Booby Traps Set Up Breastfeeding Moms for Failure

Many mothers start out with the best of intentions when it comes to breastfeeding. Health experts agree that “breast is best” and the benefits of breastfeeding for both the baby and the mother are numerous. Yet while a lot of people give lip service to the importance of breastfeeding, there isn’t a lot of support for women once they make the decision to breastfeed. In fact, our society offers very little support to breastfeeding moms and often sabotages breastfeeding altogether.

How many times have you heard about a mom being told to cover up her nursing child on an airplane or at an amusement park or at a store or at a restaurant or even asked to leave or had the police called on her? How many times have you seen formula ads in parenting magazines and on television? How many times have you read a magazine article giving incorrect breastfeeding advice (or should I say formula advice) or heard of a well-intentioned pediatrician giving parenting advice that compromises the breastfeeding relationship? Has a can of unwanted infant formula ever mysteriously appeared at your doorstep?

The examples above all have one thing in common – they are Breastfeeding Booby Traps. Best For Babes (a non-profit that believes “ALL moms deserve to make an informed feeding decision and to be cheered on, coached and celebrated without pressure, judgment or guilt, whether they breastfeed for 2 days, 2 months 2 years, or not at all”) describes Breastfeeding Booby Traps asthe cultural and institutional barriers that prevent moms from achieving their personal breastfeeding goals.”

Some Booby Traps include:

  • sending moms home from the hospital with a “gift bag” of formula,
  • having family and/or friends who are uncomfortable with you nursing and ask when you are going to give the baby a bottle,
  • or having a pediatrician who is unable to answer your questions about breastfeeding.

This post is not to debate breastfeeding vs. formula-feeding. Parents have the right to decide how to feed their baby. But they also have the right to be presented with factual information and the right to not have their feeding decisions undermined. Best For Babes is working to help accomplish that.

Here are some more Booby Traps that have set the blogosphere abuzz.

Amber from Speak Her Truth wrote Marketing and Breastfeeding, Who Hasn’t Been Duped? and said she is not going “to join in on this back and forth bashing of breastfeeding vs formula feeding mothers.”

As long as we fight amongst ourselves on this one symptom we cannot unite against the disease. The disease of markets that profit solely on the belief that our bodies are not good enough, not good enough to be sexually attractive, not good enough to give birth and not good enough to nourish our babies afterwards. A simple statement that could bring down this entire empire of insecurity: “Not only are we good enough, we are better just the way we are.”

Maya from Musings of a Marfan Mom wrote about Babble’s partnership with Similac – in which Similac sponsors Babble’s Breastfeeding Guide – after first reading about it on PhD in Parenting. Maya said:

You might ask why I care whether a formula company sponsors a breastfeeding portion of a website. I care, because I want women to have a choice in how they feed their children. I care, because women aren’t being given proper information on nursing, which sabotages the attempts of women who want to breastfeed. I care because, believe it or not, formula advertising has been shown over and over again to have a negative effect on breastfeeding relationships. Formula advertising not only affects women’s choices in how to feed their children, whether they are conscious of it or not, but it results in drastically higher costs for families who choose to feed their children formula (who do you think ends up paying for the “free” samples given at the hospital and sent in the mail, as well as all those commercials and Internet ads?). That affects their choice as well.

Tumbling Boobs pointed out its not just parenting websites promoting Similac’s latest marketing ploy and included screen captures of a few medical providers that are actively promoting Similac’s feeding hotline to moms seeking breastfeeding help.

Annie from PhD in Parenting also pointed out that even WebMD’s breastfeeding guide is sponsored by Gerber (which is owned by Nestle). There are six Gerber ads on the page that is supposed to help mothers with breastfeeding! Annie, who said, “There has to be a way to stop this incredibly unethical and predatory infant formula marketing on websites pretending to offer breastfeeding support,” urges her readers to take action and lists a few ways to get involved.

Jem wrote a review of the book The Politics of Breastfeeding (which I will be adding to my must read list). She believes the book should be read not only by nursing moms, but by all women.

Reading the book frustrated me on so many levels. I’ve talked before about Nestle’s marketing practices before, but it goes beyond that. The origins of formula; unnecessary death of babies in both developed and ‘third world’ countries; the undermining of women because we’re “not good enough”/”not reliable enough” to maintain life; the supplementing with formula without permission from mums; the strange habit of separating babies from their mums in hospital, etc.

