Current Events in July 2013

Browse Current Events by year


Browse Current Events by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thanks for subscribing.

    You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Mortgage rates continue their climb

    Some are now at 2-year highs

    Market speculation that the Federal Reserve will reduce future bond purchases is sending home mortgage rates higher.

    Freddie Mac reports the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 4.51% with an average 0.8 point for the week ending July 11, 2013 -- up 22 basis points from last week's 4.29%. Last year at this time, the average for the 30-year FRM was 3.56%.

    This week's 15-year FRM averaged 3.53 percent with an average 0.8 point, compared with 3.39% last week and 2.86% a year ago.

    The average for the 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) was 3.26% this week with an average 0.7 point, 16 basis points higher than a week ago. This same week in 2012, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.74%.

    The 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.66% this week with an average 0.5 point, the same as last week. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.69%.

    "June's strong employment led to more market speculation that the Federal Reserve will reduce future bond purchases causing bond yields to rise and mortgage rates followed,” said Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist at Freddie Mac. He points out, though, that such a reduction in bond purchases is not a given. “The minutes of the June 18th and 19th Federal Reserve's monetary policy committee meeting stated that many members indicated further improvement in the outlook for the labor market would be required before it would be appropriate to slow the pace of bond purchases.” In other words, the economy needs to crank out more jobs.


    Mortgage rates as tracked by hit a 2-year high this week on the strength of the June jobs report.

    The rate for the benchmark 30-year FRM rose to 4.66% from 4.48% last week, with an average of 0.28 discount and origination points.

    The average 15-year FRM increased to 3.75% from 3.62%, while the larger jumbo 30-year rate climbed to 4.82%.

    Adjustable rate mortgages moved higher as well. The popular 5-year ARM was at its highest level in more than 2 years -- 3.63%, while the 10-year ARM hit 4.07%.

    As recently as May 1, the average 30-year FRM was 3.52%. At that time, a $200,000 loan would have carried a monthly payment of $900.32. With the average rate now at 4.66%, the monthly payment for the same size loan would be $1,032.47. That's a difference of $132 per month for anyone who waited just a little too long.

    Market speculation that the Federal Reserve will reduce future bond purchases is sending home mortgage rates higher. Freddie Mac reports the 30-year fixed...

    Feds clarify mortgage rules

    Improvements expected in consumer protections

    The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) corrections, clarifications and amendments to its Ability-to-Repay and mortgage servicing rules are now in place. The clarifications, first proposed in April, are designed to facilitating implementation in order to better protect consumers.

    “We know that effective implementation helps our rules deliver their intended value to consumers,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We are listening closely to feedback on our rules, and today’s clarifications show our willingness to make appropriate adjustments to achieve that goal.”

    The CFPB finalized several mortgage rules in January 2013. Of those, this latest rule focuses on the Ability-to-Repay and Servicing rules. The Ability-to-Repay rule protects consumers from irresponsible mortgage lending by requiring that lenders make a reasonable, good-faith determination that prospective borrowers have the ability to repay their loans. The mortgage servicing rules establish strong protections for homeowners as they repay their loans, and especially for those facing foreclosure.

    The tweaks

    The final rule:

    • clarifies how to determine a consumer’s debt-to-income (DTI) ratio: Under the Ability-to-Repay rule, a lender may make a Qualified Mortgage (QM), a loan for which certain features are prohibited and fees that can be charged are limited. The main type of Qualified Mortgage requires that a consumer’s monthly debt payments -- including the mortgage -- will not be more than 43% of the consumer’s monthly income. The rule clarifies and amends how several factors can be used to calculate a consumer’s DTI ratio. Such factors include a consumer’s employment record and income, business credit reports and other documents relating to self-employed consumers, Social Security income, and non-employment related income such as from a trust or rental property.
    • explains that CFPB’s Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) rule does not preempt the field of servicing regulation by states: The preamble to the final mortgage servicing rules made clear that CFPB authority on servicing, from the RESPA, does not preempt the field of possible mortgage servicing regulation by states. In the final rule, the bureau is adding a comment to expressly state this point and explain how RESPA preemption works.
    • establishes which mortgage loans to consider in determining small servicer status: The servicing rules issued in January included an exemption from some requirements for small servicers. The changes clarify which mortgage loans will be considered in determining whether a servicer qualifies as small. For example, loans serviced on a charitable basis will not be considered in making that determination.
    • clarifies the eligibility standard of the temporary QM provision: Under the Ability-to-Repay rule, a loan can be a Qualified Mortgage if it is eligible for purchase, guarantee, or insurance by government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) or by certain federal agencies, provided the loan does not contain certain risky loan features and meets certain limitations on points and fees. The rule clarifies the standards that a loan must meet if the creditor is underwriting it based on GSE or agency guidelines. For example, where a loan is eligible for GSE or agency purchase, guarantee, or insurance, creditors do not need to satisfy the types of procedural and technical requirements that are completely unrelated to the consumer’s ability to repay.

    The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) corrections, clarifications and amendments to its Ability-to-Repay and mortgage servicing rules are now i...

    An unexpected jump in jobless claims

    Feds say it may have to do with the July 4 holiday

    First-time applications for state unemployment benefits shot higher last week, but it may be some sort of statistical anomaly.

    Figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show initial claims rose 16,000 in the week ending July 6 -- to 360,000. Economists surveyed by has projected claims would come in at 345,000 -- little-changed from the previous week.

    Analysts say what are called “seasonal adjustment biases” from the July 4 holiday may have played a role in the increase. If that's the case the initial claims level should fall back below 350,000 next week.

    Overall, they say, labor market conditions have not materially changed.

    The 4-week moving average, which is less volatile and considered a more accurate measure of the labor market, totaled 351,750, an increase of 6,000 from the previous week

    The full report is available on the Labor Department website.

    First-time applications for state unemployment benefits shot higher last week, but it may be some sort of statistical anomaly. Figures released by the Bur...

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thanks for subscribing.

