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Feds Propose New Safety Rules for Motorcycle Helmets
DOT requires labels for certified helmets, certification for novelty helmets09/30/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Feds Propose New Safety Rules for Motorcycle Helmets...
Newly proposed rules will improve motorcycle safety by making it easier for riders to identify and use effective helmets, instead of unsafe "novelty helmets, according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters.
The proposal also will make it harder for riders to use novelty helmets in states that require DOT-certified helmets, she said.
"Novelty helmets do little to protect riders during an accident," said Peters. "This proposal will make it easier for riders to know in advance whether the helmet they buy will keep them safe."
The proposal would amend the agency's current motorcycle helmet safety rules to require manufacturers to place a larger, tamper-proof DOT label on the back of certified helmets. The new labels will make it harder for vendors to remove the labels on safe helmets and affix them to the unsafe novelty helmets.
The proposed rule also would strengthen the tests helmets must go through to receive DOT certification, including updated tests on how the helmets hold up during impact, whether objects can penetrate the helmet and how well the helmet stays in place during a crash.
Recent tests of novelty helmets that are not DOT certified showed they fail to meet current DOT performance tests.
"As our testing has shown, these 'novelty' helmets do not have the energy absorbing capacity to protect a rider in a highway crash," said David Kelly, Acting NHTSA Administrator. "A DOT-certified and labeled helmet, as proposed today, will help consumers make more knowledgeable decisions when purchasing a helmet."
The proposed rule will help mitigate the yearly increases in motorcycle fatalities and injuries that have plagued the nation for nearly a decade, Peters said. Fatalities have more than doubled since 1997--increasing by 144 percent. Yet new data indicate that nearly one in five motorcycle riders in states with helmet laws wear a non-compliant helmet.
In 2006, helmets saved an estimated 1,658 lives. If everyone worn a helmet, an additional 752 lives would have been saved, Peters said. During the same year, 4,837 motorcyclists were killed; of those, more than 40 percent weren't wearing helmets.
Hershey's Says Chocolates Are Safe from Chinese Melamine Scandal
Candy-maker says U.S.-made products are untainted09/30/2008ConsumerAffairs
Hershey's Says Chocolates Are Safe from Chinese Melamine Scandal...
The Hershey Company, which manufactures and sells Cadbury chocolates in the United States, said it does not buy powered milk or other milk ingredients from China.
"All Hershey products use the highest-quality ingredients and are completely safe," the candy giant said in a written statement. "This includes Cadbury products manufactured and distributed in the United States by The Hershey Company."
The announcement follows Monday's recall of 11-types of Cadbury chocolates made in China. The British-based candy company took that action after the products tested positive for melamine.
"The products that are affected by this withdrawal include a range of Cadbury chocolate products and Choclairs, all produced in our Beijing plant," Cadbury said in a statement obtained by CNN.
The company said the products were exported to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia, the Pacific island of Nauru and Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.
Monday's recall is the latest action in China's every growing melamine-tainted milk scandal, which is blamed for the recent deaths of four infants in that country and the illnesses of 53,000 other children. Authorities say some Chinese dairy plants may have added melamine to milk products to make them appear to have higher protein levels.
Earlier this month, Chinese officials discovered melamine in powdered infant formula made in that country. It has since been found in dozens of other products.
Melamine is a chemical used to make plastic and fertilizers. It is blamed for the illnesses and deaths of thousands of dogs and cats in the United States last year. Doctors say melamine can cause kidney stones and lead to kidney failure.
Consumers and animals around the world have felt the ripple effects from China's melamine-tainted milk scandal, and the problems continue to spread.
The Taiwanese company that makes Mr. Brown instant coffee and milk tea has recalled seven of its products because of possible melamine contamination. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now warning consumers not to drink those products.
Singapore's Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority has recalled Chinese-made White Rabbit Creamy Candies after the products tested positive for melamine. It also said other Chinese-made food had tested positive for melamine, including Dutch Lady-brand banana and honeydew flavored milk, Silang-brand potato crackers, and two kinds of puffed rice balls.
The FDA is now inspecting White Rabbit candy at ports of entry. No melamine-tainted goods from China have turned up, FDA officials said.
The New Zealand Food Safety Authority found high levels of melamine in Chinese-made White Rabbit Creamy Candies.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is warning consumers not to eat, distribute, or sell White Rabbit candy because of possible melamine contamination;
Two gorillas in China that drank the melamine-tainted milk powder have signs of kidney stones. Doctors at Hangzhou Wildlife World say the gorillas--ages one and three--have been diagnosed with crystallization in their urine. "The crystallization now is very small, but it will grow bigger and then block the urine," Zhang Xu, a doctor from the animal hospital where the two gorillas were being treated, was quoted as saying. "No visible stones have been found so far."
The FDA said it is not aware of any illnesses in the United States linked to the Chinese-made milk products.
It also assured consumers the infant formula in the United States is safe. U.S. companies that make infant formula are not importing formula or sourcing milk-based materials from China, the agency said.
FDA officials, however, warn that some Chinese-made infant formula could be on store shelves in Asian markets across the country. FDA investigators have inspected more than 1,400 of those stores, but have not found any suspect formula.
The FDA said it will continue to take proactive measures to ensure the safety of America's food supply. The agency is now testing a variety of products that could contain milk-derived ingredients from China. Those products include candies, desserts, and beverages.
Chinese officials are also cracking down on this problem.
Police in that country have arrested 40 people in connection with this scandal. On Monday, police napped 22 people in northern China's Hebei province, according to CNN. Nineteen of those people were managers of pastures, breeding farms and milk-purchasing stations, the Xinhua news agency reported.
Chinese police also raided 41 locations in Hebei and seized 490 pounds of melamine.
Meanwhile, Cadbury has recalled the following products because of possible melamine contamination:
Cadbury Dark Chocette, 45 grams;
Cadbury Dark Chocette, 80 grams;
Cadbury Eclairs, 180 grams;
Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate Pumpkin, 150 grams;
Cadbury Dark Chocolate, 40 grams;
Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate Bulk Pack, 5 kilograms;
Cadbury Dark Chocolate Bulk Pack, 5 kilograms;
Cadbury Dairy Milk Hazelnut Chocolate Bulk Pack, 5 kilograms;
Cadbury Dairy Milk Cookies Chocolate Bulk Pack, 5 kilograms;
Cadbury Hazelnut Praline Chocolate (2008 Chinese New Year), 312 grams;
Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate (2008 Chinese New Year), 300 grams.
The company said it is now implementing new food safety and quality checks at its Beijing plant.
In related news, these are the Mr. Brown instant coffee and milk tea products recalled last week:
Mr. Brown Mandheling Blend Instant Coffee (3-in-1);
Mr. Brown Arabica Instant Coffee (3-in-1);
Mr. Brown Blue Mountain Blend Instant Coffee (3-in-1);
Mr. Brown Caramel Macchiato Instant Coffee (3-in-1);
Mr. Brown French Vanilla Instant Coffee (3-in-1);
Mr. Brown Mandhling Blend instant Coffee (2-in-1);
Mr. Brown Milk Tea (3-in-1)
Green Consumers Don't Always Practice What They Preach
Some eco-conscious buyers prefer fads over real changes09/30/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Green Consumers Don't Always Practice What They Preach...
Marketers have discovered the advantages of positioning their products as "green," and a new study released by Information Resources, Inc. does in fact show distinct variations in buying behaviors even among those consumers who claim to be concerned with the environment.
But the analysis of numerous "green" product purchases across a variety of categories revealed significant disparity in how well environmentally conscious consumers actually follow their convictions by purchasing environmentally friendly products, the researchers said.
By analyzing survey responses, TNS segmented consumers into eight distinct attitudinal segments based upon environmental concerns. By applying the TNS Shades of Green segmentation to its U.S. Consumer Network purchase panel, IRI was able to link the attitudes that individuals have toward the environment with their actual CPG shopping and purchasing behavior to determine whether "concerned" individuals actually follow through by purchasing environmentally sound products.
"This analysis proves not only the efficacy of the Shades of Green segments in defining consumers to target, but also the undeniable importance of green positioning to manufacturers and retailers," said IRI President of Consumer and Shopper Insights Robert I. Tomei. "Eighty-two percent of the population claims to make going green a priority, but as this data proves, the behaviors of those consumers vary drastically. While certain green conscious consumers do make a concerted effort to buy green products, there are certain segments of the population that are environmentally sensitive but that does not necessarily translate into their actual behavior. This inconsistency is the real challenge for marketers and retailers in order for them to fully understand the nuances of green consumers and how to market to them effectively."
The analysis reveals that despite containing individuals who claim eco-friendly beliefs, two key environmental attitudinal consumer segments -- the "Eco-Centrics" and the "Eco-Chic" -- show extremely different behavioral patterns related to green product purchases.
While Eco-Centric consumers have shown a willingness to change their buying behavior and a commitment to use of environmentally-friendly products, the Eco-Chic segment, comprised of younger, more trend-influenced consumers, appears more interested in riding the wave of environmental consciousness by claiming to embrace environmental concerns, but not following through with their dollars.
Eco-Chic consumers did show a willingness to try some green products at a comparable rate to the Eco-Centrics, but unlike the Eco-Centrics, the Eco-Chic consumers ultimately returned to their favorite non-green brands.
For example, the Eco-Chic group was quick to purchase products from a recently launched eco-friendly household cleaning line, but their repeat rates for the same products were well below the general population average.
In addition, when asked to choose between taste and perceived quality versus environmental friendliness, they ultimately chose the former as seen by lower than average purchasing of eco-friendly food and beauty items in categories, such as cereal, milk, oral care, and skin care.
In contrast, the Eco-Centric segment, comprised of high-income, educated urbanites actively doing their part to protect and improve the environment, truly appears to follow through on their environmental beliefs with purchases of eco-friendly products. In 15 of 16 eco-friendly product groups analyzed, the Eco-Centrics tried products at a rate above the general population.
Their willingness to try eco-friendly products spans from their food and beverage purchases, including cereal, yogurt, and milk, to their personal care and cleaning product purchases, including oral care, skin care, and laundry detergent. Perhaps more importantly, they continued to purchase these eco-friendly products -- with especially high repeat indices for light bulbs and dish detergent -- illustrating their long-term environmental commitment.
In terms of retail shopping, the Eco-Centrics were more likely than average to shop in Trader Joe's and the club store outlet, the latter possibly an attempt to save gas by combining needs into a larger stock-up trip. They also shop pet specialty outlets, extending their eco-consciousness to their pets though purchases of eco-friendly pet food and pet care items, such as dog and cat food.
Eco-Centric and Eco-Chic consumers also differ outside of product purchasing, with a significant disparity in these Shades of Green segments' health attitudes revealed by their responses to the IRI MedProfiler Health and Wellness Survey.
Unlike the Eco-Chic segment, the Eco-Centrics read nutrition labels, are concerned with ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup and trans-fatty acids, and avoid refined and processed foods. They practice healthy habits, such as eating organic foods, whole grains, omega-3 and antioxidant rich foods, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. This segment is also more likely to be on a vegetarian, gluten-free, high- fiber, low fat, low salt, or low-sugar diet.
On the other hand, Eco-Chic consumers are much less concerned about their health across the board. Although they are less likely to practice any kind of diet, read nutritional labels, or engage in healthy habits, they generally feel they are doing enough to stay healthy. They also indulge in fast food more than the general population.
Voter Anger Rattles Congress; Bailout Fails
Stock market plunges on news, world reaction may be swift09/29/2008ConsumerAffairs
Voter Anger Rattles Congress; Bailout Fails...
The stock market plunged as the House of Representatives rejected 228-205 the $700 billion Wall Street rescue plan hammered out over the weekend. The vote was a stunning defeat for the White House and Congressional leaders, but many saw it as a victory for taxpayers who have been increasingly outspoken about the bailout.
Talk shows and Internet forums have been swamped with angry voters threatening to vote against anyone and everyone associated with the bailout.
As Troy of Lancaster, Pa., put it in a posting to ConsumerAffairs.com: "I'm voting ANTI-INCUMBENT on my ballot. We did this a few years ago in the State of Pennsylvania, and fired nearly half the bums in the legislature. We need to do the same at the U.S. level."
With an election just weeks away, it was hard to find anyone on Capitol Hill who was eager to vote for the measure as taxpayer outrage grew. "The American people rejected this bailout and now Congress did likewise," said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.).
Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling was one of the leading opponents of the measure, claiming it would have put the U.S. on the "slippery slope to socialism."
President Bush was disappointed, his spokesman said.
"There's no question that the country is facing a difficult crisis that needs to be addressed," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. He said the president planned a meeting for later today "to determine next steps."
Wall Street analysts had insisted the action was necessary to keep U.S. credit markets from seizing up and global financial markets from collapsing, perhaps as early as Monday morning.
Wall Street took the news hard. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted more than 750 points to close below 10400, the biggest one-day loss ever. Oil futures dropped on fears of slowing demand. Gold prices climbed.
The next question is, "what now?" It the situation is as dire as analysts have described it, what can consumers expect?
That, of course, is the great unknown, but as banks decline to extend credit, even to good customers, businesses large and small will feel the squeeze. Particularly, businesses that rely on credit.
A hardware store, for example, which borrows to pay for its inventory until it can sell it, may find that it can longer get the money to restock its shelves. It may have to layoff employees, or in a worst case, close its doors.
Already, the nation's largest Chevrolet dealership has shut down this month, saying it could not get the money it needed to continue operating.
People trying to sell their home may find a bad market will become a nearly impossible market.
The plan contains many of the elements originally proposed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. Congress added provisions to make it politically palatable, since the plan drew strong opposition from the public.
Among the provisions, the plan would have established a government entity to purchase mortgage-backed securities from banks, who for months have not been able to find anyone to buy them. That's because, with so many foreclosures, it's difficult to know how much value the securities have.
Under the plan, the government would have offered to buy the assets at a low price. While the banks would lose money on the deal, they would at least have liquidity with which to make loans, and hopefully become profitable again.
House Passes New Internet Radio Legislation
Bill would enable negotiations on royalties to continue after Congressional recess09/29/2008ConsumerAffairs
House Passes New Internet Radio Legislation...
While most of Congress' attention this week was focused on the bailout, the House also passed a bill that would enable negotiations between Internet radio stations and the recording industry over royalty payments for songs to continue
If the bill becomes law, supporters said it would lead to new deals being crafted that could keep Web radio stations on the air.
"H.R. 7084, the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2008, authorizes SoundExchange, on behalf of copyright owners and performers, to negotiate an alternative royalty agreement before the end of the year with any Internet radio service," according to the SaveNetRadio coalition. "This legislation will benefit all webcasters, including NPR, college webcasters, small webcasters and broadcasters who put their stations on the Internet."
Internet radio station operators such as Pandora have been struggling with new royalty rate structures that would force them to pay consecutively higher royalty payments to artists through 2011.
The new structure, created by the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) and crafted largely at the behest of SoundExchange, the recording industry's lobbying arm, was widely criticized as potentially forcing many Web radio broadcasters out of business.
Under the new legislation, the deadline for negotiations between the various players would be extended to February 15, 2009. Congressional authority is required to broker a compromise on licensing agreements for Internet radio, since it authorizes the licenses.
"There may now be a light at the end of the tunnel in the fight over Internet radio royalties," said bill sponsor Jay Inslee (D-WA). "Uncle Sam will not get in the way," Inslee said.
Inslee was a co-sponsor of previous legislation that would overturn the CRB's decision and open the floor for negotiations between Web radio broadcasters and the recording industry to change the rate structure. Although the bill and companion legislation in the Senate gained bipartisan support, the legislation was never passed into law.
