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by Robyn O’Brien, founder, Allergy Kids Foundation.
The landscape of children’s health has changed. If you have any doubt whatsoever, ask your grandmother. Did she have friends juggling breast cancer and play dates? What about autism and allergies? ADHD and diabetes?
And while there were other things that they worried about, as parents today, we sit beside each other on the sidelines of soccer fields, in concert recitals or in the pews at church, and with few words spoken, we understand that things have changed.
Today, 46 kids are diagnosed with cancer every day. It is the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of fifteen. Diabetes, obesity, asthma and food allergies are a tsunami of conditions raining down on the health of our children. And autism now impacts 1 in 88 American children.
Our grandmothers weren’t navigating these statistics. We know that it hasn’t always been this way. And we see firsthand how hard it can be, as we share the heartache of a friend, witness the grief of a sister or help a neighbor struggling with the cost of care. We say our prayers at night, grateful for the blessings we have received and mindful of how quickly things can change.
Our children have earned the title of Generation Rx because of how pervasive these conditions have become. The number of US kids with autism is up 78% reports the CDC, impacting 1 in 54 little boys, while 1 in 3 is overweight or obese, triple the rate of 1963, reports the American Heart Association, and 46 kids are diagnosed with cancer and 1,500 Americans – moms, dad, sisters, brothers, children – die from cancer every single day.
It didn’t used to be this way. And as this landscape of health has changed so quickly in such a short time, it begs the question: Why? Why have our families become so allergic? Autistic? Diabetic? Cancer stricken?
Since when did the landscape of childhood feel like a landmine of disease?
A lot of theories are out there, enough to cause doubt and confusion, but mounting scientific evidence, from the President’s Cancer Panel to the American Academy of Pediatrics, urges us to protect the health of our children by reducing our exposure to environmental toxins, especially those now found in and on our food.
With the President’s Cancer Panel and Stanford University urging pregnant moms and those with children to reduce their exposure to artificial ingredients now found in our food supply (things like artificial growth hormones in dairy, weed and pest killers used so frequently on our fresh produce as well as other artificial ingredients), we find ourselves reading labels in grocery store aisles – no longer just for fat and sugar content, but also for the list of allergens, artificial colors or genetically modified ingredients or any indication of the manufactured chemicals that they may contain.
And while the task can be overwhelming, we do it anyway for the love of our families. We find the strength, tenacity and courage to continue to move forward, asking questions, researching and reading, trying to do everything we can to reverse this tidal wave of disease.
And we are not alone. Thankfully, more corporations in the traditional food sector and those in the organic industry are doing what they can to help us. Some have been doing it for a long time, others are just beginning to make change. But the important thing is this: we are all doing what we can, where we are, with what we have, recognizing that the health of our country depends on the health of our children. Because while our children may only represent 30% of the population, they are 100% of our future.
So we have a choice: to let their health conditions bring us to our knees or bring us to our feet.
And when we decide to stand, we do so out of love, knowing that we do not stand alone. Millions of citizens in countries around the world stood for their right to know what is in their food, and now, millions of Americans who share this deep concern are doing the same.
A corporation will always have the right to make a profit, but Americans should also have the right to know what we are eating, so that together, leveraging this collective information and insight, we can protect the health of our country.
Robyn O’Brien: Founder, Executive Director, Allergy Kids Foundation.
As a former food industry analyst, Fulbright grant recipient, author and mother of four, Robyn O’Brien brings compassion, insight and detailed analysis to her role as the founder of the organization and her research into the impact that the global food system is having on the health of children.
listen up: A new study implicates BPA as negatively affecting the health of not just those who ate BPA-laden food but also of four generations of their children.
By now, you’ve likely heard about the health effects ofBisphenol A (BPA), the plastic-hardening chemical used in canned food linings and in other consumer products too numerous to list. (It can have negative effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate glands and has been linked to increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.)
And maybe you stopped using plastic water bottles and eating canned food. But if you haven’t yet made a change, or your vigilance has lessened, listen up: A new study implicates BPA as negatively affecting the health of not just those who ate BPA-laden food but also of four generations of their children. Considering that BPA is found in 90 percent of Americans’ blood, that’s a lot of children who could potentially be impacted by an innocent-seeming can of spaghetti and meatballs.
