Seven years ago, AllergyKids launched. It was Mother’s Day.
Our lives had changed forever over a plate of scrambled eggs just a few months before.
As my daughter’s face swelled shut, I didn’t want to witness what I saw that morning, to do the work that had to be done, to find the courage that would be needed.
In all candor, seven years ago, as all of this was hitting, there was a deep yearning to somehow go back to the simplicity that we had known before that breakfast.
But that would never happen.
I couldn’t unlearn what I went on to learn or forget what I had seen.
And as I watched her struggle to breathe that morning, my life forever changed.
What I unearthed that day – that the number of children with the peanut allergy had doubled from 1997-2002, that food allergies had become so pervasive in preschool children – was the beginning of a much greater story.
As I learned about food allergies, I learned more than I could have imagined.
In those early days, in a scramble to get information about this life-threatening condition, parents had to pay for access to learn about it. I struggled with that, as I knew other parents might not be in a position to do the same, so I started AllergyKids, a website for parents and caregivers that provided free information and community support to those dealing with this condition.
Our mission grew to include the 1 in 3 American children that now has allergies, asthma, ADHD or autism, as I quickly learned of the 400% increase in the rates of food allergies, the 300% increase in the rate of asthma, a 400% increase in the rate of ADHD and a 1,500% increase in the rate of autism in a twenty year period.
Today, seven years later, too many Americans have these conditions, now known as “the 4As”. The rates of allergic conditions ni the US are far higher than in other countries, and your likelihood of developing them increases if you move here. Autism now affects 1 in 54 boys in our country, while in other countries, its lack of prevalence means that the numbers aren’t even tabulated. Asthma deaths have increased 56% in a 20 year period. And while the United States only represents 5% of the world’s population, 90% of the world’s ADHD prescriptions are written for our children. But it’s not just the children who are struggling under these conditions, 41% of us are expected to get cancer in our lifetimes, while 1 in 2 minority children are expected to be insulin dependent by the time they reach adulthood. The Centers for Disease Control now reports that cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15.
Our children have earned the title “Generation Rx” and “Generation XL” due to their escalating rates of obesity and these other conditions. This is so hard to hear. But we have to listen.
According to the CIA, which ranks life expectancy at birth for children born in countries around the world, the United States is nowhere near the top of that list. As a matter of fact, for children born in the United States, life expectancy at birth places us at 50 on that list, with countries like Bosnia, South Korea, Puerto Rico and others ahead of us. Why does this matter? According to the CIA, “Life expectancy at birth is also a measure of overall quality of life in a country.”
No one wants it this way.
Seven years into this work, I want to say I’ve had enough or write funny jokes about a “Seven Year Itch”, but I can’t. The severity of the issue is too great. I have met parents who have lost children to allergic reactions, farmers who have lost wives to cancer and mothers who have lost toddlers to leukemia. But I have also met others whose creative intellect, profound commitment and relentless scientific inquiry prove that together, we can create change this.
We need all-hands-on-deck.
Mounting scientific evidence continues to point to the role that our increasingly contaminated food supply plays in the health of our children – from the pesticides being poured onto our food crops in the field, to the synthetic chemicals being added to our processed foods in production. Independent science, along with the President’s Cancer Panel and the American Academy of Pediatrics, highlight the role that these non-food ingredients now going into our food supply are having on the health of our loved ones.
So while our food looks the same, a growing body of scientific research is telling us that it is not. It is painfully revealing to us that it is loaded with additives and all kinds of chemicals. And we don’t know what the combination of these chemicals will do to a little boy with asthma or to a mother who is pregnant with her first child. Nor do we know what the long-term impact of these added ingredients might be to the health of a child with autism.
In light of the growing number of children who now have asthma, diabetes, ADHD, autism or allergies, can we afford to continue to take this risk, while other countries around the world exercise precaution?
Mounting scientific evidence on these new ingredients is what is prompting other countries to take action and remove these ingredients from their food supplies, especially from the food fed to children. In other words, in other developed countries, precaution is exercised as people take priority over profits.
But not here.
At least, not yet.
Because while we can’t change the beginning of our stories, we can change the end. Each and every single one of us has the ability to affect remarkable change. For some, it might be simply changing a few items in their grocery cart, for others, it might be reaching out to a child’s school and for another, it might be reaching out to a member of Congress or the FDA or sending a letter to the CEO of a food company.
