Archive for the ‘Consumer Protection’ Category

Thirty-three years ago today, the World Health Organization adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (AKA the “WHO Code”) to promote breastfeeding and limit formula companies’ influence over women’s infant feeding decisions. Today, most health care facilities and the largest formula makers continue to violate the Code in the U.S. and worldwide.

To mark the anniversary of the WHO Code, more than 20 organizations and thousands of moms and citizens today are participating in a day of action led by Public Citizen, directed at the largest formula makers in the U.S. and Canada – Mead Johnson (of Enfamil), Abbott (Similac) and Nestle (Gerber Good Start). Participants are urging the companies to end the unethical practice of promoting formula in health care facilities, particularly through the distribution of commercial discharge bags with formula samples – a longstanding violation of the code.

Mothers and leaders are delivering a petition with more than 17,000 signatures to Mead Johnson at its headquarters outside of Chicago. The petition will also be presented to Abbott and Nestle. Thousands of others are taking action remotely, sending photos and messages to companies on Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms. A diverse group of consumer rights, public health, women’s health, corporate accountability and breastfeeding advocacy organizations are co-sponsoring the effort. The day of action is not meant to advocate against formula use if necessary but to focus on the need to give mothers information that hasn’t been influenced by formula companies.

Most health care professionals and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed for six months. A large body of research shows that antibodies passed from a nursing mother to her baby can help lower the occurrence of many conditions among infants including ear and respiratory infections, diarrhea, meningitis and higher risks of allergies, sudden infant death syndrome and other health risks. Mothers also benefit, with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, obesity, ovarian cancer, post-partum depression and bladder infections.

Public health experts overwhelmingly discourage hospitals and doctor’s offices from distributing formula company-sponsored gift bags and formula samples – common marketing tactics – but formula companies still find ways to market formula in facilities nationwide. Studies show such formula sample distribution undermines women’s breastfeeding success because the practice is viewed as an endorsement of formula by health care providers. In 2011, then-U.S. Surgeon General Regina A. Benjamin called for more enforcement of the WHO Code through the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, which requires designated hospitals to comply with the code.

Nearly half of the world’s countries have adopted legislation to implement the Code, but in the U.S. — as a result of formula industry lobbying and political influence— legislation currently remains out of reach.

But advocacy efforts have led many hospitals to end formula promotion over the past decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care (mPINC) surveys, 27.4 percent of hospitals had discontinued the formula discharge bags for breastfeeding mothers in 2007, and by 2011, 45.5 percent had ended the practice. All hospitals in Massachusetts and Rhode Island have voluntarily banned discharge bags, and a recent Public Citizen and Ban the Bags report found that 82 percent of the U.S. News and World Report’s top-ranked hospitals, and more than two-thirds of the highest ranked hospitals in gynecology, no longer hand out commercial formula discharge bags with samples. However, formula companies have increasingly managed to push formula samples in doctor’s offices and clinics, often without the knowledge of health care providers within those offices.

Diverse organizations are co-sponsoring the day of action with Public Citizen. They include the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee (composed of more than 50 member organizations), the Best for Babes Foundation, Food and Water Watch, Corporate Accountability International, the National Women’s Health Network, Our Bodies Ourselves, La Leche League USA, HealthConnect One, the National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy, the California WIC Association, Power U Center for Social Change, Breastfeed Chicago, the Chicago Region Breastfeeding Task Force, the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition, the North Carolina Breastfeeding Coalition, the Coalition of Oklahoma Breastfeeding Advocates, the Pennsylvania Breastfeeding Coalition, the New York State Breastfeeding Coalition, United States Lactation Consultants Association and Women Empowered Systems Enrichment (WISE).

To learn more about the Public Citizen’s campaign to stop infant formula marketing in health care facilities, visit http://citizen.org/infant-formula.

Eva Seidelman is a Researcher for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert.


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In the aftermath of the tragic deaths associated with General Motors’ faulty ignition switches, two questions present themselves:

1. How can we save lives by stopping corporations from ever again suppressing life-saving information about dangerous products?

2. How can we hold corporate bosses accountable for suppressing life-saving information?

Last week, activists tuned in to an online conversation about reforms Public Citizen is advocating that will answer these questions and how to support those reforms by calling your members of Congress.

Miss the webinar? Catch up by watching the video below:

To make sure you’re invited to the next live online discussion, sign up today.

Rick Claypool is the online director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. Follow him on Twitter at @RickClaypool.

We just filed a protest at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission challenging a group of financial institutions’ efforts to create a new loophole. First, a little background:

On February 27, a group of private equity and investment bank lien holders of a collection of US power plants called MACH Gen filed for permission to restructure. The lien holders are the private equity firms Angelo Gordon (through its control of Silver Oak); Cayman Islands-based Solus, and Deutsche Bank.

Deutsche entered into a Total Return Swap with the private equity firm Energy Capital Partners which, among other things, gives Energy Capital Partners the ability to direct and control the way Deutsche’s MACH Gen board member votes. In their own words: “The Applicants do not concede that the indirect interest of ECP Polaris through the TRS equates to ownership or control of the voting securities of a public utility for the purposes of the Commission’s consideration of this . . . Application.”

So Energy Capital Partners, which will in fact control a board seat through its Total Return Swap with Deutsche Bank, is claiming at FERC that this Total Return Swap does not in fact constitute control.

Similarly, Citigroup, through an affiliate it created SOL, entered into a total return swap with Solus, providing Citi with 5.8% of the equity in MACH Gen. But this total return swap does NOT convey control over a board seat.

