The Conversation We Need to Have {For the Sake of Our Children}

January 30, 2013 § 3 Comments

When I was growing up I didn’t know anyone with a food allergy.  There weren’t ‘nut-free’ schools, concerns over dairy or egg ingredients in birthday cakes,  and ‘gluten-free’ had not yet become  $4 billion industry.   As an adult, I started hearing different people mention that their kids were allergic to certain foods.  Friend’s talked about things they couldn’t include when packing lunches to send to school.  I wondered what had changed. Why were children now having reactions to the basic foods that had nourished humans for ages?  But the question was more of a passing curiosity than a pressing concern. 

I don’t remember when I first heard the term Genetically Modified Organism (GMO), but I can say that it wasn’t something that really concerned me.  Hadn’t humans been crossbreeding plants for centuries?  So this was a more targeted, scientific approach to that crossbreeding.  So what?  I thought the people getting their panties in a bunch over GMO’s were the type that never quite grew out of their teenage angst.  I thought they were the type who dislike something for the unfounded reason of it being “new-fangled”, the hippies on the fringe, the ones who were always looking for something to be upset about just because they couldn’t stand to not have drama in their life.  Besides, how many foods out there were GMO?  And doesn’t the FDA test our food supply anyway?  No, I didn’t have the time to concern myself with this type of thing. 

This past fall I started hearing about Prop 37, the ballot initiative in California that would require food companies to label products that contain GMO ingredients.   I found a link to the documentary Genetic Roulette.  Several non-GMO food companies had sponsored the film so it could be streamed for free on the web for a limited time period in an effort to get the word out about GM crops.  Since it was free, I decided to watch. 

I was shocked. 

Genetic Modification is not the benign crossbreeding I had assumed it to be.  And my question as to why children were becoming allergic to more and more foods suddenly seemed to have a plausible answer.  Genetic Modification had introduced previously unknown proteins into our food supply and our bodies did not know how to handle them.   Seeing the new proteins as invaders, our bodies were mounting attacks against these foreign substances, resulting in an immune system gone awry.

And what of my other questions: how much of our food supply is GM and doesn’t the FDA test this stuff anyway?  I soon learned that my confidence was misplaced. 

According to an article published in Forbes in November, 2012, ” 70% of items in American food stores contain genetically modified organisms”.   Apparently the issue is bigger than I thought.  The article also states that “the FDA has shied away from interfering with GM foods as much as possible, trusting food companies to watch out for public safety”.  Now, I have a degree in finance, I know that a company’s obligation is to increase shareholder value, not to watch out for public safety.  In this short TED talk, Robyn O’Brien {a former food industry analyst} explains why GMOs are such a good deal for business, but a bad deal for consumers. 

Another point the article makes but doesn’t expand upon is the pest-resistance factor of GMOs.  The article merely states “GM crops can be engineered to be naturally pest-resistant, undermining the need for pesticide chemicals”.  It doesn’t explain that this “natural” pest-resistance comes from inserting the pesticide into the plant DNA so that when insects eat the plant their stomachs explode.  This begs the question of a link between leaky-gut syndrome and GMOs.  The article also does not explain that some crops {called roundup ready crops} have been engineered to survive applications of the herbicide Roundup.  This means the need for chemicals is certainly not undermined.  Quite the contrary, roundup ready crops are marketed with the express intent of being able to withstand application of chemicals.  While the crops are not harmed, I wonder what harm is done to those who eat the roundup doused crops. 

The full Genetic Roulette documentary is again available to watch online today. 

I know you’re busy.  I know you have dinner to make, and traffic was a mess, and you’re late to sports practice.  I get it, I’m there too.  But later tonight, while you’re doing the dishes or folding the laundry, take advantage of the opportunity to watch Genetic Roulette for free.  For our children’s sake, this is the conversation we need to be having.  And it starts with parents like us educating ourselves.  This isn’t just for those on the fringes, because GMOs are not limited to the fringes of our food supply.  They are in almost every item on every grocery store shelf.  The food industry has done plenty of research to figure out how to get us to buy their products.   We owe it to our families to do our own research and find out exactly what it is they are selling.  We are the gatekeepers of what goes into our children’s bodies.  And we can demand better.

§ 3 Responses to The Conversation We Need to Have {For the Sake of Our Children}

  • briana says:

    You know I’m one who has her “panties all in a bunch” and have for a while on this topic, but am shy about being overly vocal about it because of the way it can make people feel overwhelmed and put down. It’s such a tight rope to walk conversationally and relationally. I do agree, however, that it’s something we can’t have our heads in the sand about, esp. if we have children and/or ongoing, chronic health problems.

    I do believe my family is enjoying better overall health from making changes in our eating habits even though I know there is still so much more I could and probably should do. One step at a time is how I’ve gotten to where we are in our eating habits and will get to where I want us to be eventually. I must say that it’s super helpful to have friends like you for support and recipe sharing/ideas on how to make this way of eating truly accessible and achievable with our demanding season of life.

    I don’t think I’ve watched the above mentioned docu. but have seen and read enough at this point. We abandoned GMO’s a long time ago and pray that we can continue to find viable sources for GMO-free foods. The fact that our govnt. doesn’t crack down and demand foods to be labeled reeks of corruption. As my hubby often says, “it’s a broken system” and it truly is. We have to put our “money where our mouth” is if we’re going to see change. MONEY talks in this country and around the world. It’s the sad truth.

    • mandie says:

      You’re right that it’s a fine line to walk. And it is hard information to hear because it makes you feel like everything you’ve done is wrong and you have to overhaul your whole life. Overwhelming is definately right, and scary too because it asks you to get out of your comfort zone. But maybe if we approach it more like a conversation and speak from where we’ve been rather than where we are now it can become an easier topic. I was the mom handing out Cheerios to my one-year-old because I thought they were a healthy snack. I was overwhelmed when I heard this. But maybe if it can be about small steps that slowly add up, and that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, it can be easier for people to hear. I don’t know, that’s my hope anyway.

      Money does talk. The problem is that the pricetag of food does not reflect its true economic cost. Cheap food can seem like a bargain, but what are the unreflected costs of pollution {from transportation in an ever-lengthening supply chain or from CAFO opperations}, increased need for health care spending, increased taxes due to government food subsidies, and other things? If items reflect their true economic costs then the power of money to speak is a very efficient tool to allocate resources in the most beneficial way. But when great care is taken to fool people about the true cost of an item, then you get a broken system.

  • Danielle says:

    Thanks for the links! I’ve not seen Genetic Roulette, but have seen the TED talk. And ditto Briana, although I can’t say we’ve abandoned GMO’s because no doubt they still lurk in food that I’m not aware of yet. But we’re making efforts by using a CSA for veggies, planting our own food, buying pastured poultry, etc. Small steps indeed. Thankfully, I was raised “eating off of the land” so it’s not that hard for me to think that way. I grew up eating veggies from the garden that would be frozen for winter and not a lot of processed foods. My mom was green before it was cool. 🙂

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