Letter to the Editor: Nothing “accurate” or “safe” about Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act

Dear Editor,

While our media kept us distracted by news of drone wars and other nonsensical pop culture trivia, the House of Representatives passed the HR1599 Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 on Wednesday, July 23rd. It was passed primarily by Republicans, with 230 Representatives voting yes, and only twelve voting no. Forty-five democrats voted yes, while 138 opposed it.

The bill, which consumers now call the DARK Act (Deny American’s Right to Know), is exactly that. There is nothing “accurate” or “safe” about what those behind this bill hope to accomplish. They merely want us, the American citizens, to take their word for it. If the government says it is safe and accurate, this bill takes the right to know out of our hands.

According to information on environmental and consumer activist, Erin Brockovich’s Facebook page, the bill was originally introduced by Monsanto’s favorite congressman, Mike Pompeo of Kansas. The bill forbids states from labeling GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms whose pesticide resistant DNA strands can blow up the belly of a bug).

The bill also prohibits state or local oversight of GMO crops. FoodDemocracy.org stated that HR1599 would “make it illegal for states to pass common sense GMO labeling and now also prohibits states or counties from banning or regulating GMOs in any way.” This is unconstitutional and contrary to what our forefathers had in mind when they created our system of checks and balances.

Finally, the bill weakens federal regulations on GMO crops at the USDA and FDA, and allows GMO foods to be labeled “natural.” This, of course, is an anything but “accurate.” Pesticide-resistant food that is genetically engineered in a lab by scientists who are playing God is not “natural.” The FDA, USDA, and EPA also share a large number of board members and advisors with corporations who are benefitting from GMOs, which is a serious indication that these organizations are not objective or reliable when it comes to honest disclosure of what is actually in our food.

Why is this so personally important to me? Besides being an advocate for the rights of all living things, I am one of the many people in this country who have Celiac Disease. Since just about every waitress in every restaurant I attempt to eat at looks at me like I have three heads, I will give you the medical definition, its suspected link to GMOs, then I will divulge a few details on what it is like to live with this disease on a daily basis in a world where food poisoned with pesticides and GMOs are everywhere, in every restaurant, school and hospital cafeteria, grocery store, and on most American tables—especially those who cannot afford to buy organic and gluten free.

Originally, Celiac Disease was primarily thought to be a hereditary disease that affects approximately 1 to 125 people in the world—fewer occurrences in areas of the world where wheat is not a primary grain. I was diagnosed in 2007 after many years of misdiagnosis and a pregnancy that depleted most of the nutrients my body had left. We are very lucky that my daughter, who was born one month premature, was not a stillborn, which is sometimes one of the unfortunate things that can happen to a pregnant mother who has undiagnosed Celiac disease. There are just not enough nutrients to keep the baby alive.

Oddly, no one else in my immediate or extended family has ever been diagnosed with Celiac disease, but I grew up on a farm in Ohio where I had high exposure to pesticides sprayed over cornfields by crop dusters. In the ignorance of youth during a time in the 1970s when children were still taught to trust the government, I used to chase the planes and run through fields of corn, freshly sprayed with bluish-white residue on the leaves. The leaves left small cuts on my face, arms, and legs, allowing the pesticides to enter my bloodstream. Once, my father caught me doing this and severely reprimanded me, but I do not remember him explaining to me why I was never to chase the planes again. I do, however, remember overhearing a conversation he had with a neighbor about farmers in the area buying DDT on the black market.

At age fourteen, I began to have life-threatening anaphylactic allergic reactions to raw vegetables and fruits that were sprayed with pesticides—especially green peppers, celery, carrots, strawberries, and other foods high on the pesticide absorption list. In my twenties, I also used a great deal of Round-Up myself to kill weeds on my property, and I lived in a town where they sprayed for mosquitoes regularly in the summer, so I continued to have reactions. Once I began having intestinal problems at age twenty-seven, I began educating myself, using natural products, and eating organically. I have not had one of these reactions since.

