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    McDonald's removes artificial preservatives from its burgers

    Artificial flavors and colors have also been banished

    McDonald's says hamburgers served in its U.S. restaurants will not use any artificial preservatives, artificial flavors, or colors. The only exception is the pickle, which customers can skip if they prefer.

    The fast food chain says it's part of its "food journey" and affects all 14,000 U.S. locations. The change affects the McDonald's hamburger, cheeseburger, double cheeseburger, McDouble, Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, and Big Mac.

    “From switching to 100% fresh beef in our quarter-pound burgers, cooked right when ordered, to removing artificial preservatives in our Chicken McNuggets, and committing to cage-free eggs by 2025, we have made significant strides in evolving the quality of our food,” said Chris Kempczinski, McDonald’s USA President.

    “We know quality choices are important to our customers, and this latest positive change to our classic burgers demonstrates our committed journey to leading with the customer and building a better McDonald’s," Kempczinski added.

    It's part of a trend driven by younger consumers, who are often more particular than their older peers about what they eat. Competitors like Panera and Chipotle Mexican Grill, even though they cost more, are valued, in part, for their natural ingredients.

    So far, about two-thirds of McDonald's burgers and sandwiches are free of artificial additives, with the exception of the artificially-preserved pickle. The company said it has removed artificial preservatives from its cheese, Big Mac special sauce, and the hamburger, Quarter Pounder, and Big Mac buns.

    Feeling good about food

    “We understand that now more than ever, people care about their food – where it comes from, what goes into it and how it is prepared – and we are committed to make changes to our menu our guests feel good about,” said Linda VanGosen, McDonald’s vice president of Menu Innovation.

    The move comes as the fast food chain has undergone something of a makeover. It has begun to renovate restaurants and install ordering kiosks that customers may use to avoid standing in line.

    Once ordering, the customer can pay at the kiosk, take a number and have a seat. When it's ready, the food is brought to the table. In most fast food restaurants, the customers stand near the counter waiting for their order to be prepared.

    In August, McDonald's announced it would spend $6 billion to upgrade most of its U.S. restaurants to include the ordering kiosks and take on a more modern look, in keeping with its McCafe branding.

    McDonald's says hamburgers served in its U.S. restaurants will not use any artificial preservatives, artificial flavors, or colors. The only exception is t...

    New study finds student debt could affect young adults' decision to get married

    ​Paying off debts is more of a priority than marriage for many young people

    A new study that was recently published in Springer -- “The Changing Nature of the Association Between Student Loan Debt and Marital Behavior in Young Adulthood” -- examined the trends amongst young people regarding the effects student loans have on the timeline of marriage.

    As more and more young people graduate college and living with a partner before marriage becomes more normalized, society has seen a shift in the number of people marrying young. However, with college degrees come student loans -- and as the number of young people with student loans continues to rise, researchers continue to look at the trends between economic responsibility and marital trends.

    This most recent study was led by Fenaba Addo of the University of Wisconsin Madison, who sees the societal shift to be beneficial for couples who have incurred student debt over the years. Many young couples have been living together unmarried as it costs less, but putting marriage off until debts are paid off in full.

    “Rising student debt is reshaping relationship formation among college-going youth, and as cohabitation has become more widespread, social and economic disparities in who marries without cohabitating first have increased,” Addo said in a news release.

    The study

    The research team examined public records from young adults in 1979 and 1997 who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY).

    The major differences between the two groups are the decades in which they grew up, and the societal norms during those decades, though everyone who participated attended college.

    The responses indicated that nearly 70 percent of the respondents from 1979 were married by their mid-30s, while over half of the group from 1997 was unmarried by the same age.

    The 1997 group was not only found to be more likely to take on a student loan than the 1979 group, but they also accumulated much more student debt than the older group. The younger group was also more likely to live with their partners before marriage -- or before even deciding on marriage.  

    On a similar note, the 1997 group’s tendency to acquire a student loan -- and thus, student debt -- was seen by society as a reason for delaying marriage -- particularly for women -- while this was not the case for the older group.

    Additionally, the older group was found to be far more likely than the younger group to get married prior to living with their partners. Just 6.7 percent of respondents from the 1979 group lived together before marriage, compared with 22.4 percent of 1997 respondents. While under 15 percent of the 1997 group married without first living together, over one-third of the 1979 group did the same.

    The findings from the study provide a unique insight into society’s ever-changing education and marital trends.

    A new study that was recently published in Springer -- “The Changing Nature of the Association Between Student Loan Debt and Marital Behavior in Young Adul...

