This morning I experienced something very rare.
I couldn’t figure out what to eat for breakfast.
The thing is, I eat basically the same thing every morning for breakfast.
And I had all the ingredients in the house.
So it was weird.
But this morning, I balked.
Here’s my typical breakfast:
- 1.5 ounces of Bob’s Red Mill Organic Scottish Oatmeal
- 1 ounce of Fearn Soya Granules
- 0.15 ounce salt
- 6 ounces of Wegmans Organic Unsweetened Soy Milk
- 4 ounces of filtered water…all cooked together into a porridge
Then topped with:
- .5 ounce of Arrowhead Mills Organic Golden Flax Seeds (ground)
- 1 ounce mixed nuts (cashews, pecans, Brazil nuts, and almonds)
- 6 ounces of organic fresh fruit (usually banana plus raspberries or blueberries)
- .35 ounce cinnamon sprinkled on top
I love my breakfast.
But this morning, instead of pouring oats into the bowl on autopilot, I put my handmade and beautifully glazed ceramic breakfast bowl onto the digital food scale and then stood in the kitchen and stared into the air.
I was trying to figure out how I could reconfigure my breakfast to eliminate the soya granules.
What would I add instead?
I kept standing there.
Finally, I picked up the canister.
I inspected it.
No “non-GMO” emblem.
No label that indicated it was organic.
I read all the fine print.
Every. Last. Word.
It didn’t say, “Made from genetically modified soybeans thoroughly soaked in Roundup pesticide. All proceeds benefit Monsanto.”
On the front it said, “LOW IN FAT; LOW IN SODIUM,” and “May reduce the risk of heart disease.”
On the back it had recipes for high-protein pancakes and vegan meatloaf.
I was wary.
And vaguely nauseous.
I remember this feeling.
I experienced this exact same thing over three years ago when I read The China Study.
I blogged about that mental shake-up a couple weeks ago in Plant-Based Praise.
Three years ago I did spring cleaning on my diet and carried meat and dairy out to the curb.
It’s happening again.
I can’t eat genetically modified foods anymore.
Not after what I learned this week.
Believe it or not, prior to this week, I knew practically nothing about genetically modified foods.
It’s one controversy I simply hadn’t investigated deeply.
Not out of lack of interest, or because I thought it wasn’t important, but because I just….hadn’t.
The funny thing is, I didn’t even know that I didn’t know anything about it.
You see, I had an opinion.
My belief was that the scientific community was in agreement that genetically modified foods are producing no known harmful effects and that there are plenty of significantly-more-dire issues regarding our food supply that we should be rallying to address.
I was blind to the reality that my GMO schema had been formed from nearly nothing.
A few snippets in the media.
A conversation or two with a person whom I consider to be well-informed.
My opinion that GMOs are not an issue was comforting to me, since I already have plenty to be avoiding in my diet.
It was also in line with my generally optimistic and non-Chicken-Little view of life.
The sky is rarely falling.
So I never looked closely.
Until this week.
This week, John and Ocean Robbins are putting on the Food Revolution Summit.
Every year they do it.
And every year it’s amazing.
A few days ago I listened as John Robbins interviewed Jeffrey Smith, author of the bestselling book Seeds of Deception.
There’s one thing I’ve gotten from my education, and that’s an attunement to the nuances of good science.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not razor sharp about every issue every time, not by a far cry, but eleven years of higher education culminating in a Ph.D. in Brain and Cognitive Sciences and a Post-Doc in Psychology followed by ten years as a college professor have given me an eye and an ear for research that is important, well-executed, and actionable.
And the research that Jeffrey Smith presented was all that and a bag of chips.
(Sorry for the bad pun 😉
In the subsequent days, I’ve been finding that a few things have been getting clearer.
A vague foreboding that I’ve felt for a long time now is coming out of the shadows and showing its true colors.
Maybe you’ve felt it, too.
If you’re young, you may not know what I’m talking about, but if you’re middle-aged or older, and you live in the United States, you’ve probably experienced this uneasy accumulation of associations.
Suddenly everyone is talking about how they’re gluten intolerant.
People are getting fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue left and right.
Crohn’s, lupus, MS.
And all these kids suddenly have peanut allergies.
My daughter Alexis included.
When I was a kid, hardly anyone had a peanut allergy.
Not one single kid in my class.
Not one single kid at summer camp.
In fact, at the summer camp I went to (the amazing and fantabulous Camp Tawonga, just outside of Yosemite National Park), the always-available alternate meal, for every lunch and every dinner, was a make-it-yourself peanut butter and jelly sandwich station.
