Inspiring Ideas

The Silver Dollar
Sunday, March 30, 2014

A young woman got onto a bus, with three children in tow, fumbling for her wallet, looking for money to pay the ticket fair. 

"How much is it?" she asked.

"One dollar each," the bus driver said.

 The woman put one dollar into the machine and fumbled for her coins, not enough, slowly putting in what she could.

"You must have had a silver dollar in there," the bus driver said.  "You're fine."

The woman looked up, and in that moment, there was humanity.

As I watched it, I realized that each of us have the power to create these silver dollar moments on this ride through life.  How many times we do it is up to us.

"Food was an Addiction"
Wednesday, March 19, 2014

When I first spoke out about genetically engineered ingredients, artificial dyes and additives now used in our food, it was in 2006. 

A lot of people didn't want to hear that our food system could be such a mess, but I could not unlearn what I had learned and kept talking. 

Were we allergic to food or what's been done to it?  Are food cravings a function of not having the right nutrition?  What would happen if we had a food system full of nutrition instead of additives?  Would we still see the soaring rates of allergies, autism, cancer and other conditions impacting the lives of the people that we love?

My voice shook, but I kept talking.  Our team grew, and today, I am contacted by people around the world who have been touched by the work.  It has become a fuel that inspires this mission.

Today, I received an email quite unlike any that has come before, and it speaks to just how powerful clean food and real nutrition can be, not only in our own lives, but in the lives that we touch. 

Diet is a lot like religion, it is not going to be one size fits all.  But clean food, food that hasn't been contaminated with artificial ingredients that didn't exist a generation ago, makes sense if we truly are to have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

Meet Shannon, an extraordinary testament to the power of real food. 

"Dear Robyn,

Thank you so much for giving people like me a chance to not only share my story but thank you for your work in this important area of our human development. I've been wanting to write to you the past year, after I first saw your TedTalk, but never had time to write down my story.

Recently, I had reason to take time to do just that, when a mom in my support group (for what, I'll detail in a moment) wrote that she was chronically exhausted and didn't know how the rest of us get through our day and that "even five Red Bulls" couldn't help her keep up. Once I read that, I knew I had to take time to share my path with her with the hope that I might be able to reach her.

Some backstory: I turn 42 next month, am married, and have two daughters: an 11 year old (Lily) and a 6 year old (Ally.) We have two adorable puppies and live in suburban California. We own our own theatrical production company, producing events and live theatre throughout the West Coast with plans for our Off-Broadway premiere this winter.

Probably reads like a regular ole' family but of course, what family is regular? Our second daughter was born with severe brain damage after a completely normal pregnancy. A lack of in-utero oxygen cause Ally's brain damage, but we don't know what caused the lack of oxygen. She is 100% non-ambulatory, non-communicative, g-tube fed, and dependent on others for everything. My story about Ally is what I'm usually asked to blog or talk about: telling others about our birth story, sharing how I get up and live each day in the face of such struggle, yada yada yada. ;)

But now, after a year of enlightenment about our country's food options, I'm eager to share my story about how, in just one year, I went from lost and barely able to function, to found and happy and inspired. Last March I went to my OB (who knew my birth story and was aware of my then five years with a brain injured child). I wrote her a long letter explaining how I was just in terrible shape. I was exhausted, moody, depressed, short tempered, overweight (I was 5' 2" and 170lbs.) I also told her that although I was probably a candidate for the Anti-depressants Poster Child, I really wanted to explore other options before making the choice to start drug therapy. She listened. And then handed me a scrip  anyway stating my neuro-inhibitors simply weren't firing and that the drug would help me feel better. I asked when I could come off the drug. She said, "well, never."

I left and sat in the car for an hour crying on the phone to my mom. I just didn't want to take the drug. I've never considered myself a health nut but have always had an instinct that told me chemicals weren't my solution. At that point I was resigned to thinking I'd be exhausted and angry forever. A week later, while in the hospital with our little one for a 72 minute-long seizure, I saw one of those infommercials for a juicer. It talked about how great they are for all sorts of ailments. I thought, I could do that, and there's no way my family gets enough veggies. (I'll note here that I was NOT a cook. My idea of cooking was a box of mac and cheese and some frozen broccoli. When asked what I'm making for dinner, my answer was usually "reservations." We ate out A LOT. Like, sometimes two meals a day with breakfast consisting of a bowl of dry cereal.) So, I bought the Ninja 5000 or whatever it was called and started eating smoothies and juices; not exclusively, just here and there like for breakfast.

A month later I caught that PBS special with Dr. Amen talking about the Omnivore diet and how the body and mind reacts to food. It was quite illuminating and another dose of awareness for me. I didn't buy their DVDs or books, but I made some other small changes to my diet like limiting dairy, knocking off sodas, and increasing my veg portions.

Now, once you start posting comments on your facebook page with words like "smoothies", "healthy", and "green", like-minded posts start showing up your feed. Suddenly, I was seeing images with graphs and reports about aspartame poisoning and unclean food and GMOs. Again, very enlightening and enough to compel me to stop drinking diet soda and, quite a bit more shocking, convince my very diet Coke-addicted husband to do the same.

But the real kicker for me happened late 2013 when someone on Facebook shared a TedTalk by Robyn O'Brien. That's when I woke up. You were saying everything I was thinking about what I was putting into my body, and shining a light on the amazing crisis in our country with regard to syndromes and diseases that are very likely being brought on by the massive amounts of processed foods we eat on a regular basis.

In March 2013 my list of daily complaints included those already stated above about chronic fatigue, mood swings, and depression (all of which I readily chalked up to "life with a brain injured child") as well as constipation, gas, reflux, headaches, back pain, tired eyes, skin sensitivity, crummy looking hair, red blotches on my face and other cosmetic gripes, and the worst PMS a person could have. I could not keep from dozing off during therapy sessions with my daughter. I felt whooped by the middle of the day. I felt like even a good night's sleep did nothing - I woke up exhausted. I thought I was eating well but never lost the extra weight I was carrying. And once a month I turned into an even more unrecognizable person because of such severe PMS.

