CFA News Update- December 23, 2010

Congress Passes Food Safety Bill

With the clock ticking down on the end of the legislative session, Congress passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) this week. The Senate passed the bill late Sunday, followed by House passage on Tuesday. Despite its broad bipartisan support, the bill ran into trouble when a technical mix-up required the Senate to re-pass the measure and to do so at a time when end-of-session pressures and disagreement over a tax bill had created an apparently impenetrable legislative log jam. “Passing this legislation has been critical to providing the FDA with the tools and authorities necessary to better protect consumers from foodborne illness,” said Chris Waldrop, Director of CFA’s Food Policy Institute. “The bill requires a fundamental shift in the FDA’s food safety program from reacting to illnesses and deaths to preventing them in the first place.” The bill will now be sent to the president for his signature. A press release celebrating Senate passage is available here and a press release on House passage is available here.

FCC Approves Net Neutrality Rules

On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted for new rules on net neutrality, marking the first time that a federal agency has attempted to regulate broadband Internet access.

“The network neutrality order could be an important milestone in ensuring that the Internet remains an open and friendly consumer-citizen place for communications and commerce,” said Mark Cooper, Director of Research at CFA. “But there are areas where stronger consumer protections are needed. The order is the platform on which those consumer protections can be built.”

The rules require all broadband providers to let subscribers access all legal online content without favoring or deterring traffic and prohibit wireless carriers from blocking websites or applications. The rules also establish an extensive transparency requirement so that consumers know exactly what they are paying for and establish a procedure for turning informal consumer complaints into formal proceedings.

2010 A Banner Year for Consumers

In a recent press release, CFA listed thirteen top consumer advances for the year as new federal protections will increase the safety of food, products and financial services. These advances include the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, enhanced food safety standards, and stringent crib safety standards.

“Congress and federal agencies put one landmark consumer protection after another on the books in 2010,” said Travis Plunkett, CFA’s Legislative Director. “Consumer groups will be working hard in 2011 to stop efforts by special interests and their friends in Congress to roll back these historic achievements.”

Congress Urged to Adopt Online “Do Not Track” Legislation

In testimony earlier this month before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, CFA Consumer Protection Director Susan Grant called on Congress to adopt legislation creating a “do not track” tool to protect consumer privacy online. “Consumers are being tracked on the Internet wherever they go, whatever they do, without their knowledge and consent,” Grant warned. “There are no limits to what types of information can be collected, how long it can be retained, with whom it can be shared, or how it can be used.”

To give consumers effective control over information about their online activities, CFA and other consumer and privacy groups are calling for creation of a “Do-Not-Track” mechanism similar to the popular national “Do-Not-Call” registry. Specifically, what CFA and others envision is a browser-based tool that would automatically tell the Web sites that consumers visit not to track them. Under this proposal, all browsers would be required to include a “Do-Not-Track” mechanism as a standard feature, at no extra cost to consumers, and all trackers would be required to honor the consumers’ preferences. Consumers would be able to adjust the settings to accept tracking by certain entities if they wished.

A news release on Grant’s testimony is available here. A fact sheet on the need for a Do-Not-Track mechanism is available here.