nor the e.mail, nor the phone, nor the automated appointment system. Where can I talk with someone?"

      • E.mail from PR stated we are led by an imbecile. I wonder who put that imbecile where he is now; I know I didnt."

      • "Two to three months should be ample time for a government as large as the one George W. Bush has put in place to do its job."

      • "What site do I go to to find the status of my renewal for passport? Its been four months now."

      • "We were all assured several times that turnaround time for a passport was 8-10 weeks. PERIOD. The government did not start singing a different tune until June 1st."

      • "$95 proper application and support documents 30 minutes at the post office and six days later a brand-new, first-time passport. Having worked in a processing department, I was amazed. The time frame did not allow for even a simple computer search for validity of birth certificate or a quick criminal data base check. This is just a wonderful example of our homeland security post 9/11. But God help you if you try to board a plane with a bottle of nail polish."

      • "The public knew in advance of the passport requirement. However, we were promised turnaround times of 6-8 weeks for a routine passport application. I received my passport after I waited 14 weeks, which was two weeks past the date I needed it. In good faith, I applied with what should have been plenty of time to spare but the system let me down . . . if its going to take 13 weeks, they need to tell people this honestly."

      • "I am very very very disappointed in the postal service and also the government. My son applied for a passport 12 weeks before his youth mission trip to Mexico with our church and was told the most it would take was 10 weeks. They left last Saturday (June 16) for the mission trip without him (NO PASSPORT). This is why I refuse to use the postal service anymore unless I absolutely have to, which is once a year. I hate you all . . . you are all a bunch of liars and are worthless."

      • "With all the identity theft going on, one would think the government would be more concerned to handle peoples private information with more care . . . what mathematical genius decided to do each application in two-and-a-half minutes?

      • "Checking these applications should be a thorough process and the (workers) should be given as much time as they need to do it properly. If that means hiring more employees, then hire more employees and do it right the first time."

      • "Question of the day: what country holds a large bloc of Citigroup stock? I believe it is Saudi Arabia. Imagine that."

      Confusion Reigns

      Besides anger, there's confusion. Rules are changing almost daily.

      The rule requiring all U.S. air arrivals to show passports has been postponed until Sept. 30, 2007. Until then, passengers arriving at an air gateway must show a government-issued photo ID (such as a drivers license) plus a receipt proving they have applied for a passport.

      The new deadline for land and sea arrivals to show passports has been pushed back from January 2008 until the end of June, though that date has not been officially announced yet.

      In the interim...

      •; U.S. citizens will need to show photo ID issued by a government agency plus proof of citizenship (i.e. birth certificate).

      •; Kids under 15 traveling with their parents need only birth certificates.

      Got that? Good it may change again tomorrow.

      The Department of Homeland Security insists using a single recognized document such as a U.S. passport will prevent terrorists or illegal aliens from entering the country easily. But Congress says the State Departments inability to meet promised passport turnaround deadlines has created agonizing delays, forcing many Americans to cancel paid-for summer trips.

      Too Many Documents

      According to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, border officials see more than 8,000 different documents under the current system, creating obvious loopholes that make it easy to enter the U.S. with false identification papers. Each of the 50 states, for example, issues different drivers licenses and some come in multiple varieties.

      Although Chertoff promises to give 60-day notice for the new 2008 land and sea passport deadline, that may not be enough for many travelers. Getting passports issued or renewed to meet for planned plane trips has taken more than three months in many cases, but the passport deluge could worsen next year because Americans make 10 times more crossings by land and sea.

      The State Departments Office of Passport Services has backlog of three million passport applications. Pressured to hurry, it has waived a one-time requirement for an error rate of less than 1 per cent.

      Part of the problem, according to a State Department memo, is Citigroup, an outside contractor hired to do initial passport processing. But a bigger problem is too many passports and not enough handlers even though the department requested nearly 500 more two years ago. A budget-conscious executive denied that request.

      Colin Walle, president of the union that represents passport workers in the State Department, says the passport office had 505 adjudicators (inspectors) in October 2005 but only 698 on June 11, 2007. He adds that inspectors process 24 applications per hour, an average of two-and-a-half minutes each that he insists is not enough to guarantee authenticity.

      In the meantime, consumers can only wait.

      Millions of passports have been waiting more than three months more than double the promised turnaround time and many summer travel plans have been postpon...