      You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      Apple loses e-book antitrust case

      Judge finds Apple conspired to eliminate price competition

      A U.S. District Court judge has ruled against Apple, finding it liable for violating the antitrust laws by conspiring with major U.S. publishers to fix the prices of electronic books. A Seattle attorney representing consumers in a class-action lawsuit said the court's ruling should hasten the progress of the consumer case. 

      That case, filed on Aug. 9, 2011, seeks damages for millions of e-book purchasers to compensate them for higher e-book prices resulting from Apple and the publishers’ alleged price-fixing scheme. 

      “Judge [Denise] Cote ruled definitively that Apple was guilty of conspiring to fix prices for e-books, and we believe this ruling is binding on the consumer case, meaning we do not need to again prove Apple’s culpability in the price-fixing scheme,” attorney Steve Berman said. “Once we receive class certification, the only issue that will remain is for a jury to assess damages, which under federal law are trebled, or tripled.”

      Three-week trial 

      The judge’s opinion comes after a three-week bench trial in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York that ended June 20. The court found the federal and state government plaintiffs demonstrated that five major publishers “conspired with each other to eliminate retail price competition in order to raise e-book prices, and that Apple played a central role in facilitating and executing that conspiracy.” 

      “The publishers and Apple manipulated the marketplace by artificially increasing prices,” said Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden said, one of 33 state AGs joining in the action. “As confirmed by the Court today, that is against the law and it is wrong.”

      The court’s order and opinion only addressed the issue of Apple’s liability under federal and state antitrust law. Issues involving damages and other remedies are still to be decided. 

      The publishers -- Hachette Book Group Inc.; Harper Collins Publishers L.L.C.; Simon & Schuster Inc.; Holtzbrinck Publishers LLC d/b/a/ Macmillan; and Penguin Group (USA), Inc. -- had settled lawsuits filed by states and others against them prior to trial, which will result in consumers nationwide receiving more than $166 million in compensation provided the court approves all of the settlements.

      "Masterfully prosecuted"

      Berman said the ruling didn't surprise him.

      “When we filed the original consumer case, we were certain that e-book purchasers across the country were victims of a well-organized price-fixing scheme organized largely by Apple,” said Berman. “We were heartened when the Department of Justice and the states filed their own anti-trust cases. Those cases were masterfully prosecuted, culminating in today’s ruling.”

      A U.S. District Court Judge has ruled against Apple, finding it liable for violating the antitrust laws by conspiring with major U.S. publishers to fix the...

      Consumers vent about big chain pharmacies

      It seems every brand draws its share of complaints

      While there may still be a corner drug store where you live, more often than not consumers are getting their prescriptions filled at one of the nationwide pharmacy chains. While the operation of these stores tends to vary store to store, city to city, there are some common complaints.

      For example, one of the biggest complaints about Walgreens has to do with its prices. Karen, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., reports picking up a week's worth of prescription medicine for $60.

      “I just picked up a month's worth of the same meds for 25% less,” Karen wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “I got a week's worth of my medicine at Walgreens at the same price [I paid] for a month's supply at the neighborhood pharmacy! How is this legal? Pharmacies can charge whatever they want?"

      Well, yes they can. Generally they try to match their competitors, but not always. Chris, of West Lafayette, Ind., noticed that he paid over $300 each for two prescriptions for levofloxacin 750 mg 10 tabs at Walgreens.

      “While at another pharmacy, I asked the pharmacist about the price for this drug in this amount,” Chris writes. “Imagine my surprise when she told me it ranged from $79 to $89. I went to Walgreens and asked if they had made a mistake in charging me over $600 for a prescription that should have cost me around $200. I was told by Walgreens that this was their 'cash' price for these drugs. I asked why such a discriminatory practice was in force, cash vs. insurance price, no answer.”

      Prices vary

      Consumers rate Walgreens

      A price discrepancy of that amount seems unusual since pharmacies are in close competition with one another, however there are cases where one chain will charge significantly more than another. A recent Consumer Reports study found Costco offered the lowest retail drug prices and CVSthe highest. The study concluded that failing to shop around for the best price could cost consumers $100 or more each month.

      The biggest knock on CVS pharmacies appears to be the competence level of employees. Again, situations may differ store to store, but an anonymous poster from Lighthouse Point, Fla., who said he is a retired doctor, wrote a scathing review of his local CVS store.

      “The customer service representatives are very often incompetent; often, I will call back several times in one day getting completely contradictory information from separate representatives,” he writes. “I am required to spend excessive amounts of time on the phone to get anything done. This is truly upsetting. They lose prescriptions, cancel orders, forget to auto-refill, change credit cards, overcharge, etc. I am a physician having these difficulties getting my own prescriptions filled. I cannot imagine how the elderly, less educated, less motivated, less computer-savvy, or persons with other difficulties can even begin to manage the monstrous system.”

      Getting frustrated

      Jennifer, of Weymouth, Mass., says she is a longtime CVS customer who is also getting frustrated.

      “It seems to be that every time I go to get a prescription, there seems to be a problem,” Jennifer writes. “Last Sunday my prescription was supposed to be ready. I have been back to the pharmacy three times within this week. I contacted my doctor and told her they don't have my prescription. She has called two times to check to see if my prescription was ready and a CVS rep has said it was 'all set'. I've called and went to the CVS to get the prescription and it's not there.”

      Not getting a prescription filled in a timely manner can be a serious problem for patients dependent on their medicine. Jennifer should have cancelled her order and placed it at another store at the first sign of trouble.

      Privacy concern

      Consumers rate CVS Pharmacy

      Kathy, of Clarence, N.Y., uses a Rite Aidpharmacy. Or rather, she did until she discovered that she had been enrolled in a Prescription Advisor program without her knowledge.

      “When I asked what this is about, I was told that according to my 'score,' I was not taking the medication correctly,” Kathy wrote in a post. “I told the pharmacist I did not authorize participation in the program and wanted to 'opt out.' I was told that was not possible. I researched this program and found that in a press release date April 10, 2012, it was clearly stated that, 'participation in the program is optional.' When I re-contacted the store, I was told I could not opt out. So much for privacy!”

