Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

March 2010 Archives

Food Fight! Beware Fake Foods Thrown into the Market

Champagne wishes and caviar dreams, indeed. How about Mississippi paddle fish plans? That's what some unsuspecting consumers got instead of the elegant fish eggs from Russia they thought they had purchased. In hard times, sometimes we look for a little affordable luxury -- just beware of that organic clover honey cut with corn syrup.

According to The Washington Post, fake foods are on the rise. For instance, the paper reports last year, a Fairfax, Va. man was convicted of selling 10 million pounds of frozen catfish fillets from Vietnam as much more expensive grouper, red snapper and flounder. The fake fish was bought by national chain retailers, wholesalers and food service companies and flopped onto tables across the country.

Food fraud has been found not only in the high-end Dean & Deluca kind of foods, but in Safeway type staples such as juice, olive oil, spices, vinegar, liquor, maple syrup, and of course seafood. The widespread fraud causes not only individual consumers to pay the price, but the big guys (for a change) to get hurt as well. As discussed in a post on FindLaw's Legally Weird Blog, the Gallo Wine company was recently found to have inadvertently sold merlot or shiraz instead of the pinot noir it thought and claimed it sold under the well-known "Red Bicyclette" label. Defrauded by its own French suppliers, now Gallo is facing a suit for fraud.

The oversight for ensuring proper food labeling belongs to the FDA, but according to The Post, the agency is so consumed with food contamination problems, fraud has fallen by the wayside. John Spink, an expert on food and packaging fraud at Michigan State University, estimates that 5 to 7 percent of the U.S. food supply is affected, but says that number could be even higher.

Fortunately, science to the rescue. DNA and isotope ratio analysis can help authorities determine what exactly is in that food you are eating as you peruse this post. DNA testing in New York has revealed for example, that 11 out of 66 foods randomly selected from Manhattan groceries were mislabeled. This includes that caviar.

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On Monday, the FDA announced it would recommend against the use of the vaccine Rotarix made by GlaxoSmithKline until it can confirm it is completely safe to use. According to the Los Angeles Times, the vaccine was found by researchers to contain a pig virus called porcine circovirus 1, or PCV1. The drug is used to inoculate infants against rotavirus, which causes severe diarrhea and dehydration and is thought to cause more than 500,000 deaths in infants worldwide each year.

While the FDA says it has no evidence at this time that Rotarix has posed any safety risks, the agency recommends that health care providers switch to other available vaccines such as RotaTeq, manufactured by Merck. Preliminary tests have found no traces of PCV1 in this vaccine.

The L.A. Times reports that until RotaTeq was introduced in the U.S. in 2006, rotavirus caused an estimated 50,000 hospitalizations and several dozen deaths each year. Rotarix was introduced in 2008. Most U.S. children who have been vaccinated against rotavirus have received RotaTeq, the FDA said. About 1 million have received Rotarix.

The FDA is researching how the virus may have been introduced into the vaccine and whether it contains intact portions of the PCV1 or only fragments of the virus. The Times reports that according to a statement by manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline, the World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency are not expected to change their current guidelines for using the drug, as they feel the benefit from the vaccine still outweighs any potential risks.

On its website, the FDA assures parents and caregivers that the available evidence supports the safety of the vaccine as PCV1 is not known to cause disease in humans. The FDA’s recommendation to pull Rotarix to is a precaution taken while the agency studies the situation. Children who received Rotarix need no additional medical follow-up. The agency recommends that caregivers check with their child's doctor or nurse if they are concerned about which vaccine they received.

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More Cons-Census: Don't Be Fooled by 2010 Census Scams

According to MSNBC's "Consumer Man" more than just counting can go on during a census year. As we all have gotten a bit savvier at manipulating information, especially through the new media and new technologies, so have the crooks, cheats and scammers. Here is a small rundown of the ways the scamming crowd might try to use the census to lay their grubby little hands on your personal information.

First, beware of emails purporting to be from the Census Bureau. According to Consumer Man, the Bureau is not using email to communicate about the census, at least not this year. Any emails you receive will be phishing schemes looking for information like your Social Security Number or anything else useful in identity fraud. If you receive one of these fake emails, before you delete it, forward it to the Census Bureau so they can investigate at:

Not all census scams will be high tech; sometimes old-school devices work just as well, or better. Telephone calls from people seeking information may be the most difficult to tell real from fake, as the actual census workers will be making calls. Consumer Man says that a legit call will only focus on the 10 questions on the census form. If a caller asks for any financial information or for passwords, put your hand on your wallet and the phone back on the hook. If you are uncertain about a call, you can contact the regional census center in your area.

As discussed in a prior post, watch for faux mailers purporting to be from the Census Bureau. You can view a real census form by clicking here. The genuine article has only 10 questions and will not request your SSN, financial information, passwords, or pin numbers. You can report a fake census form to the Postal Service.

Finally, how do you tell a real census taker from a scammer knocking at your door? First, the real deal will not begin visits until May 1. Consumer Man tells us a real census worker will have an ID badge with a watermark of the Department of Commerce insignia on the front and their name and an expiration date on the back. Census workers should also have a flier that tells you how to contact their supervisor. Workers going door-to-door may have a bag and a computer and each of these items will have the Census Bureau insignia on it.

“Our people are trained to conduct their interview on your doorstep and not go into the house,” says Census Bureau spokesman Michael Cook. “They are also trained not to push. They are happy to make an appointment to come back.”

As with phone and email contacts, census takers only ask for answers to the same 10 questions on the form. If you are asked anything that seems unusual or inappropriate (Social Security numbers or financial information) you’re probably talking to an imposter. Tell them to leave and contact your local police.

Be careful, but be counted.

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Cash4Gold Lawsuit Highlights Mail In Gold Scam

You have all seen those very convincing ads while watching late night television. You know, the ones that tempt you to mail in gold that has been lying around the house in order to get some quick cash?

Well it turns out that this may not exactly be the golden ticket many Americans hoped it would be. Parade reports that the Federal Trade Commission is looking into consumer complaints against mail in gold companies. This comes as a result of complaints by consumers and the pending Cash4Gold lawsuit (which advertises all over television).Such mail in gold companies have consumers mail in their gold, then the companies send an assessment of value, the consumer must agree to this assessed value, and then the companies send the consumer a check for the gold. At least, that is the way it is supposed to operate.