      Manufacturer of Martha Stewart Tables Declares Bankruptcy

      Affiliated Company Dissolved a Few Days Earlier

      As if owning a shattered Martha Stewart patio table isnt bad enough, it appears that the tables warranty may now be worthless because the manufacturer, JRA Furniture, has filed for bankruptcy.

      The company possibly filed for bankruptcy to avoid responsibility in a pending class action lawsuit, said lead counsel on the case, Richard Doherty from Horwitz, Horwitz and Associates in Chicago.

      Theres no way to know for sure, but I think the facts speak for themselves, Doherty said.

      The nationwide class action seeks restitution from Martha Stewarts company, Omnimedia, Kmart, which is owned by Sears, and JRA. However, the bankruptcy filing likely means that JRA will not face any meaningful liability.

      JRA Furniture was essentially a shell company for JRA Century, a company based in Taiwan that actually manufactured the tables, Doherty said. The company continuously denied any connection with JRA Century even after the Court ordered it to produce documents which included an Agency Agreement between the two JRAs.

      JRA Century recently dissolved and Doherty said he doesnt believe its a coincidence the two companies collapsed within days of each other.

      Although JRAs website is still active, no one is answering its two customer service numbers and an e-mail to its customer service department bounced back.

      For years, has received a constant stream of complaints from consumers whose Martha Stewart-branded patio tables spontaneously shatter.

      I was sitting at my computer when I heard this tremendous crash, said David Potts of Marietta, Ga. I went outside to see what it was and it looked like my patio was covered in ice. It was the glass from the table top.

      I got a couple of slivers of glass in my fingers while I was cleaning it and here I am a year later and I can still feel pain in the tips of my fingers, Potts said.

      Since September 2003, at least 515 readers have shared stories about their Martha Stewart glass tops spontaneously shattering.

      No Recall

      Despite the numbers, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has not issued a recall.

      A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the agency revealed their own thick stack of complaints and letters from the CPSC to Kmart/Stewarts lawyer, Eric Rubel.

      In a letter to Rubel dated July 14, 2006, CPSC Deputy Director Marc Schoem states that Kmart and Martha Stewart had indicated that it has voluntarily implemented actions to address reports of the tempered glass shattering.

      The explanation of those actions takes up three lines of text in the letter but was redacted because of FOIA exemptions that protect trade secrets.

      Although this shows that Omnimedia has been aware of the problem for at least a year, its unclear whether anything has been done to remedy it as the number of complaints from consumers who recently purchased the tables from Kmart, continue to pour in.

      The stack of documents uncovered from the CPSCs investigation does not reveal why the agency did not implement a recall and CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson said there is no longer any investigation.

      Although JRA is bankrupt, the tables are still widely sold at Kmart under Stewarts name and at the Home Depot under the Hampton Bay line of furniture.

      When Martha entered into this agreement with Kmart back in 1997, analysts looked at it as an effort by Kmart to upgrade its image by offering higher-quality, reputable, brand name goods unavailable anywhere else, Doherty wrote in an e-mail.

      Well, come to find out that the tables are not high quality, not reputable, defective, made by a company that went bankrupt as soon as its liability into the case became apparent and the goods aren't exclusive, either, given that you can by JRA-manufactured tables at places like the Home Depot, too. This is the quality image sought by Kmart and Martha Stewart?

      No Comment

      Omnimedia and Sears representatives did not reply to two e-mails requesting comment on what the companies are doing to remedy the problem and whether or not either company will honor the defunct warranty.

      Sears spokesman Christian Brathwhaite said Kmart would "work with" its customers whose tables have exploded.

      "Given JRAs recent chapter 7 filing, JRA will likely be unable to honor its manufacturers warranty," Brathwaite noted. "As a service to our customers, Kmart intends to work with our customers to attempt to resolve issues that would have otherwise been covered by that manufacturer warranty."

      Brathwaite said customers should visit Kmart Customer Care or call toll-free 866-562-7848.

      Doherty said that although JRAs bankruptcy may slow the cases progress, he is still going forward and that consumers whose table tops explode should:

      • Keep a sampling of the glass in a bag for proof;

      • File complaints with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, your state attorney general, and Consumer Affairs.Com; and

      • Contact Kmart and Omnimedia to remind them how dangerous their tables are.

