Am I hurting my child feeding him GMOs? From mommy guilt to mommy outrage

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Things were downright challenging when I brought my new baby home from the hospital. With those challenges came guilt; lots and lots of guilt. Guilt about struggling with breastfeeding, guilt about creating cognitive development opportunity, and guilt about wanting more sleep. However, with time things calmed down, we found a routine and the guilt at last began to wane.

Then the introduction of solid food came along and screwed up everything.

Cooking has always been therapeutic for me. So it seemed only natural to prepare all baby food at home, from scratch. I bought a baby blender and a stack of cook books explaining the finer points of steaming and pureeing. I found the instructions wildly helpful, but the proselytizing downright abhorrent. It’s a popular ideology today that organic food is safer and every author felt the need to wax poetic about the importance of buying and feeding your child organic food.

Bombarded with “Organic or Illness”

It started with the blender. My Baby Bullet came with The Pocket Nutritionist, which included a list of “which foods should be organic”. Lisa Barrangou, who holds a doctorate in food science, was even more misleading by denoting, using clever little icons, when “organic is necessary.” Yes, necessary. Other books I had picked up at least stated it is not a requirement, but a choice.

The book Feeding Baby noted, “some health professionals say that eating organic is a lifestyle, but I believe it is a choice”. “There is growing evidence that synthetic chemicals used in conventional food production have a negative impact on fetuses, infants, and children,” it lectured me, citing everything from brain damage to autism and eczema.

Real Baby Food outlined how going organic is a “personal decision based on priorities and budget”. But that refreshing feeling of choice quickly soured when details and scary figures in the book made it clear if you don’t buy organic, you’ve made the wrong choice.

While most research has shown that the pesticide level in conventional food is safe, many new parents choose to err on the side of caution and buy organic, especially since chemical pesticides accumulate in higher levels in small children.

So your choice according to these books is: 1) buy organic; or 2) play roulette with your child’s health.

Guilt has consequences

RLL photoThese female authors, all mothers themselves, had just partaken in creating mom guilt. This is a mom-on-mom crime. I say crime because this propaganda, especially when relayed by people with academic credentials after their names, has a real, harmful impact on moms everywhere. Mommy blogs are riddled with guilty confessions of letting little tummies “rumble a little at the end of the month because…I chose not to buy conventional items”—in other words, moms ran out of money buying costly organic foods, which meant their children were short of food as a result.

Others note how they fed their kids junk food but felt that’s okay because it was organic junk food!  “Nearly 75 percent of commercial prepackaged meals and snacks for toddlers are high in sodium,” one wrote, but seeing the word ‘organic’ on packaging decreased my guilt”.

These are not isolated instances. According to a survey conducted by Common Ground, an organization of women in farming, “not being able to afford organic meat, dairy and produce was the No. 1 source of food guilt among moms–edging out overall food affordability.” The obsession with food purity has gotten so extreme that a purity-obsessed eating disorder has been defined: orthorexia nervosa

My mommy guilt became mommy outrage as I realized none of these fear-inducing statements is backed by scientific fact. Feeding Baby cited articles on PCBs not used in agriculture; residential usage of chlorpyrifos; and research by Charles Benbrook, whose research in support of organic agriculture was funded entirely by organic activists before he was severed from his research professorship at Washington State University.

All authors referenced the Environmental Working Group (EWG)’s “Dirty Dozen”, a list of the twelve fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residues.  Moms were encouraged to eliminate from their children’s diet these targeted fruits and vegetables “if your budget does not allow a 100 percent organic diet”. The EWG sounds like a scientific organization, but rather lobbies on behalf of the organic industry and is recognized by academic toxicologist as routinely overstating health risks. However, this list, used as a holy grail by mommies everywhere has been dismissed as junk science and inflammatory and has debunked several times over.

The EWG routinely lists as dangerous trace chemicals in food that are thousands of times lower than what the FDA considers potentially harmful.  EWG claims “leafy greens” like spinach regularly carry “toxic pesticides.” That’s hogwash according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As the Alliance for Food and Farming (a non-profit comprised of both organic and conventional farmers) notes, in a single day a child would have to eat 2,564 servings of spinach (a member of the Dirty Dozen) contaminated with the highest level of pesticide recorded by the USDA in order to see any effect from consumption of these “toxic” residues.