Pandora founder Tim Westergren published a "call to arms" on his blog urging supporters to call Congress asking them to pass the legislation, and to prevent opposition from "terrestrial" radio organizations such as the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). After the bill passed the House, the NAB said it would not interfere with passage of the legislation in the Senate.
"This is a fork in the road," Westergren said. "Only massive grassroots opposition will keep us from another 50 years of top 40 radio. It's time to take a stand and break the stranglehold of broadcast media on radio."
Melamine Scare Spreads to Mr. Brown Coffee
Chemical blamed for deaths of infants, pets found in instant coffee, tea milk products09/26/2008ConsumerAffairs
Melamine Scare Spreads to Mr. Brown Coffee...
China's melamine-tainted milk scandal — blamed for at least four deaths — has now spread to instant coffee and milk tea products.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today warned consumers not to drink the Taiwanese-made Mr. Brown instant coffee and milk tea products because of possible melamine contamination.
Melamine is a chemical used to make plastic and fertilizer. It is blamed for the illnesses and deaths of thousands of pets in the United States last year. Doctors say melamine can cause kidney stones and lead to kidney failure.
The Taiwanese company that makes the instant coffee and milk tea — King Car Food Industrial Co. Ltd — has recalled the following products:
- Mr. Brown Mandheling Blend Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
- Mr. Brown Arabica Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
- Mr. Brown Blue Mountain Blend Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
- Mr. Brown Caramel Macchiato Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
- Mr. Brown French Vanilla Instant Coffee (3-in-1)
- Mr. Brown Mandhling Blend instant Coffee (2-in-1)
- Mr. Brown Milk Tea (3-in-1)
The FDA asked retailers and food service operators to remove the products from sale or service.
FDA officials continue testing milk-based products imported from China and have not found any melamine contamination.
Other countries, however, have found melamine in food products from that country.
The New Zealand Food Safety Authority said it found high levels of that chemical in the Chinese-made White Rabbit Creamy Candies.
And the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is now warning consumers not to eat, distribute, or sell that brand of candy because of possible melamine contamination.
Earlier this week, Singapore's Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority recalled those candies after the products tested positive for melamine. It also said other Chinese-made food had tested positive for melamine, including Dutch Lady-brand banana and honeydew flavored milk, Silang-brand potato crackers, and two kinds of puffed rice balls.
The FDA has added White Rabbit candy to its list of products being inspected at ports of entry.But no melamine-tainted goods from China have turned up.
In related news this week, two gorillas in China that drank melamine-tainted milk powder now have signs of kidney stones. Doctors at Hangzhou Wildlife World say the gorillas—ages one and three—have been diagnosed with crystallization in their urine.
"The crystallization now is very small, but it will grow bigger and then block the urine," Zhang Xu, a doctor from the animal hospital where the two gorillas were being treated, was quoted as saying.
"No visible stones have been found so far," he added.
Meanwhile, the FDA said it is not aware of any illnesses in the United States linked to White Rabbit Creamy Candy or the Mr. Brown instant coffee and milk tea products.
The melamine-tainted milk scandal surfaced earlier this month when Chinese officials said infant formula made in that country — by a company called Sanlu Group — was contaminated with melamine.
That tainted formula is now blamed for the deaths of four babies in China and the illnesses in 53,000 others in that country.
But FDA officials say the infant formula in the United States is safe. U.S. companies that make infant formula are not importing formula or sourcing milk-based materials from China, the agency said.
FDA officials, however, warn that some Chinese-made infant formula could be on store shelves in Asian markets across the country. FDA investigators have inspected more than 1,400 of those stores and have not found any suspect formula.
The FDA said it will continue to take proactive measures to ensure the safety of America's food supply. It is now working with state and local officials, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, other federal agencies, and foreign governments, in those efforts.
Meanwhile, FDA officials continue testing a wide variety of products that could contain milk-derived ingredients from China. Those products include candies, desserts, and beverages.
Nemet Chevrolet Plans Appeal in Consumer Site Suit
NYC auto dealer claims judge wrongfully dismissed its defamation complaint09/26/2008ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
Nemet Chevrolet Plans Appeal in Consumer Site Suit...
New York City auto dealer Nemet Chevrolet Ltd. has filed notice that it will appeal a federal judge's dismissal of a defamation lawsuit against ConsumerAffairs.com Inc. The appeal would be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Nemet, which operates Nemet Chevrolet in Jamaica, Queens, and other dealerships in the New York area, argues that statements published on the ConsumerAffairs.com Website are defamatory and claims that at least some of the 49 complaints were created by the consumer site rather than by disgruntled customers.
In its notice of appeal, Nemet contends that U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee of the Eastern District of Virginia erred by dismissing Nemet's lawsuit and a subsequent amended complaint filed by Nemet earlier this year.
In its notice of appeal, Nemet also argues that the ConsumerAffairs.com site:
• Greets visitors with a prominent red "complaint button" without providing a corresponding "compliment button;"
• Entices visitors to post defamatory statements with the possibility of financial reward as a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit;
• Provides visitors with "instructions written by a class-action attorney on how to draft a complaint to better support a class-action lawsuit;" and
• Contacts authors of complaints to help them better frame the statements.
ConsumerAffairs.com argued that it has immunity from defamation and tortious interference under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Nemet is seeking injunctive relief and $500,000 in damages and $1,500,000 in punitive damages.
It's not the first time Nemet has sued the consumer site. In July 2006, the company filed suit in New York Eastern District Court in Brooklyn. That case was dismissed Oct. 11, 2006 by Judge Brian M. Cogan.
WaMu Seized, JPMorgan Chase Buys the Remains
Deal creates the largest U.S. bank; business as usual today09/26/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
WaMu Seized, JPMorgan Chase Buys the Remains...
Washington Mutual is no more. The Seattle-based thrift was seized by federal regulators last night and its branch network sold to JPMorgan Chase & Co. for $1.9 billion.
It was the largest bank failure to date, and the acquisition makes Chase the largest U.S. bank by deposits.
Its mortgage troubles aside, WaMu had experienced an old-fashioned run on the bank over the last few days, as customers withdrew $16.7 billion from accounts since Sept. 16. Regulators said that left the bank unsound and it was seized after closing time yesterday.
All of WaMu's branches will open today and depositors will have full access to all their accounts, Sheila Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., said.
The sale is very good news for the U.S. taxpayer, since FDIC will not be required to make good on deposits. For depositors, its like the bank never went out of business.
"For all depositors and other customers of Washington Mutual Bank, this is simply a combination of two banks," said FDIC Chairman Sheila C. Bair. "For bank customers, it will be a seamless transition. There will be no interruption in services and bank customers should expect business as usual come Friday morning."
WaMu had about 2,300 branches and $182 billion of customer deposits at the end of June. During the past three quarters, it lost $6.3 billion. JPMorgan Chase plans to have 5,400 offices and $900 billion in deposits after it opens or acquires additional branches in California, Washington, Florida and elsewhere, the company said.
Its credit rating was slashed to junk and its stock price collapsed over the last few weeks, as it tried to deal with $19 billion of losses on mortgage loans. As in most bank seizures, depositors are protected but shareholders are big losers. WaMu's stock was down 95 percent for most of the year and dropped to 45 cents late yesterday.
WaMu's $310 billion of assets dwarf those of Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust, previously the largest failed bank, which had $40 billion when it was taken over in 1984.
Ski-Doo Snowmobiles Recalled - Cracked Joints09/26/2008ConsumerAffairs
Ski-Doo Snowmobiles Recalled - Cracked Joints ...
September 26, 2008
BRP US Inc. is recalling about 18,000 Ski-Doo snowmobiles. Cracks can develop in the welded joints of the drive axle assembly of the snowmobile and can result in complete breakage. If this happens the track of the vehicle can unexpectedly lock, causing riders to be ejected off the vehicle or lose control and collide with bystanders, a fixed object or other vehicles. This poses a risk of serious injury or death.
BRP has received 20 reports of locked tracks, including one report of a broken femur and reports of minor injuries such as bruises.
This recall involves Ski-Doo Model Year 2008 and 2009 snowmobiles. Models included in the recall are listed below. Model numbers are printed on the side panels of the snowmobiles.
|MXZ X 800R PowerTEK||MXZ X 600HO SDI|
|MXZ Adrenaline 800R PowerTEK||MXZ Adrenaline 600HO SDI|
|MXZ TNT 500SS||MXZ Trails 500SS|
|GSX Limited Touring 600HO SDI||GSX Limited 800R PowerTEK|
|GSX Limited 600HO SDI||GSX Sport 500SS|
|MXZ Renegade X 800R PowerTEK||MXZ Renegade X 600HO SDI|
|MXZ Renegade 800R PowerTEK||MXZ Renegade 600HO SDI|
|Summit X 800R Power TEK||Summit Everest 800R PowerTEK|
|MXZ X 600RS|
Ski-Doo Model Year 2009
|MXZ TNT 600HO E-TEC|
The recalled snowmobiles were made in Canada and sold by Ski-Doo dealers nationwide from June 2007 through September 2008 for between $7,000 and $12,500.
Consumers should immediately stop using the vehicles and contact their local Ski-Doo dealer to schedule an appointment for a free repair. Consumers with recalled snowmobiles are being sent direct notice from BRP.
For additional information, contact BRP toll-free at (888) 638-5397 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, or visit the firm's Web site at www.ski-doo.com
The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
New Study Links Inactivity to Desire for More Food
Even low-level physical activity blunts appetite09/25/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
New Study Links Inactivity to Desire for More Food...
Conventional wisdom has it that the more energy we expend, the hungrier we will be. That same wisdom also suggests that the less active we are, the less we will want to eat.
A new study upends these popular theories and finds that being active may not only blunt the appetite, but may suppress it. It also finds that the less active we are, the hungrier we perceive ourselves to be.
The results are contained in the first study yet to examine whether too much sitting alters our perception of our hunger. The team of Kirsten Granados, Brooke Stephens, Steven Malin and Barry Braun, Department of Kinesiology, University of Massachusetts Amherst; and Marc Hamilton and Theodore Zderic, Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia conducted the study, entitled "Effects of Inactivity and Energy Status on Appetite Regulation in Men and Women."
Six young, lean and fit men and women who were recruited for the study were first kept within a strict energy balance (amount of calories expended matched to calories consumed) for several days. They then were enrolled in three consecutive one-day "conditions" that occurred one week apart in random order:
• Condition 1: In this condition, the volunteers spent 12 hours being physically active but not doing anything that is classified as "exercise." They performed a series of highly scripted activities, which included walking, sorting papers, picking up books and folding laundry. The participants could not sit for more than 10 minutes each hour for the entire 12-hour period. They also consumed the number of calories that was roughly equivalent to the amount of energy they had expended.
• Condition 2: In this condition, the volunteers were highly inactive. They watched videos, worked on computers, and were allowed to move about only by being pushed in wheelchairs by the investigators. The condition lasted for 12 hours, and the caloric intake matched that of the prior condition, creating a low activity/high calorie condition.
• Condition 3: In the third condition, the volunteers again were very inactive, and watched videos, sat at computers and were moved around by wheelchair for 12 hours. However, unlike the previous condition, the calories the participants received were substantially reduced to match the amount of energy they had expended.
Appetite questionnaires were administered before and for six hours after consuming a standard meal and in the morning of the following day. The researchers also measured three hormones involved in appetite regulation: acylated ghrelin, leptin and insulin.
The researchers found:
Participants under condition 3 and condition 2 felt hungrier (+12%, +17%), had a greater desire to eat (+14%, 18%), and reported they could consume more food (+10%, +8%) compared to condition 1.
Participants under condition 3 and condition 2 reported feeling less satisfied (-16%, -12%) than during condition 1. The results suggest inactivity may increase the perception of hunger and decrease the perception of fullness (satiety).
Although the results are still preliminary, the data suggest that low-intensity activities such as walking seem to have a blunting effect on appetite.
"In addition to reducing energy output, sitting for long periods may increase the perception of hunger. If you are sitting on the couch or at your desk, not only are you not burning calories, it may cause you to want more of them," Braun said.
California Sues Baby Furniture Manufacturers
Dangerous levels of formaldehyde in cribs, changing tables, state charges09/24/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
California Attorney General has sued five baby furniture manufacturers for failing to warn consumers about the dangerous levels of formaldehyde gas emitted...
California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. has sued five baby furniture manufacturers for failing to warn consumers about the dangerous levels of formaldehyde gas emitted by their products, including cribs and changing tables.
Were suing these companies because parents deserve to know if theres a dangerous chemical in products for children, Brown said. Over the past two years, weve brought other actions to ensure the safety of childrens products, such as lead in toys and phthalates in baby bibs.
"Increasingly, the wood and other materials in consumer products are produced globally, and the lack of tough safeguards and strict enforcement can lead to dangerous levels of exposure, Brown added.
Passed by voters in 1986, Proposition 65 requires manufacturers to provide clear and reasonable warnings of chemicals in their products that are known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.
The states lawsuit alleges that Child Craft, Delta Enterprise Corp., Stork Craft, South Shore Industries and Jardine Enterprises manufactured baby furniture, such as cribs and changing tables, that emit formaldehyde — a chemical known to cause cancer — and failed to provide any warning about this risk.
In addition to being a carcinogen, formaldehyde has been shown to contribute to respiratory problems like asthma. The levels of formaldehyde gas emitted from the baby furniture, when combined with other potential sources of formaldehyde in the home, are high enough to cause respiratory irritation to children sleeping in the cribs.
Prop 65 standards
The Environmental California Research and Policy Center, an organization that evaluates products for carcinogens, tested the companies baby furniture. Based on that testing and on his own test results, the Attorney General calculated that the furniture exposes children to formaldehyde gas at levels well above the Proposition 65 limit of 40 micrograms per day.
In addition to violating Proposition 65 standards for emission levels, the baby products exceed the recommendations for formaldehyde emission set by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and the Department of Public Health.
Formaldehyde is present in plywood, particle board (generally in the glues), fiberglass, paint and insulation. Concentrations can reach especially dangerous levels in rooms that are not well-ventilated.
Businesses that violate Proposition 65 are subject to civil penalties of up to $2,500 per day for each violation. In addition, courts may order businesses to stop manufacturing products that are in violation of the standards. Todays lawsuit seeks to remedy past violations and to prompt manufacturers and retailers to prevent baby furniture containing formaldehyde from being sold without warning consumers about the risks of exposure.
The state is also suing the companies for violating the Unfair Competition Law, which prevents businesses from undertaking any action that gives them an advantage over other businesses. In this case, by not posting warnings about carcinogens on their products like other companies must do under the law, the five companies unfairly profited. The state is seeking $2,500 for each violation.
Proposition 65 is enforced through lawsuits brought by the attorney general, district attorneys and some city attorneys. Lawsuits may also be brought by private parties after notifying the attorney general of the alleged violation. Last November, Attorney General Brown and Los Angeles City Attorney Rockard Delgadillo sued twenty toy companies for manufacturing or selling toys with unlawful quantities of lead.
Although Proposition 65 only requires companies to post hazard warnings, many businesses choose to eliminate the toxic chemicals altogether.
Brown's suit is the latest in a series of warnings, studies and enforcement actions centered around chemicals that are widely present in products used by children.
Earlier this month, a study suggested that although flame retardant chemicals used in clothing and other fabrics may keep children safe from burns, they might be causing harm in other ways.
In the first nationwide investigation of chemical fire retardants in parents and their children, Environmental Working Group found that toddlers and pre-schoolers typically had 3 times more of the neurotoxic compounds in their blood than their mothers. The study suggests that U.S. children 1 to 4 years of age bear the heaviest burden of flame retardant pollution in the industrialized world.