I always felt there must be a correlation between my health issues and my exposure to DDT and Roundup. When I was first diagnosed, doctors and allergists would deny any environmental factors involved with Celiac disease and anaphylaxis. Over the last ten years, however, the need and demand for gluten free foods on the commercial market has grown dramatically. At a visit to my primary care physician one year ago, we discussed my concerns and she produced government-released articles involving recent studies that identified two types of Celiac disease—the hereditary one, and one that seems to have environmental causes.

In the last year, more research is coming to light that indicates our environment may have much more to do with the sudden rise in Celiac Disease and other gastrointestinal disorders that has occurred since GMO crops were introduced into our food supply during the 1980s and 1990s. States like Vermont have made laws for GMO labeling, other countries have banned American GMOs, and the industry producing these Frankenfoods has spent over $100 million dollars trying to suppress research and information that links GMOs and pesticides to a slew of diseases plaguing the American people.

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) has conducted several studies concluding that GMOs pose serious health risks. They have found that three proteins (peptides) found in GMOs are linked to the gluten intolerance seen with those suffering with celiac disease. These peptides cause a reaction that distorts the immune system, inflames cells, and plays havoc with cell communication (lnfoWars.com).

The Mayo Clinic defines Celiac disease as “an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye (and in my case, oats). If you have celiac disease, eating gluten triggers an immune response in your small intestine. Over time, this reaction produces inflammation that damages the small intestine's lining and prevents absorption of some nutrients (malabsorption).The intestinal damage can cause weight loss, bloating and sometimes diarrhea. Eventually, your brain, nervous system, bones, liver and other organs can be deprived of vital nourishment. In children, malabsorption can affect growth and development.”

To the average person who has never experienced Celiac disease, this diagnosis, is too obscure and generalized to seem terribly scary, so let me tell you what the doctors do not tell you. The ingested gluten is treated like a toxic substance/poison and the body’s autoimmune system attacks it. This begins with bloating, gas (sometimes sulfuric), and high acid content in the stomach, resulting in GURD and sometimes damage to the esophagus and vocal cords.
As the food (and the extra acid) enters the small intestine, the battle that ensues between your body and the gluten ends up killing the intestinal cilia. Normal digestion stops and anything of high fat content or complex protein is rendered indigestible and often ends up causing partial blockages throughout the intestinal tract, which is extremely painful. I find them comparable to labor pains, except worse—vomiting/nausea, clammy, cold sweat, shaking/tremors, crippling spasms of pain that often render me curled up on a writhing ball on the floor or pulled over on the side of the road if I happen to be driving at the time.

Unless I experience a blockage, which can sometimes take a week to ten days to pass, the intestinal spasms cause everything in my digestive system to turn to a frothy, hot acid and usually begins to evacuate within thirty minutes. Often the acid diarrhea lasts for days after a contamination and the more gluten I accidentally ingested, the worse the attack ends up being. For days and sometimes weeks afterwards, I feel much like one who has had a bad bout of the flu or food poisoning—weak, dehydrated, and barely enough energy to climb a flight of stairs.

The flu-like symptoms and compromised immunity I experience after an attack can be explained by the recuperation time for the body to bounce back. Doctors tell me that it takes approximately two weeks to re-grow the intestinal cilia needed for proper digestion and nutrient absorption, which means everything I eat for two weeks after an attack is basically comfort food, because my body is not able to absorb any vitamins, protein, or essential minerals. I constantly fight anemia (my iron and nutrient levels have been dangerously low and medically monitored), systemic Candida from having a compromised intestinal system (yeast bacteria that has spread to my organs and brain), and I can no longer eat even the smallest amount of pork or beef because it simply will not digest. It either gets stuck or feels like sharp sandpaper scraping me from the inside out. Osteoarthritis is settling into my joints, and I was told at age forty that I have the bones of a sixty-year-old woman.

Unfortunately, no matter how diligent I am about my diet, accidents happen, and they happen much more frequently than is healthy for me. I cook for five people who are not gluten free--several of whom who insist that gluten free foods taste disgusting and they would rather starve than eat my food (teenagers). Regardless of their pessimisms and lack of empathy for my disease, I am on a strict gluten free diet, meaning I never cheat…at least knowingly. Trust me when I say with how sick I become, it is not worth it.