Carl Winter, a toxicologist at the University of California at Davis, recently told the Washington Post that the Environmental Protection Agency, working from animal research and factoring in the special sensitivities of human subgroups such as babies and children, has found that lifetime risk of adverse health effects due to low-level exposure to pesticide residue through consumption of produce is “far below even minimal health concerns, even over a lifetime.”

Unfortunately, as our fears have risen, so have the organic industries profits. Their vested lobbyists’ efforts are paying dividends.

Organic Myth our brains believe

Piles of scientific data have been unable to demonstrate any health or ecological advantages for organic food over conventionally raised food or produce. It’s not healthier and doesn’t make food taste better. This subject has been reviewed exhaustively. Even the pesticide residue argument doesn’t hold weight since both production practices use pesticides (many natural compounds even being far more toxic than the ever railed against glyphosate, which is actually a comparatively innocuous herbicide). In almost all cases, the pesticide residues in both conventional and organic food far below the acceptable level for human consumption. However, that organic label tricks people into believing it tastes better, is less processed with fewer chemicals and is overall a better choice for your child.

Surprise, organic production is not even healthier for the environment

Because of this relentless propaganda, Americans have come to perceive organic production as a utopic, chemical free, nature-philic system. However, extensive investigation has failed to show proof that organic agriculture protects the environment more than conventional best practices. Even Whole Foods is recognizing conventional farming can be more sustainable and environmentally friendly than organic and they acknowledge that with their Responsibly Grown ratings. They comprehensively evaluate seven different factors ranging from soil health to water conservation and biodiversity and have awarded higher ratings to conventional farmers than organic.

Scientific studies have shown organic agriculture is not as productive as conventional agriculture with yields averaging as much as 34 percent lower for organic production, according to a meta-study in the journal Nature, compared to comparable conventional systems. The recent USDA study of 370 crops grown both organically and conventionally found a huge systematic yield gap, especially in growing fruits and vegetables. Matching yields alone would require deforestation and negatively impact biodiversity.

Many organic farms also use more fossil fuel. The Alliance for Food and Farming interviewed Rod Braga, one of the nation’s largest conventional and organic vegetable producers, about his two production practices. He stated his conventional farm was more environmentally friendly based on fertilizer application alone. He explained this by saying he needs to truck and spread tons per acre on his organic farm versus hundreds of pounds per acre on his conventional farm based on his restriction to use manure versus synthetic fertilizer.

Devastating droughts have been hitting California, yet the demand for organic produce in the state is on the rise. It may surprise those consumers to know that conservation minimum tillage and no-till practices which benefit water quality and conservation are more commonly used by conventional farming.

What matters most to me as a mother is knowing my child will grow up to inherit a healthy planet and have the healthy wherewithal of his own to enjoy it. Without a benefit for the environment or my baby’s own health, I can’t justify paying a premium for food just for a label.  I would rather save those extra dollars to pay for his college education. I want my son to grow up to be an innovator and a critical, independent thinker. How can I expect this of him if I cave to peer pressure-induced guilt and buy into a useless ideology? This mommy will be feeling guilty no more, at least not regarding conventional produce.

Rebecca Larson holds a doctorate in plant pathology and is the proud mother of a bouncing baby boy. Follow Rebecca at @sugaryfacts.

  • Farmer Sue

    Thank you, Rebecca. Ignore the idiots. Stick to your guns. Millions of educated and rational mothers have your back. Happy baby-raising!

  • Finally! Someone who isn’t afraid to point to the ORGANIC industry as the chief impediment to the public’s acceptance of GMO foods. Rebecca Larson has my vote!

    Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of GMO proponents avoid all mention of the anti-GMO organic movement, believing it’s impolite or mean-spirited to address the obvious.

    You can’t beat the enemy if you fail to identify the enemy. Rebecca shows the courage that too many of us lack.