Laboratory tests conducted in collaboration with Dr. ke Bergman, a preeminent environmental chemist found that in 19 of 20 U.S. families, concentrations of the toxic chemicals known as PBDEs were significantly higher in 1- to 4-year-old children than in their mothers. The tests found the fire retardant Deca, banned in Europe but unregulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more often and in higher amounts in U.S. children than their mothers.
In 2003 EWG published test results showing that the average level of fire-retardants in breast milk from 20 American moms was 75 times higher than the average levels measured in Europe. This study confirms that same high exposure in American children.
"U.S. chemical law leaves children unprotected from toxic chemicals that other industrialized countries long ago banned," said Sonya Lunder, MPH, senior analyst at EWG and co-author of the study. "It's time for real, comprehensive reform that puts the health of children first," Lunder added.
The average levels of PBDEs in the blood of children tested by EWG were about 62 parts per billion, compared to 25 ppb in their mothers. In the limited number of studies of this age group in other countries, Spanish and Norwegian children had levels 6 to 13 times lower. Australian children have roughly equal levels.
Toxic fire retardants in everyday items like furniture, sofas, televisions and computers could expose children to concentrations exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recommended safe level. Children ingest more fire retardants and other toxins when they put their hands, toys and other objects in their mouths.
Children's developing brains and reproductive systems are extraordinarily vulnerable to toxic chemicals. In the case of PBDEs, laboratory tests in peer-reviewed studies have found that a single dose administered to mice on a day when the brain is growing rapidly can cause permanent changes to behavior, including hyperactivity.
"It's well documented that U.S. adults are more exposed to chemical fire retardants than adults in other countries, but these findings show that young children are at even higher risk," said Anila Jacob, MD, EWG senior scientist and study co-author. "Parents want to protect their children, but once they are old enough to crawl or walk, they are more vulnerable to exposure to these and other toxic chemicals."
"These chemicals are everywhere - in food, in our homes and schools," said Laurie Yung of Missoula, Mont., who was tested along with her 3-year-old son, Conner. "We need laws to protect us from exposure not only to these chemicals, but that will make sure chemicals are safe for kids before they're allowed on the market."
"I am extremely disturbed to see children have higher exposures than their mothers, especially at a time that they are more vulnerable to the toxic effects," said Bergman.
Other moms and kids in the study were from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington state and Washington, D.C.
Even as the chemical industry insists Deca is safe, the European Union has banned it from use, 10 U.S. states are considering or have enacted legislative bans, and major electronics manufacturers including Nokia, Sony-Ericsson and Samsung no longer use Deca and are phasing-out other bromine-based fire retardants.
Feds Probe Food Prices
Skyrocketing prices of eggs, tomatoes, milk studied09/23/2008ConsumerAffairs
Rapid increases in food prices have been blamed on the cost of fuel and feed but investigators say collusion may be an equally important factor....
By Truman Lewis
September 23, 2008
Federal prosecutors are conducting criminal investigations into possible price-fixing by egg producers and California tomato processors, The Wall Street Journal reports. It's the latest in a series of federal probes of alleged price-fixing by farmers and processors.
Rapid increases in food prices have been blamed on the cost of fuel and feed but investigators say collusion may be an equally important factor.
Besides the egg and tomato probes, investigators have been looking into cheese, milk and fertilizer markets, trying to determine if suppliers worked together to manipulate prices. Last year, the Justice Department said it was investigating citrus fruit prices.
Milk prices have been a particularly sore point with many consumers, especially in New York City where shoppers have been paying $4.49 or more for a gallon of milk. Earlier this year, the New York City Council issued a report charging that high milk prices were due to "significantly decreased" oversight of New York State's Milk Price Gouging Law, resulting in citywide milk prices that are above the state-determined legal threshold.
In July, Danielle of New York City complained that she was charged $5.99 for a gallon of milk at the Amish Market on 9th Avenue. Maryellen said she also paid $5.99 at the Broadway Farms Grocery on West 85th St. Kim of Manhasset, Long Island, said she paid $4.19 at a BP station in Levittown.
Cynthia of Brooklyn told ConsumerAffairs.com, also in July, that she sent her son to the Produce and Meat Market on Livonia Avenue in Brooklyn to get ready-to-feed infant formula for her newborn baby. On July 23, the formula was $7.99. Two days later, it was $9.99, she said.
It is illegal for competitors to share pricing information or conspire to drive up prices but there are numerous loopholes, including an exemption for farm cooperatives that's intended to help small farms bargain more effectively with big processors.
Egg and tomato producers are claiming their collaborations are protected by that exemption, the Journal said, but a federal grand jury in Sacramento and the FBI are said to be continuing their probes.
Besides being sold as fresh produce, tomatoes are an important component of many processed foods, including ketchup, pasta sauce and salsa. Tomato growers suffered a setback earlier this year when tomatoes were wrongly blamed for a Salmonella outbreak but prices have since recovered, rising 16% in the year ending in August, according to government statistics.
Egg prices, meanwhile, are up more than 40% in the last year.
Part of the dilemma facing prosecutors is weeding out legitimate influences on prices from the results of illegal collaboration.
Food prices have been affected by the rising price of fuel, for instance, as farmers spend more to heat hen houses and transport animals to market. The growing use of ethanol has driven up the price of corn, a prime component of most animals feeds, to cite just a few examples.
The price of corn has risen almost 50 percent in the last two years, as both the cattle industry and ethanol producers have competed to buy it.
Increased consumer demand also drives up prices. Just as more Chinese are driving cars and increasing demand for gasoline, so are more families in emerging economies beginning to demand more meat, eggs and milk in their diets, putting pressure on prices in the U.S. and other developed nations.
Study finds Splenda contributes to weight gain, may cause other health problems09/23/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
The new study makes it clear that Splenda can cause you to gain weight and lose the benefits of medications designed to improve and protect your health....
House Passes Credit Cardholder's Bill Of Rights
Decisive majority endorses consumer protections09/23/2008ConsumerAffairs
House Passes Credit Cardholder's Bill Of Rights...
The House of Representatives today passed by a large margin legislation designed to protect consumers from abusive lending practices of credit card companies.
HR 5244, "The Credit Cardholder's Bill of Rights Act," passed the House 312-112, with 228 Democrats and 84 Republicans voting to support it. 111 Republicans and one Democrat voted against the bill, which now goes to the Senate.
Chances for passage of the legislation in the Senate this term are mixed, as the legislative calendar is shortened due to the 2008 Presidential election campaign, and the proposed $700 billion bailout of the financial system by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is taking center stage.
Supporters of the bill used the proposed bailout as a backdrop to justify passing stronger laws to protect bank customers from the more underhanded tactics of the financial industry. The legislation would prohibit:
Bait-and-switch interest rate and fee hikes for any or no reason at all during the life of the card;
Assessing hidden and unfair interest rate charges by charging interest on balances already paid off;
Unjustifiably maximizing interest charges by requiring consumers to pay off balances with lower interest rates before those with higher rates;
Charging late fees when consumers mail their payments seven days in advance of the due date;
Applying certain unfair interest rate hikes retroactively to balances incurred under the old rate.
"We are providing a $700 billion bailout for banks--how can we not provide even the most basic protections for Main Street?," said bill author and sponsor Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).
Consumer advocates hailed the passage of the bill as a big step forward for protecting American livelihoods. "[This] bill would curb some of the most arbitrary, abusive, and unfair credit card lending practices that trap consumers in a vicious cycle of debt," said Travis Plunkett of the Consumer Federation of America.
"We urge the Senate to include credit card reform as part of legislation it passes to rescue banking firms," Plunkett said. "Cash-strapped consumers shouldn't continue to be gouged by excessive credit card rates and fees by many of the same financial institutions that will benefit from the bailout."
Opponents of the bill claimed that its passage would cause banks to reduce available credit lines and raise interest rates at a time when the worsening economy has Americans increasingly reliant on credit cards to pay for everyday expenses.
"If creditors cannot properly price credit for riskier consumers, some creditors may make the entirely rational decision of withholding credit from the higher-risk consumers altogether," according to one Republican insider. "The people whom this bill purports to protect--those with imperfect credit histories and young people or new market entrants without much of a credit history--will be those who find it most difficult to get credit under this legislation."
But supporters pointed out that banks are raising interest rates and fees on even their best cardholders, simply to earn more profits and maintain a cushion of revenue as the economy continues to falter.
"Consumers in perfectly good standing with their credit card company are understandably outraged when that company hikes their interest rate based on information unrelated to the card," said Pamela Banks of Consumers Union. "But it's even more outrageous to apply this type of rate increase to credit card debt already borrowed at the lower rate."
Tamara Drout of the nonpartisan policy research center Demos pointed out that the costs of America's credit card debt are borne excessively by African-American and Latino households. "Over 90 percent of African-American families earning between $10,000 and $24,999 had credit card debt," Drout said.
"Meanwhile, only 7 percent of white cardholders are charged interest rates over 20 percent, but 15 percent of African-American cardholders and 13 percent of Latino cardholders pay such rates," Drout said.
"Credit card issuers have not learned the lessons of the mortgage crisis," said Lauren Saunders of the National Consumer Law Center. "It is both unfair to consumers and irresponsible banking to lure people in with deceptively low rates and then, once they have incurred a large balance, explode their interest rates."
Seniors Hit Hard by Financial Crisis
Collapsing home prices, tight credit, dwindling investment income a lethal brew09/21/2008ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
Seniors Hit Hard by Financial Crisis...
Collapsing real estate values and an imploding Wall Street are making life uncertain for everyone, but seniors are being hit especially hard.
The economic upheaval has shattered many seniors' retirement plans and, even worse, has cut into the income of many of those who have already retired and has sharply reduced the value of most seniors' primary asset -- their home. Lenders are cutting seniors no slack, as a growing list of complaints to ConsumerAffairs.com illustrates.
"Lost everything when my business failed and now, at 63, working two parttime jobs and getting $563 a month in early retirement pay," said Elwood of Sinking Spring, Pa., who also supports two family members.
Elwood's situation became desperate when he was unable to complete a "short sale" of his home. In a short sale, the buyer pays less than the remaining amount on the seller's mortgage. In some cases, lenders will forgive some or all of the difference but lately, banks have been squeezing consumers for every last cent.
Elwood said he found a buyer for his home but Chase Mortgage rejected the deal and began foreclosure proceedings.
"I am now on anxiety medication, been in the emergency room at the Veterans Administration hospital with panic disorder. I am working for minimum wages just to live," he told ConsumerAffairs.com.
The combination of tight credit and falling property values has foiled the plans of seniors who want to stay in their homes but are being forced out by rising interest payments as well as for those who had planned to sell their homes and retired to a warmer or less expensive locale.
It is also forcing many, like Elwood, to stay in the workforce or go back to work. A government study last month found 16.4% of Americans aged 65 or over were still working -- the highest percentage in 38 years.
And, like Elwood, many seniors are having trouble keeping up with their mortgage payments. A study by AARP finds that seniors account for an estimated 28% of all delinquencies and foreclosures. Many more may be on the brink of falling behind on their payments.
In Encino, Calif., a couple in their late 60s put their home on the market after they lost their furniture store business because of the credit crunch. Their realtor, Karin, told ConsumerAffairs.com she presented Chevy Chase Bank with 15 offers, six of them for more than the home's appraised value.
The couple owed $640,000 on their mortgage and the highest offer was $575,000. Karin said that when Chevy Chase rejected the deal, she offered to reduce her commission and the buyer offered to increase the price but "no one at Chevy Chase took notice or cared."
"When I first called to announce a short sale, the person in loss and mitigation told me outright, 'Why don't they just foreclose?'"
In St. Petersburg, Fla., Nancy found a cash buyer willing to pay the full amount of the outstanding loan on her home but she said Chase Mortgage insisted on a $6,800 prepayment penalty.
"Their greediness is taking years off my life," Nancy said. "The company is getting their full amount of the mortgage but are so greedy that they want their extra prepayment penalty. They don't give any alternatives or consideration to their customers."
Consumers 55 and over accounted for nearly a quarter of all bankruptcies last year, another AARP study found, further evidence that for all too many seniors, the golden years are turning to dust.
Lawn Mower Horsepower Overstated, Class Action Claims
Mower manufacturers clipped Texas consumers, plaintiffs charge09/20/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Lawn Mower Horsepower Overstated, Class Action Claims...
A class action lawsuit claims that lawn mower companies have clipped Texas consumers by overstating the horsepower of their engines. It seeks damages of $5 million, including refunds for affected consumers.
The suit, filed in a Texas federal court, names Sears, Deer and Co., Tecumseh Products, Briggs and Stratton, Kawasaki Motors, MTD Products, Toro Company, American Honda Motor, Electrolux Home Products, Kohler Company, Platinum Equity, and Husqvarna Outdoor Products. The companies sell about six million mowers nationwide each year, according to court documents.
It alleges that, since 1994, the companies misrepresented the horsepower of their lawn mowers and mower engines in an attempt to charge higher prices.
"The more horsepower generated by a lawn mower's engine, the better and faster the lawn mower is able to perform," the suit charges. Horsepower labels allowed for a "fudge factor of up to 15 percent to be added," the complaint says.
The plaintiffs — Gene Bennett, Clarence Laird and Laci Canion — argue that the misrepresentations allowed the defendants to market and sell identical engines as different products at different prices.
According to the suit, the companies formed a group called the "Power Labeling Task Force," which the plaintiffs allege was used to "meet, discuss, conspire, conceal and further their fraudulent horsepower misrepresentations."
The suit also charges that the task force created a misleading disclaimer titled "Understanding Horsepower" and placed it on the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute's Web site.
The complaint argues that the disclaimer purposely misled the public and was an effort to conceal the fraudulent horsepower labeling practices.
Plaintiffs charge that many other labeling methods were used to conceal the actual horsepower generated by the respective lawn mower's engine. These methods included the use of "gross" horsepower, which is the theoretical horsepower an engine could achieve under ideal laboratory conditions. Or the use of the "torque" on lawn mower engine's labels, despite that "engineers assert that torque is not an appropriate quantifier of power," the plaintiffs state.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge T. John Ward.
More Impurities Showing Up In Ground Water, USGS Says
Study shows increase in nitrate contamination09/19/2008ConsumerAffairs
More Impurities Showing Up In Ground Water, USGS Says...
As the U.S. population and related development rises, so does the impurities found in drinking water that comes from the ground.
A new study by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has found an increase in nitrate, the most common chemical contaminant in the world's ground water, including in aquifers used for drinking-water supply.
Nitrate in U.S. drinking water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency because of concerns related to infant health and possible cancer risks. Use of man-made synthetic fertilizers has steadily increased since World War II, raising the potential for increased nitrate contamination of the nation's ground water, despite efforts in recent decades to improve land-management practices. Monitoring nitrate trends in ground water through time is important in determining how quickly ground-water systems respond to changes in chemical use and best management practices.
For the study, monitoring data collected by teams across the country in multiple aquifers were analyzed to characterize near-decadal trends in nitrate concentrations in ground water between 1988 and 2004. Results from the study were published in a companion supplement to the September-October issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality.
Findings show statistically significant increases in concentrations of nitrate in seven of the 24 well networks tested. Median nitrate concentrations of three of those seven well networks increased above the US Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant level of 10 parts per million. Concentrations decreased in one network located in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The study included estimates of the age of the ground water (time since the water recharged to the aquifer); nitrate concentrations in ground water increased in response to the increased use of fertilizers since World War II.