However, it does not make it any less hard to walk into a work party during the holidays to see tables of lovely looking treats that are all poison to me. It is torture to watch those around me dive into a big, cheesy pizza, making yummy noises while my mouth waters and I have only my memory. Sometimes, while making meals for the kids or my granddaughter, I forget and pop a wheat cracker or Mac and cheese noodle in my mouth. Occasionally, unidentified maltodextrin (a common flavoring) or modified food starch (a gluten filler that is derived from wheat unless stated otherwise) will sneak its way past my aging eyes in the grocery store as I painstakingly try to read every label of every packaged item I buy while food shopping after a long twelve hour work day. I am human, but the food industry should not make it this hard!

I do admit to engaging in gluten risky behaviors—one of which is eating out. My husband loves to eat out and often we are both exhausted after a long day with work and kids’ activities—too tired to cook. After countless poisonings and miscommunications with uneducated wait/restaurant staff, however, I have basically given up on going out to eat with my family unless it is to a restaurant that is socially conscious enough to train their staff and provide a menu with guaranteed gluten free options. We could repeatedly explain to a waitress or waiter that I will get very sick if I eat anything with wheat flour on it or in it, yet I continually get brought salads with croutons, dressings with wheat-infested modified food starch, or meat dishes that have been dusted in wheat flour before frying/broiling. Then when I end up waiting an hour for a meal I cannot eat, or I end up getting sick, my family and the restaurant staff are often embarrassed by how upset I become. I have decided it is just not worth it anymore and to primarily eat home prepared meals where I can control the ingredients.

So, I am weeding out the commercial food industry, but it is not easy, and it is not cheap. To supplement, I grow a large organic, non-GMO garden every year, spending hours upon hours in the summer sun cultivating the rocky soil of our mountain home. I freeze, can, and store as much as possible, and we use our own organic apples and berries for juice, applesauce, and preserves, but I can only do so much in this climate. When I am able, I raise organic meat chickens and layers to supplement our protein and my husband hunts. We still rely a great deal, especially during winter months, on the local health food store and grocery store chains that carry a large selection of gluten free, organic, and non-GMO food, often spending an average of $1,000 - $1,200 per month.

Ironically, it is extremely difficult to find products that are all three: organic, gluten free, and non-GMO. The food market is a catch twenty-two—I can have my cheaper gluten free packaged foods at the cost of not eating organically or subjecting myself to the GMOs that I firmly believe made me sick in the first place. It has become an unscrupulous game of chess and Russion Roulette combined. Now that large supermarket chains and large food corporations are carrying their own brands of gluten free food, it is a backdoor way for the GMOs to get into the stomachs of busy working mothers like myself who sometimes do not have the finances for expensive health food stores.

All I know is that I owe it to my children, and my children’s, children’s, children to stand against those who support these corporations and make my voice known to legislatures whose vote is supposed to represent my own. Without GMO labeling and strict, objective regulations in our food industry, we all run the risk of being that bug whose stomach is blown up by the genetically engineered Frankenfoods these corporations have created, and scarier yet, patented. How do you patent and own nature? Food? Will they next tell me it is illegal for me to grow my own organic, non-GMO garden? Will you or your loved one be the next one to be diagnosed with Celiac disease? Are you suffering from unidentified gastro-intestinal problems? If so, I hope you take what I have said to heart because the bees are becoming sterile and dying, and so are we.

I believe it is our human right to know what is in our food and how it is made. I believe it is our fundamental choice as members of the human race to choose foods that are grown naturally and prepared with the future of humanity and life on this planet in mind. If GMOs and pesticides are killing the animals necessary for pollination of our food supply, we should all have the choice of banning these products.

I fully support labeling of all GMO products, as well as regulations that require restaurants to notify consumers whether or not they utilize GMO foods in their meals. I support our right-to-know and I emphatically no not give up my right to choose. I believe these products should be banned entirely, class action lawsuits should be filed, and those who have pushed these unsafe food products into the market should be held accountable for crimes against nature and humanity.

Should you like more information about the HR1599 DARK Act and you would like to be connected to your district representatives, call 877-796-1949 or contact your representatives and senators directly. The bill goes to the Senate for a vote soon, so consider letting your voice be heard before it is too late.

Pamela West-Finkle
Free-lance journalist, community activist, and educator