  • Good4U

    When biotech first came to be applied to agricultural crops over 20 years ago, many of the business managers in the chemical pesticide industry were afraid of it because this new technology had the potential to reduce chemical inputs, thereby decreasing revenue to the sector for which they were responsible. One would think that the anti-pesticide screamers would be happy about that, but due to the perverse stand they have taken against GMOs, thereby inhibiting their deployment into actual field practice, the chemical pesticide industry has not suffered. There are many potential benefits from biotechnically modified crops, such as to reduce agricultural inputs of pesticides, fertilizers, water, fossil fuel, to improve food nutrition, and even to make natural toxins go away. It’s the “organic” marketeers that are preventing those potential benefits from ever becoming a reality. Their discouraging marketing strategy is to make moms feel guilty for not buying their high priced junk. Thanks to the author for accurately depicting the abject pessimism of the “organic” industry.

  • WeGotta

    If you are feeding your child GMO then you are likely feeding them junk food since that’s nearly all we have gotten to eat (as humans) from these crops. These crops are processed into chemicals which are used to manufacture things that look like real food. Worse, it’s usually wrapped in plastic and has been sitting around for days, weeks or months. What good stuff could possibly be left in this kind of “food”?

    It’s super simple to make homemade baby food from whole, fresh fruits and vegetables so that they will contain only one or two ingredients and nothing that you can’t pronounce. Why leave such important things to market forces and profit motives?

    You’ll find it’s actually much cheaper too! But in general, if you want to skimp on something then skimp on clothes, purses or phones and spend your money on good healthy food. It’s a good investment.

    If you notice another new baby in your neighborhood then why not go introduce yourself. New families need lots of help and I’m sure they would not be an exception. Let’s start helping each other more. Make food in bulk and save even more. Not to mention a potential baby sitter!

    • Good4U

      I purposely feed my “babies” GMO food. We love GMO food. We want more! Safer for the environment, safer for us humans. We have a new baby in our neighborhood, and we can’t wait to nurture the little one with GMOs! GMO apples, GMO potatoes, GMO corn, GMO soybeans, GMO cotton (he won’t eat cotton, but he will love the feel of it). Go, go GMO!

      • WeGotta

        I don’t think apples or potatoes just yet but hey! Knock yourself out.

        Love is most important.

        • Good4U

          Bzzzt! Wrong again. You need to keep up.

          • WeGotta

            If love isn’t the most important thing to you, what is?

          • Good4U

            Love is (I agree on that). It’s the first part of your post that indicates you haven’t kept up on GMOs.

          • WeGotta

            Okay! At least we agree on what’s most important. I’m glad.
            The rest is sort of superficial by comparison.

            I thought the innate potato and the arctic apple haven’t arrived yet but I could be wrong.

      • gmoeater

        I wouldn’t let any of my kids near this guy who thinks you should tell mothers what to do, and how to raise their kids. Yes, nurture the new ones with healthy GE foods! I love GE food too. Wish I could have found more GE sweet corn this summer ….

  • Tom Dowd

    EVERYONE should ld read this article. The author explains every aspect of this subject perfectly.

    • WeGotta

      Except the most obvious aspect.
      If you eat GMO, we are not eating a plant. You are eating a processed chemical that is used to manufacture a food-like substance that has likely been packaged in plastic and which has been thoroughly scrutinized as to lower the costs as much as possible in order to maximize profits for a limited number of people.

      That’s hardly the kind of food I would eat, let alone give to my kids.

      • Good4U

        Bzzzzt! Wrong again! You need to study harder.

        • Tom Dowd

          So you think all food produced from genetically modified plants is junk food?

          • Tom Dowd

            Sorry good hit the wrong button

      • Tom Dowd

        You do need to do more research. Gene spliced plants are genetically identical to their non-spliced relatives. You have bought into the junk science the author has done such a good job of emphasizing in the article.
        I am retired now,but have degree in agriculture and worked as an independent consulting agronomist for years. As I said this piece is the most thorough and science based discussion I’ve seen on this subject.

        • WeGotta

          What junk science?
          When most people do eat GMO, in which foods will it be?
          In which form will it be?

          • Tom Dowd

            Did you read the article that we are making comments about?

