What’s the Big Deal About GMOs?

Child eating corn on the cob

GMO foods, those from genetically modified organisms, show up in the news every week. The information we get about them can be confusing because the issues are complex and the interested players putting their spin on the issues are many.

Don’t give up and move on, though. GMOs matter. Take the time to learn how GMOs have not in the past 20 years lived up to the promises made to consumers, but they have shifted control of global agriculture to a few corporate hands. Beyond instability introduced to global food systems, research connects GMOs to health and environmental issues.

The issues most often in the news are whether GMOs should be allowed into the food supply (in Canada & the U.S. they are; in Europe they are not), and, when they are allowed into the food supply, whether they should be labeled (in Canada and the U.S. they are not, though there is some voluntary GMO-free labeling).

What does GMO mean?

You might see references to GMO, GM, or GE in discussions of genetic modification of organisms.

  • GE – Genetically Engineered – Genetic material has been added or removed. This is a specific term.
  • GM / GMO – Genetically Modified (Organism) – Genes modified through any means. GM is an umbrella term that includes all GE.

In common (rather than scientific) discussion of these issues, you may see references to both as GMOs or Genetically Modified Organisms.

Why genetically modify foods?

Crops have been modified to make them resistant to weeds and insects, to make them ready for specific (patented) herbicides, to make them resistant to weather damage, to make them ripen slower and travel better so it is easier to get them to market looking fresh.

GMOs benefit the corporations that profit from higher production and monocultures. They can benefit the farmers who plant these crops in some situations, though many traditional farmers have suffered at the legal hands of the major GE corporations.

Where are GMO foods found?

You are likely eating GMO foods every day without realizing it.

Over the past 20 years, GM foods have been approved in Canada. In Canada and the U.S. (unlike Europe), there is no government requirement to label these foods, either in the whole fruits and vegetables section of your grocery store or as ingredients in processed, packaged, and other foods.

Health Canada is charged with making sure any GMOs on the market are safe for consumption. Health Canada refers to these and other foods as Novel Foods. They provide GMO / novel foods factsheets, including details of their safety assessment process. There are no further plans to research safety of GMOs in Canada.

Some smaller areas in Canada and the U.S. have banned GMOs or required labelling of GMOs in their jurisdictions.

What are the problems with GMOs?

Outside the U.S. and Canada, 60 countries have bans or restrictions on GMOs—including Australia, Japan, and the European Union. A lot of scientists and global health professionals urge caution before accepting unproven modifications in our food supply. We can’t just take back GMOs. Once they are growing, they change wild plant and animal populations as well as agriculture. They change our ecosystems.

Your Health. Government agencies and those who sell GMO seeds and foods tell us that they are safe, yet research accumulates on the long-term harmful effects of GM foods. Abnormal structural changes are shown in animal feeding experiments. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine explains how the idea of “substantial equivalence” underlies the claims of food safety but why that doesn’t give us the full story.

For example, I know a lot of bynature.ca customers are concerned about food allergies and sensitivities. There is research into whether GM crops cause allergies. It’s tough, though, to get around all of the corporate-sponsored FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) to find science that isn’t conducted under interested parties. Read one doctor’s view, tracing the gradual acknowledgment of the association between one disease and GM foods. Over time, we can expect to see more stories like this as more long-term health effects become clear.

Environmental Impacts. GMOs contaminate similar organisms as genetically modified genes spread. The spreading is natural, though the genes spread are not naturally occurring. Crops that have been modified to include their own herbicides or pesticides have resulted in weeds and insects that have grown more tolerant and resistant, which means pesticide and herbicide use increases to combat those.

Biodiversity. What may be weeds to a monoculture farmer are habitat for butterflies, bees, and other small creatures. Huge weed-free zones mean destruction of habitat. GMO forests could be devastating to biodiversity.

Sovreignty. Farmers save seeds to plant next year, right? Not with GMOs. Genetically modified genes together with gene patents mean corporate legal control over a growing number of the most commonly planted seeds. Terminator Technology results in plants that produce sterile seeds. Even in plants that do not produce sterile seeds, farmers are not allowed legally to save seeds patented by the massive GE corporations. This creates long-term dependency rather than self-reliance. Together with the massive corporate buying of seed companies then raising of prices for seed, you have every farmer at the mercy of the corporation that modified and patented the genes of the seeds that farmer’s family has been growing for generations immemorial.

What can that mean in the real lives of real people? Over the past 15 years in India, more than 270,000 farmers have committed suicide. Seeds and GMOs play a big role in this tragedy. Watch a short film about the connection.

What if I want to avoid GMOs?

Foods containing GMOs are not required to be labelled. If you want to avoid eating genetically modified foods, you will have to do the research for yourself to determine which foods are genetically modified or may contain GMOs.