      Another complaint that seems to be common among all the big chain pharmacies is that sometimes consumers report getting shortchanged on their prescriptions, reporting anywhere from two to 30 fewer pills in the order than prescribed. This is especially troubling if the prescription is for a narcotic.


      “Almost every time I've gone to Rite Aid Pharmacy to fill a controlled substance prescription, I was given a lesser amount of pills than prescribed,” writes Kenneth, of Hoboken, N.J. “When I complained to the pharmacy manager about this issue, I was rebuked and they denied ever having been responsible.”

      Tina, of West Columbia, S.C., reports picking up a prescription at Walmart and finding the order was 30 pills short.

      “I will be going to Walmart today where I will meet with a county officer to fill out a report,” Tina writes. “I have also called and left a message with Drug Control but I am still waiting for them to return my call. I will go on every site I can find to make other people aware.”

      Consumers rate Wal-Mart Pharmacy

      Thomas, of Coatsville, Pa., reports a similar experience with CVS when he picked up his wife's prescription for oxycodone, a narcotic painkiller favored by some prescription drug abusers.

      “She counted the tablets and got 38, so I counted the tablets twice and got 38, not 40,” he writes. “Is there someone I can contact about these missing narcotic tablets?”

      Yes. If you suspect that a pharmacy is deliberately shorting a prescription for a narcotic drug, law enforcement officials would probably like to know about it. If your local police department has a narcotics bureau, that's a place to start. Otherwise, you could contact the state police.

      While there may still be a corner drug store where you live, more often than not consumers are getting their prescriptions filled at one of the nationwide ...

      CFPB cracks down on debt collectors

      Issues information and resources for consumers facing collection activities

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is putting debt collection companies on notice that they will be held accountable for unlawful conduct.

      The CFPB also announced that it is now accepting debt collection complaints and is publishing action letters for consumers to consider using in corresponding with debt collectors.

      “These bulletins make clear that it doesn’t matter who is collecting the debt—unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices are illegal,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray at a field hearing in Portland, Maine. “Consumers need options to help them secure fair and respectful treatment from those debt collectors that fail to abide by the law. They can protect themselves by using our action letters to communicate with debt collectors and by submitting a complaint to us if they believe they are harmed by illegal conduct.”

      Action letters

      The sample action letters are for use by consumers when corresponding with debt collectors. They're intended to help consumers obtain valuable information about claims being made against them and may help consumers protect themselves.

      The letters address situations when the consumer:

      • is seeking more information on the debt;
      • is disputing the debt;
      • wants to restrict how the debt collector can contact them;
      • has hired a lawyer to handle the case; and 
      • wants the collector to stop all contact.

      More information is available on the CFPB website

      The CFPB is also releasing a second bulletin today that warns companies about statements they make about how paying a debt will affect a consumer’s credit score, credit report, or creditworthiness.

      The Bureau is concerned that some of these statements – like telling consumers that paying a debt would improve their credit score – may be deceptive. The bulletin highlights examples of potentially deceptive claims debt collectors may be making to consumers about their credit reports and credit scores. The complete bulletin is available online

      The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is putting debt collection companies on notice that they will be held accountable for unlawful conduct.Th...

      Twinkies or kalepops? Choose your summer food trend

      Specialty food makers hope to expand your horizons

      Junk food addicts are no doubt celebrating the return of the Hostess Twinkie to store shelves. As predicted last fall when baked goods manufacturer Hostess Brands announced it was going out of business, another baker has stepped in to make the spongy delight.

      But will the Twinkie become a major summer food trend? Don't count on it. Industry analysts say the Twinkie means nothing to today's young consumer, while the consumer who might be nostalgic about the treat is getting older and more health-conscious. Just half a package of Twinkies contains 220 mg of sodium, after all.

      Tending toward the exotic

      Instead, this summer's trendy food items may tend toward the exotic. According to the Specialty Food Association, a number of small, niche manufacturers have come up with food items that put an emphasis on health, even if they are being marketed as treats.

      For example, Green Wave Smoothies offers a frozen treat made from green vegetables. That's right, things like spinach and kale. According to the company, its smoothie pops are the first popsicles to incorporate nutrient-dense, dark-green leafy vegetables. It's naturally sweet, with no added sugar, and is gluten-free.

      “Parents, grandparents, schools, athletic organizations, special needs children to name a few are all looking for something healthy that kids will eat and enjoy,” the company says. “Green Wave is dedicated to offering alternatives to sugary treats along with nutrition education through marketing in an effort to help combat the epidemic of childhood obesity.”

      Chia Pods

      La Pasta has introduced Sweet Potato, Quinoa and Kale Ravioli while the Chia Company is offering up a product called Chia Pods. The later is a product made with sun-ripened Chia seeds mixed with coconut milk and real fruit.

      “We've responded with the Chia Pod, a world first innovation,” the company says. “Dairy free and vegan, each six ounce Chia Pod has been cold processed to retain the raw nutrition, taste and color of the fruit.”

      The single serve pack contains a custom designed spoon inside the lid. The lid, spoon and cup are, or course, 100% recyclable.

      Seattle Chocolates, as the name implies, specialized in candy – but not just any candy. For example, as part of its Summer Essentials line, the company offers all-natural truffles patterned after favorite cocktails, to help celebrate the sun.

      “Or opt for whimsical truffle bars reminiscent of carefree days filled with campfires and lemonade stands,” the company's marketing material says.

      Southern cooking

      Callie's Charleston Biscuits conjures up the aroma of fresh bread in a southern kitchen. Its product line up ranges from country ham biscuits to shortcakes.

      “Our biscuits are made by hand with the recipe of celebrated Charleston caterer Callie White,” the company says. “Using no machinery whatsoever and with only the finest ingredients, our small team of bakers are keeping the tradition of Southern biscuit making alive.”

