Have you stopped to wonder why kids these days have a lot more food allergies, autism, and poorer health generally? Internationally, mothers are gathering together in a movement to stop Monsanto from producing Round-up and to stop genetic modification of our foodstuffs, as the work of one woman, Zen Honeycutt, has shown light on the detrimental effects to our health.
Zen Honeycutt burst into tears in the car park. She was devastated. Angry that corporate greed and lies had won over the nation’s health she wept. It took her nine-year-old son to help bring a new perspective.
“When I told my nine-year-old, who had been right there with me passing out flyers, that we had lost for sure, he saw the disappointment on my face and he said, ‘Mom even Star Wars took 6 episodes to win. And they had YODA!’ He was not sad, he was ready for the next episode! Adventure!”
What form that next adventure would take Zen didn’t yet know but a while she stood weeping in the car park a woman called Kathleen Hallal came up to her and said, ‘This is just the BEGINNING! We are going to win this!’
The previous 4th of July she had spent at a party making sure her kids didn’t eat the corn chips or any corn as it was probably made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). When Proposition 37 was put up in California to demand the labelling of GMOs, Zen worked tirelessly for the cause. When it was defeated 52 to 48 percent, after corporations poured $45million into the ‘no’ campaign, Zen was livid that the health of children was not the priority.
Zen’s first child was born with nut allergies. At Thanksgiving, when he was five, he accidentally ate stuffing with pecans. Puffed up, the colour of a raspberry and drooping like a rag doll his ‘epi-pen’ was administered and they reached the hospital just in time. Multiple allergies started appearing in all her three boys – gluten/wheat, nut, peanut, mushroom, egg and dairy. However, it was when her eldest son developed an allergy to carrageenan, a food thickener made of processed seaweed or moss, an allergy which if ignored could create ulcers in his stomach and eventually cause cancer, that Zen really got angry. The next few months were spent researching the food system and why children were developing allergies at such an alarming rate.
BGlyphosate why scientists are worried
- Endocrine disruptor – can cause hormonal imbalances, infertility and hormone-related cancers.
- Chelator – the herbicide is designed to stop the organism it enters from taking in nutrients, leading to illness and in the case of plants death.
- Antibiotic – has been shown to kill the gut bacteria of animals at very low levels.
Zen’s research led her to Robyn O’Brien’s Ted Talk Patriotism on a Plate and her book The Unhealthy Truth, which changed everything. O’Brien explained how novel, possibly allergenic, proteins were being unintentionally created in GMOs and clearly outlined the two types of GMOs currently farmed. The first type is engineered to produce a toxin in every cell of the plant which explodes the stomachs of bugs that bite the plant, these foods are registered both as foods and pesticides in the US. The second type of plant is engineered to withstand applications of herbicide.No longer do farmers need to weed by hand; they can simply pour glyphosate (Round-up) on the plants and the crop won’t die. Recently, however, weeds have picked up this trait too and become glyphosate tolerant so the next generation of GMOs are designed to withstand stronger pesticides like dicamba and 2-4-D, an active ingredient in Agent Orange.
The concerns around the first type of GMO were pretty obvious to Zen. Without proper feeding trials no one knew the effect of the food on the human gut, but Zen knew that it probably wasn’t good news for her children’s already compromised digestive systems.
The effects of the second type of GMO were a little less obvious and warranted some research into glyphosate (Round-Up). Developed in the 70s by Monsanto, glyphosate use has skyrocketed since the introduction of GMO crops, with 700,000 tons used in 2013 and an expected 1 million tons by 2020. Ninety percent of that amount is used on food crops while the majority of the rest is sprayed on playgrounds, sports ovals and gardens. While Monsanto has always claimed that glyphosate is non toxic to humans many scientists disagree and the evidence that it causes harm is mounting.