      Manufacturer of Martha Stewart Tables Declares Bankruptcy...

      Egg Producers Make Bogus Omega-3 Claims

      Spend more for a souped-up egg? Saved your money

      Consumers who shell out more money for eggs boasting of omega-3 content and promoting heart health should know that those claims are not all theyre cracked up to be, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

      CSPI urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to stop seven egg producers from implying that their eggs can reduce the risk of heart disease. In fact, says CSPI, egg producers should not be making heart-healthy claims, because the FDA specifically prohibits such claims on eggs and other foods high in cholesterol or saturated fat.

      Egg producers have used the omega-3 buzz word to bilk health-conscious consumers and so far theyve gotten away with it, said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. The FDA should start enforcing its own rules, instead of letting companies hoodwink shoppers with a myriad of misleading and downright inaccurate claims on labels, ads, and Web sites.

      Egg producers take advantage of consumers limited knowledge of the different types of omega-3s.

      While the FDA permits claims for a possible reduced risk of heart disease linked to two kinds of omega-3s, DHA and EPA, the agency does not allow such claims for other omega-3s.

      CSPI commissioned a lab test that found that less than half of the advertised 350 mg of omega-3s in a Land O Lakes egg came from EPA and DHA. Yet, omega-3 eggs generally cost twice as much as regular eggs.

      The most beneficial omega-3 fatty acids come from fish, fish oil, and algae, said CSPI senior staff attorney Ilene Heller. Even if eggs had the right kind of omega-3s, they still contain significant levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, which increase the risk of heart disease.

      Even the eggs with the most DHA and EPA contain no more of those omega-3s than the amount in one and a half teaspoons of salmon, the richest source of omega-3s, according to CSPI.

      Products named in the CSPI complaint include:

      • Land O Lakes claims that omega-3 All-Natural Eggs are a good source of heart-healthy nutrition despite the fact that FDA has not defined the term good source for omega-3s and that the eggs contain too much saturated fat and cholesterol to meet FDAs definition of healthy.

      • Egglands Best uses unapproved nutrient content claims for omega-3s on its carton and on its Web site. In addition, the company claims that its eggs have 25 percent less saturated fat than regular eggs. But that difference is less than half a graman amount that the FDA considers trivial for purposes of nutrition labeling.

      • Safeway Specialty 3 Eggs misleadingly boasts 100 mg of omega-3s even though the FDA has not set standards for such omega-3 claims. In addition, the principal source of omega-3s in the hens diets is likely not a source that may be associated with heart benefits.

      • Gold Circle Farms claims that its eggs contain 450 mg of omega-3s. The claims are based on two eggs even though the official FDA serving size for eggs is one egg.

      • The Country Hen illegally claims the difference is an egg that is simply healthy even though the product does not meet regulatory requirements for healthy, and also makes its claims based on two eggs.

      • Full Spectrum Farms boasts that its product has 30 mg of unspecified omega-3s even though one ordinary egg, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, contains 37 mg of omega-3s, 20 mg of which are DHA and EPA.

      • Giving Nature asserts that the company feeds its hens flax seed which has been known to hold high levels of DHA omega-3. But, according to the Flax Council of Canada and others, the omega-3s that FDA considers healthful (DHA and EPA) are not found in plants such as flax seed.

      Consumers who shell out more money for eggs boasting of omega-3 content and promoting heart health should know that those claims are not all theyre cracked...

      Illinois Sues Iraqi Currency Traders

      Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has sued several related companies that allegedly advertised Iraqi currency (Dinars) on the Internet but failed to fulfill orders from customers.

      Over the past two years, when the defendants received complaints from customers, they allegedly changed the name of their companies, the office address or website and continued their practice of selling Iraqi currency without filling prior orders, the suit charges.

      The lawsuit also alleges that the defendants failed to obtain a required Illinois license to engage in the business of selling or exchanging foreign currency for compensation. The Transmitters of Money Act requires all such sellers to be licensed by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. None of the defendants is properly licensed.

      These companies have illegally taken advantage of consumers who are interested in investing in foreign currency, Madigan said. We are working to protect consumers from this conduct.