The new study, published in the journal Endocrinology, examined the trans-generational effects of BPA on mice. The researchers fed BPA-laden food to one set of mouse mothers and regular food to another, then monitored the behavior of their pups and that of three subsequent generations. The scientists also submitted the animals to genetic testing.
The mice that were directly exposed to BPA in the womb were less social and more isolated than the other group. They spent less time exploring their cages and engaging with other mice. But by the third generation, the behavior had flipped. The BPA-exposed mice were more social and engaged than the other mice. While that may sound like a good thing, it isn’t. It simply means that the chemical continues to influence brain activity for generations, the authors wrote in their study.
In fact, some of the behavioral issues they saw in all generations of mice were similar to those seen in autistic children and children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. “Autism is characterized by a reduction in social interactions and we observed some declines in social interaction in the BPA-exposed mice,” says Emilie F. Rissman, the study’s lead investigator and a professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
As for genetics, the researchers found in all four generations of BPA-exposed mice that the chemical changed how estrogen receptors were switched off and on. They also saw changes in the way that two other hormones acted in the mice’s brains—oxytocin, the “love hormone,” and vasopressin, which influences hostile behaviors and reactions to stress.
What was interesting—and disturbing—about this study was that the researchers exposed the mice to levels of BPA that humans would normally be exposed to in their diets. “Mouse behavior and human behavior are miles apart,” says Rissman. But because mouse and human genetics are so similar, the animals are a good laboratory model for what could be happening in people, she adds.
Here are the best ways to keep BPA out of your body:
• Ditch canned food. Cans are lined with an epoxy resin that’s made with BPA, and that includes things like soup, canned beans, and soda. Look for aseptic cartons, glass jars, and frozen foods as alternatives.
• Swap to glass containers. Rather than store your leftovers in plastic tubs, use glass or ceramic containers and dishes. Stainless steel containers make great substitutes for plastic lunch bags and takeout clamshells.
• Don’t be duped by “BPA-free” plastics. A study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectivesfound that those seemingly better plastics can contain BPA alternatives that are even more harmful.
• Decline receipts. They’re coated with a BPA-based coating that rubs off onto your fingers and whatever else it comes in contact with.
• Be wary of dental sealants. BPA is the most commonly used dental sealant material, and it’s used in composite fillings used to treat dental cavities. A recent study linked BPA in dental treatments to social problems in children, as well, prompting pediatricians to call on dentists to find other materials. However, because BPA is the most durable protective alternative in many dentists’ toolboxes, they’re currently reluctant to use other materials (and considering that the other primary filling alternative is mercury, the alternatives can be just as bad). Preventing cavities and tooth decay is your best bet here: Brush regularly and visit your dentist for regular cleanings.
“More often than not, unless the research is tainted by industry ties, studies into the effects of genetically engineered foods demonstrate that it is anything but safe. This isn’t so surprising when you consider that simple logic will tell you it’s probably not wise to consume a plant designed to produce its own pesticide, for example.
So-called “Bt corn” is equipped with a gene from the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis(Bt), which produces Bt-toxin—a pesticide that breaks open the stomach of certain insects and kills them. This pesticide-producing corn entered the food supply in the late 1990′s, and over the past decade, the horror stories have started piling up. “
“Bt-toxin breaks open the stomach of insects. Could it similarly be damaging the integrity of your digestive tract? If Bt-toxins can damage the intestinal walls of newborns and young children, the passage of undigested foods and toxins into the blood from the digestive tract could be devastating to their future health. Scientists speculate that it may lead to autoimmune diseases and food allergies. Furthermore, since the blood-brain barrier is not developed in newborns, toxins may enter the brain causing serious cognitive problems. Some healthcare practitioners and scientists are convinced that this one mechanism for autism. “
Scientists in Norway have released results from experimental feeding studies carried out over a 10-year period, and the verdict is in: If you want to avoid obesity, then avoid eating genetically engineered (GE) corn, corn-based products, and animals that are fed a diet of GE grain.
