The Journey of a Mom Protecting Her Children
by Zen Honeycut, the founding executive director of Moms Across America, a non-profit National Coalition of Unstoppable Moms, and author of the new book UNSTOPPABLE: Transforming Sickness and Struggle into Triumph, Empowerment, and a Celebration of Community. This article contains some information directly excerpted from her book. Visit the Moms Across America website to find out more.
In the first few months of motherhood, I was not the dewy-faced picture of happiness we often think we will be as parents. I was more of a bedraggled, anxious, incoherent mess. Some moms are joyous like never before, easily breastfeeding or naturally co-sleeping. Others of us struggle with breastfeeding, need to bottle-feed, and feel guilty and exhausted. Others have postpartum depression. No matter what our childbirth or newborn baby experiences are, we can all relate to the challenges and the love we feel for our children.
I recall feeling like a cow experiencing sleep torture. My son Ben nursed every two hours and he broke out in a rash nearly every time. He cried much more than I ever imagined possible. In my first week of being a new mom, a mother of eight, tried to soothe me by saying, “When you are a new mom, you feel like something is wrong 99 percent of the time when the reality is that everything is exactly perfect 99 percent of the time.”
For the most part, her words set me at ease and allowed me to enjoy my son. But when his rashes persisted, his crying increased, and his poo turned bright green, and well . . . I won’t go into any more details . . . I trusted my gut and took him to the doctor. It turned out that he had a milk allergy. I was truly forlorn. I gave up all dairy products and spent the first year and a half of his life gazing longingly at ice cream, pizza, and cheese and wondering why this had happened to my child. I never had a milk allergy, or any other allergy, when I was a child and neither did my husband, Todd.
The love for my child, and his health issues, led me to research things I had never considered. My moment of discovery about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) led me to a whole new understanding of the food system, our government, and how the world works.
I watched the movie Genetic Roulette by Jeffrey M. Smith. His description of GMOs went into great detail and showed, category by category, how GMOs were likely the cause of or a major contributing factor to allergies, autism, autoimmune diseases, miscarriages, and birth defects. At this stage in the food movement, almost everyone was focused on the dangers of GMOs and not the related pesticides, including me. Because GMOs were new at the time, and pesticides were commonly perceived to be harmless and able to be washed off, the food movement focused solely on GMOs.
However, as I researched more I learned that herbicide tolerant (HT) GMOs—typically corn, soy, sugar beets, canola, and cottonseed—are genetically engineered to resist herbicides, so farmers can drive a spraying tractor or aerial spray an entire field and kill only the weeds. Over 80 percent of the herbicide tolerant GMO crops have been engineered to withstand glyphosate herbicides. Glyphosate, originally used as a pipe cleaner, is the declared active chemical ingredient in Roundup. Hundreds of millions of pounds of glyphosate herbicides are used in the USA every year. Although proponents claim that GMOs are not significantly different from non-GMOs, new scientific studies show otherwise. There is more than one problem with GMO technology and glyphosate-tolerance traits.
For starters, glyphosate herbicides do not dry off, wash off, or cook off. They are absorbed into the cells of the plant. The EPA has set “allowable” levels of glyphosate residue on about 160 of our food and feed crops between 0.2 and 400 parts per million (ppm), far higher than has been shown to cause harm. Obviously, we as human beings are not genetically engineered to resist herbicides. When we consume the toxic chemicals, they do impact our health.
Glyphosate also functions as a chelator, meaning it holds or makes unavailable the vital nutrients of any living thing it touches. Reducing the nutrient content in our food supply is counter to good health and leads to mineral and vitamin deficiencies, which can cause illness and cancer. Farmers also report that herbicide tolerant GMO plants become “tougher” and, in the case of alfalfa, produce more fiber and less protein, which is the opposite of what farmers want for healthy livestock.
The manufacturer, Monsanto, first claimed that glyphosate-based herbicides only affect the shikimate pathway (a metabolic route used to produce essential folates and amino acids, which play a central role both as building blocks of proteins and with metabolism) in plants, which is not found in humans. What Monsanto failed to identify is that although the shikimate pathway is not found in our human cells, it is found in our gut bacteria, and thus is essential to maintain our good health. For every one human cell, ten bacteria are needed to maintain our bodily functions. Recently scientists have discovered that glyphosate herbicides do affect the shikimate pathway found in our gut bacteria, which is where our immune system lies.
After learning about GMOs and glyphosate I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I was exposing my child to GMOs and chemicals at the time when his body was growing the most, his organs and brain were developing. I feared that these chemicals were endangering his very life.
After removing GMOs and glyphosate from my family’s diet, and seeing such an improvement in my son’s health, I immediately wanted to know what else in our lives that glyphosate was contaminating. The lab could not test for food yet, so I asked about beverages and bodily fluids. In addition to water, I really wanted to know if glyphosate was in breast milk and semen but didn’t know how to get samples and thought I couldn’t get enough of them. When Sustainable Pulse (an international GMO news website) director Henry Rowlands Skyped me and asked if his organization could fund the testing of 100 samples of breast milk for glyphosate, I was thrilled. I had to find a way. The implications of the results could be huge. In fact, Rowlands pointed out that dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB’s), both made by Monsanto, were found in women’s breast milk and within five years of these results they were banned. I knew that this could be it. I had to get it done. I contacted every breast milk bank I could find for a month. No one would agree to participate. I then decided I had to be able to find at least ten mom supporters who would help.