Apparently, these companies have had complaints from consumers that range the gamut from ridiculously low appraisal values, to companies actually not paying for the gold at all. Recently, the Consumerist wrote about how there is a pending Cash4Gold class action lawsuit. Some of the allegations against Cash4Gold in this lawsuit are: fraud and racketeering. The lawsuit claims that Cash4Gold does not follow through with its promise of a 12 day return guarantee and that the company "loses" too many items in spite of the fact that it claims to treat items mailed to it with the highest of care.

In general, fraud is when there is a material misrepresentation made with the intent to deceive the other person. The other person must rely on this misrepresentation and this reliance must cause a disadvantage to the person.

As a result of these claims of fraud, legislators are now speaking on behalf of their constituents. Parade quotes Rep. Anthony Weiner (Dem-NY) as saying that these companies are "getting away with what looks like fraud." He has introduced a piece of legislation that would require these companies to insure items sent in the mail. The proposed legislation would also make it illegal for these companies to melt down the gold jewelry without receiving permission from the customer who mailed it to them.  

For more information, please visit our Related Resources.

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CPSC Recalls Baby Slings

Last week, the CPSC warned consumers about the dangers of baby sling carriers. On March 24, the CPSC in conjunction with Infantino LLC, of San Diego, Calif., announced a full recall of Infantino “SlingRider” and “Wendy Bellissimo” infant slings. Infantino has instituted a program to provide consumers with a replacement product free of charge. The CPSC asks consumers who have purchased the slings to stop using them immediately due to a risk of suffocation. The CPSC is aware of three reports of deaths that occurred in these slings in 2009; a 7-week-old infant in Philadelphia, Pa.; a 6-day-old infant in Salem, Ore.; and a 3-month-old infant in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Infantino “SlingRider,” is a soft fabric baby carrier with a padded shoulder strap that is worn by parents and caregivers to carry an infant weighing up to 20 lbs. “Infantino” is printed on the plastic slider located on the strap. The words “Infantino,” and “SlingRider” and the item number are printed on the instruction/warning label inside the sling.

The “Wendy Bellissimo” branded sling carriers were sold exclusively at Babies “R” Us and have a sewn-in label on the inside of the sling strap that says in part, "Wendy Bellissimo Media, Inc." and lists item numbers 3937500H7 and 3937501H7.

The Infantino slings were sold in the United States and Canada from January 2003 through March 2010 at Walmart, Burlington Coat Factory, Target, Babies “R” Us, BJ’s Wholesale, various baby and children’s stores and other retailers nationwide, and on the Web at, for between $25 and $30.

Infantino will provide consumers with a with a choice of a Wrap & Tie infant carrier, a 2 in 1 Shopping Cart Cover, or a 3 in 1 Grow & Play Activity Gym as a replacement for the slings. A Jittery Pals Rattle will also be provided. Consumers may contact Infantino toll-free at (866) 860-1361 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. PT Monday through Friday, or visit the firm’s Web site at for more information or to receive the replacement product.

CPSC is still interested in receiving incident or injury reports that are either directly related to this product recall or involve a different hazard with the same product. Please go to to report a problem.

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Health Care Done, Next Up, Banking Reform

The Senate Banking Committee has approved the finance reform bill proposed by the Obama administration, passed by the House and now headed to the full Senate for approval. Unlike the health care bill, which under the special reconciliation process needed only 51 votes to pass, the finance bill needs a full 60 members' votes for passage.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the bill contains the most "sweeping" financial reforms proposed since the Great Depression. Our Great Recession has moved lawmakers to include reforms in the bill such as: an agency to protect consumers in the financial marketplace, a council of regulators to monitor the economy for signs of major risk, allowing the government power to seize and dismantle large firms whose failure would pose a danger to the economy; and imposition of new regulations on hedge funds and complex financial derivatives.

Although no Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee cast their vote in favor of the bill, The Times reports committee chair Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., drafted the bill with some bi-partisan support. Committee member Senator Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) said Republicans would still like to see some major changes in the bill, including a limit on the government's ability to bail out failing firms in the future.

One other key component of the bill is the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CPFB). Once hoped to be completely independent of the Federal Reserve, the consumer protection component of the reform has been shaped into an agency which some fear will be all but toothless in protecting consumers from the abuses of the marketplace or too much under the thumb of the Fed. Senator Dodd still stresses that even as part of the Reserve, the new protection agency would be independent and not report to the Fed's board.

The Times writes Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner is hoping the Senate will continue forward toward the reforms. "Listen less to those whose judgments brought us this crisis. Listen less to those who told us all they were the masters of noble financial innovation and sophisticated risk management," Geithner said in a speech to the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

"Instead, listen to the families and businesses still suffering from this crisis."

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Fake Email IRS Letters: Beware Identity Theft Scams!

There are many scams these days -- scams seeking to make you an identity theft victim. Beware of such identity theft scams, particularly the ones packaged in official wrapping, giving the impression that they come from someone "official."

For example, be particularly wary of emails you may get that purport to be from the Internal Revenue Service, aka the IRS.

Nowadays, in tax-time, such emails are rampant. So much so, in fact, that the IRS has issued a factsheet on these identity theft scams.

  1. Beware of IRS emails! These scams may take the form of email, tweets or other online messages. Sometimes, they could include phoney websites or even faxes.
  2. Emails discussing tax account information are never from the IRS! The IRS does not use email for the purpose of discussing your account. IRS letters in the mail, however, can be legitimate.
  3. Never give out your PIN, a password or other secret information! The IRS never asks you for this information.
  4. Beware of refund offers or paid survey participation. These are bait tactics used by scammers.
  5. Beware of intimidating subject lines. These emails employ scare tactics to urge you to respond.
  6. Do not reply to the emails or open any attachments! They could end up infecting your computer.
  7. Never click on the website listed in these fake IRS emails. These sites may direct you to places where you enter your financial information. They are not from the IRS.
  8. Never click on links from these sites! The links might download malware to your computer, which can take over your computer's hard drive and give the scammer remote access to your computer, or the malware could scan your computer for passwords and send them to the scammer.
  9. The REAL IRS site is a ".gov" site. The fake ones are often ".com" or ".net." Be carful, however. Sometimes, the site link might look like an "" site but it is not. When you hold your mouse over the link, look in the bottom left-hand corner of your computer screen and see what link name pops up. Chances are it's probably not ""
  10. Forward all suspicious emails to the IRS. Email them to:

In this day and age, computer use has become the primary means of communication. As such, many people become identity theft victims, simply because they aren't cautious enough on the Internet.

