The enforcement of consumer protection laws, especially against the terrible abuses in low-income communities, needs to be given the leadership and resources required. Neither Party in control of our city or national government has concerned itself with such predatory practices. The poor pay more and are expendable to them. Hundreds of billions of dollars annually are taken from consumers due to computerized billing fraud, unconscionable credit and financial services charges, price gouging, shoddy merchandise, phony repairs, bogus medical treatments, medical malpractice, real estate scams, identity thefts, and other fraudulent, regularly reported and neglected crimes. There needs to be more, not less, civil action rights to pursue in court both these economic grievances and wrongful injuries under a preserved and expanded tort system that internalizes the costs of misconduct and enlarges deterrence. Safety standards - from motor vehicles, to pharmaceuticals, to household products - need serious enhancement to save lives, and prevent injuries and diseases.
Toward Saving Lives by Increasing Motor Vehicle Safety
About 800 Americans die on the roads every week on the average, or, over 40,000 a year. Additionally, there are hundreds of thousands of injuries and tens of billion in economic losses. Since 1966, the irregular implementation of the federal motor vehicle and safety laws have driven down sharply the rate and the absolute number of highway casualties. Regulation worked, but was sporadically implemented. In the past 24 years, however, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – the federal government’s regulator of the auto industry – has been transformed into a consulting agency. This must change, if we are to save more lives and prevent more injuries.
First, existing standards must be updated. Some auto and highway safety standards have not been changed for 30 to 35 years, including the key crashworthy tests themselves. Priority must be given to long overdue stability, side impact and rollover standards, especially for SUV’s, vans, and light trucks. Heavier trucks need improved braking systems. The research safety vehicle program of the Department of Transportation needs to be resurrected - after having been mothballed years ago despite the uses of the model vehicles - to push the auto companies for many years beyond their excuses and engineering stagnations. These include fuel inefficiencies that waste family budgets, pollute the air, and increase global warming. The small budget of NHTSA has been astonishingly held back, given its widening missions and recall authority. One early B-2 bomber costs four years of NHTSA budgets. The exodus of fine engineering and scientific talent over the past twenty-four years needs to be reversed in order to advance this great life-saving mission of the United States Government. For further details, see Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety and the Center for Auto Safety.
Endorsement of The Foodborne Illness Recommendations of S.T.O.P. (Safe Tables Our Priority)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 76 million Americans were sickened, 325,000 were hospitalized and 5,000 died last year from foodborne disease. The USDA’s Economic Research Service estimates that the top five foodborne illnesses alone cost Americans $6.9 billion every year in medical costs, lost productivity and premature deaths. Obviously, foodborne disease is a serious public heath issue that affects all Americans. With the election nearing, American consumers must know the candidates position on food safety.
We are asking all presidential candidates to publicly state whether or not they would support:
The establishment of a single food safety agency.
In the wake of the tragedy of 9/11, America consolidated the fragmented authority and responsibility for protecting this nation from terrorism into a single Office of Homeland Security. For similar reason, the responsibility for securing the safety of our food supply must be consolidated into a single federal food safety agency. Currently, no single federal agency is responsible and accountable for safety of our food; the safety net for preventing foodborne illness is fragmented across numerous federal agencies. This results in inconsistency, irregularity, lack of focus and dangerous gaps allowing contaminated food to make its way to our kitchen tables.
Government authority to recall contaminated and potentially deadly food.
Simply consolidating existing responsibility and authority into a single agency will not be enough without the authority to require the recall of food products that have been discovered to carry deadly pathogens. Shockingly, when scientific testing proves that a particular food product is carrying life-threatening disease agents, our government is now powerless to order these deadly foodstuffs removed from commerce. Our food security officials must have authority to mandate recalls of contaminated food.
A uniform, mandatory and enforceable traceability system designed to protect public health.
Americans want clean, wholesome food that is traceable to its source and accountable for its quality. Americans do not want deadly pathogens in their food. When the prevention system fails and people are sickened by food that carries deadly pathogens, it is critical to quickly trace that defective product back to the original source. Information and accountability are essential to a successful system of food safety. If a product cannot be linked to its source, the entity responsible for the product cannot be held accountable for its quality. Food producers should not be excluded from this aspect of market scrutiny.
Enforceable, microbial performance standards to control the presence of pathogens in food.
One more element must be added if we are to have a food supply security system that is reliable and effective: enforceable, science-based microbial performance standards, for each stage of the food production and distribution chain, that define what safe food is and what is unacceptable. In 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture switched from its traditional sight, smell, and probe meat and poultry inspection to a process oriented, science-based system called Hazard Analysis at Critical Control Points (HACCP). The HACCP Final Rule gave USDA the authority to shut down plants that repeatedly failed to meet HACCP standards. Since HACCP is a regulation and not a law, the authority was successfully challenged in two court cases. Without enforceable, microbial, critical control point testing and end-product microbial performance standards, it is unlikely that HACCP will achieve its goal of reducing pathogens on raw meat and poultry products.
Safe Tables Our Priority is a non-profit grassroots organization whose mission is to reduce suffering, illness and death from foodborne disease. We cannot do it alone. We need the help of our country’s leaders. With one in four Americans suffering from a foodborne illness each year, American voters need to know where our potential leaders stand on these four cornerstones for safe food.
Against Tort Deform
President George W. Bush is trying to destroy what the founders fought to preserve from the tyranny of King George III. As they said in the Declaration of Independence, among the "repeated injuries" inflicted on the colonies was "depriving us in many cases of the benefits of Trial by Jury." President Bush is attempting to destroy the civil justice system, a pillar of our democracy, in a cynical, commercially motivated effort to shield from corporate responsibility those inflicting casualties on innocent Americans in the marketplace and environment.