The Watchdog: JFK launched the U.S. consumer-rights movement

In the billion words written about President John F. Kennedy in these last days, almost everyone has missed one of the most important contributions of his presidency.

JFK is the founder of the American consumer rights movement.

I bet you didn’t know that. Here’s how it happened.

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The year before he died, Kennedy stood before cameras in the Roosevelt Room in the White House and announced his support for changes in law that we take for granted today: truth in lending, pesticide regulations, meat inspections, government approval of pharmaceuticals, product safety and, my favorite, more TV channels.

Kennedy said, “Consumers, by definition, include us all. If consumers are offered inferior products, if prices are exorbitant, if drugs are unsafe or worthless, if the consumer is unable to choose on an informed basis, then his dollar is wasted, his health and safety may be threatened, and the national interest suffers.”

No president had ever talked like that.

Kennedy went further, announcing his consumer bill of rights:

The right to safety. Products should not be hazardous to health or life.

The right to be informed. Consumers should be protected from fraudulent, deceitful or grossly misleading information in advertising and on labels.

The right to choose. Give people a variety of products at competitive prices.

The right to be heard. Consumer interests should be heeded by legislators and policymakers.

Kennedy’s wishes are now enshrined in law.

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