    Gene mutation can increase 'sleep need' in mice, study finds

    The study's findings could help guide future research on human sleep disorders

    Researchers from the University of Tsukuba recently published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences entitled, “A single phosphorylation site of SIK3 regulates daily sleep amounts and sleep need in mice.”

    The scientists found that a mutation in a single amino acid plays a large role in the amount of sleep needed in mice on a daily basis -- an area that had been largely under researched prior to the study. Sleepiness, and the amount of sleep organisms need, as well as the variations in sleep patterns has been a mystery for a long time. Now, the researchers have uncovered a key finding in the field.

    Based on the study, the researchers found that changing this amino acid affects not only the mice’s sleeping patterns, but also their alertness when awake.

    “The findings were particularly interesting in that this mutation affected the periods of sleep lacking rapid-eye-movement, the largely non-dreaming part of sleep, while rapid-eye-movement sleep was largely unchanged,” said researcher Masashi Yanagisawa in a statement.

    The study

    Using mice as test subjects, the researchers created a mutation in the SIK3 protein.

    From there, the team evaluated the ways the mutated protein affected the mice’s sleep patterns, brain activity during waking and sleeping hours, alertness when awake, and time spent asleep and awake.

    The study found that adjusting the 551st amino acid of the SIK3 protein produced the greatest effect on the mice’s sleeping patterns. In short, the mutation made them sleep more. At times of the night when the mice were usually active, the change in the amino acid found them sleeping for more extended periods of time. Despite the increased sleep, much of the mice’s sleep under the mutated protein was found to be non-dreaming sleep.

    “This showed that SIK3 is involved in very specific sleep-related regulatory mechanisms,” Yanagisawa added.

    Effect on human sleep patterns  

    In looking at the way the molecular composition affected the mutated protein, the researchers were able to draw conclusions that could affect future research on human sleeping patterns.

    “The features of this amino acid in this protein are evolutionarily conserved across the animal kingdom, so these findings are also relevant to studies on sleep in humans,” said lead author Takato Honda.

    Honda referenced individuals with idiopathic hypersomnia -- a sleep condition that makes people excessively tired during the day and has great difficulty being woken up (both of which without clear explanation). Because the mice in the study experienced similar symptoms, Honda is confident that the research can help provide answers.

    Researchers from the University of Tsukuba recently published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences entitled, “A single phosphoryl...

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      Fed rate hikes beginning to pressure consumers

      Today's rate increase will raise credit card interest rates a quarter point

      The Federal Reserve has announced another interest rate increase, hiking the federal funds rate by a quarter point.

      The rate that banks pay to borrow money will now float between 2 percent and 2.25 percent, and they will surely pass on the increase. It will put increased pressure on consumers who borrow money, particularly those who carry a credit card balance.

      The rate hike is the third this year, and the consensus view among economists is the Fed is likely to hike a fourth time at its December meeting. The policymakers have begun normalizing interest rates after about eight years of keeping them at near 0 percent following the financial crisis.

      Even though the federal funds rate is still low by historical standards, consumers who have become accustomed to the cheap money environment may feel squeezed. John Ganotis, founder of Credit Card Insider, says the Fed rate hikes almost always results in any kind of bank loan getting more expensive.

      "A variable APR, as opposed to a fixed APR, means the APR is tied to the Prime Rate," Ganotis told ConsumerAffairs. "The bigger the balance, the more the APR increases will increase interest fees. One exception is credit cards from federally chartered credit unions, which are capped at 18 percent APR."

      Rising interest rates on credit cards

      It directly affects the rate on home equity loans and auto loans but probably has the biggest impact on consumers with credit card balances. Credit card interest rates tend to be high because they are unsecured loans. When the fed hikes interest rates, they go even higher.

      Currently, consumers with a credit card balance are paying an average interest rate of 16.92 percent, according to the latest report from CreditCards.com. Consumers with good credit may pay less but consumers with just average credit may pay a lot more.

      High interest rates make it hard to pay off the balance since so much of the payment each month goes to pay finance charges. And every time the Fed hikes, consumers have to open their wallets a little wider.

      "If you carry a $5,000 credit card balance at the average rate, today's quarter point increase will cost you an extra $12.50 a year," Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com said in an interview.

      That might not sound like a lot, but it adds up. Rossman says if you take five years to pay off that $5,000 balance, today's increase alone will amount to an extra $77 in interest charges. Because of today's hike, your credit card interest rate will go up accordingly.

      'Immediate, direct, and significant'

      "The impact is immediate, direct, and significant," Rossman said. "It's a direct pass-through that will show up on your bill in one or two billing cycles."