"This study highlights the importance of maintaining long-term ground-water monitoring programs in the nation, because sustained monitoring provides critical information on changes of our nation's ground-water quality, and whether pollution prevention programs are effective in protecting this nation's ground water," said Michael Rupert, a hydrologist with the USGS.
The USGS implemented the program in 1991 to support national, regional, state, and local information needs and decisions related to water-quality management and policy. The program is designed to answer: What is the condition of our Nation's streams and ground water, and how are conditions changing over time? In the second decade of the Program (20012012), a major focus is on regional assessments of water-quality conditions and trends at sites that have been consistently monitored for more than a decade.
GM Recalls 2008-09 Saturn Vues
Fluid Leak Could Cause a Fire09/19/2008ConsumerAffairs
General Motors is recalling 42,408 of its 2008 and 2009 Saturn Vue crossovers because power steering fluid could leak onto the exhaust system sparking a ve...
General Motors is recalling 42,408 of its 2008 and 2009 Saturn Vue crossovers because power steering fluid could leak onto the exhaust system sparking a vehicle fire.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported on its Web site that "some of these vehicles have a condition in which the nut securing the power steering line to the power steering pump may loosen."
The safety agency warned that as a result, fluid could leak from the power steering system and "contact hot exhaust components resulting in a possible engine compartment fire."
Saturn dealers will inspect the steering system and if there are indications of a fluid leak a technician will tighten the nut attaching the hydraulic line to the power steering pump and replace any lost fluid.
The recall is scheduled to begin September 26. Saturn Vue owners can contact General Motors at 1-800-972-8876.
Investigations of $5 Gas in North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia
Price gouging, shortages at the pump probed09/18/2008ConsumerAffairs
Investigations of $5 Gas in North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia...
The average price of regular self-serve gasoline dropped 2 cents throughout the country overnight to $3.835 but thousands of consumers continued to complain to state officials about price gouging immediately following Hurricane Ike.
Prices climbed almost 19 cents over an eight day period as Ike moved across the Gulf of Mexico, jumping 6.2 cents on Sunday alone.
Price-gouging complaints are flooding state officials in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina.
Along with high prices in Florida, the Attorney General's office reported that there continues to be some gasoline shortages throughout the state.
Consumers in Tallahassee faced plastic bags over fuel pumps as the aftermath of Hurricane Ike disrupted gasoline deliveries.
Palm Beach topped the number of price gouging complaints in South Florida with 93. Broward registered 63 and Miami-Dade had 58 complaints. Pumps dried up throughout West Palm Beach as handmade signs stuck to pumps proclaimed no gas was available.
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum's office reported a total of 5,500 calls from around the state and 2,397 open cases for review of price-gouging violations.
As part of its inquiry, the attorney general has issued subpoenas to four oil companies.
The attorney general in Florida can fine stations that took advantage of consumers as much as $1,000 for each consumer or up to $25,000 a day, according to the state price gouging law.
Gas prices in some areas of the Sunshine State jumped more than a dollar to more than $5 a gallon in Tallahassee, Orlando and Miami, according to reports.
The Office of Consumer Affairs in Virginia has received more than 2,000 consumer complaints about price gouging and the state ha sent 30 inspectors statewide to investigate the complaints.
The penalty for price gouging in Virginia is a fine of up to $2,500 for each violation.
The Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs reported that proving price gouging following Hurricane Ike will be difficult because prices may have already been inflated follow Hurricane Gustav disruption of Gulf Coast refining capacity a few weeks ago.
Virginia Governor Tim Kaine issued a waiver in the state that allows the distribution of gasoline blends not usually sold until October 1 in an effort to increase gas supplies in the state.
In North Carolina, the attorney general subpoenaed seven gas stations that were reported to have charged $5.49 a gallon for regular gasoline following Hurricane Ike.
North Carolina Governor Mike Easley also warned consumers in the state that "there may be temporary limitations on our gas supply."
The attorney general in North Carolina has received 2,800 consumer complaints of dramatic increases in gas prices, some occurring over a matter of hours. Investigators have sent subpoenas to seven separate retailers that were allegedly charging in excess of $5.49 per gallon on either Friday or Saturday.
Tom Crosby, a spokesperson for AAA Carolinas said the problems with high gas prices are attributed to both the shortage due to Hurricane Ike and a public panic.
"We have what's called 'panic pumping,' where motorists drained the supply of gas more than they needed to," he said. "And at the same time we had a problem with the hurricane affecting the supply of product from the Texas area."
Crosby said he predicted gas prices would stabilize later this the week.
Saturn Aura Gets a 5,000-Mile Road Test
Coast-to-coast dash & back tests Aura's mettle09/18/2008ConsumerAffairsBy James R. Hood
The 5,500-mile coast-to-coast-to-coast marathon road test of our 2007 Saturn Aura XR started at the UPS Store in the quiet Washington, D.C., suburb of Oakt...
The 5,500-mile coast-to-coast-to-coast marathon road test of our 2007 Saturn Aura XR started at the UPS Store in the quiet Washington, D.C., suburb of Oakton, Va. It wound up about half a mile from there two weeks later after a quick trip to Los Angeles and back.
The initial assignment seemed simple enough. A young family member was headed to California and needed to ship her worldly goods so they would arrive a day or so after her flight landed. But in the parking lot, it became clear it wouldn't be so simple.
"How do I know they won't lose my stuff? Or break it?" she asked, a chin tremble becoming evident. "How do I know I'll ever see any of this again?"
"It's insured. If they drive a front-end loader over it, they'll have to pay up," I offered, knowing as soon as I said it that my assurance wasn't what was needed.
Soon, we had not only backed out of the UPS Store parking lot, we were headed west on Interstate 66 on a sunny Sunday afternoon, the Saturn loaded down with such priceless and irreplaceable objects as personalized coffee cups, shot glasses and candleholders.
The drive on I-66 was pleasant enough as we climbed up out of the swamp that, though far from drained, nevertheless is home to our so-called government. Soon we turned south on I-81 into the fabled Shenandoah Valley, whose beauty has been oft celebrated in song. It is perhaps those ballads that attract so many tractor-trailer trucks and passenger cars to the thin ribbon of asphalt that passes for a highway in Virginia.
The asthmatics among us felt our chests tighten and our young passenger asked what had happened to the mountains. "They're still there, you just can't see them through the smog," I assured her.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but for the next five hours we breathed air that belonged inside the tailpipe of a 1950 Ford and watched an ugly brown cloud hover and ooze its way through the hills, dales, gulleys and what-have-you. I could taste Virginia on my tongue for days afterwards.
It being Sunday afternoon, besides the ever-present moving wall of semis, we had the usual collection of speed demons, sight-seers and hungover students from the many universities that line I-81. On one occasion, we let the Aura blast itself free of a rolling clot, giving the 3.7-liter engine a firm tap and holding on tight to the wheel.
Now, you don't normally think of Saturns as fast but the XR is a surprisingly responsive sports version of its more sedate cousin, the XE, voted North American Car of the Year in 2007. Besides the engine on steroids, the XR boasts a six-speed electronic transmission with Formula One-style steering-wheel-mounted shift levers, a very tight suspension and 18-inch wheels. The price on the sticker: $27,019.
The one thing it has a little too much of for my taste is power at high speeds. Kick the accelerator hard when you're doing 80 or so and the smoothly-loping stallion becomes a bucking bronco, crazily dancing in tiny little stutter steps. There's not nearly as much torque steer as in the early days of front-wheel-drive cars but there's enough to be scary.
The first -- and last -- time I floored it to maneuver through a tight spot, I feared we were about to do the front-wheel equivalent of a fishtail. As an accredited member of the 720 Club, I have had two more go-rounds than necessary and don't relish having any more, thanks very much.
Not too many years ago, I floored an insanely-powerful 1995 Alfa Romeo 164 sports sedan on an empty highway, just to see what would happen. What happened is that it jumped into the next lane, leaving me to consider whether it would be better just to walk home.
Saturn -- or more precisely Opel, on whose design the Aura is based -- has built an exceptional sports sedan. But a car with this much power at high speed needs to be rear-wheel drive, in my humble opinion. The electronic stability control helps keep the car on the straight and narrow but I would not want to be anywhere nearby when one of these broncos comes loose on a damp pavement.
Having learned to be tender with the accelerator, we gently worked our way free of traffic-clogged, smog-ridden Virginia, drifting into Tennessee and meeting up with Interstate 40, which was to take us through Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, New Mexico, Arizona and a slice of California.
It seems to be my fate to be on the road when disaster strikes and this trip was no exception. We left on Sunday, August 31, just as Hurricane Gustav was bearing down on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Evacuees fled north to Memphis on I-55, then spread out from there.
Many went east on I-40, we learned that evening as we pulled into motel parking lots jammed with cars bearing Louisiana license plates.
"Hmmm, might be hard finding a room," I cautioned my passenger, who was blissfully sleeping in the back and could not have cared less.
We rolled on through the enveloping darkness, occasionally making half-hearted stops to inquire, in the manner of a door-to-door firewood salesman, "You don't have any rooms, do you?" In a filled-up Marriott Courtyard, we chatted with a family -- a couple, their children, aged parents and two dogs -- that had been on the road for 15 hours and were sorely in need of rest.
"We lived through Katrina, so I guess we can live through this," the hard-pressed husband told me, though he didn't seem so sure.
Everyone we encountered was quite nice to the evacuees but the options were definitely limited. For the two of us, it was an inconvenience and nothing more but for entire families wandering the highways and wondering if they would have homes and jobs to go back to, it was a very sad and tense Labor Day weekend.
We rolled on into Arkansas, where a very helpful Howard Johnson's manager on the outskirts of Little Rock assured us there were no rooms anywhere in Tennessee or Arkansas. "You'll have to head for Oklahoma," he said.
"Well, I was headed for Oklahoma anyway so that should be no problem," I assured him. But in fact, we found lodging about 5 a.m. the next morning at the Russellville, Arkansas, Holiday Inn. We paid the regular price and the friendly manager assured us the restaurant would be serving breakfast later than usual the next morning so we could sleep in without fear of going hungry.
Complaints of price-gouging always surface after storms and no doubt many are valid, but we found no instances of jacked-up gas or food prices and not one hotel clerk even suggested that a room could be had for a few dollars extra.
After putting in 15 hours behind the wheel, I was not too thrilled to find the Aura waiting for me the next day, but the car is so comfortable and well-appointed that I was really none the worse for wear and we were soon traveling west through the last few miles of Arkansas, headed for the Sooner State and sampling new XM channels.
A generation gap became evident as we tussled over whether it was better to listen to XM's Fine Tuning or plug our young passenger's iPod into the Aura's sound system. She won and for the rest of the trip, the iPod and the Aura's speakers teamed up to keep us entertained.
I missed listening to the news but there are so many XM channels and we had so many miles to go that I didn't take the time to search out the XM news channels and hunting for local stations is apparently something that's just not done anymore.
We had an uneventful trip through Oklahoma and most of New Mexico, no thanks to the very poorly-marked and badly-lit Albuquerque freeways. We actually wanted to stay in Albuquerque but there was so much highway construction and so little useful exit information that we continued on to the mighty little metropolis of Grants.
"Virginia," the Holiday Inn Express clerk pondered, studying our license plate. "That's near Oklahoma, isn't it? I've been to Oklahoma. There's a lot of states border Oklahoma."
They surely do, we agreed.
The next day we crossed into Northeastern Arizona and I was able to bore my passenger with tales of my adventures as young reporter in Arizona back in the prehistoric 70s. Why, there was the time I got stuck in a sand storm on the Hopi reservation and completely sandblasted my Fiat roadster. Then there was ... oh, never mind.
We passed through Flagstaff, a lumberjack's town that is rapidly becoming a yuppie refuge, climbed through the beautiful Coconino Mountains and up onto the high plateau that would take us into California and the dread Mojave Desert.
As we passed Lake Havasu City, I recalled covering the dedication of the London Bridge, moved stone by stone from London to the Arizona desert. Our press contingent flew from Phoenix to Lake Havasu on Frank Sinatra's private jet, I told my passenger, realizing as her eyes glazed over that the term "Frank Sinatra" was not in her vocabulary.
"Carrying any fruits?" asked the bored functionary at the California Entry Station. Her manner made it clear we were not to make any comments about everyone on board being straight and so we shook our heads and went wordlessly into the Mojave.
There is beauty in the desert if you know where to look for it, but most of the drivers on I-40 were looking for Barstow. Cars routinely flew past us at speeds of 100 or more.
The desire to get through the desert is understandable but it's also wise to think about the fact that when it's 110 outside, a car's tires, cooling system and other components are being stressed beyond their normal limits. Trying to match one's speed to the temperature is an invitation to a tire tread separation or worse.
The very same Fiat that had suffered so grievously on the Hopi reservation blew its engine going up the hill towards Indio a year or so later and I well remember the few hours I spent standing there until a cowgirl stopped her pickup to give me a lift into town. Take it from one who's been there: the desert is not where you want to be stranded.
Thanks to that first, 15-hour day, we motored stately into big LA right on schedule late Tuesday afternoon, made our way to the hotel and, the next day, unloaded gobs of luggage and personal treasures at our destination.
The Aura's trunk is cavernous under normal circumstances. We had even more room than normal, thanks to our having left the spare tire in the garage of an Eastern Long Island beach house a few months before. This was not due to any foresight on our part; rather, it was due to one of several annoying fit and finish problems with the Aura.
To put it bluntly, the Aura's trunk leaks like a collander. The spare tire well had several inches of water sloshing around in it when we discovered the problem. The rug and well cover were getting moldy, and the jack and spare wheel were getting rusty when we emptied the trunk and dried it out as best we could.
While having some other work done, we asked the service manager at Saturn of Fairfax to check the leak in the trunk. He said we would need to bring the car back and have a separate service order written, since we had failed to mention it when the car was brought in.
"Well, it's sitting there ten feet away from you. Why don't you walk over there and see if the problem jumps out at you?" we asked. He flatly refused and we haven't been back there since. A few days later, as if the service manager had put a hex on the car, it spit out its right-hand door handle, leaving an unsightly gap that puzzles valet parking attendants.
Another oversight: The battery ran down one evening when a guest driver inadvertently disabled the automatic headlight switch, causing the lights to stay on for hours. There was a nice new set of jumper cables in the trunk but as far as we can tell, the trunk can be opened only electronically, through a switch on the dash or with the remote control.
At any rate, unburdened of our passenger's luggage, we bid her farewell and made our way to LAX Lot B, the long-term parking area, where we intended to leave the car for a colleague who would soon be moving to our Los Angeles office. We jumped on Virgin America, were lulled to sleep by the mood lighting and arrived more or less refreshed at Dulles Airport in Virginia a few hours later.
A week or so later, plans again went awry. The colleague would not be in Los Angeles after all and the car was orphaned at LAX, where there is a 30-day parking limit. Hello again to Virgin America, back on the Lot B bus and into the Aura.
The Lot B cashier looked suspiciously at our credit card and peered closely at our license plate.
"Is that East Virginia or West Virginia?" she asked sharply. Not wanting to get into an extended discussion of place names, we informed her it was East Virginia, an assertion she duly noted in her official records.
We took time out for a quick oil change at Pep Boys and washed off the Oklahoma bugs and LAX jet fuel at the legendary Santa Palm Car Wash in West Hollywood. Lubed and looking good, the Aura nosed east -- back across the desert, through the mountains and the MidSouth or whatever it's now being called -- into Virginia (state motto: Radar Detectors Illegal) and back up the smoky, smelly Shenandoah Valley, where the air was as foul at midnight as it had been at high noon a week earlier.