      These and other food offerings were on display at the Specialty Food Association's 59th Summer Fancy Food Show in New York in early July. The association calls it the largest marketplace in North America for specialty foods and beverages, with 180,000 products from more than 2,400 food manufacturers, importers and entrepreneurs on display, including the latest artisan cheeses, chocolates, vinegars, grilling sauces and natural and organic products.

      When it comes to most of these products, don't expect to find them in your neighborhood supermarket next to the Twinkies. Instead, most of these companies sell in specialty food boutiques and online.

      Junk food addicts are no doubt celebrating the return of the Hostess Twinkie to store shelves. As predicted last fall when baked goods manufacturer Hostess...

      Have you ever received an item with bad packaging?

      If so, here's what you should do

      Has this ever happened to you?

      You just purchased a Snickers bar, and since you haven't had one in quite some time, you tear open the wrapper and anticipate the first chocolaty bite. But then you notice something is incredibly wrong and for some reason the Snickers bar looks shorter in length.

      "Maybe the company just made it smaller," you think to yourself. "Or maybe it's been so long since I had a Snickers bar, I forgot its actual size."

      But then you take a closer look and realize the Snickers bar wasn't made smaller, a piece of it was actually chewed off and eaten. 

      And after doing a little detective work and speaking to a few people, you realize that a worm or a bunch of bugs got into the candy's packaging, which grosses you out even further. 

      Happens a lot

      It may surprise some, but packing mishaps happen all the time. From candy bars being eaten before you open them, to dog food having ants in the package, to items having a moldy or a bad smell once they're opened.

      It happened to Judy of Burlington, Wis. She made soup for her son, but something went very wrong.

      "I made my 38-year old son a bowl of soup last week," wrote Judy in a ConsumerAffairs posting. "He crushed up the crackers, put them in his soup and took a spoonful. He had to spit it out in the wastebasket. He said, 'Ma, are you trying to kill me?' I took the package and then smelled them. It was horrible. It smelled like kerosene or something."

      "Maybe there was a problem with the packaging material, but I had to throw away two boxes that smelled the same way. I think I will be changing brands also," wrote Judy.

      Val of Evansville, Ind. experienced a packaging nightmare too, when her son opened a box of Pop Tarts.

      S'more bugs

      "My son opened a new package of S'mores Pop Tarts and found bugs on them," she wrote.

      "The bugs are exactly like those pictured on Pop Tarts in another recent review. We have contacted Kellogg's to notify them, but have not had a response. We will not be purchasing more Pop Tarts and likely will not purchase Kellogg's products if we do not get a response from the company.

      But what's the best way to get that response if you received an item with bad packaging? And what's the first thing you should do?

      What to do

      "You want to call the consumer complaint coordinator in your state," said Stephanie of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in an interview with ConsumerAffairs. You can find a list of regional offices here.

      "The district office will let you know what the process is to file a complaint and tell you what else to do, but they're the ones who are best equipped to tell you how to handle those complaints."

      "If you find a foreign object in your product, they'll take that and enter it into the system and take action from there," said Stephanie. 

      Jenny, who is a consumer complaint coordinator with the FDA, in Baltimore, Md., said calling your local coordinator is important so a file can be opened.

      "You could either record the incident with us [by phone] or send an email to us," she explained. "You would need to include the location where you purchased the product, the product code, the expiration date and the problem that you had with the problem and what you witnessed when you received it."

      In addition, Jenny says a consumer complaint coordinator will always follow up with the manufacturer to see if the packaging problems stem from where the item was kept or if something went wrong while it was being distributed from the warehouse to the store.

      And Jenny says contacting a consumer complaint coordinator, instead of just contacting the place you purchased the item, will help the FDA stay on top of manufacturers in the area, to ensure packaging problems get fixed.

      In most cases, an online or physical store will simply replace the product for you if it has bad packaging, says Jenny, but it's still very important to file a complaint.

      Has this ever happened to you?You just purchased a Snickers bar, since you hadn't had one in quite some time, and you rip open the package and anticipate...

      Court denies class action status to Super Bowl lawsuit

      The suit concerned last-minute seat shortages

      A federal court has denied class certification in a suit involving a last-minute seat shortage at the 2011 Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

      The suit stemmed from a decision mere hours before the big game, held at Cowboys Stadium, that over 1,000 temporary seats were unsafe and couldn’t be used.

      The suit, filed within a week of the February 6, 2011 game, alleged breach of contract, fraud, and deceptive sales practices. The action, which sought compensatory damages exceeding $5 million, named as defendants the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys, and team owner Jerry Jones.

      According to the suit, the defendants’ unlawful actions meant that around 850 fans were displaced from their original seats, and 400 had to stand through the hours-long game. This was especially disappointing given the time and money that fans had spent in order to attend the game.

      Judge: Too many individual issues

      U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, ruled that the plaintiffs hadn’t sufficiently shown that there were common issues making a class action preferable to individual suits. Lynn also noted that monetary damages varied among the class members, making a joint action inappropriate.

      "The Court … concludes that the variation in the materiality of the omissions combined with the individual questions of reliance and damages predominate over common issues," Lynn wrote in her opinion.

      "[T]he burdens and costs associated with proceeding as a class action outweigh potential benefits,” Lynn’s ruling said.

      In a statement, the NFL said it was “pleased with the court’s decision refusing to certify any class in this case.”

      Plaintiffs’ lawyer vows to fight on

      Michael Avenatti, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he was “disappointed with the court's ruling but look forward to representing hundreds of our clients this year in the trials against the NFL,” indicating that he may file individual suits on behalf of his clients.

      Avenatti has been fierce in his prosecution of the case since the start, demanding that the defendants “reimburse fans one hundred percent for their expenses and damages” at the time the case was filed.

      “You don’t have to own the Cowboys or run the NFL to know that you cannot lawfully treat people like this,” Avenatti said at the time. “At an absolute minimum, Jones, the Cowboys and the NFL need to accept full responsibility and reimburse fans one hundred percent for their expenses and damages. Anything short of that is a slap in the face to the fans of the NFL and the Cowboys.”

      A federal court has denied class certification in a suit involving a last-minute seat shortage at the 2011 Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and the...