This book has changed the way I look at so many aspects of birth and infant care.

Taking a more light-hearted approach to the subject is Dou-la-la who’s humorous, but also disturbing post Breast is Best, Sponsored by Simfamil: Don Draper Explains It All For Us is sure to be enjoyed by many a Mad Men fan. Heck, I thought it was awesome and I’ve only watched about 15 minutes of Mad Men.

What is the solution? How do we stop undermining breastfeeding moms?
I think the best start is if formula companies would start following the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing Breast-Milk Substitutes. We all know formula exists. We all know where we can get some (even for free), if we so desire. The marketing and the deceit need to stop. If you are upset about the Babble/Similac partnership or the WebMD/Gerber/Nestle partnership, follow Annie’s lead and take action. Let the companies know you disagree with their choices and why and then spread the word.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

More Breastfeeding Booby Trap Posts:

Photo by benklocek via Flickr

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Raising Awareness about Nestle’s Unethical Business Practices

This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about Nestle and is likely not going to be the last. I wrote about the company when I first learned about the Nestle boycott. And again when the Nestle Family Twitter-storm took place in 2009. I wrote about Nestle when I compiled an updated list of all of the many, many brands Nestle owns (for people who choose to boycott them). And most recently, I wrote about Nestle when I discovered that they (well, two of their brands – Stouffer’s and Butterfinger) would be one of about 80 sponsors at this year’s BlogHer Conference in New York City.

My goal – throughout all of this – has never been to tell people what they should or should not do. That’s not my place. My goal has always simply been to raise awareness. There will be people who hear about the Nestle boycott and their unethical business practices and they won’t care one way or the other. Or perhaps they just won’t have time to look into it further. I know that and that’s fine. However, there will also be people who haven’t heard about what Nestle is doing and will want to learn more and find out what they can do and that’s where I like to think I can help. I’m a big fan of providing people with information and arming them with knowledge and letting them make their own choices.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

First thing’s first. Yes, I am going to BlogHer this year even though it is, in part, being sponsored by Nestle. I struggled with my decision for days and days, but in the end I decided to use this as another opportunity to raise awareness by blogging about Nestle, talk with people at BlogHer (who express an interest) about Nestle, and encourage BlogHer to adopt ethical sponsorship guidelines for future conferences. I also didn’t feel like letting Nestle control my life. I’m not saying that the people who choose to boycott BlogHer because of Nestle are doing that (one of my best friends is boycotting the conference though will still be in NYC and rooming with me – yay!)  – I wholeheartedly support the women who are boycotting – but it didn’t feel like the right choice for me. I’ve also made a donation to Best for Babes and will make another one after BlogHer. Best for Babes is a non-profit who’s mission is to help moms beat the Booby Traps–the cultural & institutional barriers that prevent moms from achieving their personal breastfeeding goals, and to give breastfeeding a makeover so it is accepted and embraced by the general public. Best for Babes’ Credo is that ALL moms deserve to make an informed feeding decision, & to be cheered on, coached and celebrated without pressure, judgment or guilt, whether they breastfeed for 2 days, 2 months 2 years, or not at all.  ALL breastfeeding moms deserve to succeed & have a positive breastfeeding experience without being “booby trapped!”

Now onto Nestle and just what it is that makes them so unethical. The following two sections are from a post by Annie of PhD in Parenting.

Overview of Nestlé’s Unethical Business Practices

Nestlé is accused by experts of unethical business practices such as:

Nestlé defends its unethical business practices and uses doublespeak, denials and deception in an attempt to cover up or justify those practices. When laws don’t exist or fail to hold Nestlé to account, it takes public action to force Nestlé to change. Public action can take on many forms, including boycotting Nestlé brands, helping to spread the word about Nestlé’s unethical business practices, and putting pressure on the government to pass legislation that would prevent Nestlé from doing things that put people, animals and the environment at risk.

Want to boycott Nestle?

The Nestlé boycott has been going on for more than 30 years and Nestlé is still one of the three most boycotted companies in Britain. Although Nestlé officials would like to claim that the boycott has ended, it is still very much alive. But it needs to get bigger in order to have a greater impact. Nestlé owns a lot of brands and is the biggest food company in the world, so people wishing to boycott their brands need to do a bit of homework first to familiarize themselves with the brand names to avoid in the stores.