We were one exit away from the UPS Store parking lot when the Aura surged with unnecessary vigor past a few late-night travelers. One was a Virginia State Police officer who eyed us suspiciously but decided we were harmless as we sought refuge in the right lane and slowed to 60.
We would give you total mileage but the Aura's onboard computer resets its trip odometer each 1,000 miles, a fact we discovered much too late to do anything about it. Let's call it 5,300 miles. We averaged about 26.6 miles per gallon, much better than the dismal 12 or 13 the car normally gets crawling around DC and its Virginia suburbs.
Perhaps most significantly, after two marathon trips involving long hours of high-speed driving on unfamiliar and often dark and crowded highways, we arrived in good spirits and with none of the soreness and stiffness that often accompanies long hours behind the wheel.
The Aura is an outstanding highway cruiser. It will glide along all day at 80 or so as the engine barely turns over at about 1,800 rpms. Except for the annoyances noted above, we'd have to give the Aura five stars for comfort, performance and value. Now if only the trunk didn't leak.
Asian Baby Death Toll From Infant Formula Rises
FDA claims U.S. formula is safe, despite pet deaths last year09/18/2008ConsumerAffairs
Asian Baby Death Toll From Infant Formula Rises...
While babies continue to die and be hospitalized by tainted formula in Asia, the Food and Drug Administration says formula in the U.S. does not contain the dangerous chemical found in the Chinese product.
At least three babies have died in China from acute kidney failure and more than 6,200 others have fallen ill while at least 158 are in critical condition after consuming baby formula that contained the dangerous chemical melamine.
At least 22 dairy producers that exported to many parts of the world are involved in a quickly widening corruption scandal involving the Chinese government that exempted at least some of those manufacturers from any testing, according to The Washington Post.
Melamine is used to make chemicals and fertilizer, but has sometimes been used to boost the apparent protein levels when illegally combined with food. That combination was proven deadly last year when thousands of pets, many in the U.S., died because Chinese companies that exported pet food components to the U.S. mixed it into their recipes.
Chinese parents told The New York Times they are outraged manufacturers would not only use a chemical that is illegal when combined with food, but that they would use it only a year after the same unscrupulous practice killed dogs and cats.
Although the companies distributed their products to many parts of the world, especially in Asia, an FDA spokeswoman assured ConsumerAffairs.com baby formula in the U.S. is safe.
"All makers of infant formula that can be legally marketed in the United States have confirmed that they do not use milk products from China in the manufacture of their products," Stephanie Kwisnek wrote in an e-mail.
Financing companies offer low-quality alternatives at higher prices09/18/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
You can get a more powerful computer for less money this year than you could last year, which is just the continuation of a longtime trend....
John Deere Gator XUV 620i Utility Vehicles09/17/2008ConsumerAffairs
John Deere Gator XUV 620i Utility Vehicles...
September 17, 2008
John Deere is recalling the Gator XUV 620i Utility Vehicle.
The fuel tank can leak from a gap in the seam at the base of the filler neck, posing a fire hazard.
Deere & Company has received seven reports of fuel tank leaks. No fires or injuries have been reported.
The recalled utility vehicle is Model 620i. The model number is painted on the side of the vehicle. The recall includes the following serial numbers. The serial number plate is on the vehicles frame in front of the passenger side rear fender.
|Model||Serial Number Ranges|
|XUV 620i Gas (Como)||M0XUVGC020001 thru|
|XUV 620i Gas (Olive)||M0XUVGT021581 thru|
|XUV 620i Gas (Green)||M0XUVGX023930, M0XUVGX023941,|
The Gators, made in the United States, were sold by John Deere dealers nationwide from April 2008 through August 2008 for about $10,000.
Consumers should stop using the recalled utility vehicles immediately and contact any John Deere dealer to schedule a free inspection and repair. Keep fuel tank below half full until the repair is made. Registered owners were sent direct mail notification of this recall.
For additional information, contact Deere & Company at (800) 537-8233 between 8 a.m. and 6p.m. ET Monday through Friday, and Saturday between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET, or visit the firms Web site at www.johndeere.com
The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Simplicity Drop-Side Cribs Recalled09/17/2008ConsumerAffairs
Simplicity Drop-Side Cribs Recalled...
Retailers and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are recalling about 600,000 Simplicity drop-side cribs because of an entrapment and suffocation hazard.
It's the latest in a series of safety warnings and recalls affecting Simplicity baby furniture. Last month, safety regulators warned that Simplicity bassinets had been implicated in the deaths of two infatns.
The recall notice said that, due to sizing problems with the cribs hardware, the drop side can come off the tracks. When the drop side detaches or partially detaches, it creates a hazardous gap, which can lead to infant entrapment and suffocation.
There have been at least nine incidents in which the drop side detached but so far, there have been no reports of injuries.
This recall of Simplicity drop side cribs involves models that used a different style of hardware from those cribs recalled in September 2007. The recalled model numbers include: 8620, 8745, 8748, 8755, 8756, 8778, 8810, and 8994. The recalled drop side cribs have a date code, which can be found on a label on the headboard under the mattress support, which ends in 05DH, 05GB, 06DH, 06GB, 07DH or 07GB (examples: 1806 DH or 0507 GB). The recalled model names include: Aspen and Crib N Changer Combo, Gabrielle, Camille, Providence and Shenandoah. Only the brand name Simplicity can be seen on the label on the headboard.
The cribs, made in China, were sold by department stores, childrens stores and mass merchandisers nationwide from January 2005 through August 2008 for between $150 and $300.
Retailers participating in the recall include:
AAFES, of Dallas, Texas
BabiesRUs, of Wayne, N.J.
Burlington Coat Factory/Baby Depot, of Burlington, N.J.
Ks Merchandise (out of business)
Meijer Distribution Inc., of Grand Rapids, Mich.
Nebraska Furniture Mart, of Omaha, Neb.
ShopKo, of Green Bay, Wis.
Target, of Minneapolis, Minn.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc, of Bentonville, Ark.
Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled cribs and find an alternative, safe sleeping environment for their baby. Consumers should return the recalled crib to the place of purchase for a refund or store credit. SFCA Inc., of Reading, Pa., Simplicity's successor company, is working with retailers to carry out this recall program.
For additional information, contact:
AAFES - (800) 866-3605 www.AAFES.com
Babies R Us - (800) 869-7787 www.babiesrus.com
Burlington Coat Factory/Baby Depot - www.babydepot.com
Meijer Distribution Inc. - (866) 280-8419 www.meijer.com
Nebraska Furniture Mart 800-359-1200 - www.nfm.com
Shopko - (800) 791-7333 www.shopko.com
Target - (800) 440-0680 - www.target.com
Wal-Mart - (800) 925-6278 - www.walmart.com
The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
United Doubles Second Bag Fee To $50
First bag check fee remains $1509/15/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
United Doubles Second Bag Fee To $50...
Even though oil prices have fallen below $100 a barrel, United Airlines says the cost of jet fuel is still wrecking havoc on its budget. As a result, the airline has announced it is increasing the fee for a second piece of checked luggage from $25 to $50 effective September 16, 2008.
The fee for the first piece of checked luggage remains $15, the airline said.
The new fee will apply to passengers traveling on an Economy ticket or an Economy award ticket. Passengers with first class or business class tickets will not be charged the fee. Members of United's various rewards programs, including Global Services, Mileage Plus, Premier Executive, Premier, or Premier Associate, are also exempt.
United said it will waive the increase for active duty military personnel and/or their dependants, with ID and traveling on order. The airline said passengers may be subject to additional fees if:
• you check more than two bags;
• any of your bags weigh more than 50 lbs. (23 kg);
• any of your bags exceed 62 linear inches (158 linear cm)*; and/or
• any of your checked bags are considered special items.
Mars Recalls More Pet Food
Possible salmonella contmination in dog, cat food09/13/2008ConsumerAffairs
Mars Recalls More Pet Food...
Mars Petcare US has recalled all of its dry pet food products manufactured at the company's Everson, Pennsylvania, facility between February 18 and July 29, 2008 because of possible salmonella contamination.
The voluntary recall involves such brands of dog and cat food as Pedigree, Special Kitty, Ol'Roy, and PMI Nutrition Gravy Crunches manufactured at that plant.
This the second time in recent weeks that Mars has recalled some of its products because of possible salmonella contamination.
In August, a salmonella scare forced the company to recall 100 of its 20-pound bags of Pedigree Complete Nutrition Small Crunchy Bites sold at some Albertsons in Southern California and Las Vegas, Nevada.
Mars also manufactures Nutro pet food, which scores of consumers nationwide have blamed for the recent illnesses -- and even deaths -- of their dog and cats.
Nutro products, however, were not included in that recall. They are also not involved in this latest action.
Back in August, Mars said a "component" that tested positive for salmonella was inadvertently shipped to its Tracy, California, plant and used in the production of 100 bags of Pedigree pet food.
In this latest recall, Mars said it has not received any confirmed reports of illnesses caused by the contaminated pet food.
"Even though no direct link between products produced at the Everson manufacturing plant and human or pet illness has been made, we are taking this precautionary action to protect pets and their owners," Catherine Woteki, global director of scientific affairs for Mars, said in a statement issued by the company.
"We are continuing to work collaboratively with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to determine the nature and source of Salmonella Schwarzengrund at the Everson facility, and are committed to making sure our consumers and customers have the information they need regarding our voluntary recall," she said.
Mars said it stopped production at the Everson facility on July 29, 2008, when it learned of a possible connection between dry pet food produced at the plant and two isolated cases of people infected with salmonella.
Many of the pet food brands involved in the recall are produced at multiple facilities, the company said.
The products involved in this action have the number "17" as the first two digits of the second line.
This chart lists all the pet food involved in this recall:
Product Name / Bag Size
Product Name / Bag Size
Country Acres Cat Food40#
Retriever Bites & Bones Dog Food8#
Country Acres Ration Dog Food40#
Retriever Bites & Bones Dog Food20#
Country Acres 18% Dog Food40#
Retriever Bites & Bones Dog Food50#
Country Acres Hi Pro Dog Food50#
Retriever Gravy Blend Dog Food50#
Doggy Bag Dog Food40#
Retriever Gravy Blend Dog Food8#
Members Mark Complete Nutrition Premium Cat Food20#
Retriever Hi Protein Dog Food8#
Members Mark Complete Nutrition Premium Dog Food50#
Retriever Hi Protein Dog Food25#
Members Mark Crunchy Bites & Savory Bones Adult Dog Food50#
Retriever Hi Protein Dog Food50#
Members Mark High Performance Premium Dog Food50#
Retriever Mini Chunk Dog Food8#
Natural Cat Food (Sam's Club)15#
Retriever Mini ChunkDog Food25#
Natural Dog Food(Sam's Club)25#
Retriever Mini ChunkDog Food50#
Ol' Roy Complete Nutrition4.4#
Retriever Puppy Blend Dog Food6#
Ol' Roy Complete Nutrition8#
Retriever Puppy Blend Dog Food8#
Ol' Roy Complete Nutrition 22#
Retriever Puppy Blend Dog Food20#
Ol' Roy Complete Nutrition50#
Retriever Puppy Blend Dog Food40#
Ol' Roy High Performance Nutrition Dog Food20#
Special Kitty Gourmet3.5#
Ol' Roy High Performance Nutrition Dog Food50#
Special Kitty Gourmet4#
Ol' Roy Meaty Chunks 'n Gravy Dog Food8#
Special Kitty Gourmet7#
Ol' Roy Meaty Chunks 'n Gravy Dog Food22#
Special Kitty Gourmet8#
Ol' Roy Meaty Chunks 'n Gravy Dog Food50#
Special Kitty Gourmet18#
Ol' Roy Puppy Complete4#
Special Kitty Gourmet20#
Ol' Roy Puppy Complete8#
Special Kitty Gourmet25#
Ol' Roy Puppy Complete20#
Special Kitty Kitten3.5#
Paws & Claws Delicious Mix Cat Food8#
Special Kitty Kitten4#
Paws & Claws Delicious Mix Cat Food20#
Special Kitty Kitten7#
Paws & Claws Delicious Mix Cat Food40#
Special Kitty Kitten8#
Paws & Claws Premium Choice Cat Food8#
Special Kitty Original3.5#
Paws & Claws Premium Choice Cat Food20#
Special Kitty Original4#
Paws & Claws Premium Choice Cat Food40#
Special Kitty Original7#
Pedigree Large Breed Adult Nutrition20#
Special Kitty Original8#
Pedigree Large Breed Adult Nutrition30.1#
Special Kitty Original18#
Pedigree Large Breed Adult Nutrition36.4#
Special Kitty Original20#
Pedigree Large Breed Adult Nutrition40#
Special Kitty Original25#
Pedigree Small Crunchy Bites Adult Nutrition4.4#
Wegman's Bruiser Complete Nutrition Dog Food4.4#
Pedigree Small Crunchy Bites Adult Nutrition8.8#
Wegman's Bruiser Complete Nutrition Dog Food20#
Pedigree Small Crunchy Bites Adult Nutrition20#
Wegman's Bruiser Complete Nutrition Dog Food37.5#
Pedigree Small Crunchy Bites Adult Nutrition32#
Wegman's Bruiser Puppy Dog Food4.4#
Pedigree Small Crunchy Bites Adult Nutrition40#
Wegman's Bruiser Puppy Dog Food17.6#
Pedigree Small Crunchy Bites Adult Nutrition44#
Wegman's Bruiser Small Crunchy Bites Dog Food4.4#
Pedigree Small Crunchy Bites Adult Nutrition52#
Wegman's Bruiser Small Crunchy Bites Dog Food20#
Pet Pride Indoor Cat3.5#
Wegman's Buju & Ziggie Complete Cat Food3.5#
Pet Pride Indoor Cat18#
Wegman's Buju & Ziggie Complete Cat Food18#
Pet Pride Weight Management Dog Food17.6#
Wegman's Buju & Ziggie Indoor Cat Food3.5#
PMI Nutrition Bites & Bones Dog Food50#
Wegman's Buju & Ziggie Indoor Cat Food18#
PMI Nutrition Canine Advantage50#
Wegman's Buju & Ziggie Kitten3.5#
PMI Nutrition Feline Medley20#
Wegman's Buju & Ziggie Original Medley Cat Food3.5#
PMI Nutrition Gravy Crunches Dog Food40#
Wegman's Buju & Ziggie Original Medley Cat Food18#
Red Flannel Active Formula Dog Food40#
Red Flannel Adult Formula Dog Food20#
Red Flannel Adult Formula Dog Food40#
Red Flannel Canine Select Dog Food20#
Red Flannel Canine Select Dog Food40#
Red Flannel Cat10#
Red Flannel Cat20#
Red Flannel Hi Pro Formula Dog Food50#
Red Flannel Prime Dog Food25#
Red Flannel Prime Dog Food50#
Red Flannel Puppy40#
FDA officials say salmonella can cause serious infections in dogs and cats -- and in humans if there is cross contamination from handling the pet food.
Salmonella is especially dangerous in children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems.
Symptoms of salmonella poisoning in humans include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever. In rare cases, salmonella can cause more serious ailments, such as arterial infections, endocarditis, arthritis, muscle pain, eye irritation, and urinary tract symptoms.
Consumers who have these symptoms after handling the pet food should immediately contact their doctor.
Pets with salmonella poisoning may be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting.
Some pets will have only decreased appetite, fever, and abdominal pain, the company said. Any pets that have eaten the recalled products -- and show these symptoms -- should see a veterinarian.
