UNDOING THE MYTH THAT SUSTAINS FORMULA FEEDING

Maureen MinchinAllergies, Book Reviews, Bottle Feeding, Complementary Feeding, General News, Infant Formula, Infant Health, Maternal Health

Food in general has never been more extensively and intensively investigated, and recently three books have added to my knowledge of the reality of food processing. I commend them to anyone interested in the politics and science of food. And I hope the authors of all three books will in future address the topic of infant formula, as it is the most heavily processed food, and is in use by the most vulnerable of age groups.

Swallow This: serving up the food industry’s darkest secrets by Joanna Blythman (Fourth Estate 2015) is an in-depth look at processed foods and their production. The first part of the book examines how the processed food system works: why such foods all taste the same, how it is prepared, what food labels reveal and conceal, how new chemicals and additives are marketed to the food industry in closed-to-the public fairs, and what fresh in store really means. The second part focusses on the common key characteristics of processed foods and how they get that way: sweet, oily, coloured, flavoured, watery, starchy, tricky, old and packed. The book is an eye-opener. Blythman recognises that processed food is unavoidable, but feels people should know a good deal more about it than they do, in order to be able to make intelligent dietary choices. Those with allergies will realise just how allergens can be in processed foods without the need for label warnings, since ingredients used as “processing aids” need not be listed. Parents need to be aware of the hazards of nano particles which may already be in use in foods, as they are in invisible zinc creams.. Those reading infant formula labels need to understand how these can conceal as much as they reveal, so that parents truly do not know what they feed their babies, something discussed in Milk Matters, on pages 336, 398-400. (The e-book Infant Formula and Modern Epidemics has different pagination). It is ironic that one of the reasons often given for formula use is “you can see what they re getting”!

Food Forensics: the hidden toxins lurking in your food and how you can avoid them, by Mike Adams (Benbella Books, 2016) is another eye- opener. Adams built a fully certified state of the art laboratory to do the testing which we all assume government regulatory agencies do on a regular basis (they don’t). His book reveals the toxic elements in over 800 foods, supplements, spices and protein powders. Heavy metals, hexane, polysorbate 80, MSG, BPA and its relatives, pesticides, nitrites, weedkillers like glyphosate: these are meticulously listed in a range of convenience foods, although not infant formulas. (There are fleeting references to the problems of aluminium and hexane in infant formula, but in general Adams has ignored infant formula, quite possibly because he knows how upsetting such information would be, and wants his book to be read. Which is the exact explanation given to me by one very prominent author of baby books, who loves my work and supports it – but won’t say anything publicly about infant formula, because it means the books wouldn’t sell. Sigh…)

The third book from which I have learned much is Altered Genes, Twisted Truth by Stephen M. Druker. This describes in gritty detail “how the venture to genetically engineer our food has subverted science, corrupted government, and systematically deceived the public.” Druker is the lawyer who forced the FDA to divulge its files on GE foods. This “exposed how the agency had covered up warnings from its own scientists about the risks, lied about the facts, and then ushered the foods on to the market in violation of federal law” (by declaring them to be GRAS, or generally regarded as safe, when they are not.) Druker goes on to expose the ever-increasing harms resulting from the use of GM crops: the rise of superweeds, the huge increase in pesticide use, toxicity and diversity, the loss of insect pollinators, the loss of productivity, the damage to organic farming and dairying. And the inevitable risk to human health.

Druker’s book also reveals the role of the powerful and concentrated global media in suppressing rather than revealing information about these issues. And he describes the pressures the US government applied to other countries to allow market access for US GE foods, despite popular and scientific opposition. (Europe has held out better than Australia, Canada or the UK, which may explain some anti-Europe pressure.) It is a fully documented and damning indictment.

Furthermore, Druker’s analysis of the 1989 epidemic of painful, crippling, even fatal EMS (eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome) associated with GE tryptophan supplements is profoundly disquieting. The NZ and Australian regulatory agencies are among those authorities who have been misled into believing that the genetic engineering of the bacterial strain used to make the tryptophan was irrelevant, that the problem was due to contamination. Druker’s detailed account (read his Chapter 3 for the details) indicates that repeated genetic engineering to make the original non-GE bacterial strain more productive in fact caused harm; that the repeated engineering created stresses within the bacteria that resulted in the production of new highly toxic metabolities, capable of producing severe harm at tiny doses. Yet as he says,

“the facts point clearly towards genetic engineering as the underlying cause of EMS; but they’ve been so befogged that many scientists don’t know that the tablets were produced through GE, while most of those who do know, think that GE’s been proved innocent. Moreover, not only has there been systematic obfuscation of the epidemic’s cause, there’s been substantial obfuscation of the epidemic itself – to such an extent that, although the GE-linked disaster was detected only through its uncommon symptoms, most people are as oblivious of it as they would be if the symptoms were commonplace.”

This latter point deserves emphasis. The harms of infant formula are invisible to many people because they are so widespread, affecting even this generation’s fully breastfed baby via the harms done to the mother, her body and her milk. It is only the extraordinary and abruptly fatal that stands out – and even fatalities from NEC and sepsis and meningitis and SUDI are not enough to undermine confidence in infant formula, so common were they in WEIRD nations. Rates of long term harms like cancer remain invisible. If we carefully refuse to document modes of feeding and outcomes, we will never see the common and ordinary effects as avoidable harms.

Druker’s discussion of the way regulatory agencies have handled the genetic engineering issue is deeply depressing. It reminds me constantly of the way infant formula is dealt with. Assumed to be safe, never stringently tested despite good biological evidence that it must distort development, accepted as inevitable, and the role of the agency seen as being to reassure and allow “progress”, when what is being allowed is a truly pathetic ersatz imitation of highly evolved, complex natural foods. And then, likely harms disregarded or explained away by the very authorities responsible for protecting health, not company profits. I think this book should be required reading for all health professionals and scientists and researchers and journalists and politicians. And parents who read it and care for their descendants.

I’ve learned a lot from these three books, The authors could learn a lot from mine. And so I hope the three authors will read Milk Matters: infant feeding and immune disorder, and recognise its relevance to their concerns. If they reflect on it from their own unique knowledge base, they could contribute to an urgent and immediately feasible solution: universal breastfeeding. To that end I will offer them a copy of the Milk Matters pdf. (I can’t afford to give them the book: any volunteers to cover that cost?) I would love an opportunity to bring them all together and discuss the issues, so perhaps a conference about the food we eat can be arranged…

Don’t ignore these books. If you don’t want to read them, or can’t afford them, please get your local library to buy copies. What all four of us are saying is important; it will not be acted upon until enough peole know these inconvenient truths and demand societal change. You can play a part even if you never read a line, by taking my word for their significance and making them accessible to others. The future will be different only if we act in the present.

To do nothing is to support the damaging status quo.