Robyn O’Brien: Of 22 industrialized countries, we have the highest obesity statistics in the world and 41% of us are expected to get cancer in our lifetimes. The post I hesitated to share:
Inspired Bites with Robyn O’Brien
Food and Chemicals: Learn What You Can Do to Protect Yourself
I have hesitated to share this piece. Perhaps it is out of fear, perhaps out of heartache. But the fact of the matter is that a growing number of people that I love and care about are wrestling with cancer in their families.
So when a friend sent over this picture, who happens to be the 46 year-old sister of CNN’s Miles O’Brien, I thought; “What am I afraid of?” If cancer looks like this, how scary can the information be?
In 2010, a report for the President’s Cancer Panel said approximately 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime and about 21 percent will die from cancer.
Genetics don’t change this quickly, but the environment does. And obesity and being overweight are now considered a major risk for certain forms of cancer.
In part, these statistics are due to an increased diagnosis and longer lifespans, but the President’s Cancer Panel also states:
“Some chemicals indirectly increase cancer risk by contributing to immune and endocrine dysfunction that can influence the effect of carcinogens,” the report said.
“Children of all ages are considerably more vulnerable than adults to increased cancer risk and other adverse effects from virtually all harmful environmental exposures.”
So while obesity may be an obvious epidemic that’s getting a lot of attention in the press – the food industry even jumping on board to become part of the solution – it appears that cancer is increasingly a silent epidemic: the American Cancer Society reports that 1 out of 2 men and 1 in 3 women are expected to get cancer in their lifetimes.
Combine that concern with the fact that the USA:
- of 22 industrialized countries, the U.S. has the highest obesity statistics
- 2/3 of Americans over age 20 are overweight
- nearly 1/3 of Americans over age 20 are obese
And it’s obvious we’ve got a problem, not only a mounting health care crisis, but with 1 in 2 doctors experiencing burnout and stress due to the increasing burden its putting on our health care system, it could prove to be a health care tsunami.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Just because we have inherited a food system that has been built up over the last several decades, using cheap inputs that makes real food seem expensive and chemically intensive agriculture that routinely douses our food crops with toxins does not mean that we have to embrace this system going forward.
In our current system, our taxpayer resources go toward supporting the crops that are increasingly used by the processed food companies in the packaged and processed foods that are available 24/7 on shelves in gas stations, vending machines and elsewhere. The majority of these same crops have also been genetically engineered to withstand increasing doses of chemicals or to synthesize and create their own insecticidal toxins internally. That’s the food and agriculture system that our tax dollars support.
But do we want it that way? In light of the obesity rates and the Presidents Cancer Panel report, is this the food that we want to be cheap and available? Or would we rather have our taxpayer resources put towards fruits and vegetables, supporting farmers that are growing their crops without the use of a controversial technology that has either been banned or requires labeling in over 40 other countries around the world because no long term human health studies have been conducted to see what the impact of eating crops genetically engineered to make their own insecticide might be on a developing baby, pregnant mother or someone with cancer?
We have a right to know what we are eating, especially in light of the evidence showing the role diet plays in disease. It’s not a big ask. Consumers in other countries, from France to Australia, Japan, even China and Russia have been given that right to know if there food has been engineered with this new biotechnology. We are told the fat content, sugar content, protein content and allergen content of the ingredients that are in our foods. Yet we haven’t been told if the ingredients have been genetically engineered and hardwired to withstand increasing saturation of the chemical industry’s products.
In light of the fact that 41% of Americans are expected to get cancer in their lifetimes and 21% of us are expected to die from it, isn’t this a fundamental human right that should be afforded to all Americans until those human studies have been conducted?
The chemical industry says “no”. And without labels, they are able to claim that there is not a single documented case of any harm that has come.
And while correlation is not causation, without labels, how do we know if the escalating rates of pancreatic cancers, stomach cancers and pediatric cancers aren’t a direct result of eating foods hardwired for chemicals? Raised body mass index increases the risks of cancer of the breast, colon, prostate, endometrium, kidney and gallbladder, then just as sugars are labeled, shouldn’t ingredients hardwired for chemicals be labeled, too?
The claim, “no evidence of harm”, is not the same as evidence of no harm. And mounting scientific studies are highlighting the role that chemicals used on our food crops and the toxins in our environment are having on our health. And the toll isn’t only impacting the health of our loved ones, but health care data is also showing the toll that diseases are taking on the health of our economy.
Other countries have exercised precaution, labeling these ingredients so that consumers could make an informed choice and so that industry could be held accountable. Until those studies have been conducted to determine what the long-term impact might be of eating genetically engineered foods during a pregnancy or a battle with cancer, perhaps it is time that we label them here, too. Foods produced without these chemicals shouldn’t be labeled for only those that can afford to opt out. They should be labeled for all Americans.
And while the chemicals in foods aren’t the only concern, there are certainly others, with the jury still out and since the FDA does not require pre-market food safety testing of these ingredients, given the growing burden that cancer and obesity are placing on our country and our economy, the value of adding two words “genetically engineered” to an ingredient label could far exceed any costs that may be incurred.
To learn more about how to get involved and join the growing number of Americans who believe we have a right to know what we are eating, please visit Our RIght To Know and Just Label It. To learn more about efforts to beat cancer, please visit Less Cancer.