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Inquirer Daily News

Archive: September, 2010

POSTED: Monday, September 20, 2010, 11:05 AM

The FDA is holding a hearing tomorrow on AquAdvantage Salmon, a genetically engineered fish produced by AquaBounty Technologies Inc., and the agency's public statements suggest that if it's approved for sale, the altered salmon may have to be labeled in a way that distinguishes it from its non-genetically engineered counterparts. The prehearing document says: "If it is approved, food made from AquAdvantage Salmon must, like all foods, bear an appropriate name and a label that is truthful and not misleading. This public hearing will assist FDA in the application of its relevant food labeling legal principles as they relate to AquAdvantage Salmon."

But a Washington Post report this weekend said that AquaAdvantage's approval would make that question largely moot. If the FDA says it's good enough to eat, in essence, that would mean no clear labeling would be necessary:

As the Food and Drug Administration considers whether to approve genetically modified salmon, one thing seems certain: Shoppers staring at fillets in the seafood department will find it tough to pick out the conventional fish from the one created with genes from another species.

POSTED: Thursday, September 16, 2010, 12:46 PM

Perhaps no one in America has thought longer or harder about the impact of easy credit and “financial innovation” on ordinary families than Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard professor tapped yesterday by President Obama to oversee the launch of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

You’ve probably read here and elsewhere about Warren – about how the new consumer agency was her brainchild, about fears that she couldn’t win Senate confirmation, about her research on consumer bankruptcy and her role as chair of the congressional panel overseeing the TARP bank-bailout program.

As a reporter and columnist covering consumer issues, I’ve known Warren for a decade, and have enormous respect for her intellect and her compassion for ordinary Americans who struggle to keep up or who fall on hard times. Better than anyone I’ve encountered, she understands how changes in the financial system have put consumers at risk. Even genuine innovations, such as the computerized credit-scoring systems that have made credit decisions fairer, have contributed to the problem.

POSTED: Wednesday, September 15, 2010, 2:07 PM

The housing bubble, financial crisis, and deep recession have left the nation with a seemingly intractable problem: millions of homeowners who are "under water" on their mortgages.  Because they owe more than their properties are worth, they're unable to sell the homes and recover equity - a path ordinarily open to people who lose jobs during a recession.  And because of lax underwriting standards and dubious financial innovations such as "exploding ARMs,"  even some who are gainfully employed find themselves in a financial box: They can't really afford continued payments, but they also lack the escape valve that a quick sale would ordinarily offer.

One answer is a mortgage modification of the kind shepherded by the Obama administration's Home Affordable Modification Program, whose goal is to help three to four million homeowners by 2012.  But HAMP, a largely voluntary program that relies heavily on lenders' cooperation (and competence), has been hampered by administrative problems since it got underway in April 2009.

ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization that has reported extensively on the home-loan crisis, recently surveyed more than 700 homeowners who have sought loan modifications, and culled their responses for kernels of advice. Some of it is metaphysical - one Florida homeowner's advice was "Pray" - but other tips tend toward the more practical (and angry) end of the spectrum: "Sell your furniture, car, dog and your soul to the devil to get your mortgage payment. The banks are liars, incompetent and not trustworthy."

POSTED: Tuesday, September 14, 2010, 2:02 PM

Sugar is sugar is sugar, right? That's pretty much true - but you might not know it from reading many product labels, or from following the confusing debate over the weirdly named product known as "high-fructose corn syrup."

Today, the Corn Refiners Association petitioned the Food and Drug Administration for permission to relabel "high-fructose corn syrup" as "corn sugar" on ingredient labels.  And it finds itself on almost the same page as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, hardly a natural ally.

For years, nutrition advocates have tussled with the corn industry over high-fructose corn syrup's place in the American diet.   Some have argued that HFCS, whose name suggests that it may have some of the nutritive value of fruit, is especially to blame for the nation's growing obesity rates. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has described that as an urban myth, though it hardly exonerates HFCS. It says the product, widely used in soft drinks and other empty-calorie products, is equally to blame along with other added sugars.

POSTED: Monday, September 13, 2010, 1:14 PM

The Internet lately seems awash with lists, so I hesitate to share another.  But this one from Linda Criddle, president of the Safe Internet Alliance, struck me as especially useful - perhaps because I recently returned from several weeks of vacation and travel, and felt some regret that I didn't leave a "gone fishin'" message on my blog.

Criddle would probably tell me that I did the right thing.  As she points out in this list, which her organization recirculated after a PC World report that a gang in Nashua, N.H., used Facebook information to plan a series of burglaries, people innocently post all sorts of information - words and pictures - that can be a tool for criminals, online and offline.

It's sad to say, but even sharing vacation photos from the road can be risky if you don't pay adequate protection to Internet privacy and security. Nothing says "I'm not home" quite so explicitly as "Here are today's fantastic photos of Terri at the Taj Mahal."

About this blog

Jeff Gelles, who writes the Inquirer's weekly Consumer 14.0 and Tech Life columns, takes a broad look at the marketplace of goods, services, and ideas.

Reach Jeff at jgelles@phillynews.com.

Jeff Gelles Inquirer Business Columnist
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