  • Avoid the worst GMO foods: Canola, corn, soy, sugar (from sugar beets), papayas, dairy from cows treated with rBGH, zucchini and yellow squash. Look for high-risk crops and be aware of ingredients in processed foods. The introduce of new crops means you can’t rely on a list long-term. Check the food list at the Non-GMO Project.
  • Buy organic. Certified organic foods are not allowed to be genetically modified.
  • Plant your own. Though GM seeds are available for home gardens, you can find non-GMO seeds by asking your seed provider.
  • Look for GMO-free labels. Some smaller food retailers are also concerned. Shop where you can find the label “GMO-free.” The Non-GMO Project will help you find labelled foods.

Resources

“Human Health Risks of GMOs,” Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

Genetic Routlette: The Gamble of Our Lives (2012). Documentary film.

GMO Trilogy. Watch “Unnatural Selection” online for free. Documentary films.

Jeffrey M. Smith, Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating (2005). Also available bundled with the documentary films of the GMO Trilogy.

Dr. Vandana Shiva has long been an activist for food sovreignty and anti-globalization. Read her response to a recent campaign of doubt against her published in The New Yorker, August 2014.

Take Action

Join CBAN, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

Organic Consumers Association works on a lot of issues that concern us. Dig through their section on GMOs to find the ways you can take action internationally, nationally, and in your own community. Includes the Report, GMO Myths & Truths: An Evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops by Earth Open Source.

U.S. based? Sign the MoveOn petition to Hillary Clinton by the Organic Consumers Association about support for Monsanto and GMO agriculture.

“Speaking at this year’s BIO International Convention, you reiterated your support for genetically modified organisms (GMOs). You said the industry needs ‘a better vocabulary’ to change negative public perception about GMO agriculture. But mounting scientific evidence says the public is right to be concerned about the impact of Monsanto’s GMO crops and food on the environment, public health and global warming. We don’t need a better vocabulary. We need leaders who will stand up to Monsanto.”

Image © Alinute | Dreamstime.com - Pretty Child Girl Eats A Boiled Corn Photo

 

Baby Carrier Safety

Baby Carrier Safety

 

Your baby belongs close to you. Babywearing keeps your baby close enough to kiss. We find, though, that a lot of parents start with concerns about the safety of babywearing and baby carriers.

Parents are right to be concerned. Babywearing is safe when done right with a safe carrier, but not all carriers are equal.

Baby Carrier Safety

Until quite recently, every parent had to rely on baby carrier manufacturers themselves to make safe products without any basic standards to guide them. It was manufacturers themselves who sought standards, and they now have clear, strict standards for making baby carriers as well as clear guidelines for parents to be sure that they use baby carriers safely. An international alliance of baby carrier manufacturers, store owners, and babywearing educators all join together in one organization that oversees baby carrier safety: the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance (BCIA).

Basic Babywearing Guidelines

Always keep in mind a few basic guidelines:

  • Holding position. Keep your baby in a position you would hold them in arms. Using a carrier mimics holding your baby.
  • Close enough to kiss. Unlike a should bag, your baby shouldn’t be hanging low. Keep the baby up high as you would hold them without a carrier.
  • Face visible. You need to be able to see you baby’s face at all times without skin, fabric, or anything else in the way.
  • Head and neck supported. This is very important. Proper support keeps your baby’s airway from restricting.

Wearing your baby safely is a skill you need to learn. Basic guidelines help, but they aren’t enough. This is why bynature.ca staff are Certified Babywearing Experts, trained to help you learn the skills you need for safe use of your carrier with your baby.

Please come by the store to learn more about babywearing. We want you to be close and safe.

Babywearing Workshops

Which workshop or consultant do you need? Choose from four. If you aren’t sure, drop by or call.

Just starting out? Our Babywearing 101 workshop for new and expectant parents is a great way to prepare for your baby’s birth or learn to wear your infant under 3 months old. The workshop is about 1.5 hours. Register online or in the store.

If you already know the basics, our Better Babywearing Clinic might be for you. Every Thursday morning at 10:00AM we hold a clinic that lasts 30-45 minutes where you learn infant physiology and step-by-step instruction. Each week, we focus on a specific style of carriers, so choose the week you attend based on the style you are interested in. We will also help you try carriers before you buy them after the clinic. Register online or in the store.

If you need more help, we also provide private babywearing consultation. If you’ve already attended the Bettery Babywearing clinic, you start with a 30-minute session. Without the clinic, you will need two 30-minute sessions. Your fee can be deducted from the cost of your carrier purchased from Parenting by Nature within seven days. Register online or in the store.

If you just need your carrier fitted, we can walk you through your choices, help you get the right carrier, and give you lessons to get started. Register for the Baby Carrier Fitting Service for a 30-minute consultation. Your fee can be deducted from the cost of your carrier purchased from Parenting by Nature within seven days. Register online or in the store.

