As I prepare to celebrate my second Mother’s Day as a mom, my heart is full of gratitude for the opportunity to do work that supports the health and wellbeing of future generations. How we take care of our bodies and our earth are intimately related, and how we bring children into the world is a profound aspect of that. To quote from the intro of Yoga for Pregnancy, which I co-authored last year, “growing a baby is an honor and a responsibility unlike any other.” In today’s world, it takes increasing effort to live up to that responsibility, especially when it comes to sourcing safe, healthy food. I’d like to share some of my personal reasons for being concerned about GMOs, and some tips for avoiding them during pregnancy.
In November 2008 a long-term feeding trial commissioned by the Austrian government found that mice fed genetically engineered corn had fewer offspring and lower birth rates. At the time, I was 28 years old, still unmarried and not yet a mother but deeply hopeful that children were in my future. I was also the only employee of the newly formed Non-GMO Project, and when headlines hit about the Austrian study I felt more committed than ever to the Project’s mission.
While there are a lot of reasons to be concerned about GMOs—failure to yield, pesticides and superweeds, environmental harm, and the list goes on—as a young woman it is always the studies showing impacts on fertility and infant health that strike the deepest chord for me.
A year after the Austrian study, a Russian feeding trial resulted in similarly disturbing findings, connecting consumption of genetically engineered soy with sterility and infant mortality. Conducted over a two-year period, the study found that by the third generation, hamsters fed on GMOs were mostly sterile, with slow growth and high mortality rates.
And then in May 2011, a landmark study found Bt toxin from GMOs in the blood of 93% of unborn human babies. This was particularly significant because the biotech industry had always claimed that the toxin would be destroyed in the gut. The study made clear, however, that the insecticide engineered into GMO crops was reaching babies in the womb, presumably through the food their mothers ate. According to a UK Daily Mail article about the study, “it is not known what, if any, harm this causes but there is speculation it could lead to allergies, miscarriage, abnormalities or even cancer.”
Most recently, the destructive connection between GMOs and pesticides has become increasingly evident. More than 80% of all GMOs grown are engineered to withstand glyphosate-based herbicides like Roundup, and research shows that glyphosate levels are significantly elevated in genetically engineered Roundup Ready crops. In March, the World Health Organization declared glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen. Meanwhile, traces of glyphosate have been found in the breast milk and urine of American mothers, as well as in our drinking water.
It is a profound violation of our basic rights to have products of this experimental technology slipping, unlabeled, into our food. And there is perhaps no demographic who feels this more strongly than mothers. According to a 2009 Organic Center Report, the six months prior to conception, pregnancy, and the first two years of life are periods of heightened vulnerability to developmental abnormalities. As moms, we want the best for our children and toxic, allergenic food is unacceptable.
The good news is that it IS possible to grow a non-GMO baby, and to keep you and your family safe from the GMO experiment. My beautiful son Robin Wilder is now 14 months old, and a radiant testament to the benefits of a diet full of healthy, organic, non-GMO food (and lots of love!).
Here are some tips for growing a non-GMO baby:
- Eat whole, unprocessed foods. There are only a handful of genetically engineered crops, most of which are commodity items most commonly used in processed, packaged foods. By choosing fresh fruits and vegetables and bulk grains and beans you can easily avoid most GMO risk crops.
- Choose Non-GMO Project Verified supplements. From prenatal vitamins to fish oil, your doctor has likely advised supplements during pregnancy and postpartum. You take these specifically for your health, so it’s very important that they be non-GMO. High-risk GMO inputs are common in vitamins and supplements, so choose products that have been verified to the Non-GMO Project’s rigorous standard.
- If you eat animal products, you are what they eat. Most GMOs grown are used for animal feed. It takes significant commitment and effort to source non-GMO corn and soy, and the Non-GMO Project label is the only third party assurance that feed has been tested for GMOs.
- Look for the seal. There are now more than 30,000 products verified to the Non-GMO Project’s rigorous standard. Look for the butterfly to be sure that the products you’re buying have been tested for GMOs. For the gold standard in product sourcing, look for the Non-GMO Project Verified label AND the USDA organic label. Although organic products are not tested for GMOs, the organic label is your assurance that rigorous practices have been followed for avoidance of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. The two labels together signify the safest, healthiest products you can buy for you and baby.
I believe that the very most important ingredient for a happy, healthy baby is LOVE. So while it’s easy to feel outraged about GMOs, it’s important to not get bogged down in fear and anger. We do have a lot of power when it comes to the future of our food. Every non-GMO and organic choice we make not only serves our babies and ourselves, but also sends a message to food producers about what we want to eat. Ultimately, voting with our wallets may be the most important thing we can do to help make sure our children’s children have safe, healthy food too.