      Paying down your credit card balance is the only way to alleviate the burden of high interest debt. If you lack the cash to pay it off, consider applying for a balance transfer credit card that offers a year or more of 0 percent interest.

      If you have a large balance, make sure you choose a card that doesn't have a balance transfer fee. Most cards charge fees of 3 percent to 5 percent of the transferred amount.

      The Federal Reserve has announced another interest rate increase, hiking the federal funds rate by a quarter point.The rate that banks pay to borrow mo...

      Court rules company can't block consumers from posting bad reviews

      FTC intervenes in support of customers unhappy with weight-loss supplements

      A federal court in Florida has granted the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) motion for a summary judgment in its complaint against Roca Labs, which markets weight-loss supplements.

      The FTC charged the company tried to enforce "gag clauses" to prevent consumers from posting negative reviews about its products. The court ruled it is not only unfair but likely to cause substantial harm, in violation of the FTC Act.

      The FTC filed the complaint back in 2015 after the defendants allegedly threatened to sue consumers who shared their negative experiences with the company online or filed a complaint with consumer authorities.

      Terms of service prohibited disparaging remarks

      The defendants said they were within their rights, claiming consumers violated the terms and conditions clauses of the contract which barred them from making disparaging remarks about the company's weight-loss products.

      In its suit, the FTC claimed these gag provisions, along with accompanying warnings, violated consumers' rights. If a consumer is unhappy with a product, the FTC says nothing should prevent them from telling others.

      In addition to the other charges, the FTC said the defendants made unsubstantiated weight-loss claims and claimed that one of its promotional websites was, in fact, an objective information website.

      To top it off, the FTC claims the defendants violated their privacy promises to consumers by disclosing their personal health information in public court filings and to payment processors and banks.

      Violation of the FTC Act

      The court found the defendants in the case were in violation of the FTC Act because they made deceptive weight-loss claims about their dietary supplements, known as Roca Labs Formula or “Gastric Bypass Alternative.”

      The court also agreed with the FTC contention that the company tried to intimidate unhappy customers by threatening to sue them when they posted negative comments online.

      There's money at stake, but how much has yet to be determined. The court ordered a supplemental briefing to determine how much of the defendants $26.6 million in gross sale should be awarded to the FTC for distribution to consumers.

      A federal court in Florida has granted the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) motion for a summary judgment in its complaint against Roca Labs, which markets...

      Lincoln struggles with its automobile subscription program

      Subscription models are here to stay, but the shake-out for bigger ticket items may be far from over

      Subscription models are everywhere you turn. Netflix, Spotify, Amazon, they all have one.

      “The concept of auto ownership is about to be disrupted,” wrote Shep Hyken, Customer Service & Experience Expert and Author of The Convenience Revolution in comments to ConsumerAffairs.

      “When you no longer have to own, insure or service a car and you can drive a wide variety for one monthly price, that creates an attractive alternative to automobile ownership.”

      While car subscription programs haven’t reached the same level of consumer buy-in as a monthly movie or cloud storage subscription, they are starting to gain popularity. Porsche has one. General Motors and Ford, as well. Mercedes-Benz’ and BMW’s programs lets members swap one vehicle for another through a mobile app.

      The learning curve

      Like any new consumer offer, there’s a learning curve as to what the consumer will latch on to. As the automakers try their subscription models out on the public, they’re finding that what may work for one brand doesn’t necessarily guarantee success for another.

      Case-in-point: Lincoln.

      The 101-year-old carmaker has decided to go back to the drawing table with its “Canvas” subscription pilot according to Automotive News.

      "I've been surprised how few people are genuinely interested in that type of ownership," Robert Parker, Lincoln's director of sales and marketing, told Automotive News.

      Lincoln’s far from throwing in the towel, but there’s lots of work to do. One competitive difference Lincoln is trying to craft is beating the others in price. BMW’s program starts at $1,099 per month, and Cadillac’s at $1,500 a month.

      To outduel the others at the price game, Lincoln’s Canvas program opted to offer off-lease vehicles instead of new ones, which brings down the monthly price from $329 for a sedan to $509 for a luxury car.

      But as anyone who’s ever bought a car knows, there are always extra charges beyond the advertised price. In Lincoln’s situation, the kicker seems to be the added monthly subscription charge.

      People who subscribe for a year or longer pay as little as $25 extra per month, but Parker said that most Lincoln subscribers were only looking for short-term subscriptions, like when they’re shopping for a new car. At that level, there’s as much as an extra $375 for a single month which jacks up the total cost to nearly $900, a lot to swallow for almost anyone.