No matter what we choose to do, it is in doing something, together, leveraging our collective talents, that we will create change.
The future of our country is dependent on the health of our children. They are “adults in waiting,” and while they are only 30% of our population, they are 100% of our future.
The economic prosperity, national security and future innovation and productivity of our country are 100% contingent on their health. Let’s value it accordingly.
According to Reuters News, a report released out of MIT suggests that heavy use of the world’s most popular herbicide, Roundup, could be linked to a range of health problems and diseases, including Parkinson’s, infertility and cancers.
The peer-reviewed report, published last week, said evidence indicates that residues of “glyphosate,” the chief ingredient in Roundup weed killer, which is sprayed over millions of acres of crops, has been found in food.
Many Americans are more familiar with RoundUp than we realize. It is a weed killer, used on lawns and gardens, with precautionary measures taken by parents to keep it locked in cabinets and out of the reach of children. What most Americans don’t realize is that this chemical is routinely used on the foods we eat, most notably corn and soy.
It is now so widely used in modern agriculture that a recent article about glyphosate, the chief ingredient found in RoundUp, from the global news organization, Reuters, highlighted that these chemicals are part of an enormous market, with world annual sales totaling $14 billion, with more than $5 billion of that spent in the US alone.
But what are they doing to us? Especially given their pervasive use on the foods we eat?
Well, MIT aimed to find out.
According to the report, authored by Stephanie Seneff, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the research suggests that the RoundUp residue now found on our food enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease,
Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body,” the study says.
We “have hit upon something very important that needs to be taken seriously and further investigated,” Seneff said.
MIT is not alone in their concern.
In the mid 1990s, using a new technology, our soy was genetically engineered with new organisms to make it able to withstand increasing doses of weed killer, chemicals and glyphosate. The business model makes perfect sense. It enhances profitability of the chemical companies by enabling the increased sale of their chemical treatments and weed killers.
But according to the work of Professor Miguel A. Altieri of the University of California, Berkeley who had looked into unforeseen risks that might be associated with genetically engineered crops and these chemicals being sprayed on them:
“Exactly how much glyphosate is present in the seeds of corn or soybeans (genetically engineered to withstand this chemical) is not known, as grain products are not included in conventional market surveys for pesticide residues. The fact that this and other herbicides are known to accumulate in fruits…raises questions about food safety, especially now that million pounds of this herbicide, ($5 billion worth) are used annually in the United States alone. Even in the absence of immediate (acute) effects, it might take 40 years for a potential carcinogen to act in enough people for it to be detected as a cause. Moreover, research has shown that glyphosate seems to act in a similar fashion to antibiotics by altering soil biology rendering bean plants more vulnerable to disease”.
In other words, it might take a generation for these effects to show up. In light of the escalating rates of infertility, pediatric cancer and inflammatory bowel diseases, it begs the question: since the introduction of this new technology in the 1990s, is that happening now?
So why are we using a chemical that is too dangerous to store under our kitchen sinks in the reach of children on the foods we feed our families?
Monsanto is the developer of both Roundup weed killer (an “herbicide”) and a suite of crops that are genetically altered to withstand being sprayed with it. These genetically engineered crops, introduced into our food in the 1990s and 2000s, have the unique ability to withstand increasing doses of the weed killer and are known as “RoundUp Ready”. In other words, it helps them sell more chemicals.
Since the introduction of these genetically engineered crops, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data reveals that between 2001- and 2007, as much as 185 million pounds of glyphosate was used by U.S. farmers, double the amount used six years ago.
So in the past, where we may have been getting a sprinkling of this chemical on our food crops prior to the introduction of RoundUp Ready crops, with the recent introduction of genetically engineered foods, designed to withstand this signature product, the doses are at unprecedented levels.
So what is this product doing to us?
Glyphosate, found in RoundUp, is the world’s most popular herbicide and is designed to kill pests and insects, anything but the genetically engineered “Roundup Ready” plants, such as genetically engineered corn, soy, beet, cottonseed and canola.
These genetically engineered crops , including genetically engineered corn, genetically engineered soybeans, genetically engineered canola and genetically engineered sugarbeets, are planted on millions of acres in the United States annually and widely and generously in the US food supply, particularly processed foods, without labels.