      Meat industry sues to stop country-of-origin labeling

      American Meat Institute says USDA is overstepping its authority

      The meat and livestock industry is taking exception to country-of-origin labeling rules -- known as COOL -- finalized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture earlier this year.

      Previously, meat labels only had to say where meat came from. Under the new rule, they must say where the meat was born, raised and slaughtered. The American Meat Institute says the rule is unconstitutional and has filed suit in D.C. federal court.

      The suit charges that the rule "compels speech in the form of costly and detailed labels on meat products that do not directly advance a government interest."  It charges the rule is "arbitrary and capricious, because it imposes vast burdens on the industry with little to no countervailing benefit."

      Currently, a slab of meat may be identified as "Product of U.S. and Canada." Under the new rules, it would have to say, "Born in Canada, raised and slaughtered in the United States."

      Lifetime itinerary

      “Congress mandated country-of-origin labeling for meat and poultry -- not lifetime itinerary labeling,” AMI said in a prepared statement.  “Segregating and tracking animals according to the countries where production steps occurred and detailing that information on a label may be a bureaucrat’s paperwork fantasy, but the labels that result will serve only to confuse consumers, raise the prices they pay, and put some producers and meat and poultry companies out of business in the process.  Everyone loses under this rule.”

      Consumer groups, however, have long supported the type of labeling COOL would require. A nationally representative telephone poll of more than 1,000 U.S. adults, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center in October 2010 found that most consumers (93%) would prefer to have a country of origin label on the meat that they buy.

      "These results underscore our previous poll findings from 2008 indicating that 95% of US adults agree that country-of-origin labeling for products should always be available at the point of purchase," Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., of Consumers Union said at the time the surbey results were released.

      The rules also have had support from other farmers' organizations and from many environmental groups.

      USDA said it "remains confident that these changes will improve the overall operation of the program and also bring the mandatory COOL requirements into compliance with U.S. international trade obligations." 

      The meat and livestock industry is taking exception to country-of-origin labeling rules -- known as COOL -- finalized by the U.S. Department of Agricu...

      Researchers find few side effects linked to statin use

      Benefits generally outweigh any risks, new findings indicate

      You see them advertised all the time -- Crestor, Zocor and all the rest. They’re statins -- the popular class of cholesterol-lowering drugs used widely to prevent recurrent heart disease or even a first cardiac or stroke event. But how safe are they?

      Well, according to new research reported in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, there are few side effects linked to them.

      Researchers conducted the largest meta-analysis on statin side effects to date. After reviewing data from 135 previous drug studies to evaluate the safety of the seven statins on the market, they concluded "as a class, adverse events associated with statin therapy are not common."

      The scientists noted that simvastatin and pravastatin -- the generic names of the brands Zocor and Pravachol -- were found to have the best safety profile in the class. This is particularly true when patients were prescribed low to moderate doses of those statins, said Huseyin Naci, M.H.S., the study's lead author and a doctoral candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science and research fellow at Harvard Medical School's Department of Population Medicine.

      A caveat

      Researchers also noted a 9% increased risk of diabetes among statin users. But according to a previous landmark study, 250 patients need to be treated with a statin for one case of diabetes to be diagnosed.

      "I am concerned that patients may misunderstand this small increase in risk and stop adhering to their medications," Naci said. The proven ability of statins to significantly cut the rate of death and hospitalization in patients who have heart disease outweighs the "small increase in diabetes risk," he said.

      Researchers reviewed trials published between 1985 and early 2013, which included almost 250,000 patients. On average, the trials lasted a bit longer than a year. Some compared one statin with  another, while others compared a statin to an inactive placebo, which is often called a sugar pill or dummy pill.

      Some risks

      The study also found that statins were not linked to an increase in cancer risk. However, the drugs were associated with a typically reversible increase in liver enzymes, which Naci said still resulted in a very low rate of actual liver toxicity in statin patients.

      "Although the benefits of statins clearly outweigh risks at the population level, individualizing such benefits and risks is more difficult," he said. "This brings into sharp focus the importance of identifying the individuals who stand to benefit the most from statin therapy.

      Although the risk of developing diabetes is low, what this risk would amount to over time is simply not known based on the existing evidence," Naci said.

      You see them advertised all the time -- Crestor, Zocor and all the rest. They’re statins -- the popular class of cholesterol-lowering drugs used widely to ...

      Traveling and Allergies: Unfortunately, the two can go hand in hand

      So is getting a hypoallergenic room even worth it?

      Who doesn't like to travel? Most people do, right? 

      Of course there are some who would rather skip the airport lines, highway traffic and high gas prices, but for the most part people like to see new places, people and things as much as they can, especially during the summer months.

      But a lot of people are concerned about their allergies flaring up when they travel. So much so that some folks won't even go to certain places because those places are known to make eyes water, noses sneeze and worse. 

      Allergic nation

      According to a study released by Sylvane, a company that sells air treatment products, and AllerPassMD, which provides travelers with listings of hypoallergenic hotel rooms, one in five Americans lives with an allergy -- and that includes people living with allergic asthma.

      In addition, 17.9 million adults and 7.1 million children have hay fever and 8.6 million children have respiratory allergies. Overall, between 12 and 14 million people in the United States live with allergic asthma, researchers say.

      And when you combine those numbers with the number of people vacationing this summer season, there are sure to be a lot of unhappy travelers.

      On the move

      According to the study, 57% of travelers will hit the beach this summer and 39% will be traveling to a major city. Additionally, 23% will visit amusement parks, 21% will take a cultural trip and 17% will go on a camping trip. 

      But be choosey on where you travel within the U.S., because some states have a higher pollen count than others, experts say.

      Based on findings, St. Louis, Mo. has the highest pollen count. Itd's followed by College Station, Texas, Cherry Hill, N.J., Rochester, N.Y., Kansas City, Mo., Dallas, Texas, Tulsa, Okla., Lafayette, La., and Indianapolis, Ind.

      Where you stay

      However, it's not just certain states people with allergies should be mindful of. The hotel counts too.

