Nov. 1, 2016 by Mollie Rosenzweig

Hair-Raising Ordeal Draws Attention to Lack of Oversight of Cosmetics, Personal Care Products

Last year, consumers linked Wen hair products to sudden and dramatic hair loss. The story generated a flurry of national coverage and spurred increased interest in just how closely the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates our cosmetic products. Indeed, Wen hair products are not alone in causing dangerous side effects and containing disconcerting ingredients: Consumers have raised alarms over formaldehyde in hair straightening products, mercury in skin creams, and an array of toxic chemicals in children's face paint, including lead, cadmium, toluene, formaldehyde, and others. 

Currently, the FDA has shockingly little authority to regulate personal care and cosmetic products, which comes as a surprise to many consumers. In contrast to the rigorous testing pharmaceutical products must undergo before they can be marketed and sold, cosmetics and personal care products need not meet exacting federal standards. The innumerable chemicals in cosmetic products don't need be tested or even disclosed. Companies are not required to report consumer complaints of adverse reactions to the FDA, and even when FDA does become aware of a problem with a product, it has no authority to issue a mandatory recall after a product is linked to consumer harm. Under current law, FDA can …

Aug. 5, 2016 by Mollie Rosenzweig

Americans are increasingly looking for reforms in our food system. Limited use of pesticides, animal welfare, and sustainability are just some of the issues becoming more important to consumers when they make decisions about their food. Unfortunately, Congress and the regulatory agencies charged with overseeing the food supply have worked slowly – very slowly – to address these and other pressing issues as of late. On the other hand, the food industry and retailers have seen the writing on the wall and have started to shift some of their practices, enough at least that they can market their efforts to consumers. 

But how extensive are these changes really? Will they address the many systemic hazards and shortcomings in food production and distribution that can harm both our health and the environment? 

In recent years, large players in the food and grocery industries have emerged as some of the most …

June 20, 2016 by Mollie Rosenzweig

Earlier this month, revisions to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) cleared the Senate and now await President Obama's signature. TSCA's failure to provide EPA with meaningful authority to protect Americans from toxic chemicals was widely recognized, yet the path to revising the law was fraught with controversy. The chemical industry and public health and environmental advocates, as well as Democrats and Republicans in Congress, wrangled over a number of bills for years. The resulting legislation represents a compromise, and there are significant shortcomings in this revised approach to regulating toxic substances. 

Below are some of the most significant – and troubling – aspects of the law identified by Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholars and staff.

  • Preemption of state legislative efforts to regulate chemical while EPA conducts safety assessment: Because TSCA, in its previous form, protected people so poorly, states took an active role in regulating …

May 12, 2016 by Mollie Rosenzweig

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently launched a criminal investigation of Dole Food Company, continuing a trend of criminal enforcement against those responsible for deadly food safety lapses. The investigation stems from a Listeria outbreak in bagged salad that sickened 33 people, four of whom died. 

Between September 2015 and January 2016, 33 people in the U.S. and Canada became infected with Listeria from bagged lettuce processed at Dole's Springfield, Ohio plant. At first, investigators struggled to trace the widespread outbreak back to a source, but genetic fingerprinting allowed inspectors from Ohio to connect the outbreak to the Dole plant. On January 14, 2016, officials inspected the Dole plant and collected samples, which tested positive for Listeria. Dole voluntarily stopped production at the plant on January 21 and issued a voluntary recall on January 27. 

Tragically, Dole knew about the Listeria contamination in …

April 22, 2016 by Mollie Rosenzweig

Just as we predicted back in December, foods created with CRISPR technology (short for clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats) are entering the food supply beyond the reach of federal regulators. Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it would not regulate white button mushrooms that scientists altered to stop them from browning. The agency's confirmation that it is unable to regulate CRISPR-modified foods confirms that the current statutory scheme for genetically modified foods is not sufficient. 