When these crops were first introduced in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was conjectured that farmers would like them because they could spray Roundup weed killer directly on the crops to kill weeds in the fields without harming the crops. And they did. But about three planting cycles in, it appears that Mother Nature has Monsanto figured out and it is now reported that over half of the farmers using these products are experiencing a resistance to the chemical company’s signature product and suffering from what are known as “superweeds” in their fields.
It was not only the unknown impact of environmental and crop disruption that caused countries around the world to exercise precaution around the use of these chemicals, it was also the uncertainty of the long-term impact that these crops and the chemical products applied to them would have on both the environment, soil, a developing fetus or human health that resulted in their use being banned in 27 countries around the world and labeled in 64 more.
In light of the study out of MIT, this precautionary measure seems well-founded, as with the approval of every new RoundUp Ready crop, there is a 2-5 times increase in the amount of glyphosate that is applied.
And while that may help drive profitability for the chemical industry, there are social costs: lost yields in food production and any health care costs that may be associated with the harm that these chemicals might cause.
The authors of the MIT report are concerned that RoundUp, for which these genetically engineered crops are named, and the chemical used in it, glyphosate, are contributing to diseases as far-ranging as inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, infertility, cystic fibrosis, cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, going so far as to suggest that it “…may be the most biologically disruptive chemical in our environment.”
According to Green Med:
“The researchers identified the inhibition and/or disruption of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes as a hitherto overlooked mechanism of toxicity associated with glyphosate exposure in mammals.
CYP enzymes are essential for detoxifying xenobiotic chemicals from the body. Glyphosate therefore enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins. The researchers also showed how interference with CYP enzymes acts synergistically with disruption of the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids by gut bacteria (e.g. tryptophan), as well as impairment in serum sulfate transport, a critical biological system for cellular detoxification (e.g. transulfuration pathway which detoxifies metals).”
In working with plant biologists, I have learned that glyphosate kills weeds by turning off key enzymes that produce defense mechanisms for plants. It essentially targets and destroys their immune systems by chelating, stripping, micronutrients like magnesium, copper and zinc from the plant. As a result, there are fewer of these key micronutrients in the plants and in our food supply.
This effect, according to the researchers, can contribute to causing or worsening “…most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this. It picks up on a previous Reuter’s article that was titled “Cancer Cause or Crop Aid?”
In Canada, the Canadian tolerable levels for glyphosate are 58 times lower that those in the US and that European tolerance levels are even lower as a precautionary measure to protect vulnerable subsets of the population, like pregnant women and children. Plant biologists share that the levels of glyphosate now found in the US food supply have been clinically shown to be toxic, citing its effects on human placental, kidney, liver and testicular cells.
So what will it take to address this in the United States? The EPA has promised to look into it in 2015. But that’s two years of babies being born and two more years of escalating pediatric cancer rates in the US. We already spend more on health care costs and disease management than any other country on the planet, according the the Office of Economic Co-operation and Development.
Unlike previous researchers, this is not a report from an anti-GMO activist, nor is it a report from the organic industry, this is a scientific research paper from one of our nation’s leading academic institutions led by a woman who is courageously highlighting that the potential toxicity of one of the world’s most widely used chemicals on our food supply is far greater than was previously considered.
Scientists and researchers who have spoken out on the dangers of these products are often attacked. This situation is no different, as Monsanto’s website in a “Featured Article: goes so far as to call MIT’s research “Another Bogus ‘Study.’”
We still do not label genetically engineered foods in the United States, foods that have literally been given this product’s name and are hardwired to withstand increasing doses of it, foods that were introduced as recently as the late 1990s and early 2000s into our food supply.
If the jury is still out on them, as evidenced by the MIT study, shouldn’t we at the very least be labeling them?
In light of the escalating rates of pediatric cancers, autism and other conditions impacting our children, the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending a new policy, too, as seen on their website which states:
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that chemical management policy in the United States be revised to protect children and pregnant women and to better protect other populations.”
The reasons for this concern are not unfounded. The American children have earned the title of “Generation Rx.” The Centers for Disease Control now reports that cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15. And oncologists and leading experts in the field of cancer are calling for new treatment models, worried that the increasing costs of cancer is going to put an unprecedented strain on our health care system.
So what is a parent to do?
According to Investor Place, an investment research site that tracks the stock price of Monsanto and the impact that news like this would have on its share price, “a spokesman for Monsanto says that glyphosate is a proven safe ingredient and is less damaging than other widely used chemicals.”
It must be how our grandmothers felt when told that cigarettes didn’t cause cancer either.
