Friday, March 1, 2013

Kitty litter in cigarettes, horsemeat in burritos

As Congress  flushes the U.S. economy into into the toilet allows across-the-board government spending cuts, Gawker brings us two gems that show why consumers need more (not less) government protection from powerful corporations.

First we learn the spreading horse meat scandal now hits Taco Bell:
The latest round of tests conducted by Britain's Food Standards Agency found that ground beef used at all local Taco Bell locations contained trace amounts of horse DNA...
Ikea had to stop selling Swedish meatballs after horse meat was found in them. Burger King also acknowledged that some of its burgers had horse meat in them.

Taco Bell released a statement in the U.S., saying:
Our domestic restaurants have not been, and will not be, impacted because we do not use any meat from Europe. We stand for quality and we use 100% premium beef. Like all beef in the United States, ours is USDA inspected and then passes our own 20 quality checkpoints.
Well, maybe not for long, according to Food Safety News:
...the nearly 9 percent across-the-board budget cut could mean that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which oversees 80 percent of the food supply, could cut 2,100 food facility inspections and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, in charge of meat and poultry safety, could be forced to furlough all its employees for a total of 15 days to meet the reductions.
Then there's this charming item about tobacco companies putting kitty litter in cigarettes to avoid a federal excise tax. Gawker tells us:
Apparently there is cat litter in cigarettes—or rather the clay found in cat litter is used in cigarettes as filler. This allows tobacco companies to "weigh down" their cigarettes so that they will fall into the "large cigar" category-helping the companies avoid a federal excise tax increase of 2,653%. The rule goes as follows:
It requires "a rolled tobacco product to weigh at least 3 pounds per 1,000 to be labeled as a 'large' or 'premium' cigar where taxes increased just 155 percent."
This filler is legal; though the rule states that weight must be achieved to qualify as a large cigar, there is no stipulation about how this weight is achieved.
Corporate tax avoidance is a big reason the U.S. government doesn't have enough revenue to meet its obligations. Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa commented on that today:
We cannot allow working people to again be victimized by the Republican Party’s ongoing battle to protect billionaires and multinational corporations from their responsibility to pay their fair share of taxes. 
By not acting to end the sequester, Republicans are telling us that that these tax loopholes and their billionaire benefactors are more important than creating jobs and stimulating commercial activity in their own country. They prefer to defend an unfair tax code while attacking retirement and health benefits that Americans work all their lives to earn.
Read the whole thing here.