      Researchers say that after two years, 10% of a pillow's weight can be made up of dead dust mites and dust mite droppings, so you may want to ask the hotel how often it changes the bed and couch pillows.

      And a mattress that's even just a little bit used can contain somewhere between 100,000 to 10 million mites inside, say researchers.

      Brian Brault, CEO of Pure Solutions in New York, who wasn't involved in the study, says it's hard for people with allergies to be totally comfortable when they travel.

      "When you travel, you don't know what you're walking into. You don't know the environment and you can't tweak it to make yourself comfortable like you can at home," said Brault in a published interview. "Any new living space will create problems for people with allergies."

      Choosing wisely

      Of course there are some travelers who will pay more money to stay in a hypoallergenic room, but Dr. Paul Williams, an allergy specialist at NorthWest Allergy & Asthma Center in Washington State, says getting such rooms isn't worth the money

      "There really isn't any scientific evidence to support some of those [hypoallergenic rooms]," said Williams an interview with USA Today. "People are paying money they don't need to pay, but it's their choice."

      There are many people who would probably disagree with Williams. In fact, creating hypoallergenic rooms has become big business in the hotel industry and experts say it'll become even bigger business in the future.

      Based on the survey's findings, Denver is No. 1 when it comes to having the most allergy-friendly hotels. Denver is also a refuge for allergy sufferers, Its high, dry climate is remarkably friendly to those who find nearly everyplace else unbearable.

      Washington state came in second, Tampa third and the cities that rounded out the top 15 were Albuquerque, Dallas, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Phoenix, San Diego, New York, Miami and San Francisco.

      Looking out for you

      When it comes to which hotel chains do the most for people with allergies, Hyatt came in first, Westin second and Residence Inn came in third.

      In addition, Four Seasons came in fourth and Doubletree, Marriott, Hilton, Embassy Suites, Wyndham and Courtyard by Marriott closed out the top ten.

      What are some of these chains doing to make hotel rooms more comfortable for people with allergies?

      It varies, but Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean at the Tisch Center for Hospitality, says creating allergy friendly rooms are pretty much the hotel standard these days. And these rooms aren't just for people with allergies, they're for all customers.

      "There are many people who request special rooms, not because they have allergies but because they believe those rooms will have a higher degree of sanitation and cleanliness," said Hanson in a published interview. "It's a way for hotels to invest a little bit more for a room but get a premium for both occupancy and rate."

      Who doesn't like to travel? Most people do, right? Of course there are some who would rather skip the airport lines, highway traffic and high gas pr...

      Former cheerleader waits on defamation verdict

      Alleged that gossip site posted false posts

      A former cheerleader for the Cincinnati Bengals has trudged a long road in her defamation case against gossip site, but now a verdict could be just days or even hours away.

      Sarah Jones, who is also a former teacher, sued the website over two posts it published in 2009. Both posts were written anonymously to one of the website’s operators.

      The first post, published on October 27, 2009, claimed that Jones had “been spotted around town lately with the infamous Shayne Graham. She also has slept with every other Bengal Football player. This girl is a teacher too!”

      The second post, published on December 7, 2009, claimed that Jones’s ex-husband Nathan Wilburn “cheated on her with over 50 girls in 4 yrs,” and that “in that time he tested positive for Chlamydia Infection and Gonorrhea ... so im sure Sarah also has both.”

      Jones: Conduct was “cyberbullying”

      Jones says both posts were false, and in testimony on Monday she called TheDirty’s conduct “cyberbullying.”

      "I don't believe what the website does is fair. I don't believe it is right," Jones said.

      This is the not the first time the case has gone to trial. In January, a judge declared a mistrial after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict regarding whether the posts in question were substantially false.

      And before that, Jones won an $11 million default judgment in 2010 after the named defendant failed to respond to her complaint. Unfortunately, Jones and her lawyer later learned that they had sued the wrong defendant, serving Dirty World Entertainment Recordings LLC (owner of, rather than Dirty World LLC (owner of

      Engaged to formerly underaged student

      Jones has also had her day in criminal court. In October, she pled guilty to charges that she slept with one of her former students. The student, Cody York, was underaged at the time their relationship began.

      In June, Jones and York, now 19, announced they are engaged.

      Despite her criminal conviction and the complications that have arisen in her civil case, Jones is considering entering the legal profession herself. Last fall, The Washington Post reported that Jones was “working as a legal assistant in [her lawyer Eric Deters’s] office.”

      “Jones has expressed interest in becoming a lawyer and is studying to take the Law School Admission Test [LSAT],” the Post said.

      A former cheerleader for the Cincinnati Bengals has trudged a long road in her defamation case against gossip site, but now a verdict could be...

      Hotel guest claims she was bitten 400 times by bed bugs

      The hotel destroyed the evidence by disinfecting the room, lawsuit charges

      A California woman is suing the Renaissance Marriott Hotel in Palm Springs, claiming she was bitten by bed bugs more than 400 times while sleeping at the hotel.

      Kerstin Minass, 26, said she faces permanent scarring to her face, body and hands and said her social life has been marred because of fears that she may be carrying the blood-sucking anthropods on her person or clothing, Courthouse News Service reported.

      Minass said that after the bed bug attacks on May 5, she notified the hotel management, which immediately began cleaning and disinfecting the room, thereby destroying key evidence, to wit the bed bugs.

      The suit says the hotel breached its obligation to protect its guests from harm by allowing the bed bugs to take up residence in the hotel. 

      In the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in California, Minass notes that the bed bug is "most often associated with substandard housing, filthy conditions and poor hygiene." 

      "Typically feeding every four days, [the bed bug] sucks blood from its hosts with piercing mouthparts," as Minass contends the hotel's bed bugs did to her.

      A California woman is suing the Renaissance Marriott Hotel in Palm Springs, claiming she was bitten by bed bugs more than 400 times while sleeping at the h...