Avoid becoming an identity theft victim. Never, never pay attention to an email from the IRS which promises you a refund, a reward, directs you to a website or asks for personal information. Remember, the IRS usually prefers to contact you through mailed IRS letters.

You can never be too careful.

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CPSC Recalls Graco Harmony Highchairs

The Consumer Protection and Safety Commission announced today that in conjunction with Graco Children's Products Inc., of Atlanta, Ga., they are recalling about 1.2 million Graco Harmony™ High Chairs. The highchairs are being recalled due to two problems, the screws in the front legs of the chairs can come loose, or the plastic brackets on the back legs can crack, both causing the chair to unexpectedly tip over. Graco has received 464 reports of screws loosening/falling out and/or plastic brackets cracking.

This recall includes all Harmony™ High Chairs. The Graco highchair was manufactured from November 2003 through December 2009 and is no longer in production. The model number can be found on the label that is located on the underside of the foot rest. The model numbers included in the recall are as follows:

  • 3920BAN 3920BAN2 3920BEB 3920BEBB 3920COV 3920DOH 3920GEI
  • 3920GEIDSP 3920GRN 3920HMP 3920IVY 3920LAU 3920PKR 3930DDH
  • 3930DHO 3935CAL 3935OXB 3935PKR 3935PKRDSP 3935SPM 3935SPMDSP
  • 3935THR 3935THR2 3935THR3 3940BIA 3940BIADSP 3940CAP 3940CLE 3940COT
  • 3940DRM 3940HML 3940MCH 3940NGS 3940SAV 3940SLT 3940SPT 3940STA
  • 3960CJG 3960CNP 3960GGG 3980CNR 3E00ABB 3E00BAT 3E00DCF
  • 3E01DNY1 3E01ELP 3E01ELPDSP

Please note: the model numbers may begin with the letter A, B, C, or D.

The Graco highchairs were sold at the Burlington Coat Factory, Babies "R" Us, Toys "R" Us, Sears, Target,, Walmart,, Shopko, USA Baby, and other retailers nationwide from December 2003 through March 2010 for between $70 and $120.

Consumers are asked to stop using the chairs immediately and contact the company for a free repair kit toll-free at (877) 842-3206, or visit the company Web site at For additional information, contact Graco at (800) 345-4109 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

CPSC is still interested in receiving incident or injury reports that are either directly related to this product recall or involve a different hazard with the same product. Please contact the CPSC by visiting

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As discussed in a prior post, in December of last year, the online movie company Netflix was sued for release of private information about its customers in preparation for its second Netflix Prize contest. That contest, to see who in the known universe could write an algorithm that would better predict Netflix users' movie choices, allegedly involved the release of supposedly "anonymous" information about customers, their backgrounds and their movie rentals. Only it wasn't anonymous enough, because the online brains with access to the information promptly figured out how to match names and movies before anyone even had a chance to consider the prize program.

Not surprisingly, the release of what some believed to be private information into the ether cased a lawsuit and inquiry by the FTC. The lead plaintiff in the private lawsuit was a closeted gay woman living in a very conservative area who feared the release of her movie viewing preferences could lead to her being outed, thus affecting her child and her ability to earn a living. Movie rental choices are actually protected as private information under the anachronistically named, but still relevant, Video Privacy Protection Act.

On March 13, ars technica reported that Netflix had settled the private lawsuit and entered into an agreement regarding the use of customer information with the FTC. According to a post on a company blog Neil Hunt, Chief Product Officer for Netflix, wrote the settlement with the plaintiffs and the agreement with the FTC "involves certain parameters for how we use Netflix data in any future research programs." As part of the agreement, the company has cancelled the second round of the Netflix Prize contest.

If Netflix truly seeks to be responsive to its customers, they might want to look at their own suggestions on how to resolve the conflict between privacy and darn good movie rentals. Some of the comments posted in response to Hunt's blog suggested that various individuals would voluntarily opt in to a contest and provide their information as fodder for programmers to use in coming up with the next big idea in Netflix programs. That seems a much better option than the initial one of the company choosing for customers whose information would or would not be released.

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Toyota owners are "confused and concerned" according to the attorney representing those owners of recalled Toyotas joining a class action suit in Arizona and Washington. So much so, in fact, there is only one thing they want to do -- take the car back and get a refund.

That is what this class action lawsuit, called the "first of its kind" in the report by Market Watch, hopes to accomplish. Since a seemingly endless list of problems with the Toyota vehicles has left owners with ever more doubts about their safety, and with a rapidly falling Blue Book value, the plaintiffs have no other recourse says Steve Berman, who will be representing the hopeful soon-to-be-former Toyota owners.

Berman tells Market Watch that, "Parents have told me that they cannot take the chance of putting their children in their Toyota, no matter how much the company touts the effectiveness of the recall fixes." Market Watch reports that of the 6 million cars under recall, only about 1 million have been repaired world-wide, and that's according to the company's own estimate. "When we talked with Toyota owners, they all voiced the same desire -- to drive the car back to the lot, hand them the keys and pick up a check," Berman said. "Fortunately, we think the law allows for exactly that solution."

The class action suit, which has been filed in federal district court, alleges that the car company breached its warranty when it sold the cars under recall and thus the owners should be able to void the sales contract for a refund. The suit also asks the court to require that Toyota stop selling the cars in question until all the safety issues are addressed. Berman's firm claims safety issues tied to unintended acceleration episodes of Toyota's vehicles have been linked to more than 50 deaths in the United States.

According the attorney, unlike the many other class action lawsuits pending against the car company, which will provide only for a monetary award, this suit will give Toyota owners a real solution to their car problems.

To learn more about the suit, or to view a complete list of vehicles involved, visit.

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For all who are appalled at the extensive overdraft fees they find on their bank statement for their debit card transactions, change is overdue. The South Florida Business Journal reports that on March 11, the Miami U.S. District Court Judge James Lawrence King decided that change may be coming. Judge King will permit the case against some of the largest banks in the country to proceed. The plaintiffs are seeking to recover the millions of dollars charged by the banks for the fees levied on purchases made when there was not enough money in the customers' accounts to cover them.