      Where the auto subscription model winds up is anyone’s guess. According to a recent study by Autolist, the biggest appeal of a subscription service is the ability to switch between different types of vehicles easily, followed closely by the absence of a long-term commitment that’s usually required in a traditional car lease or loan.

      Subscription models are everywhere you turn. Netflix, Spotify, Amazon, they all have one.“The concept of auto ownership is about to be disrupted,” wrot...

      New study confirms the effect hunger has on mood

      Feeling ‘hangry’ isn’t a myth, according to this study

      In a study recently published in Pharmacology, researchers at the University of Guelph undertook the responsibility of determining if hunger has a scientific effect on mood.

      “We found evidence that a change in glucose level can have a lasting effect on mood,” said Professor Francesco Leri in a press release. “I was skeptical when people would tell me they get grouchy if they don’t eat, but now I believe it. Hypoglycemia is a strong physiological and psychological stressor.”

      While the research team is looking to conduct further research in this area, researcher Thomas Horman noted that the biggest change in mood is most likely to occur for those who skip meals on a regular basis.

      “A vicious cycle”

      “Poor mood and poor eating can become a vicious cycle in that if a person isn’t eating properly, they can experience a drop in mood, and this drop in mood can make them not want to eat,” Horman said. “If someone is constantly missing meals and constantly experiencing this stressor, the response could affect their emotional state on a more constant level.”

      For the study, researchers administered a glucose metabolism blocker to mice, which were then placed in a chamber. The glucose metabolism blocker created the feeling of hypoglycemia in the test subjects.

      Later, the same rats were given water intravenously -- and no glucose metabolism blocker -- and were placed in a different chamber. The rats were then given the choice of which chamber to enter, and they all avoided the one where the had been given the glucose metabolism blocker.

      Change in behavior

      This was an indication for Leri and his team that the rats were exhibiting anxious and stressed behavior, as they made the decision to avoid a situation they knew caused them discomfort. To further test this theory, they evaluated each rat’s blood levels following their hypoglycemic episode. The researchers found that the rats’ blood contained high levels of corticosterone -- which Leri noted was indicative of stress.

      “You might argue that this is because they need glucose to make their muscles work,” Leri added. “But when we gave them a commonly used antidepressant medication, the sluggish behavior was not observed. This is interesting because their muscles still weren’t getting the glucose, yet their behavior changed.”

      These studies proved to be important when considering mental health stressors, including people suffering from anxiety and depression. The researchers noted these findings could be helpful as developing a nutritional plan can be a beneficial part of treatment.

      In a study recently published in Pharmacology, researchers at the University of Guelph undertook the responsibility of determining if hunger has a scientif...

      New study finds 80 percent of people with cancer risk genes don't know it

      ​Most people are unaware they carry the gene until a family member is diagnosed

      A new study conducted by Geisinger researchers found that over 80 percent of people who carry a genetic risk for ovarian, pancreatic, breast, or prostate cancer are unaware they carry such genes.

      Published in JAMA last week, the study examined over 50,000 individuals of an average age of 60 years old. Despite regular doctor visits and other medical procedures, the overwhelming majority only became aware of the cancer gene following the diagnosis of a family member.

      “As a colleague said, it usually takes a tragedy for people to get tested,” said Michael Murray, professor of genetics at Yale School of Medicine and senior author of the study, in a press release. “Our reliance on a documented personal or family history as a trigger to offer testing is not working. Hopefully one day, we can change that with effective DNA-based screening for everyone.”

      Risk gene  

      Held at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, PA, the study examined 50,726 adult volunteers who underwent exome sequencing from January 1, 2014 through March 1, 2016.

      Exome sequencing involves sequencing all of the protein-coding genes in a genome. The end result is to find variations in genetics that could affect the sequencing of proteins throughout DNA and ultimately detect traces of disease.

      The study found that 267 volunteers had the BRCA risk variant gene, which leads to breast and ovarian cancer. Yet, before the study, just 18 percent of the volunteers knew they were at risk.

      Though a small group of BRCA-positive patients died before the end of the study, almost 50 percent (47.8) of them had BRCA-related cancer. Of those that made it to the end of the study, just about 17 percent of them had BRCA-related cancer.

      The study’s findings indicate that exome sequencing was successful in identifying five times as many individuals with the BRCA gene. Oftentimes, these cancer risks go undetected in various check-ups, and this study shows that there is a chance to find these genes as early possible.

      According to Murray, identifying risk is the first step. From there, doctors can “apply proven tools for early diagnosis and prevention.” Additionally, he hopes this can be “an opportunity to decrease cancer and cancer-related deaths through genomic screening approaches.”