      American teens are on the job

      Hiring during May was the strongest since 2006

      Teen hiring may have gotten off to its strongest start in seven years in 2013, but heavy employment gains in May appear to have caused employers to pull back slightly in June.  Still, with 994,000 16- to 19-year-olds finding seasonal positions so far this summer, John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, says teen hiring could outpace 2012.

      A Challenger analysis of just-released government employment data found that employers added 215,000 teenagers to their payrolls in May -- the largest number of teens hired in May since 2006, when employment among 16- to 19-year-olds expanded by 230,000 in the first month of the summer hiring season.

      Strong numbers

      The latest non-seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that another 779,000 teens found employment in June compared with employment growth of 858,000 in  June 2012.  Overall, the 994,000 teens finding jobs so far this summer is down 2.1% from the 1,015,000 teen job winners in May and June of last year.

      “While teen hiring is down slightly from a year ago, these remain some of the strongest summer employment figures we have seen since the recession began in 2008,” said Challenger. “In 2010, employers added just 960,000 16- to 19-year-olds over the entire summer hiring period from May through July.  Hiring has already surpassed that level this year and, if history is any indication, teen employment is likely to grow by another 300,000 to 400,000 in July.”

      Increasing competition

      Challenger points out that one of the biggest obstacles teenagers face in today’s job market is the fact that there is more competition from older job seekers, such as recent college graduates as well as retirees.  

      “Another trend that may keep teen summer employment in the years to come is the decline of the American mall, which has long been a traditional employer of teenaged summer job seekers,” he noted. “As more and more Americans flock to the internet for their shopping needs, traditional brick and mortar stores are seeing traffic decline along with the need for extra summer employees.”

      The retail factor

      According to data from the National Retail Federation (NRF), retail sales were up 4.2% in 2012.  However, retail research firm ShopperTrack found that enclosed mall traffic was down 1.1% last year.  In its annual forecast, the NRF predicts 2013 retail sales (excluding auto, gas and restaurant) will increase by 3.4%.  Meanwhile, online sales are expected to grow between 9.0% and 12.0%.

      “Despite fewer opportunities in traditional retail settings, there are more non-traditional settings where teens can find employment.  Over the past few years, nearly 150 trampoline centers have opened across the country.  Traditional pools are being supplemented with water slide parks.  Traditional bowling alleys are being replaced by massive bowling centers that also feature arcades, laser tag and other activities.  We are seeing more movie theaters offer full-service dining.  All of these new entertainment venues require more workers, making them the ideal target for teen job seekers,” noted Challenger.

      Teen hiring may have gotten off to its strongest start in seven years in 2013, but heavy employment gains in May appear to have caused employers to pull ba...

      Is your smartphone camera good enough?

      It might not be yet, but experts say they're getting better

      Smartphones perform so many functions they've actually eliminated some products from the market. Remember the Flip video camera? It was all the rage in 2008. By 2011 it was gone.

      Cisco Systems, parent to the company that developed the pocket-sized video recorder, suspended operations, bowing to the inevitable. Consumers had begun to ask themselves, "Why do I need another device that just shoots video, when my phone can do it?"

      Not only did smartphones shoot high-def video, many phones came with video editing software, so you could produce a movie right on your phone. All of a sudden, the Flip didn't look so revolutionary.

      Is the same thing happening now with digital cameras? Not if digital camera-makers have anything to say about it.

      Fighting back

      While it is true your smartphone might take some great pictures, it isn't designed specifically to be a camera, a point driven home by camera-makers. Olympus has run ad campaigns that specifically attack the idea that your smartphone camera is good as a digital point-and-shoot. "A camera phone is to photography what two-minute noodles are to cooking," one ad declared.

      Joshua Goldman, a senior editor at CNET, says the digital camera is not dead yet. Even though the top three cameras used for Flickr submissions are all iPhone models, Goldman writes that there's still plenty of interest in digital cameras from consumers serious about photography. He says a dedicated camera is going to bring more to the table than a smartphone camera, starting with a better lens and better controls.

      But we're heard from a number of consumers who have invested in stand-alone cameras, some high-end models and others inexpensive point-and-shoot devices – who wish they hadn't. For example, Arun of Davangere, India, purchased an inexpensive Samsung L201 point-and-shoot camera.

      Jammed lens

      “After taking 40-50 photos, the lens jammed outside, and the back side of the camera became hot,” Arun writes. “There was also a buzzing sound from the inside of the camera. This all happened for the second time in three years.”

      Linda, of Cranberry Township, Pa., reports a problem with the anti-reflective coating peeling off the LCD screen of her Sony NEX3.

      “I was fortunate enough that I returned it to Sony days before the one-year warranty expired, and it was replaced free of charge and returned to me,” she writes. “Lo and behold, just about a year later (this past winter), I started experiencing the same exact problem. I have been battling with Sony regarding the fact that I am experiencing a problem with not only one, but two defective screens on my camera. I have had at least four conversations with two different people at Sony.”

      If you want to take pictures under water, your smartphone is not going to be much help. But while you can purchase a waterproof camera for use below the surface, consumers have reported problems with some models.

      “After researching water-proof cameras, I bought the Olympus Stylus Tough 8010,” writes Tommy, of Seattle, Wash. “The Olympus website shows it's water-proof to 33 feet. After I purchased the camera, the manual states it's only water-proof if I send it in at least every 12 months to an authorized Olympus service center. The cost would be postage there and return with FedEx or UPS and the cost for replacing the rubber seals which the company told me is $59.95! This comes to close to $100 every 12 months and no camera while it sits waiting its turn to get new seals.”

      'Common problem'

      “I bought a Canon Powershot SD790IS and the lens will not close,” writes Anne, of Los Angeles. “I have looked up the issue to find this is a common problem with this camera.”

      In fact, we've found that nearly every digital camera manufacturer has problems of some type, as reported by some of the consumers using the products. Despite that, however, serious photographers are likely to stick with a stand-alone unit rather than their smartphone. Of course, they're likely to choose something a bit sturdier and more expensive than the models we've mentioned.

