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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Where Have the Lids Gone?

Why can’t we buy can­ning jar lids? That’s the question asked by home canners around the country in letters that are flooding government agencies and consumer groups these days.

G.A. Bell of Alexandria, Ky., writes to call “atten­tion to a situation which is putting an obstacle in the way of the home gardening program. This is that the sale of jar lids used when re-using glass canning jars is restricted to the point that they cannot be found or are occasionally available at highly inflated prices.”

R.G. GUSKE of Santa Rosa, Calif., says: “like many others, we are trying to grow some of our own food, but we cannot pre­serve most of it without canning. Grocery stores in our area have stacks of jars with lids for sale but no lids separately.

“We do not need jars; we need lids. I strongly suspect that we have another con­trived shortage to contend with: jars sell for about $3 per dozen and lids for 36 cents per dozen.”

Having experienced these “shortages” for almost two years, many consumers be­lieve they are being rail­roaded into buying the en­tire jar and lid unit at a price six times or more the separate lids they need.

Many of them suspect more ulterior designs to dis­courage the burgeoning home canning activity so that people will revert back to buying commercially canned products in the supermarkets.

The letters complain of being encouraged by Presi­dent Ford to conserve and plant gardens only to be cast by a do-nothing gov­ernment into the calculat­ing grasp of the canning jar manufacturers or to let their produce rot if they cannot eat the fruits and vegetables on the spot.

Predictably, the prices are spiraling upward. One Virginia housewife, with 30 years’ experience in home canning, reports a dozen quart jars priced at $7 when last year she purchased them at $2.25 per dozen.

LETTERS like these en­courage further inquiries. According to the Commerce Department, demand for home canning supplies was up 170 percent in 1974. The Agriculture Department says there was a total of 19 million home canners last year, each using an aver­age of 100 jars.

Since World War II, there have been two primary producers of jars and lids for home canning — the Ball Corp. in Muncie, Ind., and the Kerr Glass Mfg. Corp. in Los Angeles.

Virginia Knauer’s Office of Consumer Affairs esti­mates a surplus of about 100 million jar and lid units this year. If so, this surplus could be an incentive for the manufacturers not to market separate lids but to try and force-feed the sur­plus jar units onto consum­ers who cannot obtain lids.

One firm, the Bernardin Bottle Cap Co. of Evans­ville, Ind., sells 98 percent of its lids as replacement lids. It is increasing produc­tion by 200 percent this year, but, according to a company spokesman, the demand for replacement lids appears to be up by 1,000 percent.

“The market in jars is flooded,” he said. “I can see jars sitting all over the place. We don’t see that many lids.” He thinks sup­pliers like Kerr and Ball are making too many jars and should be marketing more separate lids.

NOW OBSERVE how complaint-handling works in your government.
People send their com­plaints about the no-lid problems to members of Congress and other agen­cies who forward them to Virginia Knauer’s office or sit on them.

Virginia Knauer analyzes the complaints and does two things: First, she contacts the
manufacturers, who assure her that supplies will be ample. She then announces publicly that supplies will be ample. Whereupon, companies like the Ball Corp. respond to their con­sumer complaints with form letters quoting Virginia Knauer about the ample supplies for this canning season.

Second, she quietly asks the two anti-monopoly en­forcement agencies, the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Depart­ment’s antitrust division, to look into possible violations by the home canning prod­ucts’ manufacturers.

So, this week we called the two agencies. Their spokesmen declined to even say whether they were or were not looking into the matter.

One of the surging occu­pational categories in Washington is “passing-the-­buckism.” Harry Truman once had a sign on his desk which read: “The buck stops here.”

GERALD FORD admires Harry Truman. So next time folks complain about this mysterious absence of separate lids, send the let­ters directly to Mr. Ford at the White House.

You might just interrupt one of his many huddles with big businessmen com­plaining about the consum­er movement.