      A new study has found that over 80 percent of people who carry a genetic risk for ovarian, pancreatic, breast, or prostate cancer are unaware they...

      Amazon makes investment in prefabricated housing startup

      The e-commerce giant has invested in Plant Prefab, a company known for sustainable construction and smart home technology

      On Tuesday, Amazon announced that it made its first investment in Plant Prefab, a startup that creates and builds prefabricated single- and multifamily homes using sustainable materials. 

      On its website, Plant Prefab claims it can build homes faster and with less waste than traditional construction methods.

      To date, the Rialto, California-based firm -- which raised $6.7 million in funding from Amazon’s Alexa Fund and Obvious Ventures -- has installed 26 units in California and Utah and undertaken a multifamily project in Berkeley.

      Paul Bernard, director of the Alexa Fund, said in a statement that Amazon is “thrilled to support” Plant Prefab because the company makes “connected homes more accessible to customers and developers.”

      Using automation

      Plant Prefab is aiming to speed up the process of building a house, as well as drive down costs for consumers, through the use of automation, according to the company’s founder and CEO Steve Glenn.

      “In the housing-crunched major cities like Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, along with areas like Silicon Valley, it takes too much time to build a home from groundbreaking to occupancy, and labor shortages, construction delays and increased construction costs are exacerbating this trend even further -- and making homes increasingly less affordable,” Glenn said in a statement.

      “Building homes in factories addresses these challenges, particularly as we’re able integrate online technology, new building systems, and automation to dramatically reduce the time and cost necessary to design and build high-quality, custom homes.”

      Possibility of integrating Alexa

      Alexa now powers 20,000 voice-activated, smart-home devices made by 3,500 different companies, Bernard noted. Investing in a homebuilding startup could be a way for Amazon to integrate Alexa in the construction of smart homes.

      Earlier this year, Lennar -- the nation’s largest homebuilder -- announced that it had reached a deal with Amazon to pre-install Alexa in all of its new homes.

      “This will be the hallmark of why we buy a new home,” said David Kaiserman, president of Lennar Ventures, said in a statement announcing the partnership. “It’s an important step in the mass adoption of all these technologies.”

      Amazon’s investment in Plant Prefab comes less than a week after it unveiled more than a dozen Alexa-powered smart home devices, including a voice-operated microwave oven and an amplifier that can be controlled by the Alexa voice assistant.

      On Tuesday, Amazon announced that it made its first investment in Plant Prefab, a start-up that creates and builds prefabricated single- and multifamily ho...

      Consumer confidence hits an 18-year high

      Low unemployment and accelerating growth fuels optimism

      Consumers have had a pretty good summer, if the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index is to be believed. After a big jump in August, the index -- a gauge of how consumers feel about economic issues -- has reached an 18-year high.

      To be precise, the last time consumers felt this good about the economy and their present situation was just before the dot-com crash of 2000. This month the index reached 138.4, up from 134.7 in August.

      “After a considerable improvement in August, consumer confidence increased further in September and hovers at an 18-year high,” said Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “The September reading is not far from the all-time high of 144.7 reached in 2000.”

      Optimistic about the future

      Consumers appear happy with the current conditions, bolstered by a strong economy and robust job growth. The Expectations Index, which measures optimism for the future, surged in September, suggesting consumers expect the positive economic trends to continue.

      "These historically high confidence levels should continue to support healthy consumer spending, and should be welcome news for retailers as they begin gearing up for the holiday season," Franco said.

      What's notable is consumer optimism about the short-term outlook took a leap forward in September, despite growing concerns about trade tensions, brought on by escalating tariffs by the U.S. and its trading partners.

      Strong business outlook

      The percentage of consumers anticipating business conditions will improve over the next six months increased from 24.4 percent to 27.6 percent this month, while those expecting business conditions will worsen declined, from 9.9 percent to 8.0 percent.

      People looking for jobs were also more optimistic. The percentage of consumers expecting more jobs in the months ahead increased from 21.5 percent to 22.5 percent, while those anticipating fewer jobs decreased from 13.2 percent to 11.0 percent.

      Consumers have had a pretty good summer, if the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index is to be believed. After a big jump in August, the index -- a...

      New research provides breakthrough in Salmonella vaccine development

      The findings could prove to be monumental for a disease that kills nearly one million people per year around the world

      In findings recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a group of researchers led by Professor Stephen McSorley (interim director of the Center for Comparative Medicine) paved the way for the latest in the development of an effective Salmonella vaccine.