Today, in March of 2014, I can tell you with sincerity that ALL of those symptoms are gone. Today, I have energy and lots of it, especially considering what I deal with on a daily basis. I am even tempered, far better at managing stress, and do not lash out at others anymore like I used to. (My 11 yr old sure noticed that change!) Gastro issues? Gone. Skin, hair and nails? Strong and clear. Weight? Lost 15lbs in three months. Headaches, back pain, neck pain? All gone. And most of those changes happened within less than a month of my finding this miracle cure. To the mom in my support group I wrote, "Now it probably sounds like I'm about to sell you some magic pill or tell you to join an online cult. Nope. The beauty of this miracle is that it is 100% attainable without any drugs or quick fixes or brain washing.

My answer to your original question, 'how do you do it?' is simple: the overabundance of processed foods and absence of whole foods in my diet was absolutely responsible for everything that ailed me, especially feeling exhausted.

I didn't make the change overnight but over the course of a few months I started to change the way I ate. I started to really understand how food is used by the body and I also learned how what most of us consider to be food isn't really what the body needs and craves."

For me, food was an addiction. I know we use that phrase a lot but I'm convinced there really are foods with addictive properties that make the body think it wants more of it. Once I stopped eating those foods, my body calmed and I was able to hear its demands. Once I met the demands, the cravings for pasta and rice and pizza and cereal stopped. Completely. Those were ALL of my go to "foods." Now, I don't see them as food at all because there is nothing nutritional in them at all. For me, those items are just something to have in the same way you'd have a glass of wine. You wouldn't substitute wine for water and call it hydration. That's how I feel now about processed grains.

It's hard to summarize all of what I've learned but here are some high points:

> My 41 year old body (and come to think of it, my body at ages 25-40) is not able to process processed foods. If I eat them, I have immediate physical and emotional changes, none of which are pleasurable. Once I started eating real, clean, whole food my body thanked me for it in multiple ways that make getting through the day entirely manageable now.

> My body seemed to constantly cry out for something - and because I didn't know what it was, I fed it more bread and pasta and cereal and sweets. It was really saying, "I want the nutrition you're not giving me and I'm going to keep triggering your craving button until you put the RIGHT food in me."

> I was incapable of losing weight while eating fake food. Once I started eating all whole food, the weight fell off. > My kids have caught bad colds numerous times in the past year that I did NOT catch, even though I would usually succumb to everything those cute little petri dishes brought home. And the one cold I did catch over the summer followed a weekend of pizza eating when I "fell off the wagon."

> I also noticed an IMMEDIATE change in my neuro-typical child and husband when I started serving them real food. (Yes! I cook everything now!) They aren't fully on my band wagon because change is very hard but even the reduction of processed foods and the increase of whole vegetables and fruits made a huge and noticeable in their behavior and gastro health.

I could on and on but for me the miracle was in finding whole food (meaning, making sure that two/thirds of every meal I eat is comprised of real fruits and/or vegetables with the other third a whole protein like chicken, turkey, beef, fish, or quinoa), and avoiding all processed foods whenever possible.

This isn't a diet, this isn't a fad. Yes, you can label it an edited "paleo diet" or "omnivore diet" but to me, it's more than that: it's about realizing that our country is failing us by repeatedly assaulting us with a barrage of marketing for products sold by corporations telling us what to eat.

Is weight loss a nice byproduct? Of course. But what's far more exciting to me is remembering what life felt like before and realizing I don't ever have to feel that way again.

Over the past year, I've advocated switching to an all-clean food intake plan to those in my circle and am met with varying levels of interest or denial.

I get it: it's entirely daunting because it probably seems like you'll be depriving yourself. And assuredly: if someone had told 2013 Shannon that she would no longer eat pasta, pizza, rice or cereal, she'd have laughed in your face.

But here I am. Happier, healthier, well rested, energetic, and able to take on the day without chemicals of any kind, particularly an anti-depressant, all while running my own very busy and demanding business with two new puppies and two children, one of whom has severe special needs.

So there's my story. Thank you for reading it.

Please consider me part of your "team"; one who is actively researching, gently proselytizing, and doing all I can to make sure in maybe just one or generations from now, people will say things to each other like, "Can you believe we used to poison our people like that with processed foods??? I know, right!? I can't believe we EVER put things like that in our body."

Diet is a lot like religion.  It's not one size fits all, but sometimes little changes can make a big impact.  Do what you can, where you are with what you have.  Find a doctor that understands the power of real food.  Together, we will build a smarter, safer food system so that when our children and grandchildren ask us, "What did you do when you learned how contaminated the food supply got?" We will be able to say, "We fixed it."

Inside the Big Business of Organics
Tuesday, March 18, 2014

With consumers waking up to what is actually going into our food, the organic industry is one of the hottest growth categories in the food industry.

The market has nearly quadrupled over the last decade, and companies and capital groups are paying attention.   Annie's is a great example.  It's a California based company that makes (among other things) a bowl of mac and cheese without all of the junk (things like artificial growth hormones, artificial colors and genetically engineered ingredients).  When it launched its initial public offering in March of 2012, it had the biggest opening day gain of any IPO in almost a year.  What does that mean? It means that of all the technologies on the market, Wall Street got the most excited about a bowl of mac and cheese that wasn't hopped up on junk.

Annie's isn't the only stock soaring.  A quick look at the share prices of Chipotle, Boulder Brands and others tell the same story: Clean food technology is taking off. 