      Madigan filed the suit against:

      1. United World Exchange, Inc., doing business as US Dinar,
      2. US Foreign Exchange, Inc., an Illinois LLC doing business as USFX,
      3. Mid America Trade, an Illinois LLC,
      4. US Trade, LLC, a dissolved Nevada corporation,
      5. US Dinar, LLC, a dissolved Illinois corporation,
      6. Samir Altaeh, also known as Samir Al-Tayeh, individually and as President of U.S. Foreign Exchange, US Trade and US Dinar, and also in his capacity as a manager of Mid America Trade and as agent for United World Exchange, and
      7. Joseph Beaudry, individually and as President of United World Exchange.

      Since 2006, Madigans Consumer Fraud Bureau has received 42 complaints against the various defendants. The Better Business Bureau has received more than 160 complaints concerning the various defendants in the past year.

      I encourage consumers to act carefully and be wary of companies that advertise a hot investment opportunity, Madigan added.

      Madigans lawsuit asks the court to prohibit the defendants from engaging in the business of advertising or selling foreign currency in Illinois and seeks restitution for those consumers who have not received their orders from defendants.

      More Scam Alerts ...

      Illinois Atty General Lisa Madigan has sued several related companies that allegedly advertised Iraqi currency (Dinars) on the Internet but failed to fulfi...

      Hybrids Save 5.5 Million Barrels, Feds Figure

      By Joe Benton

      June 21, 2007
      Hybrid cars and trucks have saved 230 million gallons of gasoline or about 5.5 million barrels since their introduction in the U.S. in 1999, according to the Department of Energys National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

      At the same time, the U.S. was importing 8.5 million barrels of oil a day to fuel cars and light trucks.

      While the savings attributed to hybrids did not greatly impact U.S. oil consumption, those savings continue to increase.

      "Sales of hybrid electric vehicles have increased an average of 72 percent a year for the past five years and in 2006 the average fuel economy based on new EPA estimates was 35 miles per gallon for new hybrid models sold in the U.S.," said Kevin Bennion, an NREL vehicle systems analysis research engineer.

      Government researchers combined hybrid electric vehicle sales and fuel economy data to determine fuel savings. The fuel economy data included the new EPA mpg ratings as well as old EPA mpg ratings and user-reported values were also reviewed.

      Computer software developed by the Argonne National Laboratory was used to determine the total number of hybrid electric vehicles in use in a given year.

      The study reported that hybrid electric vehicles would have to replace a significant portion of the total light duty vehicle fleet to have an impact on petroleum imports. For example, net imports of oil in 2003 were 11.24 million barrels per day, and 8.55 million barrels per day went to light duty vehicle use.

      Hybrids Save 5.5 Million Barrels, Feds Figure...

      FDA Approves Computerized Pill Box

      Well, everything else is computerized. Why not this?

      Here's something that makes a lot of sense, assuming it works: a computerized pill box.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given approval to something called the Electronic Medication Management Assistant (EMMA), a programmable device that stores and dispenses prescription medication for patients' use in the home.

      EMMA was designed to be used under the supervision of a licensed health care provider.

      The main purpose of the device is to reduce drug identification and dosing errors, and allow health care professionals to monitor patient adherence to medication regimens in an outpatient setting. It may have applications for aging patients, as well as those with complex medication regimens such as patients with HIV.

      "FDA's clearance of the INRange remote medication management system puts an important safety tool directly in the hands of patients and their health care providers," said Daniel Schultz, M.D., director of FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. "It will help take away some of the confusion patients can experience when taking prescription medications, and allow care providers to more closely monitor their patients' medications between office visits."

      A 2006 Institute of Medicine report estimated that medication errors harm at least 1.5 million people in the United States annually.

      EMMA consists of a medication delivery unit and two-way communication software that allows a health care professional to remotely manage prescriptions stored and released by the patient-operated delivery unit. The delivery unit is about the size of a bread box and plugs into a standard power outlet.

      EMMA stores prescription medications, emits an audible alert to the patient when the prescribed medications are scheduled to be taken, and releases them onto a delivery tray when activated by the patient at the appropriate time.

      It uses a Web-based application for a health care professional, such as a doctor or pharmacist, to remotely schedule or adjust a patient's prescribed medications, and provides the health care professional with a history of each time patients access their medications.

      The EMMA system is manufactured by INRange Systems based in Altoona, Pa.

      The U.S. FDA has given approval to Electronic Medication Management Assistant, a programmable device that stores and dispenses prescription medication for ...