It was available, out in the open, with no signs, warnings, or disclaimers, to a dining hall of literally hundreds of kids.
I bet they don’t have that anymore.
Now, I know I’m not talking about hard data.
I don’t have a graph to show you.
(Though if I did, it would show rises in these conditions increasing lock-step with the rise in genetically modified foods since the 1990s. Which is proof of nothing, because correlation doesn’t prove causation. Still though, it’s an association.)
No, I’m not talking about data.
I’m talking about a growing awareness of a systemic and hard-to-pin-down infiltration.
These issues, generally speaking, were rare, and now, generally speaking, they’re all over the place.
One might argue that we’re just getting better at diagnosing conditions.
Okay, for ADHD and autism that could be part of the picture.
But peanut allergies?
When a kid goes into anaphylactic shock from eating a peanut, that’s hard to miss.
So what might make an educated scientist suspect more than a coincidental link between the rise in genetically modified foods and the rise in all these conditions?
Well, I’m still no expert on this, truly I’m not, but I’m happy to share a couple of snippets from the interview that made me sit up and take notice.
Two things stood out to me.
The intended consequences of genetically modified foods.
And the unintended consequences.
Let’s start with the intended consequences.
Genetically modified corn, for example.
One of the ways corn has been genetically engineered is to make it resistant to insects.
How did they accomplish this?
By creating corn that contains a protein that’s so toxic, it kills off the insects.
How could corn possibly kill insects?
Well, insects land on the corn and eat it, right?
This new, genetically modified corn, “Bt corn,” contains a toxic protein that enters the cells of the insect’s stomach and breaks them open.
The insect’s stomach lining disintegrates and all the undigested mess floods into the blood stream.
The insect dies.
The corn lives on.
And we’re not talking about a little bit of corn.
These days, most of the corn in the United States, WAY, WAY MOST, is genetically modified Bt corn.
(I do have graphs for you after all.)
And were’re not talking about creamed corn and corn on the cob, either.
No, Bt corn isn’t even edible, at least not until it’s processed and refined.
It’s in aspirin and jello and batteries and diapers and charcoal, in cookies and crackers and most of the products in the grocery store.
It’s in all our factory-farmed meat and dairy, because it’s a key component of the feed that fattens up the livestock in huge feed lots in our fair land.
And, of course, it’s the basis for high fructose corn syrup, the main added sweetener that’s used these days. And we’ve all heard by now that 80% of products in the grocery store have added sweeteners in them.
In fact, corn comprises about 28% of the calories in the standard American diet, or roughly 554 calories per person, per day.
So we’re all being exposed to genetically modified Bt corn, and plenty of it.
Now they claim that this genetically modified corn is only toxic to the intestinal walls of insects, not humans.
But a recent study showed that the genetically modified protein does the same thing to human cells as it does to insect cells.
No wonder so many people have leaky gut.
The toxin in the GMO corn was DESIGNED to split holes in intestinal cells.
That’s what it does.
But there’s more.
When the structural integrity of the intestinal wall is compromised, a whole cascade of other problems emerges.
Undigested food proteins leak out into the blood stream, and that causes a whole host of other issues.
Undigested food proteins were never intended to mingle directly with the blood stream.
The digestive system is separate from the circulatory system for a reason.
When the two mix, the immune system gets fired up, because suddenly there are all kinds of new “foreign invaders” in the blood that they’ve never seen before.
They rally a defense, and attack back.
That’s the job of the immune system, after all.
But unfortunately, the way the immune system works is that it attacks proteins that are EXACTLY LIKE the scary foreigners, and also proteins that are QUITE SIMILAR.
Many of those similar proteins are found naturally within the body.
Hence, the rise of autoimmune diseases.
Our immune system, fighting our own bodies.
Which diseases, exactly, are autoimmune diseases?
I was wondering myself. So I looked it up.
Autoimmune diseases include Celiac disease, Crohn’s Disease, Graves’ Disease, Gullain-Barre syndrome, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Inflammatory bowel disease, Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, Lupus, Meniere’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Psoriasis, Raynaud’s, Reactive arthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Thyroiditis including both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, and at least 78 others.
And those are the INTENDED consequences of genetically modified foods.
They designed the corn to do that.
At least to insects.
What about the UNINTENDED consequences?
Well, I think I used to misunderstand how GMO foods were made, so I didn’t fully appreciate the scope and range of the possible unintended consequences of genetically modifying our crops.
I thought they carefully sliced out a known gene, and carefully replaced it with a different, replacement gene, which they had thoroughly tested for safety and impact.
That’s not how it works.
They take millions of cells, and shotgun-shoot millions of genes into them, and hope some of them stick.