Both Robyn and Zen speak of the ‘Mama Bear’ response to learning this information and an overwhelming desire to protect their cubs. Zen blogged at the time, ‘I swore to do one thing a day. Now after sharing with thousands, handing out flyers, sharing the movie and speaking with school principals and doctors about it, I find I am compelled to do far more than one thing. It has become my driving passion to be a part of freeing Americans from the toxins in our food. I know not everyone will take this on, but I am. I can start with my community. I asked my preschool director if I could help the school go GMO free and organic. She had watched Genetic Roulette. We knew that what kids eat during preschool years directly correlates with whether or not they get cancer as adults. She gave me her budget and agreed. I hoped I wasn’t being naive. I went to Sprouts and Trader Joe’s and bought several options of organic snack crackers and priced out organic apples, oranges, bananas and pears. I made a spread sheet pairing one snack cracker and one fruit, figured out how many of each was needed. After moving some selections around I created a plan that was UNDER Budget. There it was. Organic, GMO Free and easy to do.
‘THIS could make a difference. A lot bigger difference than screaming my head off and getting mad. So I emailed out to over 100 Moms and offered it to thousands on Facebook. The response was great and it became clear that offering solutions rather than problems is always way more effective.’
Next came the proposition 37 defeat and, along with Kathleen Hallal, Zen founded the children’s health lobby group Mom’s Across America,‘a national coalition of Unstoppable Moms committed to empowering millions to educate themselves about GMOs and related pesticides, get GMOs labeled and offer GMO free and Organic solutions’. In 2013 they marched in 4th of July parades in a handful of states. The next year, 2014, they marched in 44 states calling for GMO food to be labelled. They now boast 310 Mom Leaders organising events year round.
The strength of Moms Across America is mums talking to mums. It’s easier to accept the advice to go organic if there is a mum, like you, giving advice on how to shop cheaply for organics and simple swaps to do to make your kids’ diet healthier. It has also provided support for a lot of families who are struggling with the stress and fear of food allergies. It has given many mums a way to channel their anger about the food system.
The group were determined to find out more about the levels of exposure their kids had to glyphosate. In 2013 the group tested breastmilk for glyphosate levels. Out of ten samples, three registered amounts between 700 and 1600 times the allowable limit of glyphosate in EU drinking water. These were mothers who were aware of the issues and had been avoiding GMO crops, which begs the question, what would levels be like in mothers who aren’t avoiding these foods?
Ten thousand mothers called the EPA to request the recall of Round-up, but so far there has been no response. Undeterred they tested the feeding tube liquid given to kids in hospital who can’t eat normally. Thirty percent of the samples tested positive at levels above 75ppb. This amount is 800-1110 times higher than the amount that has been shown to destroy gut bacteria in chickens (0.1ppb).
Fed up with the authorities who weren’t responding to the concerns of mothers, in January Zen found a way to talk to Monsanto and its shareholders when John Harrington of Harrington Investments, an ethical investment firm, allowed Zen to go in his place. This gave her the opportunity to directly question the CEO of Monsanto and implore management and shareholders to ‘stop poisoning the children’. Her arguments were considered, well-informed and polite. Afterwards a shareholder thanked her for her words as they reflected the sentiments of some shareholders who hadn’t yet spoken up. The shareholders also voted for Harrington’s proposal that allows shareholders to directly nominate candidates to the Board of Directors. Currently, only existing board members are allowed to select candidates for the board. Monsanto may not implement the proposal but it shows enough shareholders are questioning how the company is being run.
Inspired by Zen and the Moms Across America work, international mothers have joined together to create Moms Across the World. It’s a diverse group including Moms Across Africa, Moms Across Canada, Moms Across Ireland and groups in China, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Belize, UK, Jamaica and more. They regularly meet online and support each other in their aim of transforming the food system for the health of coming generations.
There is an amazing movement growing but there is still plenty to do. Between raising three boys and running a household Zen is travelling the globe speaking to mums about how to go organic and avoid GMOs. Somewhere she also finds the time to work on a book to be released late 2015. The title is Unstoppable Love,a title that sums up Zen, and her quest, very neatly indeed.
Katie Falkiner is a freelance writer and food consultant. Her interest in food was once purely epicurean but now includes the political.
Groups in Australia supporting Mom’s Across America
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