Reducing Arsenic in Rice

What's at stake: We've known for years that consumers unwittingly ingest unhealthy amounts of a known carcinogen—arsenic—when eating certain rice and rice-based products.

That's why CR is supporting a new bill, the Reducing food-based Inorganic Compounds Exposure (RICE) Act, that would require the Food and Drug Administration to set a maximum permissible level of inorganic arsenic for rice. "The FDA has a responsibility to ensure [that] our food supply is safe, especially for infants and children, but there are currently no limits on the amount of arsenic allowed in our food," says the bill's sponsor, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. "That is why Congress must take up the RICE Act to protect all Americans' health and well-being."

How CR has your back: Testing by CR brought the problem to public attention, first in 2011 with regard to apple and grape juices, then in 2012 and 2014 for rice products. The FDA issued draft guidance to manufacturers in 2013 and 2016 but has yet to finalize it, let alone impose mandatory limits.

In December a national alliance of scientists and child-health advocates called Healthy Babies Bright Futures built on CR's tests, finding that infant rice cereal contains an average of six times the level of arsenic as other grain cereals.

Jean Halloran, CR's director of food policy initiatives, says the new bill, if passed, would be "an important step forward for public health."

What you can do: Until the bill is passed, limit babies to no more than ¼ cup of infant rice-based cereal per day, and include in their diets cereals that are made of wheat, oatmeal, and corn, which contain significantly lower levels of arsenic. Read "Infant Rice Cereal Has Worrying Levels of Arsenic" for more dietary guidance. And contact your representatives at congress.gov to urge them to vote for the RICE Act.

Fair Pricing in Auto Insurance

What's at stake: A new rule in New York state represents an important step toward fairness in the auto-insurance market.

The problem it targets is this: Insurance companies increasingly consider nondriving factors—including credit scores, gender, and ZIP codes—when setting individual policy prices. As a result, many safe drivers pay more than relatively risky ones. And studies have found that the use of these factors raises rates for low-income and minority drivers disproportionately.

New York's Department of Financial Services decided to hit the brakes on this practice by forbidding the use of education or occupation as a factor in setting premiums.

more on auto insurance

How CR has your back: CR has fought the use of nondriving factors in auto-insurance pricing for years. Our September 2015 cover story, “The Truth About Car Insurance,” further highlighted the problem. And a 2017 investigation by CR and ProPublica, “A World Apart,” published in our July 2017 issue, found that people in some predominantly minority neighborhoods were consistently charged more than those in white neighborhoods, even when risk levels were the same. That report prompted California regulators to review state filings and require two insurers to adjust rates.

In New York, CR and other consumer groups asked the Department of Financial Services to do its own investigation. That effort led to the new rule, which officially went into effect in January.

What you can do: See our car insurance buying guide and ratings.

Seeking More Media Choices

What's at stake: We took notice in late 2016 when AT&T, the world's largest pay-TV company, announced a plan to buy Time Warner, the media powerhouse that's home to CNN, HBO, TNT, and the Hollywood studio Warner Bros., for $85 billion.

Our concern was that the merger would limit consumer choice and drive up the cost of accessing news and entertainment. It also raised the possibility that a new combined company might give priority to Time Warner programming or slow competitors' content on its set-top boxes and internet connections, giving it unfair leverage and driving up consumer costs even further.

The Department of Justice, which must approve mergers like this, agreed. It filed a lawsuit to block the merger of AT&T and Time Warner, citing antitrust and competitive concerns.

How CR has your back: Leading up to the decision, CR continually spoke out on behalf of consumers, meeting with Department of Justice and congressional staff members to raise concerns about the deal's impact. We also submitted a statement to a Senate hearing, arguing that market competition benefits consumers far more than monopolies do.

What you can do: While the suit winds through the court system, check out our cable and internet provider ratings at CR.org/internetservice0318 to find the best provider in your area.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the March 2018 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.