If you disagree with Nestle’s business practices, I hope you will join Annie, me and others in raising awareness by Tweeting with the hashtag #noNestle. Let people know that you do not support Nestlé’s unethical business practices. Tweet your message to Nestlé and to others using the hashtag #noNestle. Spread the word.

If you feel so inclined, you might also want to make a donation to an organization that supports breastfeeding, such as La Leche League or Best for Babes.

Tweet your support! Blog your message! Share on facebook!

#noNestle

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Chocolate Toddler Formula – What’s Wrong With This Picture?

When I first saw a link to Food Politics’ blog about chocolate toddler formula I thought it was a joke. Yes, I’d heard that formula companies make formula for toddlers as well as infants, but chocolate-flavored?? Seriously?! Yes, seriously. Mead-Johnson’s new Enfagrow Premium Chocolate Toddler Formula with “natural and artificial flavors” is on the market for toddlers age 12 to 36 months. Apparently it’s not enough that we load our elementary school-aged kids full of sugar in the form of chocolate milk. What we really need to do is get them hooked on sugar while they’re young – really young – like 12 months old. I wonder what Jamie Oliver would have to say about this?

Enfamil describes the NEW Enfagrow™ PREMIUM™ Chocolate as follows:

A delicious new flavor for toddlers 12 months and older – with prebiotics for digestive health!

As your child grows from an infant to a toddler, he’s probably becoming pickier about what he eats. Now more than ever, ensuring that he gets complete nutrition can be a challenge.

That’s why we created new Enfagrow PREMIUM Chocolate with Triple Health Guard™. With more nutrition than milk, Omega-3 DHA, prebiotics, and a great tasting chocolate flavor he’ll love, you can help be sure he’s getting the nutrition he still needs even after he outgrows infant formula.

The chocolate formula sells for $19.99 (for 18 servings) at Safeway in Colorado, but is currently on sale for $16.99. (What a steal!) Yes, I went into the store to check it out for myself (and snap some pictures of the nutrition information). I was tempted to buy a can for the sake of research, but I just couldn’t justify giving Enfamil my money, not even in the name of investigative journalism. For the record, they also make a vanilla flavored formula in case your toddler isn’t into chocolate.

Marion Nestle lists the main ingredients in her post Chocolate toddler formula?

Here’s the list of ingredients for everything present at a level of 2% or more:

  • Whole milk
  • Nonfat milk
  • Sugar
  • Cocoa
  • Galactooligosaccharides (prebiotic fiber)
  • High oleic sunflower oil
  • Maltodextrin

Nestle also states that, “Mead-Johnson representatives explained that Enfagrow is not meant as an infant formula. It is meant as a dietary supplement for toddlers aged 12 to 36 months.” Yet, as she points out, it’s called “FORMULA” and it has a Nutrition Facts label, not a Supplement Facts label. Hmmm.

Green Mom in the Burbs had this to say: “Gross. I mean, this is just…gross. No, not the KFC Double Down, though that’s pretty disgusting too… I’m talking about this: Chocolate formula for toddlers. Gross. And I thought trying to get chocolate and strawberry flavored milk out of school cafeterias was important. This is just…wow. I’m not sure even Jamie Oliver can save us.”

Cate Nelson from Eco Childs Play calls Enfagrow Chocolate Toddler Formula the “Gag Me Product of the Week” and said, “There are serious problems with this product. First off, why do toddlers, even those who are no longer breastfed, need an infant formula? Is “baby” not getting proper nutrition? And if so, how in the world is a chocolate-flavored formula going to solve this problem?”

Kiera Butler who writes at Mother Jones explains a bit about toddler formula. “So what is toddler formula, anyway? Nutritionally, the unflavored version is pretty similar to whole milk, except with more calcium and phosphorous. There seems to be a consensus that after age one, kids don’t really need formula at all, as long as they have a healthy solid-foods diet and are getting plenty of calcium.”

Danielle, who blogs at Momotics said she was shocked by some of the comments she read on CafeMom about the chocolate toddler formula. One comment read, “What’s the big deal? Kids extended breastfeed.” Danielle responded, “AHHH! There is NO comparison between a chocolate formula for toddlers and a mothers breast milk. They aren’t even on the same page, or in the same book!”

She also wants to know “why are we going to encourage our children into unhealthy eating habits by providing them with a tasty chocolatey treat? In a country with obesity rates in our children growing, it seems like simple and unknowing choices like this as children could lead our kids into serious risky eating habits as adults.”

