Header graphic for print
The Corporate Observer A Publication by Attorneys Devoted to Protecting Consumer Rights

Hats Off to Consumer Watchdog Agencies: A (Vivid) Reminder

Posted in Consumer Protection

I usually look at consumer protection from a legal and regulatory standpoint, but the truth is thats only one aspect of how consumers can and should protect themselves. There are an uncountable number of consumer advocacy organizations. Many of them focus on providing something consumers often lack: information. These advocacy organizations have taken on the role of serving as watchdogs for consumers.

The “consumer watchdog” industry plays a valuable role in a world that is becoming increasingly unfriendly to consumers, as I’ve seen firsthand.  With an increase in mandatory arbitration clauses, which take away consumers’ rights in the courtroom and their ability to file suit as a class, it is more important than ever that consumers know what they are getting into before they buy a product or service, especially if that product or service is potentially harmful.  And we all know that companies who sell or produce potentially harmful products and services aren’t likely to tell consumers about the problems with their products until it’s too late.  The goal of a company is to make a profit and consumers won’t buy a product if they know it may hurt them, physically or financially. That’s where consumer watchdogs come into the picture.

One of the best known consumer watchdog organizations is Consumer Reports. I try and visit their site on a regular basis and the last time I visited it I was not disappointed. Grossed out, yes, but not disappointed. Earlier this week, Consumer Reports released the results of its Pork Safety Study. They were alarming. I like to think that the food I eat is safe, regulated by the FDA, and carefully raised, processed, and distributed.  After reading this study, I realize that is often not the case, especially when it comes to the pork samples Consumer Reports tested:

  • More than 60% of tested Pork Samples carried some kind of food-borne bacteria, such as Yersinia enteroclitica, salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, or listeria.
  • Many pork samples contained bacteria that was resistant to at least some commonly used antibiotics, meaning that pork eaters affected by the bacteria may have a harder time fighting the infection.
  • Some packaging is misleading.  “No hormones” may be true, but only because hormones are not legally allowed in pork production.  This does not necessarily make the pork any safer.
  • Some FDA approved feed supplements contain Ractopamine, a drug approved by the FDA to help make pork leaner.  While farmers use FDA approved levels, the drug was detectable in low levels in approximately 20% of the pork samples.

Why do I cite these numbers and facts? Not because I want you to stop eating meat (although I might need to at least take a break) but because its information you can’t get anywhere else. If it weren’t for consumer watchdog agencies like Consumer Reports we would go on thinking that pork labeled as “Hormone Free” was special enough to pay extra for, when in fact, its not special at all. Without agencies like Consumer Reports to discover and distribute such information, who would?

Watchdog companies not only provide information to consumers, they also advocate on behalf of consumers.  With consumers’ rights being attacked left and right, they need all the help they can get.  Having a watchdog company fighting for better product safety standards and more consumer rights is a benefit to all consumers. It is these organizations that can help persuade legislators that consumers need more protection, such as by amending the Federal Arbitration Act to limit its application.

The pork safety study is only one example of how important watchdog companies have become.  Everyday products can be harmful to consumers—and consumers are often left in the dark about why.   It’s wonderful to see an organization like Consumer Reports stepping up and looking out for consumers, by not only increasing awareness about dangerous products, but also fighting for consumers’ rights.  I, for one, will be checking Consumer Reports before I buy any presents this holiday season.  Hats off to consumer watchdog companies.  Please, keep up the good work.

If you feel your rights as a consumer have been violated, contact Berk Law today at 202-232-7550 or info@berklawdc.com