I sat down and started calling moms across the country. Finally, three weeks later, ten moms had sent in their samples by FedEx directly to the lab, paying for the shipping themselves and agreeing to let me publish the results anonymously. It was a courageous thing for them to donate their breast milk. What do you do if it is positive? How horrible is it to think you are feeding your child weed killer? It’s unthinkable. I truly honor those brave women who sent their breast milk samples to be tested. (We hope to get funding and donors to test semen soon as well.)
After the breast milk samples reached the lab, the staff let us know that the glyphosate levels would have to be above 75 ppb to be detectable, as the methodology was new, and it was the best they could do. This was far higher than the .05 ppb for water. I was very disappointed by this high level of detectability. I was sure that we would not find any glyphosate above this level, and although that would be a good result, the test results would not help our cause to raise awareness. Nor would it give us a true understanding of whether glyphosate was actually present or not.
A few weeks later the results came back. I was shocked. Three of the ten samples were positive for glyphosate, even though nine out of ten of the women were supporters of Moms Across America and were actively avoiding GMOs and glyphosate in their food. The positive levels were 76 ppb, 99 ppb, and 166 ppb. Incredible. The two moms who had 76 ppb and 99 ppb admitted to eating out (conventional food) a few times a week. The mother that had 166 ppb, the highest level, was a friend of an MAA supporter, and did not know about GMOs or glyphosate and therefore ate the standard American diet. The 166 ppb was three thousand times higher than has been shown to cause sex hormone changes and causes harm to rats in a study by French scientist Dr. Giles-Eric Séralini.
I was, again, outraged. Henry Rowlands wrote up the report and, after having a few scientists comment on the results, we published the report on the Moms Across America website and Sustainable Pulse. I sent a letter to the EPA with the results and asked them to recall Roundup, as the manufacturer had claimed that glyphosate would not enter breast milk but pass harmlessly through the body and be expelled in urine. Clearly, the product wasn’t doing what the manufacturer said it would do, and therefore it needed to be recalled. When they refused to answer I asked Moms Across America moms and Thinking Moms Revolution to call the EPA. And we did. 10,000 of us in three days. The EPA claimed we had to stop calling so they could “do their jobs.” I told them their job was to recall Roundup. They invited us to meet with them in DC. We did. A one-hour meeting turned into two, and we said everything any mom would have wanted to say. Plus, we brought the science to support us. Not much has happened with our EPA since then, but 30 countries around the world have since banned or restricted glyphosate use.
Subsequently, Monsanto funded testing for glyphosate in breast milk as well and . . . surprise, surprise, did not find any. The co-authors of the paper, Shelly and Mark McGuire, professed to have no connection to Monsanto whatsoever. It was later revealed, however, by Valerie Brown and the late Elizabeth Grossman, reporters for In These Times, that both Shelly and Mark had strong ties to Monsanto and were, in fact, each “gifted” $10,000 by the chemical company. Interestingly enough, Shelly and Mark McGuire did not follow the standard scientific practice of duplicating the testing exactly. They used a different methodology—and some scientists are now questioning that methodology and its ability to detect the glyphosate inside protein cells (where it could hide).
Even the FDA halted testing for glyphosate in 2016 due to concerns over the reliability of this testing methodology. Which calls to the forefront an even bigger question: Why, if glyphosate is so difficult to detect, and it cannot be accurately regulated, is the FDA permitting it to be sprayed on our food crops in the first place? Why wasn’t methodology developed more than forty years ago, before it was allowed to be used in our food supply? I assert that if a chemical cannot be accurately detected and regulated, it must be pulled from the market.
Since I found out about GMOs and toxins and went all organic my son’s allergies are almost non-existent, their behavioral and learning issues and autism symptoms are gone and they are almost never sick. They are all thriving in school and life. We know in our family that organic is worth it. But it’s not enough for my children to eat organic because their future spouses are out there somewhere…and I want them to be able to conceive and experience the profound love that it is to have a healthy child, someday, if they choose to. To do this not only must my children…but families everywhere must avoid toxins. This is a community issue. It will take all of us to have healthy communities.
Are you pregnant? Are you trying to become pregnant? Are you breastfeeding now? Here’s what you can do to protect your baby.
Buy organic food. Shoot for 100% organic, as even tiny amounts of glyphosate and chemicals can impact a fetus. It is worth it to budget, buy bulk, shop at Goodwill, make your own lunches for work, borrow entertainment from the library, and go on camping vacations to cut costs.
- If you truly cannot afford 100% organic, buy organic of the foods you eat the most. The priority is to buy organic oats, wheat products, soy, corn, sugar, and berries.
- Prepare meals and snacks ahead of time. Sunday is my movie/cooking day. I watch a movie while I bake oatmeal bars, bread, muffins, and cook a casserole or two ahead of time. Prepared meals and snacks prevent fast food stops. I prepare snacks in baggies (zip-cloth bags prevent plastic waste) for easy grab and go snacks.
- Take a trace mineral and organic supplements. Baby’s development is dependent on you having the needed nutrients in your body. Check out the www.momsacrossamerica.org Health Solutions Store for Quintessential Minerals – a seawater mineral from a nature preserve area in the ocean off the coast of France that mimics the salt water in the womb and is so close to our blood that it has been used for transfusions. Minerals are essential.
- Take care of yourself. Back away from the laptop. Get out in nature, get your feet on the bare ground, breath in forest air. You reset your microbiome (balance of bacteria in your gut) when you are in nature. A balanced microbiome is essential for your and baby’s good health
Bonus Step-Watch the Business of Being Born by Rikki Lake.