While this type of corporate marketing and positioning may be in the best interest of shareholders, industry funded research often merits further independent investigation.
The question of labeling genetically engineered foods is not just an academic debate, it is increasingly an ethical one. And while the industry will claim that this is a concern afforded to the wealthy, that these crops are needed to feed the world, mounting scientific evidence is proving that with no long term human health data, other than what we are witnessing ourselves in the health of the American children, labels represent a precautionary measure, afforded to parents in 64 countries around the world who are able to walk into a grocery store and choose if they want to feed their children foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients.
As evidence and controversy grows, highlighting the toxicity of these products increasingly used on our food supply in the US, labels afford American eaters the same rights afforded to eaters around the world. Cancer doesn’t care what side of the aisle we are on or what our income is, and the costs of diseases being born by our families, our corporations and our economy have the potential to destroy our competitiveness in the global marketplace.
A label and the knowledge that comes with it would go a long way to protecting the health of our country.
Learn how you can protect the health of your children and family from genetically engineered products and the chemicals upon which they are dependent to grow at www.justlabelit.org and at The Pesticide Action Network.
Resource: Samsel A, Seneff S. Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases. Entropy. 2013; 15(4):1416-1463.
Written by Paul and Catrina Vonder Meulen and introduced by Robyn O’Brien
AllergyKids site could not have been up for more than a handful of days when his email came in. ”I wish I had known about you earlier….” he wrote, and then shared one of the most heart-aching stories we have ever received.
Emily’s story took hold of our hearts and inspired our mission.
In the weeks, months and years that have followed since he first reached out, she has been part of our work and courage here at AllergyKids.
But, her story is not the only one. In the years since, there have been others, and I have looked into the eyes of too many parents who have lost their children, as lives were cut short.
Their memories and the unconditional love of their families power the work that we do at AllergyKids beyond anything imaginable.
It has been seven years since Emily died. She would be turning 21 this year. And her story is a testimony of love and courage that has inspired countless others. Her favorite saying was “Live, Laugh, Love.”
And so we wanted to take this opportunity to once again share her story, as it originally first appeared on the AllergyKids site seven years ago, in the hopes that families everywhere can learn how to protect the health of children with asthma and allergies from cross-reactivity and cross-contamination.
As shared by Emily’s parents:
Emily’s Story and Our Message
When Emily was about two years old, Paul gave her a peanut butter cracker, almost immediately she started to fuss and rub at her eyes and start to develop hives. He gave her Benadryl and the allergic reaction calmed down. It was only after Emily’s death and subsequent research that Paul realized that this was when Emily’s immune system started building antibodies to fight off nuts.
After this initial exposure to nuts, Emily’s body developed its own protective warning system. If she came in contact with a food that had been exposed to nuts, she would have a tingling sensation on the back of her tongue, she would immediately spit the food out and then to protect itself, her body would vomit trying to expel whatever the offending allergen was. It was that reaction that made us comfortable with this allergy. She knew what she could and couldn’t eat. If kids brought snacks into school and they couldn’t tell her if it had nuts in it or not, she wouldn’t eat it. If they said it was free of nuts, she would still test it by putting it to her lips and touching it with her tongue. If she didn’t have a reaction, she knew it was safe.
I think you really want to know more of what happened that day, but I needed to let you know why I was so unprepared for what happened on April 13th. Elena (10), Emily and I had gone shopping that day for a graduation dress at a mall here in Cincinnati. After buying her dress (which she wore out of the store) we stopped to have lunch at about 2:50 at the mall’s food court. We decided to have a sandwich at a place that we had eaten before (we considered it a “safe food” restaurant) because Emily, in fact, had eaten this very same sandwich many times before with no problems. Their website even shows that it is peanut-free except for two of their cookies. After having lunch, we walked through a new t-shirt shop where Emily fell, tripping over her shoes, and landing on her bottom. She laughed and got right back up. We continued shopping, going to a store where we were going to get Emily’s ears pierced. While we were in this shop, Emily mentioned that she was afraid she might have messed her underwear when she fell and wanted to check it out. She came back about 5 minutes later, did two puffs of her inhaler, telling me that she felt hot and did her face look red. I told her no, but maybe we should leave. She said that her new dress felt tight and that she wanted to change her clothes. I said fine. She took her clothes and went to the bathroom. Elena and I stayed at the shop looking at “girly” stuff.
