CFAnews Update – June 28, 2017

USDA Proposes to Ease Restrictions on Chinese Chicken Imports 

The Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) released a proposed rule earlier this month that would allow the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to export cooked chicken products derived from poultry slaughtered in the PRC.  “This rule defies common sense. Taxpayers spend billions each year to make sure that American food products are safe. Poultry growers and processors in China do not meet the same standards, and imported Chinese chicken will make the food supply less safe,” said CFA Food Policy Director Thomas Gremillion.

FSIS had previously, in 2014, certified four Chinese facilities to export processed poultry products to the U.S., but only if the facilities used raw chicken from sources in the U.S., Canada, or Chile, CFA explained in a press statement. Under that rule, no Chinese chicken imports entered the United States. By contrast, FSIS projects that the new proposed rule would usher in millions of pounds of cooked poultry product imports in the coming years, and consumers would find it difficult to avoid these products under current country-of-origin labeling rules.

Presumably, proper processing and inspection procedures would assure that cooked chicken exported from China would not spread dangerous pathogens, but China’s ability to assure food safety has been called into question by scandal after scandal in recent years. Despite a number of highly-publicized food safety catastrophes, FSIS maintains that the PRC’s food inspection system, at least for poultry, is “equivalent to the system that the United States has established.”

“The truth is that China’s food system is far from equivalent to the United States’, and it has a terrible food safety record to show for it. This chicken will expose American consumers to increased risks of illegal residues, harmful pathogens, and intentional adulteration,” Gremillion said.


Bill to Enforce Financial Protections for Military Personnel Reintroduced

Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and 14 of their colleagues reintroduced legislation last week (S. 1389, the Military Consumer Enforcement Act) that would give the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CPFB) authority to oversee and enforce compliance with certain provisions of the Servicemember Civil Relief Act (SCRA).

Passed in 2003, SCRA was intended to ease economic burdens on military personnel and ensure military readiness by extending rights to servicemembers and protecting them against default judgments, foreclosures and repossessions.

“The CFPB has a strong record of safeguarding military families from financial fraudsters,” said CFA Senior Policy Advocate Michael Best in a press statement. “By equipping the CFPB with new tools, this legislation would enable the agency to continue to protect consumers and companies that play by the rules.”

Earlier this year, military family and consumer advocates told the Senate Armed Services Committee about the need to vigorously enforce laws combatting financial fraud that specifically target the military community. Last month, 29 leading military and veterans groups and two grassroots organizations representing U.S. veterans and military family members sent separate letters urging members of Congress to defend the CFPB against threats to its authority, structure and funding.

“Senior military leaders and advocates for military families have joined CFA in working to protect and extend the authorities of the consumer agency,” said CFA Senior Fellow Rohit Chopra.


LED Light Bulbs Dramatically Reduce Electricity Usage and Costs

Households using at least 20 light bulbs can save $1,000 or more in a decade by using new LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs rather than traditional incandescent or halogen bulbs, according to a CFA cost analysis released earlier this month.

The analysis, based on an April price survey of 60-watt equivalent, non-dimmable, soft white light bulbs, found that the prices of LEDs have fallen considerably: The average 10-year cost of an LEDs was $13.70, while the average 10-year cost of the incandescents and halogens was $69.49. Since homes use an average of more than 20 light bulbs, consumers now relying on incandescents and halogens can save in the neighborhood of $1,000 over this period by switching to LEDs, CFA estimated.

“By using LED light bulbs, consumers not only save money, they also curb electricity use, potentially reducing the need for expensive new power plants,” said CFA Director of Energy Programs Mel Hall-Crawford.  “LED bulbs are a win-win-win for consumers, electric utilities, and the environment,” she added.

The principal reason for the large cost difference between different types of bulbs relates to differences in electricity consumption, CFA found.  60 watt or equivalent Incandescent/halogen bulbs surveyed typically consume approximately $5 of electricity a year while an LED bulb typically uses about $1 of electricity annually.  The fact that incandescent/halogen bulbs often have an estimated life of less than one to two years, compared to more than 10 years for most LED bulbs, also accounts for a portion of the cost difference, according to the CFA analysis.

In the past couple years, shipments of LED light bulbs, the most energy-efficient and least costly over time, rose rapidly and are now the dominant bulb displayed by large retailers. “This light bulb revolution has been facilitated by recent federal and state energy efficiency standards,” noted CFA Executive Director Stephen Brobeck.  “Over time these standards will save consumers billions of dollars year in and year out.”

More information, including tips on how best to shop for light bulbs, is available here.


People of Color Pay More for Auto Insurance

African-Americans are charged average annual auto insurance premiums of $1,317 per vehicle, and Hispanics are charged $829 per vehicle, while Caucasians are charged only $658 per vehicle, according to a CFA analysis of recent U.S. Department of Labor Consumer Expenditure Survey data (CE).

“State governments that require drivers to purchase liability insurance should be very concerned that this insurance is usually costly, and often unaffordable, for people of color,” said CFA’s Executive Director Stephen Brobeck in a press statement.  “State insurance departments should address this issue through research and rate reform, and state legislatures should consider creating low-cost liability insurance options for lower-income drivers,” he added.

CFA noted the CE data understates the differences in cost among different racial and ethnic groups. The adjusted insurance expenditure by car, CFA notes, does not factor in the possibility that demographic groups purchase differing amounts of coverage per vehicle. An April 2014 ORC International survey found, for example, that 23 percent of African American owners and 21 percent of Hispanic owners, but only 16 percent of white owners, said they purchased only liability coverage and no collision and comprehensive coverage.

“If, as the data suggest, minority consumers purchase comprehensive and collision coverage less often than whites, these households are spending more to purchase their auto insurance, as demonstrated by the CE data above, but they actually get less coverage in exchange for their insurance expenditure,” according to a CFA analysis of recent U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Expenditure Survey data.