As reported by Cornucopia.org, the project also looked at the effects on organ changes, and researchers found significant changes that affected weight gain, eating behaviors, and immune function.
How Genetically Engineered Corn and Soy Can Wreak Havoc on Your Health
According to the featured article:
“The results show a positive link between GE corn and obesity. Animals fed a GE corn diet got fatter quicker and retained the weight compared to animals fed a non-GE grain diet. The studies were performed on rats, mice, pigs and salmon, achieving the same results.
… Researchers found distinct changes to the intestines of animals fed GMOs compared to those fed non-GMOs. This confirms other studies done by US researchers. Significant changes occurred in the digestive systems of the test animals’ major organs including the liver, kidneys, pancreas, genitals and more.”
Their findings (which were published July 11, 2012 in Norway by Forskning.no, an online news source devoted to Norwegian and international research ) showed that animals fed genetically engineered Bt corn ate more, got fatter,
and were less able to digest proteins due to alterations in the micro-structure of their intestines.
They also suffered immune system alterations. The impaired ability to digest proteins may be of particular concern as this can have far-reaching implications for your health. If your body cannot digest proteins, your body will be less able to produce amino acids, which are necessary building blocks for proper cell growth and function.
As noted by Cornucopia.org:
“This not only may relate to a rise in obesity, but to increases in many modern diseases. These diseases include diabetes, digestive disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, autism spectrum disorders (ASD) (ADD), autoimmune diseases, sexual dysfunction, sterility, asthma, COPD and many more.
…[Lead author] Professor Krogdahl explains: “It has often been claimed that the new genes in genetically modified foods can’t do any damage because all genes are broken down beyond recognition in the gut. Our results show the contrary; that genes can be taken up across the intestinal wall, is transferred to the blood and is left in the blood, muscle and liver in large chunks so that they can be easily recognized… The biological impact of this gene transfer is unknown.”
Bt Toxin Found in Blood of Women and Fetuses
This is not the first time scientists have revealed significant biological impacts and related health problems as a result of eating a diet of genetically engineered foods. More often than not, unless the research is tainted by industry ties, studies into the effects of genetically engineered foods demonstrate that it is anything but safe. This isn’t so surprising when you consider that simple logic will tell you it’s probably not wise to consume a plant designed to produce its own pesticide, for example.
So-called “Bt corn” is equipped with a gene from the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis(Bt), which produces Bt-toxin—a pesticide that breaks open the stomach of certain insects and kills them. This pesticide-producing corn entered the food supply in the late 1990′s, and over the past decade, the horror stories have started piling up.
Monsanto and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) swore that the toxin would only affect insects munching on the crop. The Bt-toxin, they claimed, would be completely destroyed in the human digestive system and would not have any impact on animals and humans. The biotech companies have doggedly insisted that Bt-toxin doesn’t bind or interact with the intestinal walls of mammals, and therefore humans.
The featured research proves all such claims false.
Prior findings have already shown that Bt corn is anything but innocuous to the human system. Just last year, doctors at Sherbrooke University Hospital in Quebec found Bt-toxin in the blood of:
93 percent of pregnant women tested
80 percent of umbilical blood in their babies, and
67 percent of non-pregnant women
Bt-toxin breaks open the stomach of insects. Could it similarly be damaging the integrity of your digestive tract? If Bt-toxins can damage the intestinal walls of newborns and young children, the passage of undigested foods and toxins into the blood from the digestive tract could be devastating to their future health. Scientists speculate that it may lead to autoimmune diseases and food allergies. Furthermore, since the blood-brain barrier is not developed in newborns, toxins may enter the brain causing serious cognitive problems. Some healthcare practitioners and scientists are convinced that this one mechanism for autism.
If Bt genes are colonizing the bacteria living in the digestive tract of North Americans, we might expect to see an increase in gastrointestinal problems, autoimmune diseases, food allergies, and childhood learning disorders since the advent of Bt crops in 1996, and that’s exactly what’s being reported. For example, between 1997 and 2002 the number of hospitalizations related to allergic reactions to food increased by a whopping 265 percent. One out of 17 children now has some form of food allergy and allergy rates are rising.