A few minutes later, I got a phone call from a girl in the bathroom asking if I have a daughter Emily and that she was having trouble breathing. Elena and I rushed to the bathroom where we found Emily gasping for air. She tried to do her inhaler again, but I could tell from looking at her that this was not good. The whites of her eyes were completely red and her normally pink cheeks were white. I immediately called 911. Emily had enough air to ask two questions. Emily became disoriented and wandered into the hallway. I had her lay down and she passed out. A woman passing by and I started performing CPR while Elena was on the phone with 911. The woman that was helping me said that Emily was O.K., and another woman said she felt air coming out of her nose. To me, Emily was not O.K., she was blue. Then I heard the strangest sound come out her mouth. People later tell me it was her death-breath. 911 had not shown up yet. Emily was taken to the hospital where they continued CPR. I arrived maybe 10 minutes later where the doctors told me they could not get her heart to start. They had finally got the breathing tube in the right spot, but they had given her all the medicine they are allowed to jumpstart her heart plus more, with no success. They were telling me my daughter was dead. It was 4:20. I believe Emily passed away in the bathroom hallway at the mall, which would have been around 3:45.
To answer your questions:
Did she have an Epi Pen with her? If so… Was it administered immediately?
NO, I did not have an Epi-pen with me. Unfortunately, if I did have an Epi-pen with me, I don’t know if I would have known to use it. I thought Emily was having an asthma attack because of her fall. I didn’t know that what was happening to her was associated with food. She didn’t have the tingling on her tongue, she didn’t vomit, it was a safe food (so we thought).
What did she have to eat at the Deli?
Emily had the Sweet Onion Chicken-Teriyaki Wrap. We knew it contained soy sauce. This particular deli did not make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We still don’t know where the trace amount of peanut came from. Unfortunately, the coroner and the investigator can’t prove anything at this moment, but because her reaction was so rapid and violent, the coroner has no other option but to point to the last meal Emily ate. Somehow a trace amount of peanut cross contaminated the sandwich she had eaten. We are still waiting for lab results – until then the findings are inconclusive.
How quick was her reaction?
We ordered around 2:50 and were done eating about 3:10. My best guess is that around 3:20 is when she started feeling hot and went to change her clothes. I called 911 at 3:26 and I believe she was gone around 3:40. The doctor’s pronounced her dead at 4:20.
Did she have any close calls before her death from reactions to something she had eaten?
NO, she did not have any close calls before this incident. Paul and I were in a comfort zone counting on Emily’s internal alarm system and the fact that she knew what she could and couldn’t eat, while we were blind to the fact that she was still very much in danger. Please understand, Emily was terrified of the Epi-pen and was diligent about asking questions about food preparation and ingredients. She did not want to be stuck with the Epi-pen. That’s what makes this all the harder to understand, Emily was her own advocate.
Your child is at a wonderful age, you can still control what they eat, you are watchful to make sure they don’t put the wrong thing in their mouth, you are their advocate. During this age, you can learn what the symptoms of anaphylactic shock are, you can develop a plan in case of an emergency, and go over and over what the plan is with friends and family so, God forbid, that emergency comes, you don’t think, you react.
As your child gets older, and they become more independent and responsible, don’t relax! According to FAAN, children between the ages of 10 and 19 are at a much higher risk of fatality. It defies logic, because you think now your child is at an age where they know and understand the dangers of their allergies and they will not take a chance. But what you don’t know or think you know is what can take their life so quickly. It is almost as if every time you eat prepared food, your child has a gun pointed at their heart. We don’t want to scare parents, but we want you to be scared, so that you stay vigilant in protecting your child.
I know this may sound irresponsible but please read it for what it is, learning lessons. As a learning lesson, my family would eat shelled peanuts on the couch. When they were done, Emily and I would go into the living room and vacuum the couch and the carpets. I wanted her to understand that she has to protect herself and that she can’t count on others to be as diligent as she had to be. Another time, we were taking a flight to San Diego. At the time, they still served peanuts on the plane. I had Emily wipe down the fold-down tray and arm rests in case the person who sat there before her ate peanuts and the residue remained on the surface.
The most bizarre part of this past 14 years is that I don’t think I understood that Emily could die. I thought she would get hives, swelling, asthma attacks, or really sick, but never in all of my thoughts did I ever think of death. Why didn’t that ever cross my mind? Did I not want to think that was a possibility? I now look at a lifetime of guilt, wondering how I could have done more. Please don’t ever feel you are being too protective when it comes to the health of your child and if someone tells you to relax, tell them Emily’s Story.