According to the Business Journal, Judge King denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the case, finding the plaintiffs have shown facts sufficient to warrant a trial. In fact, Judge King seemed none too pleased with the facts the plaintiffs had put before him. “Plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts – that, among other things, defendants manipulated the posting order of debit transactions in bad faith so as to maximize the number of overdraft fees incurred." The plaintiffs pursuing these lawsuits, the judge wrote, are “not trying to prevent banks from engaging in the business of banking, they are merely asking the banks to do so in good faith.”

The plaintiffs' lead attorney Bruce Rogow, told the South Florida Business Journal that the manipulation of the fees hit the most vulnerable the hardest, creating a domino effect. Once a customer is charged fees, they have less money than expected, engendering more fees.

With outstanding timing, Bank of America announced Wednesday that they would no longer be charging overdraft fees on their debit cards. Beginning this summer, if a customer does not have enough money in their account to cover a transaction, it will simply be declined. B of A is one of the defendants in this suit, along with Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, U.S. Bank, Wachovia and Wells Fargo.

"That Bank of America announced ... that these overdraft fees will no longer apply to debit card customers is a welcome, albeit belated, sign that change is finally coming,” Rogow said.

Regardless of the outcome of this case, as of July, under the new banking regulations set by the Federal Reserve banks will be required to give consumers the right to "opt-out" of overdraft protection on their debit cards.

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Are The NHTSA and Carmakers Too Close For Comfort?

In light of the recent rash of Toyota cars with defects, many individuals are questioning how such a large problem such as unintended acceleration had gone on for as long as it did. Some say it is because the there is some leeway given to carmakers by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). ABC News reports that the former head of NHTSA, Joan Claybrook, calls the NHTSA a "lapdog, not a watchdog". This verbal blast came during a hearing about how the NHTSA has to adopt "tougher standards" with regards to individuals who move on from working with the agency to the very carmakers that the agency regulates.  

The relationship between NHTSA officials and carmakers has been closer than most people realize. According to the Washington Post, there have been as many as 33 former NHTSA employees who left their posts in the NHTSA and currently work for carmakers as lawyers, consultants, lobbyists, and other jobs that involve safety investigations by the government, recalls, and regulation of the auto industry.

Some legislators find that the move from government regulation right into private industry is too close for comfort. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Dem-MN) told the Washington Post: "The relationship is too cozy, and it is not an equal playing field. They need to insulate themselves a bit. People of our country expect there will be checks and balances and that someone will be looking out for them."

While there are currently no laws that ban government officials from shifting their career from government into the private sector, many members of Congress feel that there should be a buffer of time before officials make that move. There is currently a federal law that mandates a two year waiting period for any member of the executive branch after leaving government service from representing any matter under the employee's previous official responsibility. However, there are concerns that this two year waiting period may not be enough time.

All of these concerns are after two former NHTSA officials who played key roles in Toyota investigations had left the agency in order to work for Toyota shortly thereafter. The Washington Post reports that both officials, Mr. Christopher Santucci and Chris Tinto, were lauded in an internal Toyota memo for saving the company as much as $100 million dollars for their efforts. While both men have declined to comment, Toyota spokesman Ed Lewis said that both men have "always acted in a manner consistent with the highest ethical standards and professionalism in the performance of their duties for Toyota." He also added that both men are "valued for their expertise, not their influence."

Ms. Claybrook argues that Toyota not only has too much familiarity with the NHTSA, she claims that many carmakers just do not treat the agency with respect. She is quoted as by ABC News as saying, "Auto companies, including Toyota, treat the agency with contempt." As a result, Ms. Claybrook claims that the ultimate loss is bore by the American public. She testified that "[t]he public loses faith in the government when top staff sell their expertise gained at government expense to the regulated agency."

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Additional recalls linked to the one from the FDA announced last week, on foods containing Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP) contaminated with Salmonella, are beginning to appear. The FDA announced Friday that the National Pretzel Company of Lancaster, Pa. is voluntarily recalling all Honey Mustard Onion flavored pretzels produced since December, 2009, due to the use in that product of the HVP recalled by Basic Food Flavors last week. No illnesses have been reported to date.

The Honey Mustard Onion seasoned pretzels under recall were distributed nationwide in retail stores and through re-packers. The products under recall and their UPC codes are as follows:

  • HK Anderson Honey Mustard Pretzel Bites 3.5 oz, Code: 0-70271-00131-0
  • HK Anderson Honey Mustard Pretzel Bites 9 oz, Code: 0-70271-00130-0
  • HK Anderson Honey Mustard Pretzel Bites 18 oz, Code: 0-70271-00128-0
  • CVS Honey Mustard Pretzel Bites 18 oz, Code: 0-50428-12015-6
  • President’s Choice Honey Mustard Onion Pretzel Bite- 300 gr., Code: 0-60383-99222-4
  • Safeway Honey Mustard Onion Nugget 10 oz, Code: 0-21130-29039-0
  • Sunflower Markets Honey Mustard Nugget, Code: 8-59393-00041-4
  • BULK –Honey Mustard Onion Pretzel Pieces, Code: n/a
  • BULK- Honey Mustard Onion Pretzel Bites, Code: n/a
  • BULK- Whole Grain Honey Mustard Nuggets, Code: n/a

For the full text of the FDA recall announcement, including the use by dates for the recalled products, click here.

Basic Food Flavors announced a recall of all products containing the HVP it produces after one company receiving the HVP reported the presence of Salmonella to the FDA as required under the new reporting regulations. For the announcement regarding the original Basic Food Flavors recall, go to:

The FDA reminds consumers that Salmonella is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, the elderly and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, an infection can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections, endocarditis and arthritis.

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Census Cons Update: Bill Bans Bogus Census Forms

They may not be able to agree on health care, but they all agree on this. Last Wednesday, the House of Representatives, in a 416-0 vote, passed a bill that would ban mailings from other groups designed to look like they are actual census forms sent by the Census Bureau.

As noted in a recent post, ProPublica reported on mailings marked "census" that were actually fund raising circulars from the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. The AP reports that the new bill will require any mailing marked "census" include the sender's name and address, plus a disclaimer that the survey is "not affiliated with the federal government."