Determination that a Total Return Swap conveys control of a public utility is important, in part, because the U.S. Executive Branch, the Federal Reserve and Congress are actively engaged in a robust debate about defining and limiting control that certain financial institutions have over energy commodity assets. I first testified before Congress in 2008 about the dangers of financial institutions controlling energy assets, and testified again before the Senate in 2011.  The U.S. Senate Banking Committee held a January 2014 hearing, “Regulating Financial Holding Companies and Physical Commodities,” which included testimony by the Federal Reserve, FERC and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.  The U.S. Federal Reserve in January 2014 announced an Advanced Notice of Rulemaking concerning its authority allowing certain financial institutions to control physical energy assets.

If FERC allows this Total Return Swap loophole to stand, Public Citizen predicts expanded use of such financial agreements to undermine various federal government efforts to regulate control over energy assets. Allowing this loophole will establish a dangerous precedent that will harm the public interest.

Tyson Slocum is Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Follow him on Twitter @TysonSlocum

Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, gave his annual “State of American Business” speech this week.  It came with the usual complaints about how corporations are “burdened” by important public protections needed to hold corporations accountable for wrongdoing, such as access to the civil justice system.

One example of such “burdens” according to the U.S. Chamber and it’s so called Institute for Legal Reform is an individuals’ right to turn to the court system when they suffer losses at the hands of Big Business. The U.S. Chamber has continuously sought to restrict consumers’ right to go to court.  Individuals already face numerous and unreasonable obstacles to access the courts, but based on Donohue’s speech, the industry still wants more. And it is seeking to combat any potential advances that would restore some of our rights as consumers in the marketplace.

One such advance which the U.S. Chamber and its financial industry friends are apoplectic about, are some recent developments at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB is in the midst of studying one of industry’s more forceful tools to restrict consumers’ rights: the use of forced arbitration and bans on class actions in financial services contracts.

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A version of this appears on National Journal’s Energy Insiders blog.

You wouldn’t know it because it still costs you more than the GDP of Burundi to fill up your Ford F150 at the pump, but the US is awash in crude oil. We’re producing so much fracking oil in places like Bakken and Eagle Ford that by 2015 no other country on Earth will produce more oil than us. I call it the Sarah Palin Effect, after the Vice-Presidential Candidate’s rousing chants of “Drill Baby Drill” on the 2008 campaign trail. The takeaway from Palin’s mantra was the more oil America drills, the lower the prices we pay for gasoline.

exportsObama’s Cabinet is embracing Palin’s Petroleum Plan with gusto, but with a twist: “Export Baby Export”. His Energy Secretary, Dr. Ernest Moniz (who looks like he stepped off the set of American Hustle), cribbed from her notes when he recently told reporters that the 39-year-old ban on exporting American-Made oil is outdated. I can still hear the popping of Big Oil’s champagne corks, because lifting the ban on crude oil exports will mean two things: higher gasoline prices for US drivers, and fatter profits for oil companies.

First, we need to understand why Palin’s Petroleum Proliferation hasn’t resulted in dramatically lower gasoline prices (gasoline prices during Obama’s Oil Boom have actually increased 54% since 2009). Global oil infrastructure makes it relatively easy to physically deliver the commodity in most parts of the planet, so there are generally prevailing universal benchmark prices. As a result, Wall Street traders price oil based on global events and trends, and right now they’re chasing Chinese demand rather than bulging US production. That’s because as America approaches the title of The Planet’s Largest Producer, it’s still only a puddle in the sea of global supply and demand. Even if we open all federal onshore and offshore areas to new drilling, it will have an “insignificant” impact on gasoline prices.

Ending the four-decade-strong ban on exporting US produced oil will raise prices for households and small businesses. While the domestic oil glut isn’t moving global benchmark prices, it is keeping US gasoline prices down a tad, as the excess capacity means it’s cheaper for US refiners to access select US landlocked crude (Light Louisiana Sweet, Mars and Bakken Clearbook) and turn it into useful products like gasoline. But these savings are being offset by record exports of refined petroleum products, which are exempt from the export ban. Because the ban only applies to crude oil, there’s no restrictions on exporting refined petroleum products, which is why they are now the largest physical export in the US economy, as we’re exporting more than 3 million barrels of refined petroleum like gasoline and diesel every day. A Public Citizen analysis finds that, absent increased exports of refined gasoline, average U.S. gasoline prices over the past year would have been as much as 3.5% lower. We predict that if the oil can be exported without first refining it, we will likely see a higher rate of exports, and a bigger price increase for American motorists. So if the millions of barrels of American oil were now free to be sold outside our borders, our refiners will be competing with China for our oil, and we’ll see prices increase.

So why would ObamaPalin support overturning a law that protects consumers? Because Big Oil’s influence on our political system is extreme: their lobby arm, the American Petroleum Institute, spends more than $200 million annually to influence how Americans think about energy policy, and companies like Exxon and Shell are spending even more to do the same.

Exporting fracked oil, or opening millions of new acres to drilling in our oceans and in our federal parks won’t produce enough extra oil to lower global prices, but the additional hundreds of thousands of barrels of daily production will mean huge profits to the companies extracting it. And central to their strategy is moving this oil out of America and into more lucrative global markets. But what’s good for Big Oil isn’t OK for households and small businesses, as there will be a net job loss from exports, with any additional oil jobs trumped by losses incurred by non-oil businesses, both large and small, due to higher gasoline prices.

Sarah Palin’s – whoops I mean President Obama’s – focus on oil is ultimately misguided. As our current domestic oil boom painfully illustrates, the US cannot produce its way to affordable gasoline, because the underlying commodity price is set by factors outside our borders. As long as we remained tethered to oil, we won’t be able to deliver affordable or sustainable energy for our families. Renewable energy, energy efficiency, the electrification of the transportation sector and other investments in a sustainable energy infrastructure are the only options.

NA-BZ765_OILEXP_G_20140122181803Tyson Slocum is Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Follow him on Twitter @TysonSlocum

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