In the simplest terms, genetically modified plants are created when scientists add foreign DNA (usually DNA from bacteria) to a plant to give it a designated trait, like resistance to a virus or to a pesticide. CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”), a newer technology, does not rely on foreign DNA. Instead of combining genetic material from different species, scientists edit the organism’s existing genetic code to achieve …

April 6, 2016 by Mollie Rosenzweig

Consumers, take note: Last week, Clean Production Action published a troubling new report, Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA and regrettable substitutes found in the linings of canned food, on the presence of toxic bisphenol-A (BPA) in canned foods. The report, co-written by Breast Cancer Fund, Campaign for Healthier Solutions, Ecology Center, and Mind the Store Campaign, found BPA in the lining of the majority of canned foods sold by major retailers across the United States and Canada.

As the Center for Progressive Reform has discussed before, BPA can leach into food and poses a serious threat to human health. As an endocrine disruptor, BPA mimics estrogen in human bodies, which can ultimately play a role in many health problems, including obesity, diabetes, fertility complications, and some cancers. Its continued presence in can liners is a significant problem that calls out for effective, comprehensive action from federal regulatory agencies …

Feb. 19, 2016 by Mollie Rosenzweig

At a time when consumers are demanding greater transparency in the food system – and some food companies are delivering by means of genetically modified organism labeling and removal of artificial food dyes — a troubling North Carolina law that runs counter to that goal has recently gone into effect. The state’s so-called “ag-gag” law prohibits whistleblowers from making audio or video recordings inside industrial agricultural facilities. Following the success of a similar suit in Idaho last year, consumer protection advocates and government watchdog groups have brought a constitutional challenge to the law in a North Carolina federal district court.

The public has been benefitting from undercover documentation of conditions inside food production facilities since Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle at the turn of the last century. In recent years, undercover videos at animal agriculture facilities have exposed horrific instances of animal abuse — sick turkeys thrown into grinding …

Dec. 7, 2015 by Mollie Rosenzweig

If you've come across one of the ads, newspaper stories, or opinion pieces from Chuck Norris in the past week warning you about frankenfish, you can thank the FDA. In mid-November, the FDA made history by approving the first genetically engineered (GE) animal for human consumption, Atlantic salmon from the company AquaBounty. Not only has the approval process failed to win over skeptics, exposing the weaknesses in the current legal regime that governs plants and animals developed through biotechnology, it raises important questions about the future of food oversight. With emerging genetic technologies on the horizon, can federal agencies continue to exert control over approving genetically altered plants and animals under a legal scheme that never imagined the technologically advanced foods of today and tomorrow? 

AquaBounty created the AquAdvantage salmon by combining the growth gene from the Chinook salmon and a “promoter” gene from another species …

Oct. 8, 2015 by Mollie Rosenzweig

Modern-day snake oil peddlers may have found a way to keep consumers quiet about their ineffective products: non-disparagement clauses, also known as gag clauses. These clauses, slipped into the fine print of form contracts, can restrict a consumer’s ability to post negative reviews of a product online. Non-disparagement clauses, which can vary in scope, generally prevent consumers from publicizing negative reviews of a product or company. This restriction includes comments made on online forums like Yelp or even complaints to the Better Business Bureau. When a consumer violates the gag clause, the company often will enact punitive measures, like charging the consumer a financial penalty. As long as companies can get away with including hidden terms like non-disparagement clauses in their contracts, consumers will not be operating in a fair marketplace. Fortunately, the federal government has demonstrated its willingness to step in to protect consumers against …

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More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Nov. 1, 2016

Hair-Raising Ordeal Draws Attention to Lack of Oversight of Cosmetics, Personal Care Products

Aug. 5, 2016

Corporations Advance Food Policy Agenda, but on Whose Terms?

June 20, 2016

Do Revisions to Nation's Toxic Chemical Law Represent Reform?

May 12, 2016

Feds Open Criminal Investigation of Dole Listeria Outbreak

April 22, 2016

Genetically Modified Mushroom Moves Forward with No Oversight

April 6, 2016

Beware of BPA: New Report Finds Toxic Substance Widespread in Canned Foods

Feb. 19, 2016

What Are 'Ag-Gag' Law Proponents Trying to Hide?