Learn more about Emily as the Vonder Meulens share “What We Wish We Knew“, including the potential risk that soy may pose for those with peanut allergy and how anaphylaxis can look like asthma by clicking on What We Wish We Knew as seen on www.foodallergyangel.com
Dr Bob: Welcome to my series of blogs that will continue to be written until someone at the Centers for Disease Control and PREVENTION gets on the ball and says “Yes, we have an autism epidemic! We are now very concerned and will do something about it.”
The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics just released a study entitled “Changes in Prevalence of Parent-Reported Autism Spectrum Disorder in School-aged U.S. Children: 2007 to 2011-2012.” (1) Their findings: 1 in 50 children ages 6-17 have autism.
I will ask again: Why is nobody alarmed? Why is nobody at the CDC issuing a press release saying, “Parents, we hear you, we are just as concerned as you are. We now realize there is an epidemic that continues to worsen year after year and we are dedicated to determining the cause.”
Here is why – you can read it in the conclusion of the study: “much of the prevalence increase from 2007 [which was 1 in 86 school-age children] to 2011-2012 [1 in 50 children] was the result of diagnoses of children with previously unrecognized ASD.”
Translation: “Don’t worry. Sure, autism is common, but it’s no more common now than it used to be, so there’s no need to panic.”
Well, I’ll tell you that as a pediatrician and a parent, I am in a panic. Partly because I continue to see patients in my own office develop autism at an alarming rate. Partly because I continue to see the children of friends and relatives develop autism spectrum disorders. On a very personal level, my own older children who are now 17 and 20, will probably start having kids of their own soon, and I can’t yet tell them what causes autism and how to completely prevent it. Back when my kids were young, I thought we would surely get to the bottom of this before they would be grown up and start having kids of their own. Well, now we are here, and we still aren’t getting any closer to an answer. Why? “Because there isn’t an epidemic.”
If I told you, “Hey – there’s a new infectious disease that will strike 2% of all children that will significantly impair them for their entire life,” wouldn’t you expect the CDC to jump all over this and get to the bottom of it quickly? If we have a sudden epidemic, the CDC jumps all over it to avoid a panic. The swine flu comes to mind. But if there’s a disease that is very slowly making its way through our population with only a very gradual, but questionable increase, then there’s no reason to panic. We’ll get to the bottom of it someday. That’s how I think the CDC is looking at this. They certainly want to help. They are good people who do good work. I know they’ll find the answer some day. But they are trying to portray autism as something that has always been around and is barely increasing. They don’t want parents to panic. They don’t want people to stop having children. They don’t want people to start making up reasons why autism is increasing. They don’t want parents to look for answers on their own.
The problem with this approach is that it leaves the million or more children with autism and their families out in the cold, feeling alone,like victims of an epidemic that no one will admit is happening. And it means that another million children will develop autism over the next ten years.
Back in medical school, I rarely heard the word autism. Now, not a day goes by without autism being discussed in my practice. We must have answers now. We need to have this epidemic acknowledged by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics. We need to know why autism is happening, and how to more effectively treat it and help children recover. We are doing fairly well at this for some kids. We do bring some children to recovery, but not enough. For every child that does recover, several more are being diagnosed to take his or her place.
We need to be concerned. We need to act with a sense of urgency. We have to care more about autism and do something about it. Parents and the future generation of children are counting on us. And I will keep raising concern in hopes that someday this message will be heard and action will be taken.
Dr. Bob Sears
TACA Physician Advisory Member
Pediatrician and author of The Autism Book: What Every Parent Needs to Know about Early Detection, Treatment, Recovery and Prevention
For more information about Dr. Bob, please see www.askdrsears.com
Written by Robyn O’Brien
Right now there is a lot of discussion around the science of food dyes. Do artificial colors contribute to hyperactivity in kids? Are food dyes responsible for ADHD? Is it the government’s job to take these dyes out of our kids’ foods or is it ours?
The fact of the matter is that you are going to get a different answer depending on who you ask. I learned this the hard way when I went to some of our leading pediatric allergists a few years ago to ask about the link between the introduction of GMOs into our food supply and the sudden epidemic we were seeing in the number of American kids with food allergies. They didn’t like the line of questioning and fired off some pretty aggressive responses. But given my background as a food industry analyst, I quickly learned that financial ties between doctors and agrichemical, food and pharmaceutical corporations can play a pretty important role in what these doctors are willing to say.