ProPublica reports that the misleading mailers were criticized by members of both parties. Politico reports that such mailings from Republicans have been around for several years, the practice is a particularly big problem this year as 2010 is a census year.

"With millions of census forms due to hit mailboxes within days and a multi-million advertising campaign meant to encourage completion and return of those forms, too many nongovernmental organizations are trying to piggyback on that brand awareness," the bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y, told the AP.

Studies have shown that public confusion over what documents are and are not legitimately from the census bureau can lead to a lessening of responses to the actual and necessary census forms. According to the AP, this increases costs to the federal government as each household that does not respond to the census mailing must be contacted in person by a census worker.

The bill will go to on the Senate where is expected to also meet with approval.

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CPSC Issues Warning Regarding Baby Sling Safety

The CPSC has issued a warning to parents about the dangers of baby sling infant carriers. The sack shaped slings can cause a risk of suffocation, especially in very small infants. The warning does not single out any particular makers of slings, but was prompted by 14 deaths the CPSC has identified as associated with baby slings over the last 20 years, including three in 2009.

“We know of too many deaths in these slings and we now know the hazard scenarios for very small babies,” said CPSC Chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum. “So, the time has come to alert parents and caregivers." According to Consumer Reports, in 2009, at least two infants suffocated in baby slings manufactured by Infantino of San Diego, California. In both cases, the mothers were unaware that their infants were in trouble until they looked into the sling to check on them.

The Consumer Reports Safety Blog placed the slings on their April 2009 "Five products not to buy for your baby" list. The Safety Blog wrote that, "No safety standards exist for slings. We think you should skip the sling and opt for other types of infant carriers, which have safer track records." Other products on the list include: crib bumpers, sleep positioners, baby bath seats, and bedside and other co-sleeping devices.

As far back as 2007, the CPSC issued a recall on the Infantino SlingRider baby sling due to the risk of the straps breaking. The recall was issued after the company received eight reports of children falling out of the slings. One of the infants suffered a fractured skull.

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On March 11, The Boston Globe reported that Massachusetts has joined the federal lawsuit against pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson regarding their off label promotion and kick-back program with Omnicare, the nation's largest pharmacy serving nursing homes. As discussed in a prior post, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit in January against J&J after settling with Omnicare.

According to The Globe, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley will join the suit over the marketing and promotion of the drug Risperdal for off label use. The medication is used to treat severe mental illness, but has been allegedly pushed by the company for the off label use of treating dementia in nursing home patients. It is legal for physicians to prescribe drugs off label to treat people with dementia. However, drug companies are prohibited from marketing drugs for any off label use. "The inappropriate off label marketing of anti-psychotic drugs to nursing homes is a significant health and safety issue for our seniors,’’ Coakley said in a statement released by her office.

The other issue addressed by the suit is the payment by the drug company of millions of dollars to Omnicare to encourage the company to intensively push the use of Risperdal between 1999 and 2004, using rebate programs and other incentives. The push by J&J was allegedly successful, nearly tripling the amount of their products sales to Omnicare.

The federal suit against Omnicare was settled last November.

The Globe reports Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said in a statement yesterday that “airing the facts will confirm that our conduct, including rebating programs like those the government now challenges, was lawful and appropriate.’’

“We look forward to the opportunity to present our evidence in court,’’ Goodrich said.

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Risks of Bisphosphonates for Osteopenia Patients

USA Today reports that the risks of a certain group of drugs called bisphosponates was highlighted in two studies. Bisphosponates, which is used to treat patients with osteopenia and osteoporosis, is a popular group of drugs. The risks of prolonged use of the drugs ironically, is that it may cause a patient's bone to fracture. There have been reports that patients using these medications have fractured their femur bone doing low impact activities such as taking a walk.

The irony is that instead of helping patients, the drugs may actually make the condition worse. Dr. Melvin Rosenwasser, chief of orthopedic trauma surgery at Columbia University Medical Center in New York told USA Today: "That's the paradox. These drugs are good drugs. They strengthen bone and protect you from fractures for a while. But in some people they can become deleterious after a period of time."

Some patients are upset over what they view has been an omission by the drug companies about the risks of taking such bisphosphonates over a long period of time. Ms. Stephanie George, a patient who took Fosamax for eight years, told ABC News: "People like Sally Field are pushing Boniva, which is the same damn thing and people are listening and saying, 'Oh, I should really be on that.' The ads say if you are small-boned or tall or white, you may get osteoporosis, but I am all three. People think that's all there is and they don't know the other side of the story. They don't know what the side effects are."

According to ABC News, Fosamax was linked to osteonecrosis in 2004, but Merck failed to add that to its warning label until 2005. Merck prepared a statement that read: "Nothing is more important to Merck than the safety of its medicines. As part of our commitment, Merck closely monitors post-marketing data and reports that information to FDA and other regulatory agencies."

While there are these risks, researchers who conducted these studies still maintain that there are short term benefits for taking bisphosphonates. The Los Angeles Times Blog quotes Dr. Melvin Rosenwasser of Columbia University Medical Center as saying: "Bisphosphonate use is still a very effective solution that prevents bone loss in most patients and no one is recommending that physicians avoid prescribing these. However, as baby boomers age and continue to remain active, it is important that we conduct more research and develop sustainable, safe and effective treatments for osteoporosis."

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This time, the recall announcements come from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. On March 8, the FSIS announced a recall from Nestlé Professional North America, a Cleveland, Ohio company on approximately 6,000 pounds of a ready-to-eat (RTE) bacon base product that may be contaminated with Salmonella. On March 9, the USDA, FSIS and Ruiz Foods, Inc., a Denison, Texas company, announced a recall on approximately 115,700 pounds of a ready-to-eat (RTE) beef products that may also be contaminated with Salmonella.

As with much of the recent recalls issued by the FDA in the last week, the meat products from the two companies contain some of the Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP) supplied by Basic Food Flavors of Nevada. That company was found to have Salmonella in its processing plant which resulted in the subsequent recall of the contaminated HVP products. Both products are under recall because the HVP was added after the Salmonella prevention steps were applied.

