Swimming Upstream

We are deeply disappointed with the Food and Drug Administration’s recent decision approving the sale of AquAdvantage salmon, the first genetically engineered (GE) fish or animal allowed for human consumption. The AquAdvantage brand of salmon uses genetic material from three different fish and is designed to grow to maturity in half the time of its wild-caught counterpart (for production and profit’s sake). What’s more, the FDA initially chose not to require special labeling for this first-of-its-kind food. But after pushback from key lawmakers and consumer groups including us, Congress overruled the FDA and called for new labeling guidelines before engineered salmon can reach the marketplace.

Our specific concern about AquAdvantage is whether it has higher levels of proteins known to cause severe allergic reactions in some people. We have voiced that concern to the FDA. And so far some major food retailers—including Costco, Kroger, and Safeway—have decided not to carry the GE salmon.

Consumer Reports continues to push for easy-to-understand, mandatory labeling of GMO products. Campbell Soup just became the largest major food company to announce its support of a national mandatory labeling law, as well as its intention to label all its products containing GMO ingredients. This is a big first step in helping you make informed choices about what you buy. To learn more, go to ConsumerReports.org/gmo

Getting Rid of Robocalls

A year ago, Consumer Reports launched a campaign to end robocalls, those intrusive phone calls that come morning, noon, and night hawking offers we don’t want. Many of those computer-driven calls are actually scams, resulting in a loss to consumers of about $350 million per year. We last updated you on our campaign in the September 2015 issue, and since then we’ve made solid progress.

More than 500,000 people have now signed our petition asking major phone carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink to offer free and effective call-blocking technology—something that currently exists. We also delivered that petition to the phone companies, meeting with them face-to-face and pressing for change. But industry representatives say that they’re concerned with inadvertently blocking calls that consumers actually want to receive. Though there’s no foolproof solution for robocalls, Consumer Reports doesn’t believe that argument is a reason not to move forward and make the current technology available to consumers. The Federal Communications Commission stands with us.

We won an important victory in that the agency now agrees that the phone companies have the authority to block robocalls—and should be doing it. But the government has stopped short of mandating the practice. With continued effort, we can end robocalls once and for all. Go to EndRobocalls.org to sign the petition, or share your own robocall complaint. 

Being Sick Is Bad Enough . . .

 . . . but being socked with medical bills you didn’t count on just makes things worse. Danielle Nelson did her homework before buying health insurance, scanning websites, calling insurers, and checking whether her doctors were in-network providers. But days after her new Anthem Blue Cross coverage went into effect, in the midst of cancer treatment, Nelson went to her oncologist only to discover that—despite assurances she had been given—he wasn’t in her plan’s network.

“I trusted my insurance carrier to give me an accurate provider list, and in my time of need they failed me,” says Nelson, who lives in Aliso Viejo, Calif. After spending endless hours going back and forth with her insurer, she ultimately switched health plans in order to get in-network care from her oncologist.

Nelson shared her struggle with us, and in doing so became one of the thousands of California consumers whose stories were used to persuade state lawmakers to take action. Last October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that requires insurers and doctors in California to keep provider directories up to date. The law, which goes into effect in July, also protects patients from surprise medical bills for out-of-network care if they relied on an inaccurate directory.

With your help, we’ll keep fighting for fixes like that. Go to EndSurpriseMedicalBills.org to check on your state’s laws or to share your own story. 

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the March 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.