A Winning Power Play

In a victory for consumers in Florida, utility company Gulf Power recently agreed to rescind its proposal to raise fixed monthly charges from $18 to $48, a whopping 167 percent increase.

In January, Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization arm of CR, joined a diverse coalition of concerned stakeholders from across the political spectrum to call on the Florida Public Service Commission to reject Gulf Power's proposal. We presented testimony and a petition signed by almost 1,000 consumers opposing the increase.

In the end, the pressure was too great for Gulf Power to move ahead with its unfair and unjustifiable plan.

"The proposal would have taken away control from customers trying to save money by conserving energy, requiring them to pay nearly $50 up front every month even before they turned on a light switch," says Shannon Baker-Branstetter, policy counsel for Consumers Union.

This decision is further affirmation that when informed consumers join together, we can make a difference that benefits everyone.

A Fast-Food Victory

Kentucky Fried Chicken announced in April that by the end of 2018 it will stop serving chicken raised with antibiotics important to human health. That change is vital because the overuse of those drugs has contributed to the rise of "superbugs," bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics.

For years, CR has been pressing restaurant chains to stop relying on meat suppliers that overuse antibiotics, a practice that’s triggering bacteria to evolve.

"Antibiotics should not be wasted on healthy livestock to make them grow faster or to compensate for crowded and unsanitary farms," said Jean Halloran, our director of food policy initiatives. "KFC's decision is chicken done right."

In our December 2016 column, we highlighted a joint investigation by several health and environmental organizations—including CR—into the antibiotic practices of fast-food chains. We graded the antibiotic practices of the top 25 chains, and at the time, KFC earned an F and only nine chains received passing grades.

To find out more about the overuse of antibiotics, go to CR.org/superbugs.

The Danger in Hair Dye

Consumers Union and a coalition of consumer and public health advocates recently filed a petition asking the Food and Drug Administration to consider removing its approval of lead acetate in hair dyes. This active ingredient in certain dyes is a neurotoxin and anticipated carcinogen.

The FDA approved lead acetate as a repeated-use hair dye in 1980, finding that the available scientific data didn't show a significant increase in blood levels of lead. Our petition cites newer research showing lead contamination from the hair dye, especially on surfaces that touch treated hair (dryers, combs, and faucets).

The agency is required to respond to the petition and will have to make a final decision within 180 days.

A New Privacy Standard

CR has launched an ambitious, collaborative effort to shape the digital marketplace in a way that puts consumers' data security and privacy needs first.

Over the years, we've reported on the challenges facing consumers in the digital age—including identity theft and unprecedented data collection and profiteering. Today, we see an ever-growing number of internet-connected devices and services, from baby monitors to thermostats, security cameras to health and fitness apps, and even cars.

Though the pace of new technologies is exciting and brings greater convenience to our lives, it also carries with it new threats to our security and personal privacy. These concerns are fueled by news reports of incidents such as Chrysler's recall of 1.4 million vehicles that could be remotely hacked online.

That's why CR is working with leading privacy and cybersecurity partners to develop a standard to hold companies accountable when building and designing digital products and software. The standard will be used by CR and others to evaluate and rate products—which will help consumers make more informed purchasing decisions. The goal is to help people understand which products do the most to protect their privacy and security, and give them the most control over their personal information.

We are encouraging the participation of policy experts, businesses, academics, hobbyists, and anyone else who cares about data security to contribute their feedback on an open and collaborative site at thedigitalstandard.org.

You can find more details on this initiative and others at CR.org/issuesthatmatter.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the June 2017 issue of Consumer Reprots magazine.