The Nestle Professional products under recall are the 1-lb. plastic cups of “MINOR’S BACON BASE.” Each package contains code numbers 92815489, 93095489, or 93385489 as well as the case code 00 074826 08606 7-00 G 11003264. Each case contains 6 cups and bears establishment number 1045 inside the USDA mark of inspection. The RTE product was produced on Oct. 8, 2009, Nov. 5, 2009, and Dec. 4, 2009.

The beef products from Ruiz foods under recall are the 8.4 ounce boxes of "TORNADOS RANCHERO BEEF & CHEESE." Each box contains 3 Tornados and marked with Est. 17523A on the side panel of the box. The code numbers of the recalled products are: 09357, 10023, 10028, 10030, 10031 and 10032. The products were produced on Dec. 23, 2009; Jan. 23, 2010; Jan. 28, 2010; Jan. 30, 2010; Jan. 31, 2010 and Feb. 1, 2010.

Ruiz Foods, Inc. distributes the RTE beef product nationwide to retail and food service establishments. Only those products distributed for retail sale are subject to recall. All products distributed to food service establishments undergo a treatment to kill Salmonella.

Consumers with questions regarding the Nestle products recall should contact the company Customer Services at (800) 243-8822.

Consumers with questions regarding the Ruiz Foods recall should contact the company's Consumer Line at 1-800-SPANISH or 1-800-772-6474.

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Update: New Foods Added to FDA's HVP Recall List

Since the initial announcement by the FDA recalling foods that contain the ingredient hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) made by Basic Food Flavors, Inc., additional foods have been added to the list. HVP is a common ingredient in foods such as gravy, stuffing, soup mixes, snacks, dressing, bouillon and prepared salads. According to Food Safety News, the FDA recall includes any foods that contain HVP from Basic Food Flavors unless the food is produced with a "kill step." A kill step is a part of the food production that would make the food safe for human consumption.

According to Food Safety's report, some of the foods most recently added to the recall list are the following:

  • Aurora, IL-based Creative Contract Packaging Corporation recalled HERB-OX ® beef, vegetable, and chicken granular bouillon for specific date codes.
  • Lancaster, PA-based National Pretzel Company recalled all its Honey Mustard Onion flavored pretzels produced since December 2009.
  • McCormick & Company in Sparks, MD recalled various dips mixes and corn bread stuffing.
  • Buena Park, CA- based Fresh Food Concepts Inc. recalled certain Delicioso, De la Casa, Rojo's and Fresh Food Concepts brand dips and Fresh Food Concepts Spinach Dip with Yogurt.

According to a report from The Wall Street Journal today, Basic Food continued to make and distribute food ingredients for about a month after it learned the bacteria salmonella was present at its processing facility, according to a Food and Drug Administration report.

The Journal reports that FDA officials inspected Basic Food Flavor's plant for about two weeks starting in mid-February and found the company didn't adequately clean equipment or store foods to protect against the growth of contaminants such as salmonella, according to the inspection report. Disturbingly, FDA inspectors noted that "light-brown residue" and "dark-brown liquid" was seen on or around areas where Basic Food makes the flavor-enhancing ingredients used in foods. The inspectors said brown residue was also found in a plastic pipe used in making food ingredients.

At this time, no illnesses have yet been reported from foods that have been recalled. Although the list has grown to 100 foods at present, the FDA and other health officials have said the risk of people getting sick from products containing the HVP is low because the flavor enhancer generally makes up less than 1% of all the ingredients in a food.

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Daiso Toys Pays Fine, Agrees to Clean up Its Act

Last week, the CPSC announced that it had entered into a settlement with Daiso Holding USA Inc., Daiso Seattle LLC, of Seattle, Wash. and Daiso California LLC, of Hayward, Calif. The companies have agreed under a consent decree to pay a fine of $2.05 million and stop importing children's products and toys into the United States. Daiso may not resume importing its products into the U.S. until it demonstrates it has knowledge of the regulations regarding toy safety and testing standards. Daiso products include small wooden toys, stuffed animals, purses and ponchos that were sold in Daiso stores in California and Washington for under $5.

Daiso was cited by the CPSC for importing children's products containing levels of lead, lead paint and phthalates that exceeded federal standards. The company was also cited for toys lacking necessary warning labels and toys with small parts intended for children under 3, which present a choking hazard.

To meet the new safety standards, Daiso will put in place a product safety coordinator to assist in the creation of a comprehensive product safety program, conduct a product audit of merchandise to determine testing and certification requirements and develop procedures for compliance and reporting. Daiso voluntarily withdrew all toys and children's products from its stores before signing the decree.

The consent decree was filed on March 2 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by the Office of Consumer Litigation of the Justice Department's Civil Division, on behalf of CPSC. In signing the decree, the company does not admit any violation of law. The consent decree is subject to court approval.

"This landmark agreement for an injunction sets a precedent for any firm attempting to distribute hazardous products to our nation's children," said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. "We are committed to the safety of children's products and we will use the full force of our enforcement powers to prevent the sale of harmful products."

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Ford, Toyota, who will be the next car company with major PR problems? This time it is Mercedes Benz with a few dings on it shining image. Certainly not at a Toyota level, but still some damage may have been done. In Wisconsin, home to much cheese and a well drafted auto lemon law, Benz owner Marco Marquez has just received one of the largest "lemon" car awards in history. Marquez was awarded $482,000 for his ongoing troubles with his Mercedes E Class. That's enough to upgrade to a '09 Maybach, but it looks like Marquez is done with Mercedes Benz.

The AP reports this case began when Marquez purchased his car in 2005, which almost immediately had difficulties starting. The battery was replaced multiple times, but the problem continued. After several repair attempts, the dealership said the problem could not be fixed. Marquez demanded a refund. After months of back and forth and attempts to have him accept a replacement instead, the company agreed to the refund ... and then continued to ask for more information from Marquez. Thirty-one days after he demanded his refund, Marquez sued.

Under Wisconsin law, some car owners with cars that don't run or can't be repaired may demand a replacement or refund. Manufacturers have 30 days to respond and can be ordered to pay double the purchase price plus legal fees if they are found to have violated the law.

According to the AP, Mercedes defended itself by accusing Marquez of acting in bad faith for not providing the information about his car loan, as requested. Even though the jury found in favor of the car company, Judge Michael Bohren overturned the verdict finding it had no basis in the evidence. He ruled in Marquez's favor, citing a clear "lack of urgency" by Mercedes-Benz to refund his money.

