Archive for the ‘Product Safety’ Category

"Christine Hines"Public Citizen recently joined with other consumer and patient groups in a letter urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban phthalates from drugs and biologic products.

Phthalates are a family of chemicals known as “plasticizers” that are used in consumer and pharmaceutical products. For example, they are used to soften plastics – like those used in products such as baby teething rings and pacifiers. These chemicals, including dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), have been linked to cancer, as well as developmental and reproductive defects.

Phthalates are being phased out of consumer products – a 2008 federal law banned these phthalates in children’s products. The European Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency also have noted the health risks of the chemicals.  The EPA said it is concerned about phthalates because of “their toxicity and the evidence of pervasive human and environmental exposure to these chemicals.”

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Earlier this year, Newark Mayor Cory Booker excitedly announced the launch of a new partnership between Let’s Move! Newark and Nestlé to address the obesity problem facing the children of Newark.

Kit Kat: Nestle's "health food" - flickr photo by Howard Lake

Nestle's "health food" - flickr photo by Howard Lake

“This is an amazing day in the city of Newark!” Booker exclaimed. Amazing, indeed. It’s amazing that Newark is partnering with a giant candy bar and infant formula corporation to conquer health problems that the company itself plays a role in perpetuating. A press release announced that Nestlé had helped to devise a nutritional education curriculum for Newark families highlighting “the importance of breastfeeding, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption, healthy snacking, dealing with a fussy eater, portion control and physical activity.”  The program draws on “the nutritional expertise of Gerber,” Nestlé’s infant formula brand.

But why would a company that depends for its profits on women not breastfeeding and families purchasing candy (not fruits and vegetables) be an ideal source of nutritional expertise?

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This week, we’ve got our eyes on Congress, Wall Street, the “#1 Corporate Power Tool,” school districts and more!"Public Citizen Lady Liberty"

For better or worse, Washington D.C. is a city of awash with acronyms. And this week, there are a few capital letters that the medical device industry would rather you not pay any attention to: MDUFA. Literally, MDUFA stands for Medical Device User Fee and Modernization Act, but in actuality these letters simply mean danger for consumers.  A lot of the coverage of MDUFA has focused on the prescription drug aspect. However, the story is about more than drugs. Medical device safety is at a crossroads, and Congress could really mess things up. Here is where MDUFA stands now.  We recently wrote a report, which documented the average number of high-risk recalls of medical devices in 2011 was more than double than in recent years. We also documented the keen interest the medical device industry seemed to have in weakening already lax regulations. This week Congress will vote on MDUFA and we urge them to put patient safety ahead of corporate profit.

Today, amid the news coverage of JPMorgan Chase’s $2 billion loss in derivatives bets, Public Citizen published a report, many weeks in the making, that expounds on the historical lessons of derivatives deregulation and the urgency to implement the rules called for in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. Read a copy of the press release which links to the report entitled: “Forgotten Lessons of Deregulation: Rolling Back Dodd-Frank’s Derivatives Rules Would Repeat a Mistake that Led to the Financial Crisis.” The report explains how America’s top financial policymakers deregulated the financial derivatives market in the 1990s and provides a detailed account of how deregulation led to the ensuing housing bubble, financial crisis and Great Recession.

The report comes as members of Congress have introduced nine bills that would weaken the derivatives provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.

All seven bills moving in the U.S. House of Representatives have been approved by committees, and three have passed the full House. Two bills that would exempt overseas transactions from Dodd-Frank’s derivatives provisions may be voted on as soon as Thursday in the House Agriculture Committee. Other bills would exempt trades by supposedly “small” players, reduce transparency requirements and strike down a provision to ban derivatives trading by federally insured banks. At least three other bills would impose impediments for agencies to promulgate rules concerning financial services in general.

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House Republicans in two different committees yesterday approved a malpractice liability bill, H.R. 5 – again. H.R. 5, a proposal that aims to limit the liability of the health industry and leave injured patients without an adequate avenue for redress, previously passed the full House in March.  This time, lawmakers on the House Energy & Commerce and Judiciary Committees presented the proposal as a fix to the nation’s budget.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The bill, as we’ve repeatedly said, remains an expensive proposal that will cost lives and money while shielding the entire medical industry – drug and device manufacturers, hospitals, doctors, and nursing homes – from its own reckless conduct.

