“Are we allergic to food or what’s been done to it?” This is the question that food industry analyst, Robyn O’Brien has spent her career investigating.
Robyn, a busy mother of four children, was led down a windy road to uncover some heart-breaking truths about corruption in the U.S. food industry when her youngest had an allergic reaction to eggs leading to a scary visit to the ER. In Robyn’s first book, The Unhealthy Truth, she reveals her path to becoming a spokesperson and advocate for change among the food industry. Without giving away too much I’d like to share some fascinating facts I uncovered in her book.
1. Corporate Cash Runs the Food Industry
This is perhaps the most disappointing fact discussed in Robyn’s book. Robyn first uncovered the corruption when her baby suffered an allergic reaction to eggs. Having a child with a severe allergy is a scary realization to have as a parent. Robyn had to train her other children to not share snacks with her youngest without permission from mommy, but how could she train the outside world to do the same? She couldn’t keep her daughter in the sheltered walls of their home forever. After conducting her own research around allergies, she realized there was not much out there. The scientific studies and factual research around allergies were limited so she decided to start her own organization, AllergyKids.com. She also effortlessly tried to gain support from the largest non-profit organization in the allergy space, FAAN (The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network). After reaching out numerous times, donating thousands of dollars of products, and sending FAAN money she was hit with a cease-and-desist letter.
The copyright concerned Robyn’s slogan, “Until there’s a cure, there’s AllergyKids.” FAAN claimed this was too close to a phrase they used in an annual report from 2004, which read “Until there’s a cure, education is key.” Upon this incident Robyn began to realize FAAN was not an organization solely focused on helping kids with allergies. Rather FAAN had countless ties to Big Food (at the time Kraft was its sole sponsor), Big Pharma, and several board members with corporate ties.
“When I first discovered these connections, I didn’t quite know what to make of them. But I was beginning to realize that the nonprofit world, our government’s regulatory agencies, and corporations who produced foods, seeds, pesticides, and insecticides were all involved with one another in intimate, if not in downright unhealthy ways,” Robyn wrote.
This is just the start of Robyn’s book, and as you continue to read you’ll find many other instances where corruption has occurred (and is still occurring) in the U.S. food industry. Whether it be researchers being paid by different corporations to discover biased findings or the role politics plays in food, there is a lot of scary findings to unpack.
“Whenever you read or hear an ‘expert opinion,’ consider the funding source. Google the name of the doctor, organization, or medical institution and add one of the following terms: ‘disclosure,’ ‘speaking bureau,’ ‘grant,’ ‘consulting fee,’ or ‘fundraising,” suggests Robyn.
TAKEAWAY: Don’t be discouraged, but be aware that the food you buy in the grocery store and the “scientific” studies you read online may mislead you. Use discretion when shopping and doing research. Continue to learn more about how you can fight against the corruption going on within the food industry.
2. The Dangers of rBGH in Milk
Have you ever seen “rBGH free” or “rBST free” on a milk carton, and been unsure of what the means? Recombinant bovine somatotrophine (rBST) and recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) are two names for a hormone injected into cows to boost their hormonal activity leading to a 10 to 15 percent increase in milk production (about one extra gallon per day). RBGH was approved by the FDA in 1993, and is solely sold by the patent-holder Monsanto, a (very corrupt) agriculture company, which markets it under the name Posilac.
So what’s so wrong with an increase in milk production? The hormone does much more than spur production. Injected cows are left with a laundry list of health problems. One being the painful udder infection called mastitis, which causes the cows to produce bacteria and pus along with the milk (yuck!). The hormone can also lead to digestive disorders, like diarrhea, and a reduction of calcium making the cows lame. The hormone also cuts a cow’s life expectancy down leading to death in approximately two years after being injected (the normal life expectancy is between four and ten years).
But, how does this genetically altered hormone effect the people who drink it? Aside from the effect on smaller family farms going out of business, as well as the financial implications (with more milk production the government has to buy up the surplus with our taxpayer dollars), the health scare is much more concerning.
“As early as 1998, an article in The Lancet, the prestigious British medical journal, reported that women with even relatively small increases of a hormone known as insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) were up to seven times more likely to develop premenopausal breast cancer,” says Robyn. rBGH milk has up to ten times the IGF-1 levels of natural milk, according to a report in the International Journal of Health Services. The Breast Cancer Fund has also reported the one in eight women now have breast cancer, and 90% of breast cancers diagnosed today are being triggered by environmental factors. “Doesn’t it seem logical that there might be a connection between breast cancer-causing hormone introduced into our milk in 1994 and the increasing rates of breast cancer?” asks Robyn.
TAKEAWAY: Stick to buying milk and dairy products labeled “rBGH free” or “organic,” which by law cannot contain the toxic hormone. Or try almond, cashew, or coconut milk – there are many delicious alternatives!
3. The Dangers of Genetically Engineered Foods, Artificial Colors, and Aspartame
Robyn gracefully explains the problem with genetically modifying food by this one sentence: “Something can go wrong every step of the way.” How exactly does genetic engineering work? In simplified terms, I like to think of genetically engineered food as food with chemical additives that may or may not be harmful to our health. Scary, right? The scientific process is broken into three stages: transcription, translation, and expression. During transcription the DNA passes the message to the RNA. Within translation the RNA passes information to the protein, and then expression is when the protein then expresses the trait encoded in the DNA.
“Genetic engineers used to think genes were simple, and that we could put them together and take them apart like Legos. In reality, genes are way more complicated,” Robyn explains. She advises keeping in mind that genes interact in complex and unpredictable ways, and genetic engineering may work most of the time, but when if it goes wrong we don’t know what will happen. “Since genetically modified foods are so unpredictable, it’s difficult even to know what to test for,” says Robyn. “This is exactly why Europe follows the precautionary principle: as long as you don’t know how it’s going to affect us, don’t put it in your foods.”
In further chapters, Robin discusses studies done in the 1980’s and 1990’s on how artificial colors and preservatives affect children with and without ADHD, and it’s quite fascinating. Google the Southampton Shocker to read about an interested scientific experiment.
She later goes into the dangers of aspartame, which are artificial sweeteners like NutraSweet and Equal, added to everything from Diet Coke to Yoplait yogurt. Aspartame was approved for consumption by the FDA 1981 and has been linked to many diseases and health problems (including cancer, weight gain, memory lapse, brain tumors, etc.), and 75 percent of complaints to the FDA about adverse reactions to food are from products containing aspartame. There is much more to the aspartame story, which will bring you back to point #1. For one thing, the vast majority of studies done proving aspartame to be harmless were funded by the aspartame industry. The aspartame story ties into big corporation control and politics, and exposes many of the flaws in our system
TAKEAWAY: The moral of the story is that food that has been altered from its original state through genetic engineering, added artificial colors/preservatives, and/or aspartame is probably best to avoid; Although this is easier said than done. Robyn recommends following the 80-20 rule with 80% of your food being “clean” (free of additives and closest to it’s natural form) and 20% being the exception because we can’t be perfect all the time.
In future chapters, Robyn reveals how you can get involved to improve the foods our children are consuming. She even provides ideas for weekly family meals, and resources to follow. Robyn recommends keeping up with the following websites www.SeedsofDeception.com, www.FoodNavigator.com, www.TakePart.com, and www.lunchlessons.org.
I would recommend giving The Unhealthy Truth a read. You’ll likely be shocked by all that you learn, and might even change your perspective on food.