Now Marquez, still driving his lemon-y E Class, is also the owner of $168,000 (double the purchase price plus interest), plus $314,000 in costs and legal fees. However, his fund of fondness for the prestigious car company is bankrupt. "Frustrated is really an understatement," he said. "You put that much faith in a car company and you give your hard earned money to that company and then you are basically let down."

The case has taken four years to resolve. Mercedes-Benz is considering an appeal. Perhaps BMW would like to contact him.

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Committed to watching trends (legal and otherwise) that affect the lives of consumers, has recently announced a survey asking young borrowers how they have fared in the current credit and loan market. Considering the tight hold on credit still exhibited by most lenders, not surprisingly the answer is often, not too well.

Cited by Consumer Reports Money Blog, the FindLaw survey reflects the fact that those who have had little opportunity to build up much of a credit history are having a difficult time getting loans as well as credit cards. More than one in five (22%) people between the ages of 18 and 34 have been refused a mortgage, loan or credit card within the last year. That's more than twice the percentage of any other age group and they are four times more likely to say they've been turned down than people age 55 and up.

More specifically, 4% say they have been turned down for a mortgage, a home equity loan, a car loan, or a student loan in the last year. Of those surveyed, 2% have been turned down for mortgage refinancing or a small business loan and 1% for a home improvement loan. The numbers shoot up however, when it comes to credit cards. A significant 15% of those surveyed were turned down for a credit card in the last year.

It should also be noted that the numbers can vary a bit depending on the race of the loan or credit applicant. For example, of those requesting mortgages, only 1% of whites were refused, while for African-Americans and Hispanics the numbers increased to 3% and 6% respectively.

"Borrowing money - whether a mortgage, loan or even a credit card - often involves meeting strict standards set by the financial institution," said Stephanie Rahlfs, an attorney and head of the Social Media Team in FindLaw's Sunnyvale, California, office. "And it can be particularly difficult for younger people, who often have had less time and opportunity to establish a credit history, work history, etc. Monitoring your credit score, correcting any errors in your credit report, and building a good history of managing credit and loans can help increase the chances of being approved for a loan, mortgage or credit card down the road."

Keeping a close eye on your credit report and spending is good advice for all ages as the economy slowly makes its way back to health.

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Is Chinese Drywall Responsible for Homeowner Deaths?

Despite disagreement by the CPSC, the Louisiana Senator David Vitter is reportedly calling for a further investigation into the deaths of eight people he says may be linked to the Chinese drywall in their homes. A spokesman for the CPSC said the deaths were promptly investigated by the commission, which found no link to the drywall.

According to the AP report, since last November, the CPSC has been investigating problems consumers have reported in new homes made with drywall imported from China. The CPSC had found links between the levels of hydrogen sulfide gas emitted from the imported wallboard coupled with formaldehyde, which is commonly found in new homes. The Commission also found it likely that reports of wire and pipe corrosion in the houses was caused by the imported wallboard.

In the flurry of new construction that followed Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, about 3,000 homeowners, most of them in Florida, Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, have reported problems with the Chinese drywall. The CPSC says it has currently reviewed 800 homes. In a letter to federal agencies sent Wednesday, Senator Vitter asked the CPSC and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to do more.

The AP reports thousands of homeowners are party to the drywall suits against builders, contractors, suppliers and manufacturers that are currently making their way through the federal courts. Dr. Patricia Williams, a toxicologist at the University of New Orleans hired by plaintiffs' lawyers, said a more thorough probe into the deaths was warranted.

"Each person needs to be looked at individually," Williams said. She said her analyses of the Chinese drywall have found chemical compounds that can lead to death, particularly in people suffering from lung and heart disease.

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Nissan Brake Problems, Fuel Gauge Issues Prompt Recall

With the Toyota recall hogging the headlines, with its brake problems, fatal accidents and allegation of hiding safety information, it's not surprising that people are attuned to news about auto recall -- including now a Nissan recall prompted by brake problems and fuel gauge errors.

At the Congressional hearing, we heard Senator Inouye (D-Hawaii) say that the problems with auto safety aren't specific to Toyota, but rather industry-wide shortcomings. He must have been speaking clairvoyantly about Nissan. This week, Nissan brake problems, and problems with fuel gauges prompted a recall 539, 864 trucks, sport-utility vehicles and minivans mainly in North America. Last week. the manufacturer recalled 76,415 vehicles in Japan.

More specifically, there are problems with the brake pedal pins and fuel gauges in the recalled vehicles. Although there has not been a fatal accident reported involving the Nissan brake problems, or the fuel gauge, Nissan is taking steps to ensure traffic safety, in light of Toyota's problems. For Nissan, there has apparently been a manufacturing error in the brake pedal pins and reports of it partially disengaging, according to Wall Street Journal. As for the fuel gauge, the company said that the gauges in vehicles with high mileage might not be indicating the correct amount of fuel.

Toyota's recent problems have prompted all auto-makers to take heed in consumer complaints and to act promptly. With Toyota facing a multitude of problems and millions, if not billions, in potential liability, other auto-makers like Nissan are not taking anything for granted.

Cars affected by the Nissan recall include:

  • Infiniti QX56 (2008-2010)
  • Titan pickup truck (2008-2010)
  • Armada SUV (2008-2010)
  • Quest minivan (2008-2010)
  • Frontier pickup (2005-2008)
  • Pathfinder (2005-2008)
  • Xterra SUV (2005-2008)

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The Food and Drug Administration announced yesterday a recall of products containing hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) paste and powder distributed by Basic Food Flavors, Inc. According to The Washington Post, the FDA says salmonella was detected in one lot of hydrolyzed vegetable protein made by the company, as well as inside the company's Nevada manufacturing facility.

The Post reports that this recall is large and expected to get bigger. Basic Food Flavors is one of only a small group of companies who produce the protein used to enhance flavors in snack foods. Foods commonly containing HVP include varieties of soups, chips, hot dogs and salad dressings.

On its website, the FDA has posted a list of foods currently under recall. Foods listed include dips, dressings, soups, snacks and snack mixes, and pre-packaged meals. As of this writing, there are 56 items included in the recall. That number is expected to increase.