Genetically Engineered Foods Trigger Adverse Immune System Responses
There’s plenty of evidence showing that the Bt-toxin produced in genetically modified Bt crops like corn and cotton plants is toxic to humans and mammals andtriggers immune system responses. For example, in government-sponsored research in Italy, mice fed Monsanto’s Bt corn showed a wide range of immune responses, such as:
Elevated IgE and IgG antibodies, which are typically associated with allergies and infections
An increase in cytokines, which are associated with allergic and inflammatory responses. The specific cytokines (interleukins) that were found to be elevated are also higher in humans who suffer from a wide range of disorders, from arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, to MS and cancer
Elevated T cells (gamma delta), which are increased in people with asthma, and in children with food allergies, juvenile arthritis, and connective tissue diseases.
Rats fed another of Monsanto’s Bt corn varieties called MON 863, also experienced an activation of their immune systems, showing higher numbers of basophils, lymphocytes, and white blood cells. These can indicate possible allergies, infections, toxins, and various disease states including cancer. There were also signs of liver and kidney toxicity.
USDA Clears Roundup Ready Sugar Beets
So-called “Roundup Ready” crops are another type of genetically engineered crops. While Bt crops contain a gene that produces a pesticide inside the plant itself, Roundup Ready crops are designed to withstand otherwise lethal topical doses of glyphosate—a broad spectrum herbicide, and the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup as well as hundreds of other products.
This way, the crop survives while all weeds are theoretically eliminated from the field. I say ‘theoretically’ because the overuse of the herbicide has led to the rapid development of glyphosate-resistant superweeds. It’s estimated that more than 130 types of weeds spanning 40 U.S. states are now herbicide-resistant, and the superweeds are showing no signs of stopping.
Roundup Ready crops have also been linked to serious health problems—particularly relating to fertility and birthdefects—as hasglyphosate itself, which is why the latest news regarding the deregulation of Roundup Ready sugar beets is all the more disappointing.
A number of organizations challenged the USDA approval of Roundup Ready (RR) sugar beets in 2008, arguing that the beets would contaminate related organic and non-GE crops such as table beets and chard. Further, they said that the pesticide-resistant beets would increase pesticide impacts on the environment and worsen the current epidemic of pesticide-resistant superweeds.
A lawsuit was filed against the USDA in 2009 for failure to complete an Environmental Impact Study. A federal judge agreed, temporarily suspending all planting of RR sugar beets. The suspension was later overridden by the USDA, ostensibly to prevent a sugar shortage. After a number of additional legal twists and turns, the USDA has now announced its decision to deregulate Monsanto’s Roundup Ready genetically modified sugar beets. According to a July 19 press release by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS):
After completing both a thorough environmental impact statement and plant pest risk assessment, holding three public meetings and considering and analyzing thousands of comments regarding its analyses, APHIS has determined that, from the standpoint of plant pest risk, Roundup Ready sugarbeets are as safe as traditionally bred sugarbeets.”
GM Companies Threaten Food Security and Sovereignty
A landmark speech delivered during the 2011 SEMEAR conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on how genetically modified (GM) seed companies threaten food security and food sovereignty has resulted in a call to action by an unlikely source who is a key player in the soy industry. Pierre Patriat, President of APROSMAT, the association of seed producers of Mato Grosso, Brazil, does not oppose genetically engineered (GE) crops, but he does recognize the unprecedented threat to food security that GM seeds pose.
Saying that the GM industry is rapidly taking away Brazilian farmers’ freedom of choice, he asked for “immediate mobilization and action on the part of concerned industry members, government, lawmakers, farmers, and civil society to avert the threat to food sovereignty posed by the GM industry’s control of markets through their patented seeds,” according to a recent report by GM Watch.
In his speech, which I recommend reading in its entirety to learn more, Patriat wisely says:
“… Today, people think everything can be resolved through the seed. If soybean rust occurs they say, “Just wait, this can be resolved with genetic engineering!” A problem with nematodes? – “We’ll change the seed directly!” They want to solve all problems that way… But as long as we have alternative solutions we don’t need genetic engineering to get rid of all problems.