      Though McSorley and his team performed the study on mice, he’s confident that the findings are a step in the right direction and will be able to help people -- particularly in rural areas of Africa where non-typhoidal Salmonella (NTS) has been known to kill large groups of people.

      McSorley noted that oftentimes, the residents of these areas get infected, and what would normally cause gastroenteritis -- inflammation of the stomach and intestines -- becomes much more serious and can be deadly. It’s also important to note that while there are two Salmonella vaccines available, they only protect about half of immunized people and aren’t viable options.

      “These forms of disease are really impactful for resource-poor communities in Asia and Africa where the vaccines are either nonexistent or terrible,” McSorley said in a press release. “They are diseases of poverty.

      “The goal of our lab is to understand the mechanisms of protective immunity in mice to learn tricks of the immune system and then develop a vaccine that could replicate that use for kids and people who live in these areas,” he added.

      The study

      McSorley and his team focused on two different kinds of T-cells: circulating and non-circulating memory T-cells. The researchers looked at how these T-cells worked in fighting off Salmonella.

      “It’s a new cell population we haven’t looked at before and they’re very effective so we need to learn more about them,” McSorley said. “They may be part of the answer to developing vaccines against a variety of pathogens.”

      To test the T-cells’ effectiveness in fighting off Salmonella, the researchers injected both circulating and non-circulating memory T-cells from previously injected mice into mice that had never been injected. Fluorescent markers were able to signify which of the cells were successful in staving off the infection.

      The researchers found that the solution was a non-circulating population of liver memory cells that don’t travel throughout the body. Perhaps the greatest takeaway from the test was that these cells can aid scientists in developing future Salmonella vaccines.

      “We found that you absolutely need these non-circulating T-cells to protect against Salmonella,” McSorley said in the press release. “That’s an important milestone, because if you’re going to make a vaccine, you have to know what you’re trying to induce with what vaccine. Now that we know these forms of T-cells exist and protect against Salmonella, the next goal is to try to develop synthetic ways to induce them to make a vaccine.”

      In findings recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a group of researchers led by Professor Stephen McSorley (interim di...

      Honda recalls model year 2017 Acura NSX vehicles

      The center brake light may not function properly

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 793 model year 2017 Acura NSX vehicles.

      Road vibrations may cause the metal screws that secure the printed circuit board for the high mounted center brake light to loosen and contact the circuitry, possibly resulting in the brake light fuse blowing and the brake lights not functioning.

      Brake lights that do not work increase the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      Honda will notify owners, and dealers will replace the center high mount brake light, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin November 6, 2018.

      Owners may contact Acura client relations at 1-844-682-2872. Honda's number for this recall is B2B.

      American Honda Motor Co. is recalling 793 model year 2017 Acura NSX vehicles.Road vibrations may cause the metal screws that secure the printed circuit...

      Global what? The world may be burning, but there’s never been a better time to drill

      ​Production is through the roof. Offshore drilling could make a comeback. And anti-pipeline protesters risk felony charges.

      During the country’s fourth-hottest summer on record, a group of activists headed to the Atchafalaya swamp in Louisiana. They chained themselves to excavators and constructed “sky pod” tents among the trees, part of an attempt to stall construction on yet another crude oil pipeline underway in the United States.

      Energy sources of the future are “not going to be oil,” activist and organizer Cherri Foytlin said by phone in July, making time for an interview before she had to bail some protesters out of jail in New Orleans.

      “Very clearly, we can see that one of the fastest growing industries in the world is renewable energy,” she added, sounding optimistic despite the legacy of influence stacked in the pipeline operator’s favor.

      As weather grows more extreme, over half of Americans and even major oil companies that do business here now say they think that man-made climate change is a real problem that needs to be fixed.

      "We believe climate change is real," Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden told National Public Radio last year. Shell, like other oil corporations, has made some high-profile investments in renewable energy and is vowing to “prevent a very significant rise in global temperatures.”

      That oil companies want to solve the global warming crisis is a nice message, but it’s not one in line with reality. Across the United States, the fossil fuel industry appears to be betting on a future that is increasingly dependent on oil and gas, regardless of any climate concerns that could get in the way.

      A banner year

      For the fossil fuel industry, 2018 was a year worth celebrating when it came to business in the United States, or in their words, the “year of American Energy.”

      Crude oil production last January reached 10 million barrels a day, shattering a record previously set in 1970. By next year, analysts predict that number will reach 11 million barrels.

      “This would push the U.S. into first place among the world's oil producers,” industry engineer and investor Robert Rapier said in March.