Danielle adds, “I think the biggest realization this all brought me to today is that Jamie Oliver is right, there is such a huge issue with food, eating, nutrition, and our parents today that we need to seriously take a look at in our country. There is a problem, and the comments that the parents on CafeMom brought to the table did nothing but prove that parents are grossly un- and undereducated on what we should and should not be giving our children.”

Annie from PhD in Parenting points out that because of breastfeeding, her babies got all sorts of great flavors through her breastmilk without having to actually eat artificial flavoring.

JennyLou is concerned about the potential health problems as well. “Our obesity rates continue to climb. More kids are now obese than ever before. Kids don’t know what vegetables are. Kids won’t eat vegetables. Kids are drinking juice, soda, etc. out of baby bottles and then sippy cups. And now, enter chocolate formula. What a recipe for disaster.”

Christina who blogs at A Mommy Story wonders about the possible caffeine levels in the cocoa used in the formula.

All in all, I have to say this product scares the heck out of me. I understand that some children need extra calories and may even live on a entirely liquid diet and there could potentially be a need for this (though I’m guessing there are healthier alternatives), but having a product like this available to the masses seems like a bad, bad idea. Our kids already have the deck stacked against them when it comes to nutrition in this country, why make it any worse?

Nestle ended her post saying, “Next: let’s genetically modify moms to produce chocolate breast milk!” And Abbie, who blogs at Farmer’s Daughter responded, “I’m snacking on some chocolate right now and nursing my son. Funny coincidence. That’s as close as he’s going to get to chocolate milk for a long time.” Rightfully so.

Edited on 6/9/10 to add: FOX News reports Controversial Chocolate-Flavored Baby Formula Ends Production

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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The updated Nestle product boycott list

As promised, here is the updated Nestlé product list (current as of Oct. 7, 2009). The information below came from Nestlé USA product list, Corporate Watch, Gerber and Nestlé Brands.

Photo courtesy David Boyle
Photo courtesy David Boyle

Unfortunately, because Nestlé owns such a large number of products and I am only one person, I am finding it impossible to make this list complete. If you run across something that you know Nestlé makes that is not on this list, please leave me a comment so I can add it. Also, when in doubt, read the label, look for the Nestlé name in the fine print. Thanks!

Don’t know what the Nestle boycott is all about? Educate yourself. Check out my post, Annie’s (PhDinParenting’s) post and Best for Babies’ Anthology of Activist Blogs & Twitter Names. Remember, knowledge is power.

THE NESTLE BOYCOTT LIST

Candy and Chocolate:
Baby Ruth
Bit-O-Honey
Butterfinger
Carlos V (“the authentic Mexican chocolate bar”)
Chunky
Gobstoppers
Goobers
Laffy Taffy
Lik-M-Aid Fun Dip
Nerds
Nestle Abuelita chocolate
Nestle Crunch
Nips
Oh Henry!
Oompas
Pixy Stix
Raisinets
Runts
Sno-Caps
Spree
Sweettarts
Wonka
100 Grand

Frozen Foods:
Lean Cuisine (frozen meals)
Lean Pockets (sandwiches)
Hot Pockets (sandwiches)
Stouffer’s (frozen meals)

Baking:
La Lechera (sweetened condensed milk)
Libby’s Pumpkin
Nestle Tollhouse Morsels and baking ingredients

Ice Cream:
Dreyer’s (ice creams, frozen yogurts, frozen fruit bars, sherbets)
Edy’s (ice creams, frozen yogurts and sherbets)
Häagen-Dazs (ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet, bars)
Nestle Delicias
Nestle Drumstick
Nestle Push-Ups
The Skinny Cow (ice cream treats)

Pet food:
Alpo
Beneful
Cat Chow
Dog Chow
Fancy Feast
Felix
Friskies
Frosty Paws (dog ice cream treats)
Gourmet
One
Pro Plan

Beverages:

Coffee-Mate
Jamba (bottled smoothies and juices)
Milo Powdered Beverage and Ready-to-Drink
Nescafé
Nescafé Café con Leche
Nescafe Clasico (soluble coffees from Mexico)
Nescafe Dolce Gusto
Nesquik
Nestea
Nestle Juicy Juice 100% fruit juices
Nestle Carnation Malted Milk
Nestle Carnation Milks (instant breakfast)
Nestle Hot Cocoa Mix
Nestle Milk Chocolate
Nestle Nido (powdered milk for kids)
Ovaltine
Taster’s Choice Instant Coffee