In 2012, consumers purchased $28 billion in organic products.  The food awakening is on, largely driven by the escalating rates of diseases and conditions that we are seeing in our families.  With 1 in 13 children now food allergic and the CDC reporting that cancer is now the leading cause of death by disease in American children, parents are reading labels like never before and realizing that we have no idea what some of these ingredients are and would rather opt out. 

As we find ourselves on this changing landscape of food and health, it's worth paying attention to what is happening to the companies making our food.  A quick look at the infographic below suggests that a lot is happening. 

Inside the Business of Organics: Big Companies That Own Your Organic Brands

Via: TakePart.com
Meet the Drug in Your Meat That Is Banned in 100 Countries
Thursday, February 27, 2014

If you thought yoga mat material in bread was bad, a drug used on the animals we eat is banned in more than 100 countries around the world.

 But here in the US?  The FDA approved ractopamine and allows the drug to be used widely in U.S. factory farm operations. 

There are 196 countries in the world, and it is estimated that 160 countries them ban or restrict ractopamine.  But the US?  We are not one of them.

The U.K., China, Russia, Taiwan, and the European Union ban or limit the use of ractopamine, a drug that promotes growth in pigs, cattle, and turkeys. Ractopamine is linked with serious health and behavioral problems in animals, and human studies are limited but evoke concerns, according to the Center for Food Safety.

The U.S. meat industry uses ractopamine to accelerate weight gain and promote feed efficiency and leanness in pigs, cattle, and turkeys. The drug mimics stress hormones.

So how did this drug wind up in our food supply?

The FDA's approval of the drug relied primarily on the drug-makers studies.

No problem, right? Who else would have access to that kind of proprietary information.  But if you think about it, it's kind of like the tobacco industry telling us that we didn't need to worry about cigarettes.  Industry-funded science tends to favor industry.

So what does independent research tell us?

Fed to an estimated 60 to 80 percent of pigs in the U.S. meat industry, ractopamine use has resulted in more reports of sickened or dead pigs than any other livestock drug on the market. According to FDA’s own calculations, more pigs have been adversely affected by ractopamine than by any other animal drug—more than 160,000.

So what exactly does this drug do to the animals that we are eating?

Ractopamine’s effects include toxicity and other exposure risks, such as behavioral changes and cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, reproductive, and endocrine problems. It is also associated with high stress levels in animals, “downer” or lame animals, hyperactivity, broken limbs, and death.

Based on a lack of available evidence of ractopamine’s safety, most countries have taken a cautionary approach to the presence of ractopamine in their national food systems.

In other words, with the jury still out, they have opted out.

Currently, it is estimated that 160 countries of the 196 in the world ban or restrict ractopamine.

Other countries seem to understand the importance of exercising precaution for stakeholders while the emphasis in our food system tends to focus on the importance of return to shareholders.

Our while our shareholder-focused food system may have worked for the last twenty years, with the landscape of health changing so dramatically, perhaps it's time to examine consider the liability it now presents to stakeholders.

The twenty-seven European Union member states, for example, have banned ractopamine. Taiwan severely restricts it.

Russia has announced a ban of imported beef, pork and turkey that is not certified rac- topamine-free, and China announced it would stop importing U.S. pork effective March 1, 2013 unless it is certified ractopamine-free by a third party.

As if that isn't bad enough, while we are eating it, the U.S. has a certified ractopamine-free program in place to sell pork products to the E.U.

In other words, to meet this drug-free demand in other countries, we certify ractopamine-free meat for eaters in other countries, but we just aren't yet doing it here.

There are 196 countries in the world, and it is estimated that 160 countries them ban or restrict ractopamine.

According to the Center for Food Safety, "the U.S. argues that international bans on ractopamine are not based on scientific reasons, but are based on protectionist approaches to enable China, the E.U., and other countries to obtain greater market share. What the U.S. fails to acknowledge is that other countries are taking the lack of human health and animal welfare studies very seri- ously; ractopamine has not been conclusively determined as safe for humans and animals."

While few consumers are aware of ractopamine’s use in meat production, the drug has been at the center of international trade disputes for several years, reported NBC News.

It's not the first time that we've seen this, with other ingredients like genetically engineered organisms recently added to our food supply, those long-term human health studies flat out don't exist.  So the industry can conclude "no evidence of harm."  But that's not the same thing as "evidence of no harm" which is why most countries either ban or label a lot of these new ingredients.  It's called the precautionary principal.

In light of the escalating rates of diseases in the United States and the concern over antibiotic resistance we are now seeing, isn't it time to ask: What price are we paying for a meat supply so hopped up on drugs? And isn't it time to join the 160 other countries around the world and begin to do something about it?

Smithfield, one of the largest U.S. pork producers, has at least one production plant that is 100% ractopamine-free and was expected to have its largest plant 100% ractopamine-free by March 1, 2013.  These two plants likely service Smithfield’s E.U. and Chinese customers. However, Smithfield said that it will continue to produce pork with ractopamine for other customers. This means Americans.  But in a twist, an Asian meat giant struck a $4.7 billion deal and acquired the Virginia based company in September 2013, according to the Wall Street Journal.

So while China makes acquisitions to ensure that its pork supply is free of ractopamine and public interest groups sue the FDA, demanding records of this controversial drug, consumers have a choice: to simply eat less meat or to purchase organic meat, which by law is not allowed to use this drug in production, until our own American corporations decide to make our meat ractopamine-free here in the United States, too.

Follow Robyn on Twitter @unhealthytruth and on Facebook.  She is a former financial analyst and author.


Love is a Rocket Fuel
Thursday, February 13, 2014

With 1 in 400 children now diagnosed with diabetes, 1 in 300 diagnosed with cancer, 1 in 88 with autism and 1 in 13 with food allergies, our children have earned the title of "Generation Rx."