The company said it is working with the FDA to determine the nature and source of the salmonella at the Everson facility. Mars will not resume production at the facility until the source of the salmonella is identified.
Mars also said it will also work with retail customers to ensure the recalled products are not on store shelves.
Consumers who have purchased products involved in this recall should return them for a full refund.
For more information about the recall, pet owners can contact the company at 1-877-568-4463 or visit its Web site: www.petcare.mars.com.The FDA also has tips on safe pet food handling on its Web site.
Why Individual Investors Shouldn't Buy Individual Stocks
Hedge fund managers are controlling the market09/13/2008ConsumerAffairs
Why Individual Investors Shouldn't Buy Individual Stocks...
It's finally happened. The risks could outweigh the rewards when it comes to individual investors investing directly in the stock market. Whether it's due to a creeping contagion of toxic debt, or what CNBC's Mad Money guru Jim Cramer calls "hedge fund managers gone wild," there are forces at work impacting stock prices that have nothing to do with a stock's fundamental value.
As Cramer explained it, hedge fund managers are in control of the stock market and they are causing all this volatility and erratic trading. He says that hedge funds wield such massive influence that many stocks are now completely disconnected from their underlying businesses.
That's why it's so hard to establish a buying price. Cramer says that until the hedge funds "finish selling or some buyers -- real corporate buyers -- come out of the woodwork, it's not going to get any easier. And it simply may not be worth your effort, your time or your sanity."
In the last ten years, the number of hedge funds increased from 600 to 13,600 with assets under management zooming from around $100 billion to an estimated $2.2 trillion. This means that hedge funds, which are not regulated by any agency, represent as much as 60 percent of all global trading.
Hedge fund managers typically are expected to come up with at least a 20 percent return for their clients. That means they need quick returns--and they'll do almost anything to satisfy their investors from spreading rumors and using leverage, as well as long, short, and derivative positions. This churns up volatility and causes the stock market to feel like Hurricane Ike.
So what should individual investors do if the stocks they hold are at all-time-lows--hold them until they come back, or get out now before short sellers drive prices to the point they're worthless? Ask anyone who still holds Lehman Brothers, the giant insurance company AIG, or Merrill Lynch then stand back as they hurl.
As for those risk-reward scenarios, there are some charts that say now is the time to buy financials. But that's not necessarily true for individual investors looking at individual stocks.
Let's take Merrill Lynch. Citigroup issued a report on Friday (September 12), calling Merrill a "buy" because as it valued the company's fundamentals at $45 a share. But Merrill actually closed out the week at $17.05, a new 52 week low. Why? Because in the mind of many hedge fund managers, Merrill is infected with the same toxic debt that destroyed Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, and there was nothing Merrill could do about it.
And then there was Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Individual investors were still pouring money into the two government sponsored mortgage companies after being reassured a government takeover wouldn't be necessary until it was.
Most investors are aware that stock investing carries some risk and that share prices can collapse if the business fails. But these days the business can be just fine, while the stock price continues to drop.
One logical alternative solution would be for individual investors to simply put their money into mutual funds. But wait. Aren't there reports out there that say three out of four mutual fund managers underperform the stock market when you take their fees into account?
So what should individual investors do? As long as the stock market is being controlled by hedge funds, you might want to consider low cost index funds. At least that way the up and down swings will mirror whatever index you've invested in and not some company the predatory short sellers have targeted as their next victim. If you had an index fund tied to the Dow Jones Industrials, you would have been up slightly for the week.
That said, many investors have a difficult time determining when they should sell an individual stock, especially when it has lost most of its value. There's the temptation to hold on until the price comes back. But it may never come back.
Financial advisors will give you some parameters when it comes to selling stocks. For example, you shouldn't allow individual stocks to lose more than 10 percent of what you bought it for. Individual stocks are volatile and you should cut your losses quickly. Too many investors act like deer in the headlights and freeze up when their stocks prices drop. So when you buy a stock, you should write down the price you will sell at and stick with it. The bottom line is that you want to make sure you sell losing stocks before they turn into bottomless pits like Lehman and Bear Stearns.
Of course, for those high rollers out there who still feel the urge to place their bets on this roulette wheel of a market, you may be able to select a few individual stocks. Cramer, for example, recommends FedEx and Sears. Just be careful and be ready to move quickly if their prices begin to fall too far too quickly.
For those true long shot bets, you may also pick the next Google. Just keep in mind that Google is now selling for around $435 a share after going up to $747. If you bought Google at $747 you lost $300 a share in the past year.
And even Jim Cramer, who touts stocks for a living, says that unless you can devote four hours a week to study a stock's fundamentals, go the index fund route.
But the product owners and experts disagree09/12/2008ConsumerAffairs
"The truth is, all Swiffer products are safe to use around children and pets when used according to directions a fact confirmed by scientists, veterinarian...
Two infant deaths blamed on recalled bassinets09/11/2008ConsumerAffairs
Recalled Simplicity Bassinets May Carry Graco, Winnie the Pooh Brands...
Countrywide Warns Millions of Data Breach
Former employee sold customer records for two years09/11/2008ConsumerAffairs
Countrywide Warns Millions of Data Breach...
Customers of troubled mortgage lender Countrywide already have enough to worry about due to the collapse of the housing market and the lender's sale to Bank of America. Now they can add a new worry to the list--identity theft and fraud.
As many as 2 million Countrywide customers may be at risk thanks to a data breach that lasted for nearly two years, the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday. A former Countrywide employee was arrested on August 1 and charged with illegally accessing the lender's records to sell sales leads to mortgage brokers.
Countrywide confirmed that the breach had taken place, but company spokesman Rick Davis said that the figure of 2 million victims was "too high." The company nevertheless promised to provide two years of free credit monitoring to affected individuals through the ConsumerInfo.com division of the Experian credit bureau.
ConsumerAffairs.com has already received multiple complaints from Countrywide customers affected by the breach. Herschel from Acworth, Georgia wrote that "Countrywide informed me today that an employee of their's sold the customer info to a third party. They sold my name, address, SS# mortgage loan number and various other loan and application information."
Michael from Sicklerville, New Jersey also received a letter. "They offered to fix the situation by providing me a two year free subscription to ConsumerInfo.com, which is one of their vendors," Michael said. "I find this to be insufficient, and wonder if I can take any legal action against them."
Among those affected by the breach are 28,123 Connecticut customers of Countrywide. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal demanded written guarantees that Countrywide will compensate victims of the breach.
"Countrywide consumers justifiably want an explanation for a long-term security failure that enabled an employee -- undetected and uncontrolled -- to download sensitive information over an extended period of time," Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal's office previously sued Countrywide last month for allegedly pushing customers into expensive loans using deceptive marketing tactics, and charging excessive fees and penalties. California's Attorney General Edmund Brown also sued Countrywide over similar charges in June 2008.
Authorities also warned affected customers to place credit freezes on their accounts in addition to using the free credit monitoring. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia all have their own credit freeze laws, and the big three credit bureaus--Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union--recently rolled out credit freeze programs to cover customers in the remaining states.
This is not the first time Countrywide may have been involved in a potential data breach. Two years ago, ConsumerAffairs.com investigated the case of Joan Carpenter from Toms River, New Jersey, who received a letter stating that an employee of Countrywide had "disclosed documents" relating to her mortgage. Countrywide refused to comment on the incident, which remains unresolved.
'Protocol' Toy Helicopters Recalled09/10/2008ConsumerAffairs
'Protocol' Toy Helicopters Recalled...
September 10, 2008
About 78,000 Protocol Remote-Controlled Mini Helicopter Toys are being recalled. The rechargeable battery inside the helicopter can overheat. This can result in the helicopters body melting, as well as a risk of fire or burns to consumers.
There have been nine reports of incidents of the helicopter overheating, including one minor burn to a consumers fingertip.
This recall involves the Protocol remote-controlled mini helicopter toys with model number starting with 1442. The helicopter is made of foam and plastic and measures about 7 inches long. Protocol is printed on the tail and on the side of the helicopter. 1442-X can be found on the packaging. The remote-control component measures 5 1/2 inches by 4 3/4 inches.
The toys, made in China, were sold at retail stores nationwide from October 2007 through December 2007 for between $30 and $50.
Consumers should immediately take the recalled toys away from children and contact the firm for information on how to receive a replacement helicopter.
For additional information, contact Protocol at (800) 261-1193 between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. ET, or visit the companys Web site at www.protocoldesign.com.
RFID Eyed as Anti-Shoplifting Tool
Tags used to identify stolen items within bags09/10/2008ConsumerAffairs
RFID Eyed as Anti-Shoplifting Tool...
Radio-frequency identification, or RFID, has caused concern among some privacy advocates because of its ability to identify and track both objects and people. Its supporters praise its security qualities.
The debate could well intensify as the technology appears headed for the retail sales floor, as a tool to deter shoplifting. The technology reportedly performed well in a new feasibility study on its use as a potential sales-floor theft-deterrent system, conducted by researchers in the RFID Research Center at the University of Arkansas.
The researchers says the study demonstrated RFID's usefulness in several shoplifting scenarios, including many items moving through a security/reader portal at a high rate of speed and many items stuffed into a "booster bag," a traditional shopping bag lined with aluminum foil.
Bill Hardgrave, director of the research center and professor of information systems in the Sam M. Walton College of Business, announced the findings at a two-day forum on item-level RFID hosted by the research center, the Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Solutions Association and the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals.
"The most interesting data came from scenarios involving the booster bag and testers running through portals with many items," Hardgrave said. "These scenarios included many multiple RFID tags, and we were able to obtain a great deal of information at the entry/exit portal."
Researchers tested two types of ultra-high frequency, generation 2 RFID tags in various baseline and shoplifting scenarios. The tests involved comparisons to two conventional systems, acousto-magnetic and low-level radio-frequency electronic article surveillance, currently used in many retail stores.
In the baseline tests, the researchers experimented with various tag locations and orientations as the tags moved through portal readers. In each test, the RFID system performed as well as or better than the conventional systems. The specific strength of RFID, as demonstrated in the baseline tests, was its ability to capture individual tags at various locations and orientations. Perhaps more importantly, the RFID technology recorded the total number of individual tags, while the other technologies simply noted the presence of any tag in the read field.
"Because RFID can uniquely identify individual tags, it can provide information on the number of stolen items within a bag or the number of items held by a shoplifter," Hardgrave said. "Conventional systems cannot uniquely identify individual tags, which means they can report only one item in a bag that may have 20 or 50 stolen items."
Business was quick to jump on the concept of millions of products that could be individually identified and tracked. Wal-Mart has led the way in using RFID tagging, investing $250 million in RFID technology and requiring their distributors to mark high-end items such as consumer electronics with RFID tags.
MillerCoors Sued Over "Sparks" Alcoholic Energy Drink
CSPI claims drink is too dangerous for teens09/09/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
MillerCoors Sued Over Sparks Alcoholic Energy Drink...
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed suit against MillerCoors Brewing Company, formerly Miller, over its alcoholic energy drink, Sparks.
The product has more alcohol than regular beer and contains unapproved additives, including the stimulants caffeine and guarana, according to the lawsuit, which is asking the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to stop MillerCoors from selling the controversial drink, which is also under scrutiny from state attorneys general.
Drinkers of caffeinated alcoholic drinks are more likely to binge drink, ride with an intoxicated driver, become injured, or be taken advantage of sexually than drinkers of non-caffeinated alcoholic drinks, according to a 2007 study conducted at Wake Forest University.
CSPI says Sparks contain 6 to 7 percent alcohol by volume, as opposed to regular beer, which typically has 4 or 5 percent alcohol. Also unlike beer, Sparks' appeal to young people is enhanced by its sweet citrusy taste, much like SweeTarts candy, and the bright color of orange soda. Sparks Light also contains the artificial sweetener sucralose. In October, CSPI says MillerCoors plans to release Sparks Red, which will have 8 percent alcohol by volume.
"MillerCoors is trying to hook teens and 'tweens on a dangerous drink," said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. "This company's behavior is reckless, predatory, and in the final analysis, likely to disgust a judge or a jury."
Sparks' juvenile web site and guerilla marketing appeal to young consumers, according to CSPI. The web site offers a recipe for a drink called a "Lunchbox," consisting of half Miller beer and half Sparks, and elsewhere, the site proposes consuming Sparks for breakfast alongside omelets.
The company also hosts give-aways of Sparks at house parties, sponsors events unrelated to beer such as art shows, and engages in other unconventional marketing practices, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
CSPI's court filing notes that private gatherings such as house parties do not have the same licensing or other safeguards as public establishments that prevent minors from accessing alcohol.
"Mix alcohol and stimulants with a young person's sense of invincibility and you have a recipe for disaster," said George A. Hacker, director of CSPI's alcohol policies project. "Sparks is a drink designed to mask feelings of drunkenness and to encourage people to keep drinking past the point at which they otherwise would have stopped. The end result is more drunk driving, more injuries, and more sexual assaults."
According to a 2006 study, the stimulants in these products do not reduce alcohol's negative effects on motor skills and reaction times but do impair people's perception of intoxication. As a result, drinkers may engage in risky behavior, such as driving, because they feel less drunk but in reality are too intoxicated to get behind wheel.
CSPI's lawsuit also contends that it is illegal to use caffeine, guarana, ginseng, and taurine in alcoholic beverages. The federal agency with primary responsibility for regulating alcoholic beverages, the Treasury Department's Tax and Trade Bureau, says alcoholic beverages may contain only ingredients considered General Recognized as Safe, or GRAS, by the Food and Drug Administration.
But the FDA has given only very narrow approval for caffeine and guarana -- with no allowance for alcoholic drinks -- and no approval for ginseng in any food or beverage. Taurine is approved only for use in chicken feed, not human food.
In February, CSPI notified Anheuser-Busch and Miller of its intent to sue both companies over caffeinated alcoholic drinks. In June, Anheuser-Busch entered into separate agreements with CSPI and 11 state attorneys general in which the brewer agreed to take caffeine and other unapproved additives out of its two alcoholic energy drinks, Bud Extra and Tilt.
Anheuser-Busch paid the 11 states $200,000 to reimburse them for the cost of the investigation and called on other brewers and distillers not to market pre-packaged caffeinated alcoholic drinks.
Prius Vandalism On the Rise in California
Hybrids damaged in night attacks09/09/2008ConsumerAffairs
Prius Vandalism On the Rise in California...
Prius envy has taken an ugly twist in California with violent anger and vandalism aimed at the hybrids and their owners.
Following a recent Prius fire on the streets of Los Angeles, investigators concluded that the inferno that consumed the new hybrid parked on a residential street was the result of arson.
The owner of the Los Angeles Prius told investigators that she heard an explosion early in the morning in July, followed by the sirens of fire engines. "I went outside to see what was going on and saw it was my car," she said.
An earlier investigation of violence aimed at Prius owners by police in Petaluma near San Francisco reported that at last seven Priuses were damaged by vandals during a two-week period in April.
One Petaluma Prius owner told police that she heard banging sounds in the middle of the night. She found that someone had taken a hammer to the body and windshield of her Prius.
A second Prius owner suffered car damaged from vandals twice during a two-week time frame. While the first hybrid was in a shop for repairs, a vandal threw a large rock at a Prius the owner was renting, causing substantial damage to the hybrid.
The attacks all occurred at night while the cars were parked and unoccupied. Vandals used large rocks and bricks to damage the hybrids. In one instance a Prius was rammed by another vehicle.