So when people get heated up around the science of food dyes, I find myself asking the same questions: Who has funded the research? Is there a financial incentive involved to protect the status quo? And are doctors that are speaking out on this issue in any way affiliated as spokespersons for either the food or pharmaceutical companies that stand to benefit from the continued use of these food dyes in foods?
Since there are usually extensive financial ties between doctors and food and pharmaceutical corporations, it is often helpful to turn to the consumer marketplace and food companies themselves for answers because money talks.
And interestingly, Kraft, Coca Cola and Wal-Mart have already removed these artificial food colors and dyes from the products that they distribute in other countries. They’ve reformulated their product lines in other countries and no longer include these food dyes, and they did it in response to consumer demand and an extraordinary study called the Southampton Study.
The Southampton Study was unusual in that it not only tested an overall number of six dyes (three of them are used in the US (Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6) and the other three are used in the UK) but also the combination of two ingredients: tartrazine (yellow #5) and sodium benzoate. The study’s designers knew that a child very rarely has occasion to ingest just a synthetic color or just a preservative; rather, a child who is gobbling up multicolored candies is probably taking in several colors and at least one preservative.
What’s amazing is that in the U.K., the federal food safety agency actually funded the Southampton Study that led to even U.S. corporations eliminating synthetic colors and sodium benzoate from their U.K. products.
And in response, a whole host of companies, including the U.K. branches of Wal-Mart, Kraft, Coca Cola and the Mars candy company (who make M&Ms), have voluntarily removed artificial colors, the preservative sodium benzoate, and even aspartame from their products. Particularly those marketed to kids.
When I first learned about this in the spring of 2007, I was stunned. Our American companies had removed these harmful ingredients from their products overseas—but not here?
When I first learned this, I found the information discouraging. But then I realized that we aren’t asking our corporations to reinvent the wheel, we are simply asking for them to place the same products on our grocery store shelves that they are selling overseas.
Because Kraft, Coca Cola and Wal-mart are living proof that is possible for giant corporations to make and sell kid-friendly, family-friendly, and healthy processed foods so that we can give our kids some special treats—like the U.K. versions of Starburst and Skittles, for example —without necessarily exposing them to a chemical cocktail that might also give them brain tumors, or leukemia, or the symptoms of ADHD, as the Center for Science in the Public Interest recently highlighted in their report “Rainbow of Risks”.
And it is inspiring (once you get over the initial shock) to see how far the companies have gone and how quickly they acted to remove these dyes from kids’ foods in other countries.
Asda, for example, the U.K. branch of Wal-Mart acted just one week “after details were leaked to the UK press of a study by researchers at Southampton University. . . ” They didn’t even wait for the study to be published—that’s how concerned they were about public opinion.
In an article published by the Food and Drink Federation, a Web site that monitors food issues in Europe, Jess Halliday reported that “Asda [U.K. Wal-Mart] has pledged to remove any artificial colours or flavours from its 9,000 own label products, as well as aspartame, hydrogenated fat, and flavour enhancers such as monosodium glutamate.”
Wow. The Southampton study didn’t even mention those last three items. Why was the U.K. Wal-Mart rushing to make such healthy choices, when the U.S. Wal-Mart still offered the same old stuff? Wal-Mart had even been slapped by a lawsuit from the Ajinomoto, the company that now makes aspartame, which claimed that U.K. Wal-Mart’s publicizing of its aspartame-free products was a kind of defamation—all while U.S. Wal-Mart continued to use the sweetener.
Can you imagine how grateful parents in the UK must be when they read this? “[U.K. Wal-Mart] will also meet the Food Standards Agency’s salt-reduction targets–two years ahead of the 2010 deadline,” the article continued.
Isn’t that amazing? Over in the U.K., our American companies rushed to meet government standards two whole years before they even go into effect. It begs the question, why?
According to Asda/U.K. Wal-Mart food trading director Darren Blackhurt, “We know that our customers, particularly those that are mums and dads, are becoming more and more concerned about what’s in the food they buy.” Indeed, the article continues, “consumer awareness of nutrition and food quality in the UK has soared in the last few years. . . ” Accordingly, U.K. Wal-Mart was planning to spend 30 million pounds, or about $50 million, to reformulate its product line, adding that, “in the main, taste will be unaffected.”