      Natural gas production is on a similar track, estimated to reach record production levels of 81.3 billion feet per day this year. The industry is now eyeing talent in Silicon Valley to help them digitize their land records.

      Going high-tech will create “marginally more profitability at the corporate level,” Kate Richard, the president of Warwick Energy Group, a firm with investments in 5,000 wells across Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Wyoming, tells ConsumerAffairs. “We should be able to be more efficient and make money go further.”

      Meanwhile, offshore drilling is poised for a recovery of its own, thanks to a Trump proposal to overturn the offshore drilling ban enacted in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. According to investor Matthew DiLallo, “recovery in the offshore drilling sector is right around the corner.”

      The news is overwhelmingly positive, as long as industry firms ignore the depressing field of climate research.

      “We are doing worse,” says Henrik Jeppesen, an analyst with Carbon Tracker, a financial think-tank that urges shareholders and investors to consider the threat of climate change. Jeppesen, who heads Carbon Tracker's efforts in North America, compares the fossil fuel industry to a drug dealer that is all-too-happy to feed society’s addiction to oil.

      “As long as oil and gas production and output continue to increase, it is very hard to argue that there will be any decline in emissions, because a barrel of oil and gas eventually will turn into an emission at some point,” he tells ConsumerAffairs.

      An unbalanced system

      No single advocacy group or agency is calculating the entire country’s carbon footprint, but advocacy groups currently track different pieces of the puzzle.

      When the federal government invited even more oil and gas companies to drill on public land in Wyoming in 2014, conservationists hoping to stop the rampant development in a state known for picturesque frontiers knew they needed to act quickly. So they sent a fax.

      The federal government “is approving record numbers of large oil and gas development projects in Wyoming,” said the fax from the WildEarth Guardians, one of half a dozen conservation groups that protested the sale.

      The Wilderness Society, another conservation group, had similar concerns, but a technical problem somewhere along the way delayed the message. Two months later, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sent them a letter saying that their protest fax had arrived 12 minutes late and could not be counted.

      Oil and gas leases on federal land have rapidly picked up in recent years, according to conservation groups that track federal mineral leases. But protesters who want to fight the development must deal with the indignity of a fax machine or post office; the BLM refuses to accept protests via email.

      "It's a really unbalanced system. When the industry wants to nominate parcels for lease they can do it online in a click of a button,” says Juli Slivka, a policy analyst with The Wilderness Society, which tracks oil and gas leases on federal land.

      Since Trump took office, the BLM has since opened up millions more acres for drilling -- while cutting the time available to protesters down by a third. The agency still refuses to accept email from people filing complaints.

      Other battles pitting environmental groups against the federal government tell a similar story of a bureaucracy that miraculously acts quickly when it is in service of the industry. In 2012, the Corps of Engineers introduced a fast-track permitting process for new oil and gas pipelines, allowing projects to be approved at a rate unlike any environmentalists said they had ever seen.

      Emissions worsening

      Companies like Shell have put natural gas at the front and center of their sustainability initiatives. They say that its “clean-burning” properties are a key tool in the fight against global warming. But years of research suggest that methane, a potent greenhouse gas and a component of natural gas, leaks throughout the drilling process, essentially undoing any climate benefits the domestic fracking boom responsible may have brought.

      In June, a study led by the Environmental Defense Fund said that natural gas operators are leaking methane at rates 60 percent higher than current EPA estimates. The leaks occur across the process, from drilling to transmission, according to the research. 

      The industry remains unconvinced.

      On drilling sites, methane leaks are “not a concern that we hear people talk about very much,” says Kate Richard, the president of the investment firm Warwick Energy Group.

      Indeed, the industry doesn’t have much reason for concern. The Trump administration this month announced a new proposal to roll back what methane emission regulations did exist and save the oil and gas industry $75 million in the process. Natural gas companies celebrated the move.

      "By fixing the numerous technical problems with the original rule, EPA will enable industry to continue its four-decade success record of reducing methane emissions,” industry firm Western Energy Alliance's President Kathleen Sgamma told InsideClimate News.

      Meanwhile, back in Louisiana, lawmakers recently enacted a new state law that makes trespassing on pipeline construction sites a felony, part of a nationwide trend intended to tamper environmental protests.

      The law had only been in effect in the state since August 1. But by mid-September, the environmental activists organizing and camping out estimated that at least ten pipeline protesters had been arrested under the measure.

      A separate group of opponents is battling pipeline operator Energy Transfer Partners in court. However, because the litigation isn’t stopping construction, the protesters are acting as human placeholders.