The Prius is not the first vehicle to serve as a target in the sea of disdain and resentment that is flooding U.S. roads as commuters jam highways and gas prices linger at historically high prices. The Web site IhateHummer.Com encourages motorists to give Hummer owners a one-finger hello. Vandals in Washington D.C. smashed a new Hummer last year and left environmental messages painted on the side of the large SUV.
A Toyota spokesman said the violence may be motivated by people angry with the environmental movement in the U.S. since the Prius is now a symbol for greens and environmentally conscience consumers. In California, many hybrid drivers can legally drive in carpool lanes without any passengers as a reward for burning less gasoline and producing fewer environmentally harmful emissions.
"For people who are sitting in traffic in an SUV, to see a Prius go by with just a driver in it , maybe there's some resentment there as well," the spokesman suggested.
One new Web site, PriusDrivers.Com, proclaims "I hate Prius drivers. 'I'm better than you are! I drive a Prius,'" underscoring the harsh highway relations polluting roads across the country.
The violence against Prius owners is now a topic of worried discussion on Internet sites like PriusChat.Com. "Unfortunately, some of the hatred directed against Prius drivers doesn't end with words. In the most brutal of a spate of violent attacks against the hybrids and their owners this year, someone torched a six-month-old Prius parked on a residential street in Los Angeles seven weeks ago," one contributor wrote.
The atmosphere of anti-Prius violence is a cause for concern among many owners of the fuel efficient hybrids. "My Prius was hit in a Costco parking lot with large parking spaces. My right rear bumper was smashed in. I was at an end spot against the curb. Of course no one saw anything and no name was left. The next time I went to Costco I was shaking as I headed out the door," wrote one Prius owner.
"Sure, there are small minded people out there that probably target Prii. They will probably be the last holdouts to drive their perfectly good trucks to the junk yard and sell them for $200 worth of scrap metal when gas goes up to 8 bucks a gallon or more," replied another Prius owner.
Alfalfa Sprouts Recalled in Salmonella Outbreak
New incident reported in Washington state09/09/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Truman Lewis
Alfalfa Sprouts Recalled In Salmonella Outbreak...
With the Salmonella-St. Paul outbreak finally contained, the Food and Drug Administration reports 13 cases of Salmonella Typhimirium in Oregon and Washington State. The outbreak is apparently linked with the consumption of raw alfalfa sprouts.
Sprouters Northwest, Inc. of Kent, Washington is recalling its alfalfa sprout products - including alfalfa sprouts, onion sprouts, and salad sprouts - because they may be linked to the recent outbreak.
Salmonella Typhimiriumis an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which maybe bloody), nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e. infected aneurysms), endocarditis - swelling of the lining of the heart - and arthritis. Individuals who may have experienced any of the above symptoms after eating any of the recalled products should contact their health care provider.
The recalled sprouts were distributed in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska in retail stores and through wholesale produce suppliers. The products are Sprouters Northwest brand and include all lot numbers with a best by date of 9/17/08 or earlier of:
• 5oz alfalfa sprout cups UPC - 033383701417
• 4oz alfalfa clamshells UPC - 815098001088
• 1lb bags of alfalfa sprouts UPC - 079566123508
• 2lb trays of alfalfa sprouts UPC - 079566123492
• 5oz salad cups UPC - 033383702674
• 4oz salad clamshells UPC - 815098002061
• 5oz alfalfa onion sprout cups UPC - 033383701905
• 4oz onion sprout clamshells UPC - 815098002054
Sprouters Northwest said it is working closely with state officials and the FDA to determine the cause of this problem and what steps can be taken to combat it.
iTunes Version 7.7.1 Erases Music Libraries
Apple provides fix and five free downloads; iTunes 8 launched Sept. 909/09/2008ConsumerAffairs
iTunes Version 7.7.1 Erases Music Libraries...
Some consumers lost parts or all of their music libraries when they upgraded to the latest version of iTunes and Apple has provided a fix and five free song downloads for consumers who had those issues.
Five complaints in the ConsumerAffairs.com database and many more on Apple's Web site describe the frustration of losing songs, videos and movies previously purchased from Apple, when consumers upgraded to iTunes version 7.7.1, released July 30.
"Most of the music I have purchased online from Apple's iTunes Store has been deactivated," wrote Martin of Suisan, Calif. "I have purchased approximately $140 dollars worth of songs and videos from iTunes Store, which currently is worthless due to the fact that iTunes will no longer play any of them."
Consumers said files on their iPods and iPhones was also deactivated and rendered useless after they upgraded.
"I went to download a song and was prompted to upgrade to the newest version," wrote Dione of Northridge, Calif. "I did. What a huge mistake! All of a sudden my iPod was wiped clean of all my purchased music."
The problem was a result of the software not re-authorizing the purchased songs after upgrading to the latest version, Apple spokeswoman Randi Wolfson wrote in an e-mail.
"This problem could affect playing back purchased music or videos or launching applications on iPhone or iPod touch," she wrote.
To fix the problem, consumers must follow these steps:
1. Deauthorize your account, by choosing "Deauthorize Computer" from the Store menu in iTunes.
2. Select "Authorize Computer" from the Store Menu in iTunes, and re-authorize your account.
3. Try playing any one of your purchases from this account.
4. Resync any iPod or iPhone containing purchases from this account.
To apologize for the glitch, Apple is offering five free song downloads to consumers who contact iTunes customer support and complain about the problem.
Apple today announced the latest version of iTunes, iTunes 8, as part of its regular fall announcement of new products.
Wilmington Goes Digital In DTV Transition Test
FCC test market for digital switchover watched anxiously09/08/2008ConsumerAffairs
Wilmington Goes Digital In DTV Transition Test...
With the pull of a symbolic 7-foot-tall switch, Wilmington, North Carolina today became the first region of the country to pull the plug on analog over-the-air television signals and switch to an all-digital format. The city with a population just under 100,000 volunteered to be the first test market for the digital television (DTV) transition, scheduled to take place across the country on February 17, 2009.
Wilmington mayor Bill Saffo and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Kevin Martin flipped the switch at noon, as part of a ceremony attended by heads of the local television stations affected by the transition, as well as other officials involved in managing the switchover and watching for potential glitches.
The FCC had aggressively deployed staff and resources in Wilmington to help answer questions and provide information about the DTV transition, as well as supplementing campaigns by local television stations. The agency has been stung by criticism that it has not done enough to facilitate awareness of the change and get consumers the assistance they need.
The Wilmington test market launch came in the middle of a nationwide tour by FCC commissioners and staff to potential "trouble areas" that are largely served by over-the-air television signals, and may experience problems when the switch to digital television occurs.
Television viewers who rely on "rabbit ear" antennae for signals will require a set-top converter box for the new digital signals. Cable and satellite subscribers will be unaffected, but lack of consumer awareness and unscrupulous practices by some retailers have led consumers into buying equipment they don't need, or upgrading to expensive new television sets for no reason.
Reports have claimed that as many as 23 million households may lose television service in the DTV switchover, a disproportionate share of those being elderly, minority, or low-income families. Nielsen estimated there were more than 13 million households in the U.S. with television sets that can only receive analog broadcasts. The greater Wilmington area has about 180,000 television-ready households, approximately 8 percent of which can receive analog-only transmissions.
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said that Wilmington's flat terrain, coupled with high consumer awareness and the publicity of the test, would not necessarily serve as an accurate test of potential glitches in the transition. He wanted a larger selection of volunteer markets in different regions to determine what might go wrong as the switchover occurs.
Local news reports claimed that sales of the digital television converter boxes had been brisk in the days leading up to the switch, owing to the massive publicity blitz. The government has sponsored a voucher program to subsidize the boxes, offering free $40 coupons through a Web site run by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the other government agency most responsible for overseeing the DTV transition.
The NTIA's coupon program has been criticized for offering no option to renew or replace coupons after they expire, 90 days after they are received. Congress and consumer advocates wanted the deadlines extended, while NTIA said that it would require more money from Congress to beef up the program beyond its current limits.
If you're in Wilmington
The FCC today announced that organizations in each of the five counties have volunteered to assist consumers who have had difficulty obtaining or installing a converter box. The following organizations may be contacted for help:
• Bladen County, call: Bladen County Fire Department/EMS: (910) 862-6760 OR Bladen Family Support Services: 910-647-0743
• Brunswick County, call: Brunswick Senior Resources, (910) 253-2199
• Columbus County, call: Melody Prevatte, Southeastern Community College, (910) 642-7141 ext. 294 OR Kipling Godwin Associates 1-888-514-7775
• New Hanover County, call: In the City of Wilmington: Andrea Good, Fire and Life Safety Educator, City of Wilmington (910)772-4131; The rest of the County: Union Missionary Baptist Church (910) 763-9541 OR New Hanover County Fire Department 910-798-4DTV
• Pender County, call: Donna Pridgen, Administrative Assistant, Town of Burgaw Police Department (910) 663-3463
• For more information call: 1-877-DTV-0908 or TTY: 1-866-644-0908
CDC Counts 2.4 Million Tobacco-Linked Cancer Cases in Five Years
Lung and bronchial cancers top the list09/08/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
CDC Counts 2.4 Million Tobacco-Linked Cancer Cases in Five Years...
Despite decades-long efforts to curtail its use, tobacco remains a serious health issue. A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports some 2.4 million cases of tobacco-related cancers were diagnosed in the United States from 1999 to 2004, with lung and bronchial cancer accounting for almost half of these diagnoses.
The study marks the first time CDC has reported on all tobacco-related cancers for more than 90 percent of the population.
"The data in this report provides additional, strong evidence of the serious harm related to tobacco," said Sherri Stewart, Ph.D., in CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, who is the lead author of the study. "We've long known tobacco was associated with lung and laryngeal cancer, but this study gives us even greater clarity. The rates for these two cancers were highest in areas with the highest prevalence of tobacco use."
Since 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General has found tobacco use causes cancers of lung and bronchial, laryngeal, oral cavity and pharyngeal, esophageal, stomach, pancreatic, kidney and renal pelvis, urinary bladder, cervical and acute myelogenous leukemia.
Though tobacco is a major cause for all the cancers presented in this report, not all cases of cancer studied could be linked directly to tobacco use, the authors said. Some of these cancers have several important risk factors such as infections or genetic factors that can operate in concert with, or independently, of tobacco. In addition, information on tobacco use was not available in these databases. Therefore, some cases of cancer included in this report may not be attributable to tobacco use.
Age-adjusted rates are presented in parentheses where appropriate and are per 100,000 persons.
• The incidence of tobacco-related cancers was higher among black and non-Hispanic populations, and among men, which reflect patterns of tobacco use.
• Lung, laryngeal, and cervical cancer incidence rates were highest in the South, where the highest prevalence of smoking exists. Kentucky had the highest rates of lung cancer among men and women (133.2 and 75.5, respectively), the third highest rate of laryngeal cancers among men (9.7) and the highest rate of laryngeal cancer among women (2.6). Kentucky had the highest prevalence of current smoking (28.6 percent).
• States with the lowest smoking rates are in the West: Utah (10.4 percent), California (18.5 percent), and Montana (18.5 percent). Cancer incidence rates were consistently lowest in the West for all the cancers, with the exception of stomach cancer.
• In 2004, lung and bronchial cancer incidence rates were highest among men in the South (97.9) and lowest in the West (66.0); Among women, rates were similar in the South, Midwest, and Northeast regions (55.3-56.4) and were lowest in the West (48.1)
• In 2004, laryngeal cancer incidence rates were highest among men in the South (8.4) region of the United States and lowest in the West (4.8). Among women, rates were similar in the South, Midwest, and Northeast (1.6-1.7) and were lowest in the West (1.1).
• The high incidence rates of both lung and laryngeal cancer in the South are consistent with smoking patterns and reflect the strong association of these cancers with tobacco use.
The report also noted other cancers associated with tobacco use (pancreas, urinary bladder, esophagus, kidney, stomach, cervix, and AML) accounted for more than 1 million cases diagnosed.
"Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States and the most prominent cause of cancer," said Matthew McKenna, M.D., M.P.H., director, CDC's Office on Smoking and Health. "The tobacco-use epidemic causes a third of the cancers in America. If proven strategies were fully implemented to decrease tobacco use, much of the suffering and death that cancer inflicts on families and communities could be prevented."
Prius, Elantra, Rabbit cost most to repair09/05/2008ConsumerAffairs
Small Car Bumpers Fail to Prevent Expensive Damage...
NHTSA Ends Toyota Tacoma Investigation
Decision a win for Toyota lobbying effort09/03/2008ConsumerAffairs
NHTSA Ends Toyota Tacoma Investigation...
Federal safety regulators have shut down their investigation of unintended acceleration in Toyota Tacoma pickup trucks that generated more than 400 consumer complaints by denying a petition by a Tacoma owner who said his truck accelerated without warning twice.
The agency reported interviewing 64 Tacoma owners during the investigation who had complained to the agency about unintended acceleration before concluding that the complaints were the result of slight engine surge.
The NHTSA decision represents a victory for Toyota. The Japanese automaker had launched a lobbying offensive in Washington to limit the scope of the investigation, complaining in a letter to NHTSA that the Tacoma was the focus of hostile media coverage as well as consumer exaggeration.
"Toyota believes that it is likely that many of the consumer complaints about the general issue of unwanted acceleration as well as many of the complaints about this subject that have been received by Toyota were inspired by publicity," the automaker wrote NHTSA.
More than 400 consumers complained to the federal safety agency about unintended and sudden acceleration in the Tacoma pickup. Reports to the agency documented 51 crashes and 12 injuries alleged to be caused by unintended acceleration.
Toyota claimed the engine surge was the result of minor engine speed changes.
A ConsumerAffairs.Com reader and Toyota Tacoma owner in Weaver, Alabama reported a different story. "It was jumping forward toward my house at every engine turn. I pushed in the clutch and took out the key," he reported.
Announcing the decision to end the investigation of unintended acceleration in the Tacoma, NHTSA reported on its Web site that in "those vehicles where the throttle control system did not perform as the owner believes it should have, the information suggesting a possible defect related to motor vehicle safety is quite limited."
"Additional investigation is unlikely to result in a finding that a defect related to motor vehicle safety exists," according to the agency.
Acceleration is controlled in the Tacoma by a drive-by-wire system with a computer replacing the traditional linkage between the accelerator pedal and the engine throttle-body which injects the fuel required for acceleration.
Toyota claimed the Tacoma computer can capture an error report if accelerator pedal and throttle are not working properly and the automaker said no error codes have turned up in vehicles inspected Toyota inspectors.
The investigation involved 775,000 Tacoma pickups sold between 2004 and 2008.
Late-Model Used Car can Save Thousands Over First Five Years
"Sweet spot" of auto deals09/03/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Late-Model Used Car can Save Thousands Over First Five Years...
Want a good deal on a car? Then skip the new car ads and instead look for a recent vintage used car.
A new Consumer Reports study of owner costs shows that choosing a reliable three-year-old car instead of a new one can save drivers thousands of dollars over the first five years. In many cases, that's enough to pay for all the gas used during that time.
With relatively low mileage, modern safety and convenience features, and usually a much lower price than similar new vehicles, late-model used cars are in the sweet spot of auto deals.
On average, CR's findings show that consumers can save 32 percent in the first five years by buying a three-year-old car. Similarly, with a one or two-year-old car, they can save 19 and 27 percent, respectively.
According to the analysis, buying a 2005 Toyota Camry with a V6 engine, for example could save consumers about $13,000 over five years compared with buying a new 2008 version. At $4 per gallon, the driver could pay for all of his or her gas during that period, based on driving 12,000 miles per year, and still be almost $2,500 ahead.