Pretty stunning, right? Clearly learning about this remarkable decision is sure to leave a few American parents a little hyperactive. And if you look at the decision a little more closely, you will discover that Asda/Wal-Mart was far from the only British company to respond to the Southampton Study in such a dramatic way. According to the Food and Drink Federation in the U.K., several companies—whether British-based or British division of American corporations—had started offering their customers color- and additive-free processed foods.
“We are aware of the recent publication from the University of Southampton on selected artificial colours, and we will continue to follow the guidance of regulators on this issue.”—Coca- Cola Great Britain. And in fact, on May 27, 2008, the story broke that Coca Cola was removing sodium benzoate from its products—but only in the U.K.
“Kraft Foods UK has no products aimed at children that contain the ingredients highlighted in the FSA [Southampton] study. . . . [W]ith our recent Lunchables reformulation in the UK, we reduced fat and salt, as well as removed artificial colours and flavours. Without compromising quality, taste and food safety, we will continue to see where we can make changes and still meet consumer expectations.”—Kraft Foods UK
“We know that artificial colours are of concern to consumers, which is why, in 2006, Mars began a programme to remove them from our products. . . in November 2007, Starburst Chews became free from all artificial colours. . . . in December 2007, Skittles were made free from all the artificial colours highlighted in a landmark study by Southampton University. . . We have already removed four colours mentioned in the Southampton study from Peanut and Choco M&M’s, and are in the process of removing the final one so they too will be free from these artificials during 2008.”—Mars UK
“Nestlé UK does not manufacture children’s products that contain any of the additives investigated by the FSA [Southampton] research. . . . and from September 2007, the UK’s favourite kids’ chocolate brand—Milky Bar—is to be made with all natural ingredients.”—Nestlé UK
“We are committed to replacing all artificial colours in our sweets. We note the Southampton University findings, but we had begun this process already because we are continually listening to our customers.” —UK Cadbury Chocolate division
Every time I read over those quotes, I find them absolutely stunning. Why are companies that operate in the U.K.—including our very own U.S. companies—so eager to take out the artificial colors there and so completely reluctant to do so here? Why are they willing to spend the money to reformulate their products there while refusing even to consider such a change-over here?
Maybe the answer can be found in a BBC report on Asda/U.K. Wal-Mart, “Explaining its decision to halt the use of artificial colours and flavours, Asda said it was acting because ‘mums and dads are becoming more and more concerned about what’s in the food they buy.’” An Asda/U.K. Wal-Mart press release elaborates: “Reformulation was hard work, but it was a labour of love.” Well, why can’t they perform that same labor of love over here? Is it too much to ask for what they have overseas?
After all, we’re not asking them to reinvent the wheel—they’ve already removed these ingredients from their products elsewhere. So why can’t our children get the same protection? Why can’t they serve up the same products to us?
Today it is estimated that 50% of Hispanic and African-American children will develop diabetes, that 1 in 90 boys has autism, and that 1 in 4 children has asthma. The Journal of Pediatrics reported that from 2002-2005, there was a 103% increase in diabetes medication for children, a 47% increase in asthma medication, a 41% increase in ADHD medication and a 15% increase in high cholesterol medicine.
And while the science may be disputed, depending on who is funding the study, as to whether commonly used food dyes such as Yellow 5, Red 40 and 6 others made from petroleum pose a “rainbow of risks” that include hyperactivity in children, cancer (in animal studies), and allergic reactions, because of the problem of hyperactivity, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of these dyes given that the British government and European Union have taken actions that are virtually ending their use of dyes throughout Europe.
Is it too much to ask for the same value to be placed on the lives of the American kids in their cost-benefit analyses that has been placed on the lives of kids in the UK?
As a proud American, it seems to me that our duty as moms and dads and concerned citizens is pretty clear. We have to get this information out there so that our government and our corporations listen to us, the way that governments and corporations in Europe, Australia, the U.K., Japan, and other developed countries listen to their citizens.
Because while our children may only represent 30% of our population, they are 100% of our future.
Perhaps it’s time that we value them like our country depends on it.
To take action, please join me and the team at Healthy Child Healthy World by signing a letter to the CEO of Kraft Foods (also a mom!) so that together, we can have the same products on grocery store shelves here in the US! Learn more HERE.