Specialty items:

Buitoni (pasta, sauce, shredded cheeses)
Maggi Seasonings
Maggi Taste of Asia

Infant Formula:
Nestle Good Start
Gerber Pure Water (for mixing with formula)

Baby Foods:
Cerelac
Gerber (cereals, juice, 1st Foods, 2nd Foods, 3rd Foods, etc.)
Gerber Graduates (snacks, meal options, side dishes, beverages, Preschooler meals/snacks, etc.)
Mucilon
NaturNes
Nestum

Accessories:
Gerber – cups, diaper pins, pacifiers, bowls, spoons, outlet plugs, thermometers, tooth and gum cleanser, bottles (all of these are made by Gerber)

Breastfeeding supplies:
Gerber Seal ‘N Go breast milk storage bags, bottles, nipples, nursing pads, Breast Therapy warm or cool relief packs, Breast Therapy gentle moisturizing balm (all of these are made by Gerber)

Bottled Water:
Arrowhead
Deer Park
Gerber Pure Water
Perrier
Poland Spring
Pure Life
S. Pellegrino
Vittel

Breakfast Cereals:
see joint ventures below

Performance Nutrition:
PowerBar
Boost

Miscellaneous:
Jenny Craig

Joint Ventures (in which Nestle is partnered with another company):
Nestlé SA has several joint ventures. These are some of the larger ones:

Beverage Partners Worldwide, formed in 2001, is a joint venture between the Coca-Cola Company and Nestlé S.A. It concentrates on tapping markets in the beverage sectors, particularly ready-to-drink coffee and teas, such as Nestea.

Cereal Partners Worldwide is a joint venture between Nestlé and General Mills. From what I understand, in the USA, the cereals are made by General Mills. In the UK, they are made by Nestle.

Laboratories Innéov is a joint venture between Nestlé and L’Oréal, formed in 2002. Cosmetics included in are:
L’Oreal
Maybelline
Garnier
Lancome

Dairy Partners Americas is a 50/50 partnership between New Zealand dairy multinational, Fonterra and Nestlé and was established in January 2003. The alliance now operates joint ventures in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia.

Other Nestle Boycotts:

If committing to a total Nestle boycott is too overwhelming, you might want to consider joining a week-long Nestle boycott. Baby Milk Action is hosting one for the week of Oct. 26 to Nov. 1, 2009.

Also, Danielle Friedland of Celebrity Baby Blog fame is hosting a #BooNestle Halloween candy boycott.

Whether you decide to join the boycott completely, the week-long boycott, the Halloween candy boycott or just a partial list boycott, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment and let me know. Thank you.

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Did we learn anything from the Nestle Family Twitter-storm?

Remember my post from a couple years ago about the Nestle boycott*, the boycott that has been going on since the ’70s? Well, today the boycott and all of Nestle’s alleged crimes against humanity were brought to the forefront due to the #NestleFamily blogger event and the power of social media.

Photo courtesy Rahego
Photo courtesy Rahego

It started when Annie from PhDinParenting wrote An open letter to the attendees of the Nestle Family blogger event. If you don’t know about Nestle’s history, I suggest you go read that first. As Annie said there and I will repeat here, “This is not about what you chose to feed your babies. If you formula fed, whether by choice or by necessity, that is none of my business. That said, the marketing and advertising of formula has been linked to the deaths of millions of babies every year.”

As the event got underway today, the tweets began to fly on Twitter. While many civilly debated the issues at hand (unethical marketing of formula to developing countries where there isn’t access to clean water, child slave labor in the chocolate industry, the bottled water), others (from both sides of the debate) turned to name calling and snark. Still others tried to turn it into a debate of breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, ignoring the real issue at hand – Nestle’s unethical business practices.

The bloggers who choose to attend the #NestleFamily event were caught in the middle. Some relayed the concerns and questions from the Twitterverse to Nestle, while others Tweeted about which Nestle candy they liked best.