          • WeGotta

            Of course. In the title: “Am I hurting my child feeding him GMOs?”

            I would say yes.
            I don’t think people should give their children junk food to eat.

          • Tom Dowd

            So you think food produced from genetically modified plants is junk food?

          • WeGotta

            I think if you are human and you are eating something derived from GMO crops you are most likely eating it in the form of a processed chemical used to manufacture something that looks like food (a.k.a. junk food).

          • Tom Dowd

            Really, I would urge you to do more reading on the subject. You are so uninformed about the process that it would be impossible to have a viable discussion in this forum.

          • WeGotta

            Then educate me. How else is GMO food eaten?

            Start from the top; the most common way humans ingest GMO.
            GMO is found most commonly in which food?

          • Tom Dowd

            I don’t want to take the time nor do I have the inclination to educate you on the process of gene splicing crops.If you are really interested the info is readily available. I don’t understand what you mean by how they are eaten? A large percentage of feed corn ,soybeans ,and some wheat are gene spliced in the US and products made from these crops are consumed every day by the general public.

          • WeGotta

            I know the general public eats it. I know plenty about gene splicing.
            What I’m asking is:
            In what form do people eat it?
            In what foods do people eat it?

          • Tom Dowd

            You don’t sound like you know “plenty “about gene splicing by your comments. Tofu ,soymilk, and soy sauce are products made from soybeans. Bread from wheat of course. Corn is feed to dairy and beef animals.

          • WeGotta

            Tofu and soymilk represent the largest sources of ingestion? I thought corn was number one.
            I don’t know many babies that eat that stuff but I could be wrong. I think soy is actually really bad for babies.

            Wheat isn’t GMO (yet). Although most commercially available bread does contain GMO in the form of corn syrup.

            “You don’t sound like you know “plenty “about gene splicing by your comments.” How so? Point out one incorrect things I’ve said about gene splicing.

          • Jared Winn

            It sounds like you don’t actually understand what GMOs are. They grow in the ground like regular plants. They are eaten like regular plants. They aren’t formed in a test tube as your posts suggest you think they are. I agree with Tom Dowd. Everyone needs to read this article. The Organic food industry is entirely based on creating fear.

          • WeGotta

            Maybe squash and papaya but the vast majority are most definitely NOT eaten “like regular plants”.

            So maybe you can educate me.
            When a person eats GMO, in what form and in what foods will it most likely be?

          • Jared Winn

            I answered your question, and you rejected my answer. You have demonstrated a complete lack of knowledge on the topic, yet insist that you are correct and won’t even entertain an alternate view. There is no reason to continue this “discussion”.

      • gmoeater

        Rebecca, this comment here is the kind of disrespectful and ignorant comment you get from other mothers, and hopefully this kind of trash talk is something you can ignore. Feed your baby exactly what you want, including healthy GE foods. And we’ve got your back in supporting you against people like this commenter, who deserves nothing but your contempt. Your independent courage in the face of all this ignorant “PC”-ness is admirable — keep it up.

  • EDML

    I agree with most of the points in this article, but I’d like to point out that the headline and its accompanying photo are extremely misleading: this is about organic food, not GMO food. She doesn’t mention GMO food once.

  • gmoeater

    And yesterday, Chipotle – which prides itself on being all organic – – closed over 40 restaurants after massive illnesses caused by e.coli contamination.
    Risk labeling, anyone?
    http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/43-washington-oregon-chipotle-restaurants-closed-after-e-coli-outbreak-n455166

  • Cavolonero

    This article was once of meanest, most divisive I have ever read on the subject. Why do zealots have to prove that one thing is better than the other? Can’t we all just be happy that we have a choice and that no matter how a farmer chooses to raise their crops, we have plenty of food to feed our selves and our children? Do you try to put down stay-at-home Moms too? Or working Moms? Again, why does it matter and why do you have to create a division and vilify what you perceive as the “other side?” People in agriculture should promote all of agriculture, no matter if they agree or not. We desperately need more farmers to keep producing all kinds of food, not opinionated, holier-than-thou scientists with an ax to grind.