Similarly, driving a 2005 Ford Focus can save more than $8,000 over the first five years, compared with buying the new Focus. And with demand for big SUVs plummeting and their used-car values dropping, drivers could save $25,500 over five years by buying a three-year-old Chevrolet Tahoe instead of a new one.
CR's five-year owner costs are based on:
• Depreciation --- calculated by using CR's Auto Price Service;
• Fuel costs --- $4 a gallon for regular gas and $4.20 for premium, based on driving 12,000 miles annually and CR's overall fuel economy for the vehicle;
• Insurance -- the cost of insuring an average driver based on data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety;
• Interest --- CR assumed buyers purchased cars with a 15 percent down on a five-year loan (Bankrate.com was the source for the average interest rate);
• Maintenance and repairs --- Data were taken from CR's 2007 Annual Auto Reliability Survey;
• Sales tax --- Calculated using the national average at the time of purchase.
"A reliable late-model used car can be one of the best values out there when buying a car," said Rik Paul, automotive editor, Consumer Reports. "Savvy shoppers can also get a more upscale model with more features for the same owner cost as a less expensive new car."
Why used cars are good values
The real key to used-car savings is depreciation, or how much value a car loses over time. On average, depreciation accounts for a whopping 45 percent of a new vehicle's owner costs over the first five years, with the steepest drop in value coming in the first year.
By contrast, a three-year-old vehicle has already taken its biggest hit in resale value. Its depreciation accounts for only about 25 percent of its five-year owner costs. Big depreciation for new cars means lower prices for used cars, which in turn mean lower finance charges and sales tax. When combined, that can cut owner cost dramatically.
However, CR found that some popular models such as the Mini Cooper and Toyota Prius don't depreciate much. So buying a used version of those models results in modest savings.
Many people shy away from buying a used car because they're afraid of buying someone else's problems. Yet CR's reliability data show that cars, overall, are much more reliable than they used to be. Rust and exhaust-system problems, once common in older cars, are no longer of major concern. And reliable late-model vehicles usually have few problems overall. That said, if a car hasn't been well-maintained, reliability and value are wild cards.
While most used cars on the market are five years or older, it's worth looking for late-model used vehicles that are three years old or less. Drivers can often find a late-model used car with many of the latest safety features, such as electronic stability control and side and curtain air bags. It's even possible to find one with a transferable factory warranty.
Consumers Avoid Extremes in Soft Drink Sizes
Preferences tend to midrange options in beverages09/02/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
And as a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests, consumers may be tricked into drinking more soft drinks when retailers eliminate small dri...
As portion sizes have increased, Americans' waistlines have expanded. And as a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests, consumers may be tricked into drinking more soft drinks when retailers eliminate small drink sizes.
No matter what the volume of the soft drink, customers tend to avoid the largest and smallest options, according to authors Kathryn M. Sharpe, Richard Staelin, and Joel Huber, all Duke University. "Our basic premise is that consumer purchases are altered by the portfolio of drink sizes made available," the authors said.
Fast-food restaurants, in an attempt to boost profit margins, have eliminated smaller drink sizes and added even larger sizes. The authors believe these policies have led to a 15 percent increase in the consumption of these high-calorie drinks.
"Consumers who purchased a 16-ounce drink when a 12-ounce drink was available later chose a 21-ounce drink when the 12-ounce drink option was removed, since now the 16-ounce soda is the smallest option," they write. "This effect also occurred at the large end of the spectrum; people who purchased a 21-ounce drink when the 32-ounce drink was the largest size available moved up to the 32-ounce drink when a 44-ounce drink was added to the range of drink sizes available.
By adding the 44-ounce option, the restaurant is able to shift the demand curve upward, even though the authors believe customers still want 12-ounce drinks.
The researchers go on to simulate policy directions for slimming America's waistlines. Their models show that for flat taxation of soft drinks to reduce consumption by 10 percent, it would need to be 28 cents per drink and would reduce corporate profits by at least 7 percent.
Kids Burn More Calories Playing Active Video Games
All video games are not created equal09/02/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Kids Burn More Calories Playing Active Video Games...
A study published in the September issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine finds that kids who play an active video game burn more than four times as many calories per minute than those playing a seated game. In addition, their heart rates are significantly higher with the active game.
Video and computer gaming is rapidly becoming the preferred leisure-time activity for school-aged children. Computer and video game sales have increased by $5.2 billion in the last decade and more than 83 percent of U.S. children age 8 to 18 have video game players in their bedrooms.
At the same time, obesity rates continue to increase worldwide; sedentary activities such as seated game-playing may contribute.
The gaming industry has recently begun producing active "extertainment" gaming systems. "A recent active gaming concept that allows players to experience various activities (bowling, fishing, tennis, golf) in a virtual world is the XaviX gaming system," the authors write. "In addition to the exercise gaming modalities, the XaviX system includes a gaming mat that allows participants to travel the streets of Hong Kong at a walk or a run, avoiding obstacles and stamping out ninjas."
Researchers at the Institute of Human Performance, University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, measured heart rate and calorie expenditure in 18 kids age 6 to 12 during a 25-minute gaming protocol.
Participants rested for five minutes, then played a seated computer bowling game, an active bowling game and the action/running game for five minutes each, with five minutes of rest between active games.
Compared with resting, children burned 39 percent more calories per minute playing a seated game, 98 percent more playing active bowling and 451 percent more during the action/running game. When compared with seated gaming, they burned 0.6 more calories playing active bowling and 3.9 more calories per minute playing on the action mat.
"This translates into a more than four-fold increase in energy expenditure for the XaviX J-Mat game," the authors write. "Preventing weight gain requires an energy adjustment of approximately 150 kilocalories [calories] per day. The four-fold increase in energy expenditure when playing on the XaviX J-Mat would fill the proposed energy gap, if this game were played for 35 minutes a day."
In addition, participants' heart rate was significantly higher during either active game than during rest, and also was higher during the action mat gaming than during seated gaming.
"Our data demonstrate that the two active gaming formats result in meaningful increases in energy expenditure compared with the seated screen environment," the authors conclude. "The next step is to test whether active gaming interventions can provide sustainable increases in childhood physical activity."
In an accompanying editorial, Russell R. Pate, Ph.D., of the University of South Carolina School of Public Health, Columbia, writes the study "findings show that kids who play the new generation of video games requiring physical activity expend energy at levels that could help to prevent obesity."
This is important, he notes, because electronic entertainment is not going away, adding, "If we want to promote physical activity in the context of contemporary society, we will have to fight fire with fire. Physically active video gaming may be part of the antidote to the poisonous growth of sedentary entertainment."
"Substituting physically active video gaming for sedentary gaming is an attractive option," Pate said. "The economics of this strategy could work at the societal level. If that proves to be true, the video gaming industry and the kids themselves will solve the problem. We ought to find out if they will."
Lab Tests Point to Problems with New Sweetener
Consumer group says product can increase cancer risk09/02/2008ConsumerAffairsBy Mark Huffman
Lab Tests Point to Problems with New Sweetener...
A consumer group says a new commercial sweetner, said to be 200 times sweeter than sugar, may cause health problems and needs more study. Coca-Cola and Pepsi are planning to introduce new drinks made with the sweetner, rebiana, an extract of stevia leaves.
In a letter to the Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says the agency should require additional tests, including a key animal study, before accepting rebiana as Generally Regarded as Safe, or GRAS.
The letter cites a new 26-page report by toxicologists at the University of California, Los Angeles, several, though not all, laboratory tests show that the sweetener causes mutations and DNA damage, which raises the prospect that it causes cancer.
"A safe, natural, high-potency sweetener would be a welcome addition to the food supply," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "But the FDA needs to be as sure as possible that rebiana is safe before allowing it into foods that would be consumed by tens of millions of people. It would be tragic if the sweetener turned out to cause cancer or other problems."
One key animal study has not been conducted, according to the UCLA experts and CSPI. The FDA's guidelines advise testing prospective major new food additives on two rodent species, usually rats and mice. The new sweetener has only been tested on rats, but not mice.
The toxicologists' report said that because several studies found mutations and DNA damage, a lifetime mouse study designed to evaluate the risk of carcinogenicity and other health problems was particularly important.
The UCLA toxicologists emphasized the need for more genotoxicity tests, because of the evidence that derivatives of stevia that are closely related to rebiana damage DNA and chromosomes.
Their report noted that much of the recent research on rebiana was sponsored by Cargill and urged the FDA to obtain independently conducted tests to ensure that corporate biases don't influence the design, conduct, or results of the tests.
Rebiana is shorthand for rebaudioside A, a component of stevia. It is obtained from the leaves of a shrub native to Brazil and Paraguay. Coke, Pepsi, and other companies are excited about rebiana, because it supposedly tastes better than crude stevia, which is sold as a dietary supplement in health-food stores.
After all the controversies pertaining to saccharin, aspartame, and other artificial sweeteners, the food industry expects many calorie-conscious consumers to eagerly opt for this natural sweetener.
Two companies -- Cargill and Merisant -- have told the FDA that rebiana should be considered GRAS, a category given less scrutiny by the FDA than ordinary food additives. A third company, Wisdom Natural Brands, has declared that its stevia-based sweetener is GRAS and will market it without giving evidence to, or even notifying, the FDA. That company gave CSPI only a heavily redacted report prepared by scientists it hired to declare its stevia derivative, which is of unknown purity, is safe.
Stevia is legal in foods in Japan and several other countries, but the United States, Canada, and the European Union bar stevia in foods because of older tests that suggested it might interfere with reproduction. New tests sponsored by Cargill did not find such problems.
"I am not saying that rebiana is harmful, but it should not be marketed until new studies establish that it is safe," Jacobson said.
Cargill's version of rebiana is called Truvia and would be used by Coca-Cola. Pepsi's version is called PureVia and is produced by Merisant's Whole Earth Sweetener division. Merisant is best known for marketing the Equal brand of aspartame.
CSPI has not questioned the safety of two artificial sweeteners, sucralose (Splenda) and neotame, but says that suggestive evidence indicates that saccharin, aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), and acesulfame-K pose small risks of cancer.
"The whole issue of what gets GRAS status needs to be reviewed by Congress," Jacobson said. "It's crazy that companies can just hire a few consultants to bless their new ingredients and rush them to market without any opportunity for the FDA and the public to review all the safety evidence."
Two of the most harmful ingredients in the food supply are considered GRAS: salt, which raises blood pressure and causes thousands of unnecessary heart attacks and strokes every year, and partially hydrogenated oil, which is the source of artery-clogging artificial trans fat. CSPI has long campaigned to get partially hydrogenated oil out of the food supply and to reduce salt to safe levels.
Getting a Reverse Mortgage: Smart Move or Something to Avoid?
Seniors face big risks and costs09/02/2008ConsumerAffairs
Getting a Reverse Mortgage: Smart Move or Something to Avoid?...
As retirement approaches for baby boomers, or as more and more of their parents are stuck in homes they can't or won't sell, a growing number of Americans are considering reverse mortgages as one way to supplement their income. Exactly what is a reverse mortgage? It's a payment that a homeowner receives from the holder of the mortgage, or a third party, in either a monthly or yearly amount or in a lump sum with the amount tied to whatever equity someone has in their home.
Sounds like a good deal, right? Many people seem to think so. In the past eight years, the number of reverse mortgages has grown from less than 8,000 a year to more than 100,000. While this is still a small percentage of the number of overall mortgages that are held in the United States today, it still represents a substantial increase in a type of mortgage that has drawn much criticism because of its high costs as well as the way they have been marketed and sold to aging homeowners.
In July, President Bush signed a rescue Housing Bill that was intended to help homeowners facing foreclosure, but also to raise the amount someone is able to borrow using federally backed reverse mortgages. The increases were from a maximum of $362,790 to $417,000, and even as much as $625,500 in some high cost areas. The bill, which will go into effect sometime in the next 60-90 days, also limits the relatively high cost of reverse mortgages by capping those costs at $6,000.
However, not only are reverse mortgages typically more expensive than regular mortgages, they are quite a bit more complicated. Add to that the current credit crisis and depressed housing market, reverse mortgages may not be the "golden goose" all those television infomercials would lead you to believe. While they resemble home-equity loans, you have to be over 62 years old to qualify for one and the amount you get will depend on your age, the value of your home, and interest rates.
On the plus side, the federal government guarantees more than 90% of all reverse mortgages through the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) program. What that means is if the value of your home drops to the point where the price it sells for is less than the amount owed, the federal government will cover any short-fall. Otherwise, the mortgage holder will suffer a loss. Plus you don't have to make monthly payments or meet an income requirement to qualify.
In fact, you don't even have to repay the loan until you move out of your house, sell, or die. Whatever debt is left on your house is settled with the proceeds from the sale of the home. And if there's any money left over, if you are still alive, it goes to you and if you have died, it goes to your heirs.
As for costs, the basic rates for reverse mortgages are currently lower than those on home-equity loans -- somewhere around 4.3% for a reverse mortgage compared to 5.3% for home-equity lines of credit. This may seem like a good deal, but keep in mind that reverse mortgages are "rising debt" loans which means the interest you owe is added to the loan's balance and that could eventually become a large portion of your overall debt. Eventually you wind up owing interest on the interest, compounding the cost of the mortgage.
Plus, there are a number of upfront charges such as origination fees, the cost of the appraisal, and a title search. Add to that a 2% mortgage insurance premium required for all HECM loans. The housing rescue bill helps a little by limiting origination fees to 2% of the loan up to the first $200,000 and 1% of the rest, with a cap at $6,000. Still, $6,000 may be a fairly high price to pay to get access to equity in your home.
According to the AARP, high cost is the primary reason two out of three seniors who had been considering a reverse-mortgage shoppers decide against it. To be fair, not all lenders charge high fees. So do comparison shopping if you are considering a reverse mortgage; you may be able to negotiate for lower fees.
Historically, the way reverse mortgages were sold had something of a checkered past. Some mortgage brokers were accused of pressuring borrowers to buy something called deferred annuities with the money that they received from their loans. The new housing law prohibits lenders from requiring borrowers to buy investments or insurance products as a condition of getting the loan.
The new housing bill also prohibits requiring the purchase of annuities and other financial products. Still, you should question any financial product that someone tries to sell to you, including a reverse mortgage.
Keep in mind that even after taking out a reverse mortgage, you're still responsible for property taxes, insurance, utilities, fuel, maintenance, and other expenses related to your home. If you don't maintain homeowner's insurance, for example, you risk the loan becoming due and payable. Also, if you sell your home or no longer use it as your primary residence for 12 months in a row, you or your estate will have to repay the cash you received from the reverse mortgage, including interest and other fees to the lender.
So if you don't intend to live in your home until you die, you may want to reconsider getting a reverse mortgage. If you have to enter a nursing home for longer than 12 months, the loan will become due. Consider that if you can't remain in your home for several years, a reverse mortgage might not make much sense financially.
In fact, if you have equity in your home and you can qualify for a home-equity loan and you can make the monthly payments on that home equity loan, that may be a less expensive way to supplement your retirement than taking out a reverse mortgage. That way you get a lump sum of income from your home's equity as you continue to live there. (But you have to pay off the home equity loan when you sell your home.)
Another option to supplementing retirement income is to downsize. Sell your house and trade down by buying a less expensive home so that you will have the profits from the sale of your larger or more expensive home to invest or live on. You could also consider renting and investing the money from the sale of your home rather than immediately buying another home.
In either case, experts recommend that anyone who is thinking about a reverse mortgage should first talk to a loan counselor to weigh the pros and cons. You can find a loan counselor on a list approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/hcc/hcs.cfm), or you can find a local housing counseling agency by calling (800) 569-4287.