Robyn O’Brien, a former Wall Street food industry analyst and mother, is on a mission to restore the health of the American children. She is the founder of the AllergyKids Foundation, an organization designed to protect the 1 in 3 American children with autism, allergies, ADHD and asthma. Robyn has been called “food’s Erin Brockovich” by the New York Times and one of “20 Inspiring Women to Follow on Twitter” by Forbes. In her first book, The Unhealthy Truth, Robyn brings insight, detailed analyses and compassion to her research into the impact that finances and the global food system are having on the health of the American children.
Just when I thought I’d found my groove as a mother of four, life changed one morning over a plate of scrambled eggs when our youngest child had a life-threatening allergic reaction. Up until that point, I hadn’t given much thought about what went into our food, where it came from or how it is regulated, and in all candour, I had rolled my eyes at food allergies. I was a former food industry analyst, with four young children, limited time and a limited budget, and I wasn’t particularly sensitive to any of it and almost entirely ignorant about the dangers in our food supply and the sudden increase in the rates of allergies, autism, ADHD and asthma in American children.
So I was stunned to learn that there had been a doubling of the peanut allergy from 1997-2002 and that according to the Centers for Disease Control, there had been a 265% increase in the rate of hospitalizations related to food allergic reactions. Since a food allergy is defined as when your body sees food proteins as foreign and launches an inflammatory response to drive out the foreign invader, I couldn’t help but ask the question: are there new and perceived “foreign”substances in our food supply?
And that’s when I really started to learn some very disturbing truths. In 1994, farmers began injecting dairy cows with a genetically engineered hormone called recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which they used to increase milk production in dairy cows. And while, today, milk allergies are the most common food allergies in the United States according to CNN and the Wall Street Journal, no tests have been developed to assess whether these allergies are actually in response to the new proteins introduced in the genetic engineering process that produced rbGH. And these foreign proteins aren’t just showing up in our milk. A few years after scientists got ahold of our dairy, soy began to be genetically engineered and there was a sudden increase in the rates of soy allergies despite the fact that once again, no tests were developed to assess the allergenicity of the novel proteins created in the process.
While correlation is not causation, these statistics were jaw-dropping. Yet when I approached the largest food allergy non-profit about the data, they basically had an allergic reaction to me. So with my background in finance, I pulled their financial statements in an attempt to understand why they might react this way, not only to find out who might be funding their research but also to learn why they had not highlighted the potential risks, novel proteins and novel allergens found in these recently introduced genetically engineered foods. That is when I learned of their financial relationship, and those their medical advisors, with large food and chemical corporations, with some of our nationally-recognized allergists even listed as inventors on some of the patents for these genetically engineered proteins .
Because no tests have been developed to assess the safety of the novel proteins and allergens created in the biotechnological process of genetic engineering, governments of developed countries around the world have exercised precaution and either did not allow these novel proteins into their food supplies or required their labelling so that consumers, especially parents, could make an informed choice when it comes to feeding their loved ones. In the United States, that precautionary measure was never taken, despite the fact that human trials had not been conducted to assess the safety and allergenicity of these novel proteins. Because I could not unlearn that information or that of the financial ties between some of our nation’s most trusted pediatric allergists and big corporations and felt it important to disclose this information in order to inspire and inform parents and caregivers about ways in which they could begin to protect their children with food allergies, autism, ADHD and asthma, I founded the AllergyKids Foundation and wrote The Unhealthy Truth.
And while I am trying my hardest to affect change, I can’t do it alone and appreciate everything that all of you are doing to inspire a health revolution for our children. Because, together, we can affect remarkable change in our food supply, not just for the little kids, but for the “big kids”, too.
Mrs. Q here — I first “met” Robyn on Twitter and was inspired by her story. I am grateful to Robyn for contributing this guest post and she is giving away three copies of her book to readers of the blog. If you would like to be entered into the giveaway, leave a comment below!