      Whether they will face felony charges for doing so remains an open question. "I hope to God no more felonies," Foytlin said. "But if there is, then they will be righteous ones."

      During the country’s fourth-hottest summer on record, a group of activists headed to the Atchafalaya swamp in Louisiana. They chained themselves to excavat...

      132,000-pound ground beef recall hits Target and Sam's Club, among others

      ​Multiple illnesses and one death have been reported following an E. coli outbreak

      The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a report last week recalling Cargill Meat Solutions ground beef -- over 132,000 pounds of it.

      The Colorado-based company was under investigation this past August for suspected E. coli, and following dozens of reported illnesses and one reported death, the meat is being pulled from the shelves once again.

      Consumers should steer clear of any Cargill ground beef packaged on June 21 and that have the label “EST. 86R” on the USDA inspection mark. The USDA wants all consumers to be warned of what might be in their freezers and to immediately discard the contaminated meat -- or return it to the place of purchase.

      In the most recent report from the USDA, the agency provided a list of stores that were carrying the affected products, in an effort to inform consumers of what to avoid. Safeway, Meijer, and Sam’s Club stores across the country were all carrying the Cargill ground beef, while Target stores in California, Iowa, and Florida were also on the list.

      However, the USDA also wants consumers to be wary because the list may include stores that never had the contaminated meat, but may also be missing stores that are carrying it.

      The investigation is currently classified as a Class I by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), indicating that illness is very likely should the product be consumed.

      Previous recall

      At the end of last month, the USDA was investigating another Cargill recall.

      At the time, 25,288 pounds of ground beef -- produced on August 16 -- were recalled for being contaminated with E. coli. However, there were no confirmed reports of adverse reactions to consuming the product at the time of the announcement.

      That recalled ground beef was shipped to warehouses in California and Colorado.

      The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a report last week recalling Cargill Meat Solutions ground beef -- over 132,000 pounds of it....

      New report finds three million people died in 2016 from excessive drinking

      The findings show men are at greater risk than women

      Based on this year’s Global Status and Health Report from the World Health Organization (WHO), more than three million people died in 2016 from excessive drinking.

      According to the report, alcohol-related deaths outnumbered death caused by diseases like tuberculosis, HIV/AIDs, and diabetes. The number of men that died due to alcohol in 2016 was staggeringly more than women -- 2.3 million men died, compared to 0.7 million women. Additionally, young people were at a greater risk than older people, and 7.2 percent of all premature deaths in 2016 were attributed to alcohol.

      When looking at the breakdown, alcohol-related deaths were caused by the following:

      • Injuries: 28.7 percent

      • Digestive disease: 21.3 percent

      • Cardiovascular disease: 19 percent

      • Infectious disease: 12.9 percent

      • Cancer: 12.6 percent

      “Far too many people, their families and communities suffer the consequences of the harmful use of alcohol through violence, injuries, mental health problems, and diseases like cancer and stroke,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization. “It’s time to step up action to prevent this serious threat to the development of societies.”

      Hope for the future

      Though the report signifies an increase in alcohol consumption over the next few years, according to Ghebreyesus, there is reason for people to optimistic about the future. In the report, he explained how many countries have promoted initiatives to reduce the alcohol intake.

      For example, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) work to provide “a more equitable and sustainable future for all people by 2030,” and many of the goals and targets are related to alcohol production and consumption, as these have a large impact on worldwide population health.

      “Maintaining the momentum towards the SDGs is only possible if countries demonstrate the political will and capacity to meet the different targets,” Ghebreyesus said in the report. “Countries have committed to bring about change as part of the Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol and the WHO Global action plan for the prevention and control of [non-communicable diseases] 2013-2020.

      “Now the task we share here is to help countries put in place policies that make a real and measurable difference in people’s lives.”

      No alcohol consumption is safe

      The biggest takeaway from this WHO report coincides with a study published in The Lancet last month, in which health officials warned that alcohol consumption of any kind can have adverse health effects.

      The study was touted as one of the most comprehensive of its kind, mainly because of its wide-reaching nature. It not only went against previous research that advocated for positive effects from alcohol consumption of any kind, but included responses from 592 studies and 28 million people.

      The research found that alcohol accounted for 10 percent of all deaths in 2016 and that alcohol was the leading factor in both disability and premature death for consumers aged 15 to 49.

      “These results suggest that alcohol control policies might need to be revised worldwide, refocusing on efforts to lower overall population-level consumption,” the authors wrote.

      Based on this year’s Global Status and Health Report from the World Health Organization (WHO), more than three million people died in 2016 from excessive d...