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
Written by Amy Kilgore, a medical writer and healthcare public relations specialist who has a daughter with extreme sensitivity to dyes, for AllergyKids
My daughter was two, and I was seeing red. A lot of red.
I wasn’t angry. I was horrified. I had just discovered that the rash my toddler would get after certain candies was not in fact caused by chocolate, that the hyperactivity was not from too much sugar, that her uncontrollable bouts of crying and angry behavior were not because I was doing a lousy job of being a mom.
My little girl Monica was reacting to food dyes. Most specifically, Red 40 and Yellow 5. I can’t recall which friend suggested it and what exact moment I realized it, but by the time she was two I was certain. I had (painfully) tested my theory by giving her things with red and yellow food dyes and logging the reactions. Yellow: rash, hyperactivity, trouble sleeping. Red: hyperactivity, followed by (really) mean behavior, followed by shaking and crying; trouble sleeping. It was exhausting and heartbreaking to witness her little body’s reaction when invaded by these dangerous and unnatural additives.
Even more frightening was the realization of how many foods contain dyes.
I’ll never forget one specific call from my mom. She was watching Monica, her firstborn grandbaby, for the day while I worked from home and caught up with life. I was putting clothes in the dryer when the phone rang. I could hear her concern in “Hi.” Followed by, “What has happened to our sweet girl?”
Mom explained how Monica had been behaving – not listening, running around wildly, screaming, crying. I told her that the day before had been a bit trying as well. But we were perplexed, because we were so very careful with keeping her diet dye-free and had been the only ones feeding her for days.
Then my mom, a registered nurse, gasped. “Omigosh. Her antibiotic is pink. You don’t think…?” I called the pharmacy. Yep, the liquid antibiotic we were giving Monica to treat an ear infection had Red 40. I had dosed her twice a day for four days with Red 40! Several calls to the pediatrician and pharmacy resulted in a prescription for an antibiotic without any artificial coloring, a note in Monica’s chart and pharmacy file, and a little girl who within a day was calm, cool and collected (albeit exhausted).
I needed to know more about food dyes, and Mom and I dove into researching how and why they could “flip the switch” in Monica and, I assumed, most children. The more I learned, the sadder I felt for our children. Not only are food dyes causing hyperactivity, inability to concentrate, aggressiveness, sleep problems, increased symptoms of autism and ADHD, among many others, but they are known carcinogens. They cause cancer.
Here’s some food for thought from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
“Back in 1985, the acting commissioner of the FDA said that Red 3, one of the lesser-used dyes, “has clearly been shown to induce cancer” and was “of greatest public health concern.” However, Secretary of Agriculture John R. Block pressed the Department of Health and Human Services not to ban the dye, and he apparently prevailed—notwithstanding the Delaney Amendment that forbids the use of in foods of cancer-causing color additives. Each year about 200,000 pounds of Red 3 are poured into such foods as Betty Crocker’s Fruit Roll-Ups and ConAgra’s Kid Cuisine frozen meals. Since 1985 more than five million pounds of the dye have been used.
“Tests on lab animals of Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 showed signs of causing cancer or suffered from serious flaws, said the consumer group. Yellow 5 also caused mutations, an indication of possible carcinogenicity, in six of 11 tests.
“In addition, according to the report, FDA tests show that the three most-widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are tainted with low levels of cancer-causing compounds, including benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl in Yellow 5. However, the levels actually could be far higher, because in the 1990s the FDA and Health Canada found a hundred times as much benzidine in a bound form that is released in the colon, but not detected in the routine tests of purity conducted by the FDA.”
Monica’s diet is completely dye-free, as are those of her little brother and my sister’s three boys. Not all five kids react the same to dyes – two react more intensely – but we still see significant behavioral reactions if they accidentally ingest food dyes, especially Red 40 and Yellow 5.
Of course, maintaining dye-free diets becomes a great challenge once they hit school age and are not always under our watchful eyes. At the suggestion of my pediatrician, we list food dyes as an “allergy” on their medical forms. Listing as a “sensitivity” just didn’t garner the same attention and adherence to avoidance. Yet there are slip-ups, such as when a well-meaning teacher gives orange punch, saying it’s okay because it’s not red or yellow (sigh). Or when the treat handed out is a “safe” white cupcake with white frosting, yet the inside is “confetti” with pink and red candies.
A recent incident sent the same shock through me that I had felt when I started investigating Red 40 eight years ago. I was having lunch with Monica, now age nine, at Eat’n Park. As long as we ate plain burgers and fruit for a side, Eat’n Park was one of the few restaurants I had tested and actually deemed “safe.” As a general rule, we reserve dessert as an occasional treat. That day I didn’t see any reason why Monica couldn’t have a slice of pie while I enjoyed another cup of coffee.
We spent a long time looking over the pie menu. Lemon meringue? Nope, looked too yellow. The same with banana cream. Strawberry? Not a chance – way too red. Together we narrowed it down to apple or chocolate cream. She chose chocolate cream and was thoroughly enjoying it when I noticed the crust had a pink tint on the top where the chocolate cream was sitting, as did the white whipped cream topping where it touched the brown chocolate. I couldn’t imagine it had red dye (chocolate pie?!), but I strongly urged her not to eat any more. Much to her dismay, she stopped eating the pie about halfway through the slice.
We had been having such a fantastic day – she’d been in such a good mood. Fast forward about one hour post-pie. She’s sitting in my car in her grandparents’ driveway, screaming at me and refusing to get out of the car because she wants to go home to change clothes. Even forceful prodding from her dad didn’t work. Exasperated, chalking it up to pre-teen hormones, I take her to change her clothes. As I’m telling her how inappropriate her behavior is and asking what in the world is wrong, she’s so busy yelling and talking angry to me she doesn’t hear a word I say. She even got so mad at one point that she hit my seat.