The runaway rates of diseases impacting our kids need to stop.

And parents are making changes, standing on the front lines as voices for children.  Some are starting pediatric cancer non profits, others launching food allergy conferences and others movements that are hitting around the globe. 

What I have learned in this work is that where greed is corrosive, love is a rocket fuel. And together, we will restore the health of our families, our country and our economy.


Wall Street's Leading Indicator: A Non GMO Burrito
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Wall Street sent Chipotle’s stock soaring when they announced that they were dumping genetically engineered ingredients from their food in 2014.  The stock was up almost 72% year to date on the announcement in October, and the following Friday, the stock soared 15% to an all time high.

It's not the first time this has happened.  Wall Street fell in love with Annie's IPO last year over a bowl of mac and cheese that wasn't loaded with junk.

Contrast that with junk food companies that were just sued by a state attorney general for an attempt to keep consumers in the dark over how these same ingredients are quietly being inserted into food.

Food companies are now faced with an interesting choice: invest in a food supply free from genetically engineered ingredients or pour money into efforts in an attempt to keep consumers from knowing about them.

Chipotle announced in October that their revenue for the quarter was $827 million -- up 18% the same quarter last year, beating analysts’ estimates of $820 million.

Comps (an industry term learned and tracked by analysts that measures same store comparable sales year over year, month over month, etc.) increased 6.2%. Compare that to other restaurants in the industry: Qdoba’s 0.5% and Taco Bell’s 2%, and you get a feel for the growing strength of Chipotle’s hold on consumers’ hearts, minds and stomachs.

So what is Chipotle doing right?

Rather than try to tell the consumer what to think or to keep them in the dark, they are listening.

And rather than stifle the growing desire of the American public to know more about the food that we are eating, Chipotle decided to meet us where we are and tell us.

And both customers and investors celebrated.  Sales are up, with no price increase, and the stock soared 15% on Friday.

Is it a fluke?  Not likely.

The first signs of Wall Street’s love of clean food came last year when Annie’s, the company that makes cleaner versions of mac and cheese and cheddar bunny snacks, went public.  In response to that IPO, Annie’s had the biggest opening day gain in almost a year in March of 2012.

Of all the technologies that Wall Street saw in almost a year, investors got the most excited about a bowl of mac and cheese that didn’t contain the junk.

It wasn’t always this way.  Back in the late 1990s, when I worked as an equity analyst, we celebrated how artificial ingredients drove down the cost of production and drove up profitability. Companies were quick to swap out the real stuff with these new ingredients that had been created in labs, and investors celebrated the change.

Until a growing body of scientific evidence started to highlight something else: that maybe we do not know what the long term effects of all of these things in combination might be.

Reports from the President’s Cancer Panel now tell us to start eating cleaner, since 41% of us were now expected to get cancer in our lifetime, and we know this data to be true because we see it happening in the lives of our friends, our families and our loved ones.

A food awakening has begun, or maybe it was forced upon us, as our kids get diagnosed with conditions that were barely heard of when we were kids, and we find ourselves suddenly trying to read labels.  Ingredients we’ve never heard of and can’t pronounce or recognize.

Wall Street sees this, too.  Disease doesn’t care where you work, you could be a teacher or an analyst.

Chipotle made a bet, to meet consumers where they are, and decided to dump meat loaded with antibiotics and growth hormones and genetically engineered ingredients hardwired for chemicals. Why dump what the industry has labeled “GMOs”?  Because a growing number of consumers, legislators and food companies are opting out.  Target and Safeway are rolling out new product lines, legislation is being introduced around the country, and people are waking up to the fact that these ingredients are so new that they are now patented by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in some cases regulated by the EPA as a pesticide.

With their announcement to remove these new genetically engineered ingredients from their food, Chipotle’s stock hit a high and soared 15%.

They’ve got their finger on the pulse beating around the country, in Americans and especially in our kids who are the first generation expected to have a shorter lifespan than their parents.

And the market didn’t hammer them over a fear of supply chain issues or a bottleneck, investors simply gave them a thumbs up for the decision.

So what will happen to them next quarter?  Next year?  Will this ingredient swap drive up the cost of production?

Farmers, like consumers, are opting out of genetically engineered ingredients, too.  A recent earnings report showed a 38% decline in the sale of genetically modified soybeans.  Why?  That method, genetically engineering a soybean to withstand increasing doses of weed killer, has been a fifteen year experiment on farms that is resulting in record uses of chemical applications.  Perhaps farmers aren’t willing to go into any more debt to purchase yet more chemicals, or perhaps they are concerned over their legacy, farms that in many cases have been running for four and five generations, and what these chemicals are doing to the health of their soil. Whatever the reason, they are beginning to opt out, too.

As supply adjusts to meet demand, a new equilibrium will be set and a new price point.  As more companies like Chipotle look to non genetically engineered ingredients, supply will increase to meet this growing demand and drive down costs making these products and others not loaded with artificial growth hormones, antibiotics and genetically engineered ingredients more affordable to all Americans.

It has to start somewhere.  And it can’t happen fast enough.

Right now the food system that we have uses our national resources, what we contribute as taxpayers, to support genetically engineered ingredients and all of the chemicals required to grow them.  While on the other hand, the farmers that opt out of this chemically intensive system and grow crops without the use of these genetically engineered ingredients (and chemicals required for them) are charged fees to prove that their crops are safe and then charged fees to label them.  That’s like giving the guy who doesn’t wear a seatbelt a hall pass while fining the guy that does.

On top of that, the farmers that opt out of this genetically engineered system don’t get the same marketing support and crop insurance programs.  In other words, their entire cost of production is higher, from marketing to insurance, for the farmers currently employing what we now call "organic" methods on their farms.  It used to be the only way to farm.