It always helps to be well informed. For more babywearing safety, see the collection of links from BCIA.

Clothing for UV Protection This Summer

UV Sun Protective Suit for Children

The best way to keep the sun’s UV rays away from your children’s skin is to cover their skin. The Skin Cancer Foundation calls clothing “Our first line of defense.” Dressing your children in clothing with a high UVF rating is a smart move when you go to the beach or the pool this summer.

A physical barrier to the sun gives better protection than a chemical barrier. We wrote about the importance of a physical barrier to UV rays in our review of natural sunscreens. Clothing can create a barrier without the mess of sunscreen. Clothing is a good option if you must be in the sun with a baby (since you shouldn’t use sunscreen on babies under 6 months old) or with a very fair-haired child (since lighter skin has less natural protection against sunburn).

There is a history of skin cancer in my family, so I am very cautious about sun exposure for my children and myself. Even in extreme heat, I wear long sleeves. It will be 90 degrees Fahrenheit today. I’m going to an outdoor event to hear my husband and son play in a bagpipe band. Based on experience, I’m guessing someone will ask, “Aren’t you hot in that long-sleeved shirt.” Don’t be deterred by those who second guess you when you cover yourself or your children. Fabric is the easiest, most effective way to avoid sunburn and the long-term damage caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation.

How UV Protective Fabric Works

In much the same way that minerals in natural suncreen block or absorb UVA and UVB rays from the sun before they reach our skin, fabric can absorb or deflect sunlight. Think of how much light different curtains let in to your house. Fabric that prevents light prevents harmful rays.

What to Look for in Fabric

A tightly woven or knit fabric gives better protection because there is less room between the threads for sun to peek through. Darker fabrics with a lot of pigment give more protection. Because of its structure, polyester is the most effective lightweight fabric for sun protection, but heavier weight natural fabrics, like dark blue jeans, can block most of the sun’s rays. There are also chemical treatments that are added to some fabrics for extra UV protection. We prefer to avoid the chemical treatments and go with fabrics that provide protection through structure.

UPF Rating

Sunscreen has an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) rating that tells you how effective a product is against UVB rays that cause sunburn. UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) ratings are given to clothing as an indication of how effective a product is against UV rays of both kinds (UVA as well as UVB). UPF 50+ means that clothing has been tested to block 99% of UV rays. UPF 50+ is a rating of Excellent.

Sun Protective Swimwear for Children

Full Sun Protective Suit
UPF 50+
Size: 0-6 months through 10 years

UV Protection Sun Suit for Children

We carry sun protection suits (half-sleeve and half-leg) in sizes 0-6 months and up for babies through 10 years for children. This is the fastest way to cover large areas. 100% polyester. Comfortable, stretchy, chlorine resistant. Made in Canada from specialized Australian fabrics.

UV-Tee
UPF 50+
Size: 3-6 months to 18-24 months

Bummis UV swim wear

Bummis has a new line of sun protection clothing that coordinates with the prints of their popular Swimmi swim diapers. These T-shirts cover the shoulders, often the first spot to get burned at the pool. A separate top and bottom is a much quicker way to get out of the swim suit fast, which is very important when your child is potty training. Soft and durable. Chlorine resistant. Made in Canada from fabric made in Canada.

Tankini
UPF 50+
Size: 0-12 months or 12-24 months

Bummis Tankini swim top for babiesIf you aren’t necessarily looking for protection over the shoulders, the adorable Tankini swim top gives the same UPF protection of 50+ to the full torso. Halter clip is adjustable for a wide range of sizes. Use sunscreen for arms, faces, and ears. Made in Canada from fabric Made in Canada.

Sun Cap
UPF 50+
Size: 3-6 months to 18-24 months

 Swim hat made in Canada

Don’t forget to cover your child’s head. Bummis Sun Caps are made from the same prints as their Swimmis reusable swim diapers. Crown and visor have UPF rating of 50+. Coordinates with UV-Tee and Tankini swim tops. Made in Canada.

Should you go outside with your children? Definitely. All of us need to play in nature. Just be aware of the risk of sun exposure and mitigate that risk with UV protection through clothing and sunscreen.

10 Holiday Travel Kit Essentials

Young family at the beach

As you head off for the holiday weekend with your family, be sure that you have all of the items you need to make travel smooth. Sure, you could pull together what you need every time you leave the house, but it saves a lot of time to keep a kit in your bag with your travel essentials.

Pull together your essential items in travel sizes. This is my essential kit, but choose your own by thinking through what you are going to do on your trip and what you use every time you are out.