Following these completely out-of-character temper tantrums and verbal lashings, she starts pacing and bouncing and can’t even stand in front of the closet long enough to focus on what clothes to change into. She can’t make even the simplest decisions and can’t stand still long enough even if she wanted to. Still not making the red dye connection (forgetting about the pie), I head to the couch to sit and ride it out.
Monica ends up on the couch next to me, shaking and sobbing uncontrollably and asking me to make whatever is happening to her stop. Squirming and itching and rocking and crying, “Just make it stop, mom!” Finally exhausted, she lays her head on my lap in exhaustion. The whole episode lasts about an hour.
I call my mom and share the whole incident with her. Mom asks what Monica ate, starting with the previous day. Needless to say, I had déjà vu when I got to the Eat’n Park meal (“Omigosh. The chocolate cream pie. You don’t think…?”). Sure enough, one call to Eat’n Park and a pie ingredient check proved it – the chocolate cream pie had Red 40.
It’s certainly a challenge to avoid these dyes and many of the food preservatives I now don’t let anywhere near our mouths. I have a significant number of food allergies and have become very well educated on eating “clean” (whole, natural, organic), so I’m sure it’s easier for me to stay focused on living this way. But we absolutely cannot continue to ingest these dyes, especially children. If we could eliminate these dyes from our foods and our bodies, I am completely convinced that cancer prevalence would lower as well as the occurrence of ADHD and autism, among other cognitive, behavioral and emotional disturbances. The world would seriously be a better, much healthier place.
Amy Kilgore is a medical writer and public relations specialist in Akron, Ohio, and mom to Monica and Chase. Living on a restricted diet for the past 15 years due to multiple food allergies, Amy is strongly dedicated to whole, natural and healthy eating as well as providing education and sharing experiences about the ill effects of processed food, additives and dyes.
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 Robyn O’Brien after visiting farmers in Iowa in August 2010.
Had someone told me four years ago that I’d be standing tractor-side, appealing to farmers who grow genetically modified corn and soybeans for their support on the cornfields of Iowa, I’d have thought they were nuts. But there I stood in August in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa for aTractor Ride for Tots.
The event had been the brainchild of a big-hearted farmer named Scott McAllister. Scott, a fourth generation farmer, had reached out after learning about my work. He wanted to show me the farms.
So there we stood on a humid August day – Scott, farmers and tractors- ready to kick off our 50 mile tractor ride across the small towns of Iowa, and I had no idea what to expect. As Scott introduced me to the farmers, they smiled in amusement eager to get out on their tractors (reminding me more of my boys on their bikes than the agricultural giants I’d been a bit fearful of meeting).
And as I spoke about how 1 in 3 children now has autism, ADHD, allergies or asthma, they nodded in agreement as they’d seen the TV commercials on their local stations that spoke of how pervasive autism had become in military families, now affecting 1 in 88 children and knew what was happening to their grandchildren. They then introduced themselves and we set out on our tractor ride.
It was pretty quiet.
As the day wore on, so did the stories. A man named Mark shared tales about his high school reunion, while “Pa” shared stories about his grandson. And one they called “Beauford” spoke of their stewardship of the land learned at their grandfathers’ knees, record harvests and record rainfalls (and told a funny tale about how his wife moved out on him). They shared stories about lost crops, lost livestock and lost loved ones. They were sincere and authentic, proud and humble, and dedicated to their trade in ways seldom seen in today’s culture. As fourth and fifth generation farmers, their legacies were deep and their commitment strong.
Yet at the same time, as they spoke about the recent changes in agriculture and its new costs structures, there was an ambiguity. With trait fees, licensing fees and technology fees now required of farmers, this wasn’t the same business model that their grandfathers had built, and they knew it, with numbered lot signs and logos down the sides of their fields. As we discussed the privatization and patenting of agriculture and the impact it was having on their business, one of them shared, “The toes they step on today will be the tush they’ll be kissing tomorrow.” As they had witnessed firsthand the impact that this new cost structure had on debt loads and declining income levels and spoke candidly about monopolistic practices and predatory pricing.
And as we road from town to town, they laughed about their lives and livelihoods being in the hands of Mother Nature, saying “It either makes you religious or alcoholic,” as all of them chuckled. And having seen billboards juxtaposed against each other on the side of the Iowa highway, I had seen what they were saying and couldn’t help but listen.
I asked about their friend, Tom Vilsack, who now serves as the Secretary for the United States Department of Agriculture, and they shared stories about how he’d lived in their friend, Jimmy’s, childhood home, as well as his unusual political beginnings, quickly rising to Mayor, when a gunman shot and killed Mt. Pleasant’s mayor. And I listened as they shared their stories, shared their lives and shared their passion for farming.
And as the day came to a close, a farmer named John asked, “Did you see that lady with the white hair back there?”
“Yes. She smiled and waved and was so pretty,” I said.
“Well you see, you see…..that…well….she’s my wife. And, and, and…..” And as I looked into the face of this farmer, his eyes welled with tears, and my heart hurt, and I asked, “Is she sick?” And he nodded. Cancer. Twice.
And as the tractors were put away, we said our good-byes, reflecting on new dialogues, new knowledge and new friendships. And we knew that we were all in this together.
And while none of us could do everything, we also knew that all of us could do one thing. And sometimes that one thing is simply taking the time to listen. Really listen. Because if you do, you may realize that there is far more that unites us than divides us, as our hearts beat in unison for the love of our families.
Since the original posting of this article, Big John’s wife died of cancer. She was beautiful, and it was an honor to meet her