The chatter on Twitter went on for hours before @NestleFamily (who had no social media team) finally stepped in and tried to field some of the questions themselves instead of depending on the #NestleFamily event attendees to do it for them. It was reminiscent of the #MotrinMoms debacle except Motrin responded with apologies and corrected their infraction. I have my doubts that a conversation with a bunch of bloggers at this point in time is going to bring about any real changes with with a company like Nestle that has been conducting business unscrupulously for more than 30 years. I’d love to see them prove me wrong though.

Others have written more about this, like Julia from Forty Weeks who wrote On missing the mark:

To me this is a case study for poor planning, short-sighted thinking and other classic marketing errors. What is clear to me is that there was no strategic or top-level thinking applied to this horrific play for Moms on the part of Nestle.

This is a stunning example of why those who are involved with marketing to women and in specific, social media need to have well grounded leader managing their strategy.

Nestle has lost control of the conversation – in fact the conversation that is being had is not only off-message (one would assume) but the defense of Nestle has been left in the hands of those least qualified to handle it — the bloggers who answered their call and came for a few days of fun. This is damaging to the brand on a profound level (obviously) and leaves these bloggers in an untenable position. Feeling loyal, under attack, not knowing facts, frankly over their heads and outside of any normal scope of engagement for an event like this.

Annie at PhDinParenting said:

I think there is an opportunity for Nestle, as a leader in the food industry, to take a leadership role on this issue. At a minimum it should start abiding by the law in all countries where it operates and not just the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law. But ideally, in order to rectify some of the damage that its past practices have caused, it should go above and beyond what the law requires.

Christine at Pop discourse wrote On Bloggers, Breastfeeding, Formula, Morality, Change, & the Nestle Family Event and talks about why she chose not to attend the #NestleFamily event and how all of this impacts blogger relations in general.

MommyMelee wrote a great post called thinking outside the hashtag about ways you can take action.

I encourage people who are upset to research ways they can help, whether it’s through positive activism and awareness, donating time, or donating money.

So what did we learn?
I have to admit I found myself very frustrated as I read Tweets from both sides today. The name calling, the inappropriate jokes, and the total disregard for the serious nature of Nestle’s infractions are the kinds of things that make “mommybloggers” look like raving lunatics. But I also saw a lot of civil debating, people keeping an open mind and presenting information and their positions without attacking and that part – that part was awesome. It’s the respectful discussion that is going to raise awareness and bring about change, not the snark, not the name calling. Let’s keep up the awesome part – the dialogue, the desire to effect change. The awesomeness will bring about good things in the world. :) (Oh, and if you are a large corporation – hint, hint Nestle, please jump on the social media bandwagon NOW. You are missing out on a lot and doing yourself and those who want to engage you a disservice if you don’t.)

If you’ve written about this Nestle event, please leave me your link in the comments. I hope to put a list together. Thanks! In the meantime, please check out this Anthology of #NestleFamily Activist Blogs put together by @BestforBabes.

*Please note: there is now an updated Nestle boycott list as of 10/7/09. Thanks!

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Another reason to steer clear of high fructose corn syrup – mercury!

In case you needed another reason to avoid high fructose corn syrup, here’s a new one – it may contain mercury. According to a Washington Post article, “Almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient, according to two new U.S. studies.”

Janelle Sorensen (of Healthy Child, Healthy World) co-authored the studies for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade report along with Dr. David Wallinga, mentioned in the Washington Post article.

According to Sorensen (who spoke with me via email), at this time it is unknown what species of mercury this is. Personally I don’t know that it matters too much, because mercury is just plain bad for our health.

  • The nervous system is very sensitive to all forms of mercury.
  • The EPA has determined that mercuric chloride and methylmercury are possible human carcinogens.
  • Very young children are more sensitive to mercury than adults.

You may recall that the Environmental Protection Agency has issued warnings regarding the consumption of certain types of fish containing mercury for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children.

Should there be warnings against consumption of mercury-laced HFCS too? When you consider HFCS is found in so many food and drink products these days, it may seem hard to avoid. Cereal? Yes. Bread? Yes. Soup? Yes. Lunch meat? Yes. Yogurt? Yes. Condiments? Yes. Soda? YES! Even infant formula can contain corn syrup! If you shop at a conventional grocery store (not a health foods store), check out the ingredients listed on just about anything you buy. You’ll be surprised (and maybe even a little freaked out) how many items contain HFCS. According to the Washington Post, “On average, Americans consume about 12 teaspoons per day of HFCS, but teens and other high consumers can take in 80 percent more HFCS than average.”