  1. Sunscreen – Safe, natural sunscreen is the most important item in your kit if you are going to be outside at all.
  2. Bug Spray - Outside, you will probably also need bug spray, which is a close second.
  3. Hat – Keep the sun off your baby with a hat. Sunscreen isn’t recommended for babies under six months old. If you use a lightweight hat, you can roll it up neatly in a corner of the kit.
  4. Lip Balm – Lips dry out in the wind, and burn in the sun. Lip balm with sunscreen is best.
  5. Water Bottle – Stay hydrated. Fill your water bottle with as much ice as you can fit first, then pour in the water. This won’t fit in the kit, but you definitely need to keep it close by for everyone when you are outside.
  6. Wet Bag – If there are accidents, and there probably will be accidents, you will be happy you have a bag to collect wet pants, dirty shirts, or wet wipes.
  7. Toys – Distraction might help if it takes a while to get to your destination. For your kit, one small toy is enough.
  8. Peppermint Headache Stick – Based on my own experience, a day out with children can be stressful. A peppermint stick is one of those things you really need to try to see how well it works (for a mild headache). I relied heavily on mine.
  9. Natural Hand Purifier – If you won’t have easy access to hand-washing facilities, you will be glad you have a quick and easy way to wash up before you eat and after you change diapers.
  10. After-sun Care Badger Balm – If you or your children do catch the sun, a little after-sun balm with naturally anti-inflammatory ingredients will soothe the heat.

Once you have gathered your items, put it all in a travel bag. Better yet, find another reusable container that will keep everything safe and available.

Reusable Sandwich Bag with Window
Sandwich Bag with window
A sandwich bag with a window leaves everything easy to see so you can grab what you need quickly. This is smaller (7″ x 5.75″), so it is only appropriate if you have just a few items.

Lunch Bots Uno
Lunchbots Uno Stainless Steel box
To keep tubes from squeezing, I like hard containers. Small Lunch Bots Uno, the smallest of the Lunch Bots containers, can hold a small kit at 6.25″ x 4.5″ x 1.75″.

Stainless Steel Lunch Box
Stainless Steel Lunch Box
If you have a big kit, a stainless steel food storage container will give you plenty of space and keep all of your items from squeezing out at 7″ x 5″ x 2.5″. I especially like that the two separate layers let you spread everything out so you don’t have to dig through a deeper container.

Any of these kits is small enough to fit in a backpack, a glove box, or a diaper bag. Pack your travel essentials early and you will find that the travel day will go much easier.

Image © Konradbak | Dreamstime.com

Toxic Threats to Child Development

In Harm's Way Toxic Threats to Child Development

Are you looking for some substantial reading you can do over the weekend? I’ve been reading more about the toxic environment in which our children grow and develop. I’m not concerned about the good dirt and exposure to naturally occurring bacteria that help children build their immunity naturally. I’m concerned with the heavy toxins introduced into our environment through industrialization.

In 2000, a group of physicians released In Harm’s Way, a long, peer-reviewed study of toxic chemical influences on developmental disabilities. The study is written in more plain language that most medical studies, so it’s easier for most of us to read and understand.

Though trends are difficult to establish with certainty, there is a growing consensus that learning and behavioral disorders are increasing in frequency. These disabilities are clearly the result of complex interactions among genetic, environmental, and social factors that impact children during vulnerable periods of development. Research demonstrates that pervasive toxic substances, such as mercury, lead, PCBs, dioxins, pesticides, solvents, and others, can contribute to neurobehavioral and cognitive disorders.

Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, “In Harm’s Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development,” 2000.

If you want to understand your child’s normal brain development and how chemical toxins alter development, you will find it in this study.

You can buy a paperback version of the 149-page study for $100+ or you can download it for free in pieces or as one long PDF.

The themes that emerged from this research were:

  1. Neurodevelopmental disabilities are widespread, and chemical exposures are important and preventable contributors to these conditions.
  2. Our initial understanding of the impacts of neurotoxic substances regularly underestimates the potential for harm.
  3. Carefully conducted, long-term epidemiological studies have proven to be much more sensitive measures of developmental neurotoxicity than animal studies.
  4. Regulatory policy has repeatedly failed to protect children from widespread harm due to exposures to developmental neurotoxins.
  5. The failure of the regulatory system to protect public health can often be traced to the influence of vested economic interests upon the regulatory process.
  6. Neurodevelopmental disabilities impose social and economic costs upon impacted families and the economy as a whole.
  7. Special interests are not merely tolerated but are actually an integral part of the regulatory process.

The conclusions point the way to improving a regulatory system that has not yet adequately protected children’s health. Who, though, is going to say that they don’t have children’s health as their goal? This is common ground we all share. Starting from there, we can look at what barriers stand in the way, name them out loud, and make the changes necessary to prevent such damage to our children’s present and future.

The project didn’t stop with the publication of this study. Training programs have been created to act on findings, and they have produced many more guides for clinicians and for parents. If you find yourself intrigued by this study, there is much more where that came from.

We have to be well informed as parents if we are going to make the best decisions for our children.