      What about the casual photographer? Depending on the smartphone, the onboard camera can be more than adequate. Bloomberg reports sales of point-and-shoot cameras fell 46% in 2012, mainly because so many consumers liked the convenience of always having a camera at hand in their ever-present smartphone.

      DxOMark, a company that rates camera equipment, recently rated some smartphone cameras as better than some five-year-old point-and-shoot cameras. And, the company said, smartphone cameras are getting better all the time.

      Smartphones perform so many functions they've actually eliminated some products from the market. Remember the Flip video camera? It was all the rage in 200...

      What to know before ordering Internet diet pills

      Some may result in unauthorized charges, some might not work

      Taking a pill to help you lose weight sounds attractive. It's simple and easy, with less effort required than counting calories and exercising. But the results are what matters and they tend to be elusive.

      First, there's the matter of obtaining the diet pills. Many of these products are marketed with a “free sample,” requiring the consumer to pay a small shipping and handling charge – charged to their credit card – to receive the sample.

      It sounds easy and painless, kind of like losing weight by taking a pill. But many consumers reported that, once they received the sample, their accounts were charged for a full month's supply of pills.

      Several years ago diet pills made with acai berry extract were marketed in this manner, resulting in hundreds of complaints to state and federal authorities. In 2009 Florida sued one distributor, claiming it failed to mention that customers would be charged approximately $80 on a monthly basis for products they did not intend to purchase.

      Online conspiracy

      In 2011, a federal court, acting on a complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), halted what it termed “an online conspiracy” that allegedly took in more than $450 million from consumers in the United States and several other countries. In this case, the scheme allegedly lured consumers into “free” or “risk-free” offers for weight-loss pills and tooth whiteners, and then billed them for things they did not want or agree to purchase, providing false or misleading information to merchant banks in order to acquire credit and debit card processing services.

      While those particular products are no longer being marketed with free samples, some diet pills are. Heather, of Glendale, Calif., said she ordered Lichi Super Fruit diet pills, manufactured by Bainbridge and Knight Labs. Her account may sound familiar to some past diet pill consumers.

      “I ordered what I thought was a free trial of the Lichi diet pills,” Heather wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “It said I pay the $7 shipping charge for my free trial. I got my trial and all of a sudden more product was coming to my house. My credit card company alerted me as they said it looked like a suspicious charge.”

      Read the fine print

      Heather said she called the company to tell them there has been a mistake, that she had only ordered the free trial.

      “They said no, I should have read the fine print, that I was actually signing up for a automatic monthly supply.”

      Heather says, with the help of her credit card company, she was able to reverse all the charges except for the first $99.99 charge.

      Consumers outside the U.S. have reported similar experiences with a weight loss product called Bioslim.

      “I accepted a trial product offer for BioSlim mango extract that firstly stated "free trial" pay postage only, but the advertising was very misleading, as the terms and conditions with the long postage elapsed time made it impossible to return the product and stop the first or second payment of approx $100 per bottle,” writes Cesare, of Victoria, Australia. “I had to cancel my credit card to make sure no further money was extracted from my card.”

      Do they work?

      Aside from the consumer issues of obtaining these kinds of “all-natural” diet pills, the larger questions is do they even work? That's hard to say since they do not come under the jurisdiction of the FDA. In the case of the Lichi diet pills, Beth Sanders, an editor at ConsumerHealth Answers, found not all the ingredients are listed.

      “It is difficult to fully evaluate this product without a complete ingredient list, or an idea of how much of each ingredient is included in the formula,” she wrote in a review of the product.

      Taking any kind of pill without knowing the ingredients can be risky business. Last year the FDA advised consumers not to use Japan Rapid Weight Loss diet Pills Yellow, which was being sold mostly online. The agency said its analysis confirmed the product contained sibutramine and phenolphthalein. Sibutramine is a controlled substance that was removed from the market in October 2010 for safety reasons.

      Just last week the FDA recalled JaDera and Xiyouji Qingzhi weight loss supplement, finding the products also contained undeclared Sibutramine.

      If you are going to take a pill to lose weight, you may be better off taking something prescribed by your doctor. That said, health experts say prescription weight-loss drugs don't replace the need to make healthy changes in your eating habits and activity level.  

      Taking a pill to help you lose weight sounds attractive. It's simple and easy, with less effort required than counting calories and exercising. But the res...

      Kroger buys Harris Teeter Supermarkets

      Harris Teeter will continue to operate under its brand

      Kroger Company is buying regional supermarket chain Harris Teeter for $2.44 billion, but says it will continue to operate the stores under the Harris Teeter brand and doesn't plan to close any stores as a result of the purchase.

      The news got a mixed reception on Facebook. "A lot of unhappy people this morning, A LOT," said a poster named Julie. 

      "The way I understand it is that HT will remain HT, but owned by the Kroger chain. Kroger owns a handful of different grocery chains across the nation. I only hope HT keeps their coupon policy and not adopt Kroger's (which recently stopped having daily double coupons in VA)," a consumer named Lynda said.

      "We are excited to welcome Harris Teeter to the Kroger family," said David B. Dillon, Kroger's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.  "Harris Teeter is an exceptional company with a great brand, friendly and talented associates, and attractive store formats in vibrant markets run by a first-class management team.  They share our customer-centric approach to everything we do – from store format and merchandising to innovative loyalty programs."

      Consumers rate Kroger

      Kroger said it expects to save $40 million to $50 million over the next three to four years as a result of the purchase, mostly through benefits of scale. 

      "We are excited about becoming part of The Kroger Co., one of the best food retailers in the U.S. while maintaining the Harris Teeter banner, our management teams, our new store growth plan, our distribution and manufacturing facilities in North Carolina as well as our headquarters in Matthews, NC," said Thomas W. Dickson, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Harris Teeter.  "As part of Kroger, Harris Teeter will be well equipped to continue to provide our customers outstanding quality and customer service as well as excellent value in an increasingly competitive market."

      Kroger Company is buying regional supermarket chain Harris Teeter for $2.44 billion, but says it will continue to operate the stores under the Harris Teete...