Today we have a big problem with nematodes for a simple reason, not least because of the lack of a medium-term agricultural policy. There is a solution known to every agronomist: Crop rotation! That is how weeds and pests are weakened. It is so simple! Another way is soil management and measures to correct the soil – fundamental things nobody pays attention to anymore because everything has to be resolved through the seed.
No one does rotation any more – everyone does succession [planting same crop in succession]. These are problems that are not resolved by biotechnology. The man who is going to spend 150-200 Brazilian dollars per hectare would do much better to invest it in the [quality of the] land. The profitability in the medium term will be much better for sure. This does not mean that constant seed improvement will not bring solutions. But we ought to cooperate and define the base for new regulations, so that everyone may collaborate harmoniously without abusing their economic power.
Because today there are no brakes on the abuse of economic power over seed, and even worse, this affects the sovereignty of a country, because it is a matter of food security and food security is national security.”
The issue of food sovereignty is certainly not restricted to Brazil. It’s becoming a serious threat to every nation on this planet as genetically engineered crops spread. These seeds are owned by private companies, and it’s imperative to understand that once a country allows GE crops to monopolize their agricultural sector, it becomes completely beholden to and dependent upon a corporation for the ability to grow food and feed its citizens!
Support California’s Ballot Initiative to Label Genetically Engineered Foods!
In the video above, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont speaks about proposed amendments to the U.S. Senate Farm Bill and Nutrition Programs with regard to genetically engineered foods.
Unfortunately, due to lack of labeling, many Americans are still unfamiliar with what genetically engineered foods are. We now have a great opportunity to change that, and I urge you to participate and to continue supporting the California ballot initiative—which will require labeling of genetically engineered foods and food ingredients, and eliminate the routine industry practice of labeling and marketing such foods as “natural”—in any way you can. The voting takes place in November, so we still have a few more months to go, and we need “all hands on deck,” so to speak, until then.
Remember, since California is the 8th largest economy in the world, a win for the California Initiative would be a huge step forward, and would likely affect ingredients and labeling nation-wide, as large companies are not likely going to label their products as genetically engineered when sold in California, but not when sold in other states. Doing so would be a PR disaster.
But it’s an enormous ongoing battle, as the biotech industry will outspend us by 100 to 1, if not more, for their propaganda. Needless to say, the campaign needs funds, as there are no deep corporate pockets funding this citizen’s initiative. So, please, if you have the ability, I strongly encourage you to make a donation.
Some good news: the California “Yes on 37″ Right to Know campaign recently received the endorsement of the California Labor Federation and U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Mark Leno.
“Senator Boxer said… “California consumers have the right to know if their food has been genetically engineered. This basic information should be available for consumers on the label the way it is in nearly 50 other countries around the world.” The Digital Journal reported on July 27.
State Senator Mark Leno said, ”The people of California want to know what’s in their food. More than half the people in the world live in countries that already require labeling of genetically engineered foods. Californians deserve to have this information too.”
Steve Smith, Communications Director for the California Labor Federation, said, “Working people deserve the right to know what is in the food we are feeding our families. Prop 37 is a commonsense measure that ensures our families are able to make educated choices about the food we purchase. We’re proud to join with millions of Californians in supporting the right to know what’s in our food.”
I urge you to get involved and help in any way you can. Be assured that what happens in California will affect the remainder of the U.S. states, so please support this important state initiative, even if you do not live there!
If you live in California and want to get involved, please contact LabelGMOs.org. They will go through all volunteer requests to put you into a position that is suitable for you, based on your stated interests and location.
No matter where you live, please help spread the word in your personal networks, on Facebook, and Twitter. For help with the messaging, please see LabelGMOs.org’s “Spread the Word!” page.
Whether you live in California or not, please donate money to this historic effort, either through the Organic Consumers Fund.
Talk to organic producers and stores and ask them to actively support the California Ballot. It may be the only chance we have to label genetically engineered foods.