To visit the site, click here.

The Post reports that the contamination was discovered by a company which purchased some of the tainted HVP from Basic Food Flavors. Company representatives notified the FDA after they found salmonella in the lot, according to federal officials.

Federal officials say they have no evidence that anyone has fallen ill from the tainted HVP. The Post writes most healthy people recover from salmonella infection, but it can cause serious problems and even death in the young, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

Basic Food Flavors did not immediately return a call from The Washington Post for comment.

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FSIS Announces Beef Recall of Meat Slated for Feds

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced on March 2 that there is a beef recall by the Randolph Packing Co. Inc., an Asheboro, N.C. company. The company is recalling 96,000 pounds of beef products which may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

The products under recall include the following: Combo bin packages of "Randolph Packing Co., Inc. BONELESS BEEF;" Combo bin packages of "Randolph Packing Co. Knuckles 90% & 94%;" 30 lbs. boxes of "Beef Ribeye Rolls." Each label of the recalled meat bears the establishment number "EST. 6590" inside the USDA mark of inspection.

The products were produced on February 25, 2010, and were distributed to federal establishments for further processing in Ill., Mo., N.Y., OH., and Va. Although consumers should be aware of this recall, none of these products are available directly to the public. The potential contamination of this meat was discovered by FSIS microbiological sampling.

Questions regarding the recall should be directed to the company Plant Manager, Wayne Gilberts, or General Manager, Craig Hamlet at (366) 672-1470.

The FSIS reminds consumers of these food safety tips:

  • Wash hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat and poultry.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot, soapy water.
  • Keep raw meat, fish and poultry away from other food that will not be cooked.
  • Consumers should only eat ground beef or ground beef patties that have been cooked to a safe internal temperature of 160° F, whether prepared from fresh or frozen raw meat products.

Consumers with food safety questions can "Ask Karen," the FSIS virtual representative, available 24 hours a day at

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Census Cons: Some Use Fake Census Forms to Fundraise

It is a census year, so stand up and be counted. Just be aware that some political groups may want more from you than a head count. According to a report by ProPublica, there are several fake census forms being floated by groups that merely want to fundraise.

Some attempts to push a political agenda or fundraise are fairly transparent. ProPublica writes that some people have received a census survey entitled "Official Ask America Datascan Survey," which goes on to ask if the recipient fears his guns will be taken away by the liberals now attempting to re-write the 2nd Amendment. Of course, the other side of the political spectrum is just as bad. In Connecticut, brochures regarding jobs with the real census were sent out with literature about local Democratic candidates attached.

One of the more problematic versions of the faux census survey comes from the RNC. This document is actually entitled "2010 Congressional District Census," but is nothing more than a fundraising apparatus. Peter Miller, president of the American Association of Public Opinion Research, and associate professor at Northwestern University, told ProPublica that fake or misleading surveys contribute to an overall distrust in public opinion research, which has fueled a decline in response rates.

"It is such a blatant miscommunication, or misrepresentation," he said. "The fact that it attaches itself to the Census, it's really more pernicious than other efforts that I've seen." Miller has sent a letter to the Michael Steele, the RNC chairman, asking him to stop the mailers. He has not heard back.

Everyone should be cautious of any document which appears official, but which asks for money. Count on the fact that the actual census, taken every ten years by the federal government, does not ask citizens for money. That's what taxes are for.

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Not the Girl Scouts! GSA Cookie Recall

It's nearly everybody's favorite time of year. We are clearly past the Christmas season so it must be, yes Girl Scout Cookies are arriving! However, you may want to think twice before accepting delivery from your local fresh-faced Junior or Brownie when she hands you a box of Lemon Chalet Cremes cookies. Consumer Reports Safety Blog announced on February 24, that the charmingly named Little Brownie Bakers have voluntarily recalled some boxes of the lemon cookies.

Girl Scouts and their parents who have dutifully sold boxes at work should not panic. The Little Brownie Bakers website states that reports from consumers finding an "off taste and smell" in the cookies lead them to test their product samples. The Bakers explain the bad smell and taste are due to some of the oils in the cookies breaking down, but the company is working to correct the situation. The sight unequivocally says the cookies are safe for consumers to eat; you just may not find it the kind of taste experience you have come to expect from a Girl Scout Cookie.

The cookie batches affected by the recall have the following codes, which are printed on the end of each carton: 7455881, 7455882, 7455883, 7456741, 7456742, 7456743, 7457661, 7457662, 7457663, 7458521, 7458522, 7458523, 7459401, 7459402, 7459403.

Cookie consumers or sellers can call Little Brownie Bakers at (800) 962-1718 for more information, or contact them at:

The bakers would like to stress that no other types of Girl Scout Cookies are affected or have been recalled. The report by Consumer Reports Safety Blog expresses relief at the safety of their long anticipated Thin Mints. Please put Common Law down as awaiting the Samoas.

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Perhaps you were not aware that there was a creature called the Middle Class Task Force roaming the halls of the nation's capital. This Task Force is a White House mandated group responsible for reporting on ways to improve the standard of living for America's beleaguered middle class. Reuters reported Friday the task force is announcing, in conjunction with their annual report, new regulations on workers' savings, aimed at protecting employees, their 401(k)'s and IRA retirement savings plans from the potential conflicts of interest of financial advisers.

According to the Reuters report, the new rules will not allow retirement investment advisers or money managers to steer clients toward funds they are affiliated with and receive commissions on. Financial advisers may still guide clients to invest in funds if they can show their advice was based upon an independently approved computer model.

"Some kinds of investments are more profitable for financial institutions than others, but those investments may not be the best ones for workers," the White House said in a briefing document on the proposed rule changes.

Another rule has been proposed that would cover workers' retirement funds covered by collective bargaining agreements. Reuters reports the purpose of this new rule, said Deputy Labor Secretary Seth Harris, was to require retirement plan managers to be responsive to questions by workers or their union representatives about the financial health of their plans.

The health of the middle class itself is of concern to President Obama and Vice President Biden. Mr. Biden voiced his view that the middle class is "nowhere near as strong as it needs to be."

The Labor Department will make the proposed regulations available for public comment until May 5, after which it will issue a final rule. The new rule will then apply to financial advisers who provide investment options like 401(k) plans to employers and offer financial advice to employees as well.

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