But as a growing number of consumers and companies like Chipotle continue to make the switch, supply and demand for non genetically engineered ingredients grows, and so will demand for a policy change, so that these ingredients can be more affordable for all Americans.

The market opportunity in front of the food industry is enormous: farmers are opting out, and consumers are, too.   The market sees it as evidenced by investors responses to companies like Annie’s and Chipotle.

So while the chemical and processed food industries continue to pour millions of dollars into efforts to keep consumers in the dark about the genetically engineered ingredients in our foods, their shareholders might want to pay attention as Wall Street pours millions into companies who are opting out of them.  Chipotle's stock is up almost 72% this year.

Just food for thought.

Follow Robyn on Twitter @unhealthytruth and on Facebook.  She is a former financial analyst and author.

Do Your Buns Contain Yoga Mat
Tuesday, February 04, 2014
If you had no idea that there is yoga mat material in your hamburger bun, you're not alone.

We sure didn't.  Every time we drive past a Subway, one of the kids will bring it up.

Azodicarbonamide is a chemical used  “in the production of foamed plastics.”  It's used to make sneaker soles and gym mats.

In the United States, it is also used in our food, as a food additive and flour bleaching agent.

This "ingredient" is most often found in breads, boxed noodle mixes, and packaged baked goods.

So why in the world are we using it in our food?

Back in our grandmothers' days, bread would go stale within a day or two and grow mold by the end of the week.  Not fun but natural.  In order to address this concern for food retailers, the industry began adding this foaming agent in order to extend the shelf life of bread and preserve it - to pump it up and plump it up in order to keep it fresh and enhance profitability.

Around the world, most countries wait about a week for flour to whiten on its own, but the American food processors prefer to use this chemical to bleach the flour here because time is money.

The United States is one of the only developed countries in the world that allows something used in shoes and gym mats to also be used in sandwiches.  You can get up to 15 years in prison and be fined nearly half a million dollars for using this chemical in Singapore.  It is banned as a food additive and in food packaging in the United Kingdom whose “Health and Safety Executive” considers it a  “respiratory sensitizer.”  Europe and Australia ban the use of this chemical, azodicarbonamide, too, because it has been linked to asthma and other allergic reactions, as cited by the World Health Organization.

But not here.  So are we allergic to wheat or what is being done to it?

In the last twenty years, we have seen an epidemic increase in allergies, asthma, ADHD and autism, including a:

  • 400% increase in food allergies
  • 300% increase in asthma, with a 56% increase in asthma deaths


It's time to rethink food, rethink the role of the FDA in light of its shrinking budget and capacity to regulate our food system, and to require that independent scientific studies be conducted, not only for the health of our children, but also for the sake of our increasingly burdened health care system and the toll that the chronic rates of diseases and their escalating costs are having on the health of our economy.

Additional information is available from the World Health Organization as well as azodicarbonamide's classification as an "asthmagen" by the Health and Safety Executive's office.

Follow Robyn on Twitter @unhealthytruth and on Facebook.  She is a former financial analyst and author.

Time to Label: A Cancer Causing Chemical Found in 12 Leading Sodas
Thursday, January 23, 2014

If you had no idea that the caramel color in sodas might be linked to cancer, you're not alone. 

In recent tests of sodas and other soft drinks, varying levels of 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI), a potentially-carcinogenic chemical byproduct of the production of certain types of caramel color, were found in all of the samples that listed caramel color as an ingredient.

All samples.

Twelve brands of sodas and soft drinks from five manufacturers–including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Goya–were tested. The full findings are featured online at www.ConsumerReports.org.

“We are concerned about both the levels of 4-MeI we found in many of the soft drinks tested and the variations observed among brands, especially given the widespread consumption of these types of beverages," said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, a toxicologist and Executive Director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center.

"There is no reason why consumers need to be exposed to this avoidable and unnecessary risk that can stem from coloring food and beverages brown.”

So why in the world are we drinking it?

Caramel color is used in certain food and beverages as a coloring agent and should not be confused with real caramel. Some types of this artificial coloring contain 4-MeI which has been recognized as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Stop.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer recognizes this coloring agent as a possible human carcinogen.  Given that the President's Cancer Panel has reported that 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women are expected to get cancer in their lifetime, shouldn't we be taking some precautionary measures here?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, cancer is now the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of fifteen in the United States. 

Should sodas carry warning labels?

While there are no existing federal limits on the amount of caramel color allowed in food and beverages, products sold in California that would expose consumers to more than 29 micrograms of 4-MeI in a day are supposed to carry a warning label under the state’s Proposition 65 law.

Between April and September 2013, Consumer Reports tested 81 cans and bottles of various popular brands of soft drinks purchased in stores in California and the New York metropolitan region. Twenty-nine additional samples were purchased and tested in December 2013.

In its tests, Consumer Reports found that 12-ounce single servings of two products purchased multiple times during an eight-month period in the state of California–Pepsi One and Malta Goya–exceeded 29 micrograms per can or bottle. While we cannot say that this violates California's Prop 65, we believe that these levels are too high, and we have asked the California Attorney General to investigate.

After the scientists informed PepsiCo of the test results, the company issued a statement that said that Proposition 65 is based on per day exposure and not exposure per can. It also cited government consumption data that shows that the average amount of diet soda consumed by people who drink it is 100 milliliters per day, or less than a third of a 12-ounce can. For that reason, they believe that Pepsi One does not require cancer-risk warning labels—even if the amount of 4-MeI in a single can exceeds 29 micrograms.

“While our study is not big enough to recommend one brand over another, our results underscore two key points: The first is that it is indeed feasible to get down to lower and almost negligible levels of 4-MeI. And the second is that federal standards are required to compel manufacturers to minimize the creation of this potential carcinogen,” said Rangan.