That’s why the HFCS commercials by the Corn Refiners Association are so laughable. They say HFCS is fine in moderation (though they never quantify what that amount is), but how do you consume it in moderation when it’s infiltrated a large percentage of the products in the grocery store?

What really freaks me out though is to know that corn syrup is in infant formula. It might not be high fructose corn syrup, but still. Does a baby need artificial sweeteners? What about genetically modified (GMO corn) sweeteners as most corn is? And more importantly, how can a baby, who’s diet consists solely of formula, possibly consume it in moderation? Or is moderation only necessary for HFCS, but not corn syrup? I tried to find the ingredients in formula listed online and was able to find a few brands – two listed the first ingredient as water, followed by corn syrup. That’s alarming to me.

Increased corn allergies
Could this prevalence of corn in the diets of the youngest of our species, as well as being the number one thing Americans eat (because it’s in nearly everything), be contributing to the rise in corn allergies in this country? My guess is yes.

Returning to the study…
Sorensen shared with me some of her thoughts after doing months of research about HFCS and mercury:

In essence, we rely on a vastly complicated global food system that has many opportunities to go awry. And, not only is the chain of ingredients and manufacturing very complex, the foods we are eating are very complex and unlike anything people ate even two generations ago. HFCS is one story in this grand theater of food production. And, even though the studies are small, it’s clearly an actor that deserves more attention as a potential instigator in the public health drama we are currently witnessing. First of all, HFCS is an unnecessary part of the human diet. We thrived for millennia without it. Second, the caustic soda used to manufacture it can be made using mercury-free technologies. Safer alternatives exist and are used widely at this very moment. Third, even though the exposure is minute, it’s a repeat offender in the average US diet and should also be addressed in the context of combined daily exposures of modern day society.

The authors of both of the studies recognize the limitations of their findings. There is clearly much more research to be done in order to be able to understand what the true health implications may be. Maybe the impacts end up being nominal, but who wants to risk their child’s health and development waiting to find out when it’s such an unnecessary exposure?

Human development is a miracle. The journey from egg and sperm to adult (and even beyond) is a tumultuous and risky endeavor. Research is increasingly showing how very vulnerable the developing fetus is – susceptible to exquisitely small environmental exposures – so, why take an unnecessary chance? Why even allow antiquated technologies that are extremely pollutive; that have safer, economically feasible alternatives; that are completely unnecessary in food production? There is not a single piece of this story that makes sense.

What is the FDA’s response to the request for “immediate changes by industry and the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] to help stop this avoidable mercury contamination of the food supply?”

Sorensen says:

The FDA and industry are quickly trying to assuage the concerns spread by these reports, calling us irresponsible for setting false alarms. But, the FDA and industry are notorious at this point for coercing people into taking risks their instincts tell them not to. I’m not anti-FDA nor anti-industry; I simply believe in transparency of information. If you decide this risk is nominal, that’s your decision. For me, and my family, it’s not okay. And, it’s extremely simple to avoid.

How do you avoid HFCS?
You buy whole foods, not processed foods. You prepare meals from scratch. You grow your own vegetables and buy from local farmers’ markets, farm stands and CSAs. You look for certified organic foods. You read the labels and find alternatives to the products containing HFCS. It might seem like it’s in everything, but it’s not. There are brands of bread that don’t contain it (even at Costco), just as there are brands of soda, yogurt, and infant formula, but you have to read the labels to find out. Become a wise consumer and vote with your dollars.

Finding balance
It might seem like the best bet it to avoid HFCS at all costs, but even Sorensen admits that she lets her kids consume it once every now and then. “It’s a very small amount and I know I’m very careful about other exposures. Life is all about balance.” Yes, yes it is.

Lastly, if you are looking to reduce the HFCS in your or your family’s life, you might want to check out the blog A Life Less Sweet One family, no high fructose corn syrup, eating healthier. And here are a few more related posts: from Nature’s Child – HFCS, fortified with mercury, from Ask Moxie – Whoa: Mercury in HFCS, and (a really good one) from AngieMedia – High Fructose Corn Syrup is Dangerous for Many Reasons. A couple more: from Mom-101 – High fructose corn syrup contains mercury and other reasons I think we’re going to start feeding our kids air and from Her Bad MotherPoison In The Ketchup: This HFCS Scare Might Actually Make Me Start, You Know, Cooking From Scratch Or Something.