By restricting patients’ access to court, H.R. 5 will force medical malpractice victims and their families to turn to public, taxpayer-funded programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, and disability benefits for medical care and other financial assistance, because the negligent wrongdoers would be shielded from liability.

This unintended consequence would increase health care costs.

If nothing else, the House majority should pay attention to the money wasted when patients are unnecessarily injured by egregious medical errors or defective medical products. The Department of Health and Human Services pays $4.4 billion a year for the consequences of medical errors.

Some conservatives have even cautioned lawmakers about the bill’s effect on state laws. For decades, states have written their own laws for deciding negligence cases, including medical malpractice claims. A one-size-fits-all-policy on a traditionally state matter would wreak havoc on state laws.

Despite the numerous concerns and calls to drop this bill, the House majority’s ill-conceived and inaptly-named proposal – the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-Cost, Timely, Healthcare Act – is expected to go up for another House floor vote. (You may wonder why there would be a second House vote on the same bill; this time, it is included in the FY2013 budget reconciliation recommendations, which it what both committees marked up yesterday.)

Indeed, it may fly through the House yet again, but we will have to rally the Senate to turn its back on this shameless and dangerous gift to industry.

Christine Hines is Public Citizen’s consumer and civil justice legal counsel.

We are, literally, throughout the world this week (though we plan to call it a wrap with some laughs in Los Angeles this weekend). “Laughs?” you say? We know. We are policy nerds. How could we possibly be funny?! The answer is: We can’t. Luckily though, we have some ALL-STAR comedians to help us out. But more on that later!

Right now, let’s refocus on Melinda St. Louis of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. Melinda is currently participating in the 13th Quadrennial Conference of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Doha, Qatar. There, St. Louis will be featured on a panel ce"Public Citizen Lady Liberty"ntered on state’s rights. Trade agreements should not undermine trading countries own laws. For example, the U.S. should have the right to pass laws banning clove cigarettes that pose significant health threats and are disproportionately targeting American youth, undermining years of work on curbing teen smoking.

In addition to this, Public Citizen is also sponsoring two symposia at Doha. The title of the first, “Safeguarding development and the public interest from investment provisions in trade and investment agreements,” had this Lady Liberty rushing to find a translation. Turns out, this symposium is focused on investor-state clauses, (shorter but still unclear, right?). Take two: Investor-state clauses in trade deals are troubling aspects of trade pacts that essentially give corporations special rights and their own private judicial system. These “investment provisions” are used by companies to sue governments and challenge all sorts of regulations from environmental, to health and even financial regulations  … and that brings us to symposium No. two: “Safeguarding stability: Ensuring coherence between financial re-regulation and global trade rules.” In essence, you know all the Wall Street reform legislation that was enacted by Congress? Well, it appears that U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) may not be the only barrier we may run into in getting these reforms enacted and working so that we can protect ourselves from the next economic crash. Gretchen Morgenson of the The New York Times writes of the sad reality that Public Citizen’s Lori Wallach has been ringing an alarm about for some time: “According to the W.T.O., 125 of its 153 member countries have made varying degrees of commitments to the financial services agreement. Now, these pledges could easily be used to undermine new rules intended to make financial systems safer.” For more on this issue please see this portal.

Today, Public Citizen sent a letter to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, urging lawmakers to pass the “Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections” or DISCLOSE Act. The letter was signed by several dozen groups, ranging from campaign finance reform advocates, and transparency organizations to business ethics and investor groups. The need for disclosure of campaign expenditures is more important than ever following the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) ruling that opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate spending to influence elections. When it comes to campaign finance law, the cardinal rule is that citizens are entitled to know the names of donors who are financing campaigns and trying to influence their votes, and the amounts they give. We are pushing for disclosure both on a legislative level and through the unique work of the Corporate Reform Coalition, which has put a spotlight on the role the Securities and Exchange Commission, as the protectors of shareholder interests, ought to be playing in forcing corporations to disclose their political spending.

Of course, the other half of this story is stopping this outrageous spending! With major victories last week both on Capitol Hill and in the state of Vermont, Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign is plowing forward on the fight for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling and get our elections and democracy taken off the auction block. In this week’s California Progress Report, Jonah Minkoff-Zern, senior organizer with our Democracy Is For People campaign writes, “Vermont Was Third. Will California Be Next?” Thanks to Jonah’s work alongside Public Citizen activists and allies the answer is likely, yes! Stay tuned to CitizenVox for more in the coming weeks on California.

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