Robyn O’Brien was shaken to her core one morning, when her youngest child experienced a sudden and dangerous allergic reaction to a “typical” American breakfast.
As a frightened parent and an analyst by trade, Robyn needed to understand what was going on, so she began to heavily research food allergies beginning quite simply with: What is a food allergy?
Answer: A food allergy is when your body sees a food protein as foreign and, in response, launches an inflammatory response to drive out that invader.
That immediately triggered the question: Is there something foreign in our food that wasn’t there when we were kids?
Proteins engineered into our food supply
Robyn turned to the USDA and learned that yes, beginning in the 1990s, new proteins were engineered into our food supply to maximize profits for the food industry.
Milk was part of her family’s breakfast that morning and is the most common food allergy in the U.S. So Robyn focused her research on finding out whether there was something in our milk that wasn’t there when she was a child.
Sure enough, Robyn learned that in 1994 the dairy industry began injecting cows with a synthetic growth hormone (a protein) to help the cows produce more milk. That hormone caused a range of illnesses for the livestock, including ovarian cysts, infections in their breast tissue, and skin disorders.
Governments around the world decided they were not going to allow that growth hormone into their food supply, because it had not yet been proven safe for human consumption. But the U.S. took the opposite approach and said that it had not yet been proven dangerous, so we’ll allow it.
Lamenting on how many sippy cups she had filled with this milk and how many times she had poured it over her husband’s cereal, Robyn researched further to understand the health conditions we see in the US.
Increased cancer rates
One of the main concerns over this synthetic protein injected into livestock was that it elevated hormone levels that were linked to breast, prostate and colon cancers.
Through her research, Robyn learned that the US has the highest cancer rates of any country in the world. In fact, she learned that if you were to move from Japan to the United States, your risk of developing cancer would increase four-fold.
If that wasn’t alarming enough, she learned that 1 of every 2 American men and 1 of every 3 American women are expected to get cancer in their lifetime.
1 of every 8 women have breast cancer, and of those, only 1 of 10 are inherited. That means 9 of every 10 cases of breast cancer are environmentally triggered.
That led Robyn to research further and ask the question: Have foreign proteins also been introduced to other foods that commonly trigger an allergic reaction? The answer, as you may have guessed, was yes.
Link between GM foods and food allergies
Shortly after milk was engineered with this new protein, scientists engineered soybeans to withstand increasing doses of weed killer. Soy is primarily used to fatten livestock and, like milk, is one of top 8 food allergens in the U.S.
Again, countries around the world took the precautionary approach and in 1996 they said no to genetically modified (GM) soy, because it had not yet been shown to be safe. And again, the U.S. took a different approach and said yes, because GM soy had not yet been shown to be dangerous.
Robyn found the same story in corn: that a foreign protein was introduced that was not there when she was a kid. Scientists were able to engineer an insecticide into the DNA of corn seeds, so the corn would release its own insecticide as it grew. As a result, the EPA regulated corn as an insecticide.
Want to avoid GM foods? Eat organic.
Organic farmers do not use genetically modified seeds. They do not feed genetically modified soy or corn to their livestock. And they do not inject their livestock with synthetic growth hormones.
Unfortunately, organic foods are often more expensive. Organic farmers pay more to provide us with safer foods and they pay additional fees just to be allowed to label them as organic. They also do not receive the same subsidies, marketing or research funds that conventional (non-organic) farmers do. As a result, we are stuck paying the higher price of organic foods.
Eating organic, non-GMO foods on a tight budget
Do buy organic when you can. If you find it difficult to afford, consider a few easy changes you can make each week to help pay the higher cost. For example:
- Beans are a fraction of the cost of meat. They are also high in protein, have no saturated fats and they are delicious. Swapping meat for a bean dish a few times each week will help you to afford organic meats when you do eat them.
- If you dine out often, consider cooking at home more often instead. Use the savings to make your meals from organic ingredients.
- Instead of buying an overpriced coffee each morning, consider making it at home and carrying it with you in a travel mug. Making coffee at home – even organic coffee – is less expensive than most take-out shops.
You don’t have to overhaul your life. Just think of instances where you could make easy swaps to free up a few dollars each week with little to no burden on your lifestyle.
It’s your health and you are worth it!