Last year was a mixed year for consumers.
While there were a few encouraging happenings, such as positive election results and new consumer programs, much remains to be done, such as action on climate change and policies to deal with mass murders.
Here's my list of the top consumer stories of 2012.
1. The 2012 election.
It’s good news for consumers that President Obama was reelected. Although the Obama administration doesn’t always to what it should do to help consumers – see the two food safety items below – it does significantly better than what slash, then slash some more, Republicans would do. The passage in Washington state and Colorado of measures legalizing marijuana also is positive for consumers. Too much money is being spent putting people, often minorities, in prison for marijuana offenses. Washington state voters also approved same-sex marriage as did Maine and Maryland. This will extend many important rights to same sex couples and families.
2. Reactions to prescription drugs.
For years, I’ve written that about 100,000 Americans a year die each year because of the prescription drugs they take. A new study released this year shows two to four million consumers suffered serious, disabling, or fatal injury associated with prescription drug therapy in 2011, according to an analysis by the Philadelphia Inquirer of a year of reports to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. More needs to be done to alert consumers to the dangers of drugs that are being prescribed for them.
3. The effects of climate change.
It was amazing to watch the TV screen as newscasters reported on the enormous size of Hurricane Sandy as it approached the East Coast. American leaders need to get together and make some progress on climate change legislation and policies.
4. Credit card complaint database.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau launched a new online database this year devoted to cataloging consumer complaints against credit card companies. The website offers a place where consumers can post grievances against credit card companies. It will eventually include complaints on mortgages and student loans.
5. U.S. Supreme Court decision on Affordable Care Act.
In a five to four decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act on June 28. While the law isn’t as strong as consumer advocates would like it to be, it includes more than 90 specific changes to the nation's health care system. Some went into effect almost immediately, but the most dramatic changes won't take effect until 2014.
6. Mass killings in America.
After 12 people were shot dead and 58 wounded at a violent Batman movie in Aurora, Colo., I wrote that American leaders need to take action to prevent these kinds of murders from continuing. Then, 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn, in December. Now there’s a national debate occurring on gun control, mental health programs, and violent video games. I also suggest that, in addition, the nation look at all violent images aimed at children, hate mongering, and workplace violence.
7. Kids developing adult diseases.
I’ve written a number of posts on why voluntary efforts to improve the nutritional content of the food supply to reduce obesity aren’t enough. The amount of salt, sugar, and fat in food needs to be regulated, as does food advertisements aimed at children. The number of children and teens with type 1 and type 2 diabetes is expected to rise dramatically in the next 40 years. Rates of type 2 diabetes could increase four times over the next 40 years, and rates of type 1 diabetes may triple, a report by the Centers for Disease Control indicates.
8. Monsanto victory against the labeling of GMO food.
Unfortunately, California voters defeated a measure to require genetically modified food sold in the state to be labeled.
9. iPhone apps for comparison shopping. Although I don’t have a smartphone that connects to the Internet, I think it’s a great tool for consumers to be able to compare prices and get needed information about consumer products when they are in stores shopping.
10. Reduced food inspection. Over the years, I’ve written many times about the food industry’s interest in crippling food inspection programs, particularly meat inspection. This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, under the Obama administration, shut down the 11-year-old Microbiological Data Program, which did 80 percent of federal testing for foodborne pathogens of fresh fruit and vegetables. Why? Because that’s what the food industry wanted. In addition, the USDA has dramatically reduced the number of times each year that it sends inspection teams to foreign counties to examine how meat is checked for safety in countries that export meat to the U.S. Also, the USDA is less transparent about what it’s doing when it comes to verifying foreign meat, according to Food Safety News.