And some of them do.
But the process creates a whole lot of mutations, too.
Mutations are spontaneous changes in the genome.
You know, like the ones that cause cancer.
Let’s go back to good old Bt corn for an example. We already talked about the effect of the gene that they INTENDED to put in there.
It creates holes in the walls of intestinal cells.
But what we haven’t mentioned so far is that the genetically modified Bt corn isn’t different by just that one gene.
In fact, there are 42 other genes that are now different in Bt corn, besides that one.
What do those 42 other genes do? What proteins do they code for? Have they been proven safe?
The FDA doesn’t require testing or exploration of those other gene modifications.
Could there be known allergens in there?
Are there likely to be?
Who’s to say?
Unfortunately, our regulatory system is populated by people who serve the interests of the big corporations who are producing all of these genetically modified crops.
So the FDA isn’t likely to be investigating this anytime soon.
But the World Health Organization (WHO) is actually thinking about….world health.
They issued a recommendation that all altered proteins be compared to a database of known allergenic proteins.
Seems reasonable enough, right?
Well, genetically modified corn and soy both fail the WHO’s standard. They contain genetically modified amino acid sequences that line up with known allergens.
In fact, the known allergen in genetically modified soy is strangely reminiscent of the protein that causes….
And check this out.
The first genetically modified soybeans were produced in the United States in 1996.
And between 1997 and 2008, the number of children in the U.S. with peanut allergies has more than tripled.
This isn’t proof of anything.
Proof is going to be very hard to get, because science requires funding, and in our country, research is mostly funded by the government. The same government who has given the USDA the task of BOTH dictating our nutritional policies AND protecting the interests of factory farms.
So far, genetically modified crops are partially or totally banned in 26 countries, including Switzerland, Australia, Austria, China, India, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy, Mexico and Russia. Significant restrictions on GMOs exist in about sixty other countries.
So what’s up with our country?
Well, what’s up with it is that change isn’t likely to happen that way.
Our government isn’t likely to stand up to protect our interests, because that’s not the way the money flows.
The money flows from the corporations to the government.
And that’s scary.
But you know what’s heartening?
Trace the money back a little further.
Where does it flow before that?
It flows from us.
From us, into the coffers of the companies.
Yup, the power lies with us.
And because we have the power, I predict that within five years genetically modified crops will no longer be grown in the United States.
That’s a powerful statement.
But I believe we’re at a tipping point.
Public opinion has shifted.
In 2007, only 15% of Americans said they were trying to avoid buying GMOs.
Today, 52% of Americans say that they believe GMOs are unsafe.
The Cheerios box now proudly displays a “Non-GMO” label.
The tide has turned.
Companies can’t afford to give up market share.
What we buy matters.
So tonight I threw out the Fearn Soya Granules.
And the amazing whole wheat bread (for my kids) that I carefully selected for its high fiber content and minimal processing….but I just looked carefully and I don’t see a Non-GMO label anywhere.
So it’s now in the dumpster.
I’ve been buying organic foods now for quite a while.
And organic always means non-GMO.
But now I’m going to be even more careful.
Alexis will still be allergic to peanuts.
There’s nothing I can do about that.
But, one change at a time, we can steer this big stubborn barge in a new direction.
P.S. – Last week in my blog March for Babies I wrote about my twin daughters’ extreme prematurity. I just want to thank you for all the love you sent in, by email and in the comments…and I also want to thank you for donating to Team Thompson Twins for the upcoming March for Babies. Alexis and Zoe are super excited for their birthday party on Saturday. You’re still invited. Seriously. Genesee Valley Park in Rochester, New York. Saturday, May 2nd, 2015. Gather at 9 am, walk at 10 am. We’ve already exceeded the $2,000 goal, which makes me super happy. I’m very grateful for your tenderness and generosity. THANK YOU!!!
P.P.S. – Just about all of the science in this blog on GMOs comes from the Food Revolution Summit interview I referenced above. If you’re not tuning in to the Food Revolution Summit, there’s still time to register. It’s totally awesome. And, as of this writing, the daily broadcasts are still free. Check it out.
P.P.P.S – You’ll read in the comments down below that the FAQs section of the Fearn Soya Granules website says that they are actually non-GMO. Why they wouldn’t put this on their label is beyond me. Especially since the type of people who are likely to buy “soya granules” are pretty likely to be interested in that information! Anyway, I’m SO FRIGGIN’ HAPPY to get to KEEP my Fearn Soya Granules in my breakfast, in my cupboard, and on the “favorites” page of my website…and even more convinced that we need a law passed to require labeling of GMO foods, just so we all know what’s what.