Other findings from Consumer Reports’ tests include:
  • Coca-Cola products tested had the lowest levels of 4-MeI for products with caramel color listed on the label.
  • While Whole Foods’ Dr. Snap has a “natural” label, its products contained 4-MeI. All caramel colors are considered artificial.
What the Government Can Do

Consumers Union, the policy and action arm of Consumer Reports, has filed a petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Specifically, it is asking the FDA to:
  • Set a standard for limiting the formation of 4-MeI in those caramel colors that contain it (caramel III and IV).
  • Require labeling of specific caramel colors in the ingredient lists of food where it is added, so consumers can make informed choices.  Not all caramel color contains 4-MeI, but consumers have no way of knowing. Europe already requires this type of labeling.
  • Bar products from carrying the “natural” label if they contain caramel colors.
What Consumers Can Do

At this point, the best consumers can do to avoid exposure to 4-MeI is to choose soft drinks and other foods that do not list “caramel color” or “artificial color” on their ingredient list.

Consumer Reports partnered with Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future to do the testing and the risk assessment. This project was made possible by donations to the Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center.


Monsanto's Position on Labeling GMOs
Monday, January 20, 2014

I recently read Monsanto's proxy statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Monsanto is the chemical company that makes genetically engineered ingredients now found in our food supply, and I was curious if shareholders were making any noise since a growing number of food companies are now opting out.   

From Cheerios'  announcement to remove genetically engineered ingredients from its iconic original cereal, to Chipotle and Whole Foods commitments to either going non-GMO or to labeling these ingredients in their stores, to Kroger's commitment to expanding its Simple Truth product line, the company is in a new position - defending the use of its products while also defending the fact that these ingredients were put into the food supply without informing the public.

Monsanto is a chemical company that introduced a new operating system for our food system in the 1990s. It is a brilliant revenue model for a  chemical company, as they created a system in which seeds are now hardwired to withstand record doses of their chemicals.  Soybeans were suddenly branded  RoundUp Ready Soybeans and engineered to withstand record doses of their weed killer RoundUp.  RoundUp Ready corn was engineered to do the same.  RoundUp Ready sugarbeets, increasingly pervasive in everything from cereal to candy, was also engineered to withstand record doses of their weed killer.  As you might expect, sales of this chemical weed killer, RoundUp,  brought financial stability to the company's earnings model.

But it is also introducing liability, as seen in a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission: Notice of Annual Meeting of Shareowners and 2013 Proxy Statement.

The challenges now in front of the company were recently brought to light in a "shareowner proposal"  in their December 2013 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission: Notice of Annual Meeting of Shareowners and 2013 Proxy Statement  In it, Monsanto writes: "Food is one of the most important and significant facets of our world. It is a critically important issue to everyone and is the focus of debates and dialogues from the halls of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, to the grocery store aisles in Buenos Aires..."

Around the country, Americans are taking notice, too. 

The company responded and disclosed its position on labeling:

"Our work in agriculture represents just one component of a broad and diverse food value chain that involves many parties. The proponent is seeking a report about the impact of the company’s working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to effect a change in labeling on consumer food products. These are not Monsanto products nor are they manufactured, controlled, packaged or labeled by our company. We sell seed to farmers, who often sell their crop harvest to a grain processor, who sells grain or ingredients to a food company, who may further process the ingredients, then manufacture the food item, which it then sells to a retailer, who ultimately sells the finished product to a consumer. As a company that is focused on agricultural productivity and which sells products to farmers our position in the chain does not afford us the expertise that would inform an assessment of consumer food packaging information."

Can you imagine if Intel operated this way? Let's take that last sentence and rephrase it for the semiconductor chip maker. 

We make a semiconductor chip, but because we sell it to computer makers who then sell it to wholesalers who then sell it to retailers, as a company that is focused on productivity, our position in the chain does not afford us the expertise that would inform an assessment of computer packaging information.  

There would be no way of knowing which parts of the operating system were functioning as promised and which parts might be detrimental to the system. 

Instead, Intel proudly stood behind their products and launched "Intel Inside."

The same has been asked of Monsanto, with consumer groups like "Just Label It" and "GMO Inside" asking for labeling.  Monsanto backs away from labeling their products, saying in the SEC filing:

"We support current FDA guidance on food labeling which is based on the attributes of the food itself. In the United States, the FDA regulates the safety and labeling of foods and food products derived from crops (conventional, GM, and organic), and all must meet the same safety requirements. FDA guidance requires labeling of food products containing ingredients derived from GM crops if there is a meaningful difference in composition, nutrition or safety between that food and its counterpart derived from conventional crops. In the absence of such a difference, the FDA has determined that mandatory labeling is not required. The American Medical Association (AMA) supports the FDA’s approach and approved a formal statement asserting that there is no scientific justification for special labeling of foods containing GM ingredients. FDA guidance does not require labeling of production practices used by farmers employing conventional or organic methods to control weeds and pests and improve their yields."

While claiming that there is no difference in their product, Monsanto fails to highlight that their products make the attributes of the food so different that they are patented by the United States Patent and Trademark Office for their unique traits and characteristics.  These unique attributes enable them to charge a premium to farmers for their use and also enable them to charge farmers royalty fees, licensing fees and trait fees.  The company also fails to highlight that American food companies either label or avoid the use of their products in the foods that they manufacturer overseas. 

But most importantly, Monsanto does not highlight that the American Medical Association requested that because these products are not labeled in our food supply, pre-market safety testing of these products should be mandatory. (Chicago Tribune: GMOs Should Be Safety Tested Before They Hit the Market, Says AMA) .

Can you imagine if Boeing were allowed to operate this way?  If the National Transportation Safety Board or Federal Aviation Administration allowed airplanes into the sky with a new operating system without mandatory pre-market safety testing? Or if the companies making the engines inside of them, were able to say "as a company that is focused on productivity, our position in the chain does not afford us the expertise that would inform an assessment of packaging information"? 

