Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Elizabeth Street


What the Hell Is In My Kids' Food?

Oct 23, 2013

What the Hell Is In My Kids' Food?

I don’t know about you, but one of the last things I want is anyone telling me is what to eat. It’s such a loaded topic. But despite all the food focus (you know, trans fats, low-fat, gluten-free, etc.), there is something that most of us were never told. It has flown so under the radar that when I first learned about it, I thought, “Am I the only one who didn’t know I was eating these things?”

It turns out, I wasn’t. New proteins, some regulated as pesticides, have quietly found their way into the food we eat. Food may look the same, brought to us by the same companies, but a fundamental shift took place about fifteen years ago.

Maybe you already know this, but food is made up of proteins. A lot of them. And it’s proteins that wreak havoc on people with food allergies. Because a person with food allergies has an immune system that sees certain proteins as “foreign” and responds by launching an inflammatory attack to drive them out. That response can be watery eyes, a runny nose or a cough, or it can be a life-threatening response, such as anaphylactic shock, which causes a person to stop breathing.

But let’s not focus on that right now. Let’s get back to those new proteins that food processers started adding to food in the 1990s. Why?  Well, for one thing, they bulk up the chemical industry’s bottom line. Companies began using new technologies, including some sci-fi-sounding things like “gene guns” to blast new ingredients into the genetic material of the food supply so production would be more profitable. The sales of chemicals and patented foods climbed.

Agribusiness giants tinkered with food at the seed level. Corn got hit with a gene gun, received a new trait, was patented and in some cases is now regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a pesticide. Soybeans? Yep, they blasted those, too. And that corn and soy goes into our food, our processed foods and the livestock feed that is fed to our animals. And as if that wasn’t enough, on top of that, they started blasting the cows themselves. Well, they didn’t exactly blast the cows, but they started injecting them with new artificial hormones that helped the cows make more milk.

All sounds good, right? I mean, who wouldn’t want more food?

The problem is that when food producers started doing this just over 15 years ago, no one knew the long-term effects of zapping food with foreign proteins never before used in the human food supply. I mean, would our bodies recognize them?Or see them as foreign and launch inflammatory counter-attacks? The answer is this: We simply don’t know because no allergenicity tests had been developed to assess the impact of these novel proteins and allergens. In other words, we became the experiment. Ouch. 

And it’s for those reasons that most developed countries (France, Spain, Australia, Japan and every other competitor in the global marketplace) took a wait-and-see approach to observe the long-term effects of these new proteins and “genetic rubble.”

Beginning in 1994, these countries either refused to allow the new proteins into their food supply, because they hadn’t yet been proven safe, or they insisted on labeling them so that consumers could make informed choices. But not the U.S. At least, not yet. Here in the U.S., we took a different approach. We said, you know, this new technology is great for industrial agriculture and hasn’t yet (note: yet) been proved to cause harm, so let’s allow these proteins in the food supply.

In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report showing a 265 percent increase in the rates of hospitalizations related to food allergic reactions over the previous decade. Correlation is not causation.  Since these ingredients were not labeled, we will never know whether foreign proteins contributed to this spike in allergic reactions.  

But our kids don’t seem to be digesting these foreign proteins now found in our food all too well. The stunning increases in the number of kids with food allergies (not to mention the big kids raising them) since the 1994 introduction of foreign proteins into the food supply should put us on notice that maybe this new technology just might not be as safe as its advocates claim.  
Feeling a bit duped? Don’t worry. You’re not alone. Most of us had no idea that these foreign proteins started creeping into our food supply back in the 1990s. How could we? They were never labeled. But now that you’re up to speed, tell a friend, tell your mom, and let’s get down to the business of protecting our kids. Let’s get some labels on “genetic rubble” and “GMO”s while we still can.

Here are five reasons you should care about GMOs (genetically modified organisms):

•    Introduced in the 1990s, this new technology was developed to enhance profitability for the food industry.
The technology allows food scientists to inject chemicals and food proteins into the genetic material of our food.

•    Eaters in other countries were given a warning sign when these foods were introduced in 1994, and their food was labeled with warnings that essentially said: “Not yet proven safe.”

•    In the U.S., this new technology and the proteins it creates were introduced in 1994 without labels under the premise: “Not yet proven dangerous.”    

•    Unlabeled food proteins that contain chemicals and other foreign ingredients can trigger severe allergic reactions that include difficulty in breathing, asthma, eczema, inflammatory gut conditions and in some cases life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

Bottom line: Americans have the same right as people in other countries to know what’s going into their food.

Ready to do something about it? Learn more and taken action with the Just Label It, a campaign advocating for mandatory federal labeling of GMOs. Once you know better, you can do better.

Want more information? Watch Robyn's TedxTalk in the video above. 
By Robyn O'Brien

Robyn O’Brien authored The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It. A former food industry analyst and mother of four, Robyn brings insight, compassion and detailed analysis to her research into the impact that the global food system is having on the health of our children. She founded the Allergy Kids Foundation and was named by Forbes as one of “20 Inspiring Women to Follow on Twitter.” The New York Times has passionately described her as “Food’s Erin Brockovich” and her work has been critically-acclaimed by Dr. Oz, Dr. Bob Sears, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Erin Brockovich, Yoko Ono, and others.