It is not surprising the food industry is beginning to opt out of these ingredients and this operating system.  It is the fiduciary duty of the executives of these food companies to deliver earnings, respond to consumer demand and capture market share, while reducing liability. A fiduciary duty is the legal duty of a fiduciary, directors or executives of food companies, to act in the best interests of the beneficiary, their shareholders.

If the company making these genetically engineered products is unwilling to display a label and accept liability for their ingredients, why should Nestle, Kraft, Coca Cola or any others in the space do the same?

In the first few weeks of 2014, both General Mills and Post have announced that they are dropping genetically engineered ingredients from products in response to consumer demand.  It's the fiduciary duty of executives at other companies to do the same.

Follow Robyn on Twitter @unhealthytruth and on Facebook.  She is a former financial analyst and author.


The Hidden Truth About Peanuts From the Farm to Food Allergies
Monday, January 13, 2014

Most of us have never been told that peanuts are treated with cancer-causing pesticides.

Nor have we been told that they are rotated in fields that contain genetically engineered cotton, a controversial crop used in our food supply that is treated with a weed killer linked to cancer and infertility.

We tend to only hear about the peanut allergy when it comes to peanuts in the news, but a deeper look into how we grow peanuts today unearths a lot of questions.

Since when did so many kids suddenly have a peanut allergy?  A peanut butter and jelly sandwich hasn’t always been a loaded weapon on a lunchroom table.

From 1997-2002, the incidence of peanut allergy doubled.  In the last fifteen years, there has been a 50% increase in the number of children with food allergies. About 1 in 20 U.S. children have food allergies — a 50 percent increase from the late 1990s, according to a recent CDC survey.

But that’s not where it stops.

Children with food allergy are two to four times more likely to have other related conditions such as asthma and other allergies, compared with children without food allergies.

In part, this is why this generation of children has earned the title of “Generation Rx.” They can’t go anywhere without an asthma inhaler or EpiPen, a life saving injection of epinephrine should an allergic reaction occur.   In 2012, EpiPen sales were on track to bring in $640 million this year, a 76 percent increase over last year.

And when President Obama shared on CBS News that his daughter has a peanut allergy and asthma, peanut allergies got even more serious, and the online world got fired up, as the President was signing a bipartisan bill that offers a financial incentive to states if schools stockpile epinephrine.  Epinephrine, also known by the brand name, EpiPen, is considered the first-line treatment for people with severe allergies.

Online comments flooded in:

As a mother of two kids with severe peanut allergy, I think this is a GREAT idea! We are a military family and have had three addresses in the last few months. Each time my son had to be enrolled in school we need a form signed by our doctor for each the Benedryl and Epipen. Our doc no longer faxes these forms so there IS a waiting period while it goes through the mail!!! I can rest easy that our school has a few on hand until the paperwork gets signed and mailed to me and I can supply our own Rx epipens!!!

Epi-pens do expire but they likely are good for 2-3 years. They are ridiculously expensive. A 250ml bottle of generic epinephrine costs about $3, but an epi-pen containing 0.20ml of the same strength epinephrine costs about $300. probably due to the patent on the auto-injector.

25% of anaphylactic reactions happen in those with no known/diagnosed allergy. This can include food allergies and bee sting allergies. The risks of not administering epinephrine in an emergent situation far outweigh any risks of giving it. For example, anaphylaxis is often confused with severe asthma attacks but epinephrine was the first line treatment for severe asthma attacks for years.

Here’s an idea…lets have the PARENTS of the kid who has allergies send the EpiPens into school vs having the schools pay to stockpile them, when most will not be used and expire anyway. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize kids didn’t have all these “allergies” before chemicals were put into our food.

Others called this a “band aid” solution to a real problem: the skyrocketing rates of allergies in our children and how to get to the bottom of what is causing them. Some will talk about peanut oil used in vaccines and others will float the hygiene hypothesis, saying that we are no longer exposed to healthy bacteria because we no longer live on farms.  The peanut allergy epidemic began fifteen years ago.  We weren’t living on a farm when this took off.  If we are going to talk about our overly Purell-ed environment, then we also need to talk about the fact that we are no longer exposed to healthy bacteria because how our food is now processed, treated with chlorine, preservatives, antibiotic, growth hormones and synthietc chemicals before it even hits our dinner plates.

It begs the question: Are we allergic to food?  Or to what’s been done to it?

And why all of a sudden do we have so many children with such severe food allergies that it requires the President to essentially write a prescription for kids around the country?

Well, a closer look at the mighty peanut might shed some light.

It’s interesting to note that the peanut is actually a bean. Its shape is similar to a soybean, and it is not a nut at all.  It is part of the legume family but different to the soybean and other beans which grow in pods on vines.  The peanut has its pod in the ground.

In other words, it’s buried in the soil.  It has a soft skin that protects it (not a hard shell like a walnut).  Put anything in that soil and you can imagine how it gets absorbed into the peanut.  Put genetically engineered seeds in that soil and you get soil that is saturated with a controversial chemical, glyphosate, linked to everything from cancer to infertility.

Peanut crops are often rotated with cotton crops, and now that cotton has been genetically engineered to withstand increasing doses of crop chemicals, it’s anyone’s guess as to just how polluted that soil has become.

But it’s not a guess to the farmers.

According to farmers, “Peanuts are raised in the part of our country where peanuts are a rotation crop with cotton. Most of the cotton is glyphosate tolerant and receives numerous glyphosate applications per year. Glyphosate severely damages the beneficial microorganisms in the soil. This leads to an increase in the population of opportunistic or bad organisms in the soil. The bad organisms cause an increase in the number of diseases that will adversely effect the peanut crop. This leads to an increased use of insecticides and fungicides on the peanut crop. It is common to see a conventional peanut crop sprayed with some type of pesticide every 8-10 days during the growing season.”

“Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body,” the study says.  The EPA is conducting a standard registration review of glyphosate and has set a deadline of 2015 for determining if glyphosate use should be limited. The study is among many comments submitted to the agency.

Peanuts tend to be grown in warm climates and as a result things can get pretty humid. Fungus can grow, and this results in increased use of fungicides being applied to non-organic peanut crops.

The fungus itself is not what we need to worry about (though the increasing levels of fungicides raises concern), but there is a poison that is released from the fungus known as “aflatoxin”. This cancer causing agent can attack the liver and is a deadly toxin.  Scientists have expressed concern over low-level, long-term exposures to aflatoxin. According to Cornell University, studies have shown a correlation with liver cancer risk.

Because the peanut is also a big target for little pests, peanuts are also one of the crops most heavily routinely saturated with pesticides.

Most of the peanuts consumed in the U.S. are now one of the most pesticide-contaminated snacks we eat.  The USDA Pesticide Data Program found 8 pesticides on peanut butter.   Piperonyl butoxide was found 26.9% of the time.

According to the National Pesticide Information Center, piperonyl butoxide is considered a possible human carcinogen based on limited evidence of cancer in laboratory animals.  Piperonyl Butoxide (PBO), a highly toxic substance that causes a range of short- and long-term effects, includ- ing cancer and adverse impacts on liver function and the nervous system, is one of the most commonly used synergists in pesticide products. Synergists are chemicals added to pesticide formulations to enhance the toxicity of the active ingredients.

As it turns out, peanuts and these pesticides aren’t the only ingredients in peanut butter. Conventional peanut butters can contain hydrogenated oils, sugar, salt and other ingredients such as soy protein, corn syrup and stabilizers. Many of these ingredients can be genetically engineered to either produce their own insecticidal toxins or to withstand increasing doses of weed killer.  In other words, you’re getting a whole suite of products along with that peanut.

Aflatoxins can be present in either conventional or organic making refrigeration of peanut butter so important, as it slows down the growth of aflatoxins.  As you might imagine, all peanut butters must be tested for aflatoxins.

So what’s an eater to do?

Buy organic peanut butter if you eat peanut butter and refrigerate it.  Why organic?  You will be avoiding that added load of fertilizer, fungicides and pesticides that are applied to conventional peanuts, as well as any high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils (probably full of GMOs or genetically engineered ingredients and genetically engineered soy, which when introduced in the late 1990s resulted in a 50% increase in the number of people with soy allergies).

On top of that, there are no animal testing models for the allergenicity of genetically engineered ingredients, so we are just banking on the promises of the chemical companies that have introduced and patented these ingredients. The FDA has not conducted any independent, long-term,  human health studies.  They don’t have the resources or access since genetically engineered ingredients are protected as intellectual property under U.S. Patent law.

As a result, grocery store chains like Wegman’s state:

“Testing for GE ingredients is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to do.  For example, there is no test available that can reliably determine the source of ingredients that have been highly processed, which is the case for corn syrup, soybean, canola, and corn oil.  These are four of the most common ingredients made from GE crops.”

That’s enough to make any parent of a child with food allergies stop in her tracks.

If you head into the grocery store, you can see an expanding line of organic peanut butters.   And if you are not peanut allergic,  according to a 2002 Harvard School of Public Health study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, consuming one tablespoon of peanut butter five or more times a week can reduce the risk of developing type-2 diabetes by 20%.

The mighty, unpolluted peanut is also a good source of fiber, vitamin E, potassium, folate, zinc and magnesium and contains resveratrol (also found in red wine), flavonoids, and antioxidants, all of whose health benefits are increasingly being proven to help you prevent a wide variety of diseases.  Just remember to go organic to avoid that load of chemicals. Arrowhead Mills Organic Peanut Butter claims to be completely aflatoxin-free.

And lastly, it’s also really important for parents of children with peanut allergy to know that the peanut can be cross-reactive with soy.  According to the Mayo Clinic and the Asthma and Allergy Resource Center, a person with a peanut allergy can have an allergic reaction after eating a food that contains soy (link to additional information here).

So what’s an American to do?

  1. If you have or suspect you have a peanut allergy, see a medical professional immediately to determine the best treatment and prevention plan.
  2. If you are a peanut butter lover, eat a clean peanut.  Organic peanut butter does not allow genetically engineered ingredients and synthetic toxic chemicals to be used in its production.
  3. Refrigerate peanut butter to keep those aflatoxins away.
  4. Learn about options: almond butter, sunflower nut butter and other options are increasingly available as more and more people are impacted.
  5. Be compassionate for those that are affected by the peanut allergy.  No one would choose to have it.  Having a child whose life could depend on an epinephrine shot is not something any parent anywhere would choose.  Work together.  Parents of peanut allergy kids are probably really scared and that can present in a lot of different ways.
  6. Learn the signs (a detailed list is below).  The landscape of childhood is changing.

Know the Signs of an Allergic Reaction

The Mayo Clinic is a trusted resource for food-allergic information and highlights the following:

The most common food allergy symptoms include:

  • Tingling or itching in the mouth
  • Hives, itching or eczema
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat, or other parts of the body
  • Wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing
  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting


In some people, a food allergy can trigger a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This can cause life-threatening symptoms, including:

  • Constriction and tightening of airways
  • A swollen throat or the sensation of a lump in your throat that makes it difficult to breathe
  • Shock, with a severe drop in blood pressure
  • Rapid pulse
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or loss of consciousness

Emergency treatment is critical for anaphylaxis.

Follow Robyn on Twitter @unhealthytruth and on Facebook.  She is a former financial analyst and author.