At a recent Bulong-Pulungan forum for media practitioners, guest speaker Edwin Feist of Antech Inc. presented a startling revelation of the kind of food we are constantly exposed to and which we consume on a regular basis.
Majority of what we consume is the result of the rapidly expanding global population that necessitates increased production of food that cuts through the normal processes. This translates into a growing dependence on the use of pesticides, antibiotics and hormones for livestock, as well as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
Feist pointed out that approximately 1.1 billion pounds of various chemicals are used each year to mass produce food to meet the ever growing demand. This method fast tracks the supply chain with the strong possibility that the end products contribute to long term disadvantages to mental and physical health, particularly in the case of children who are more vulnerable to harm from what they ingest.
He further cited studies establishing that neurotoxic pesticides are factors that contribute to the rising rates of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism and the widespread decline in IQ and other measures of cognitive function. Prenatal exposure to pesticides is also associated with neurodevelopmental delays in children, especially the Psychomotor skills linking movement or muscular activity with mental processes.
At that point, I figured that 40 or so years ago, the population was not yet booming, the demand for food was not as gargantuan as today and therefore, pesticides then were not yet in the consciousness of food manufacturers. Thank goodness for that. I heaved a sigh of relief, knowing that my children, and I believe, even my apos were not, in their very young lives then, exposed to the disadvantages and ill effects or artificially enhanced and speeded-up food products.
There was complete silence and concentration in the audience when Feist revealed in his presentation a study done by scientists, where the subject were two sets of children living in the Yaqui Valley in Mexico. One group was from the farming valley itself, while the other lived in the highlands. The children were tasked to use toy balls to determine hand-eye coordination and to make sketches of a person. In the toy ball test, the group from the farmland demonstrated considerably lower scores in stamina, hand-eye coordination, and memory. It was, however, the results of the drawing test that spoke volumes. The farmland children drew abstract shapes that looked more like cells than actual human beings – Picasso would have been perplexed. On the other hand, the children from the highlands who had had lesser chances of being exposed to pesticides came up with normal, simple yet perfectly recognizable drawings of human beings.
Another paper titled “Neurotoxicity of Pesticides: A Brief Review” published by the National for Biotechnology Center, based in the United States, came out with the following observation:
“Pesticides are substances widely used to control unwanted pests such as insects, weeds, fungi and rodents. Most pesticides are not highly selective, and are also toxic to nontarget species, including humans. A number of pesticides can cause neurotoxicity. Insecticides, which kill insects by targeting their nervous system, have neurotoxic effect in mammals as well.”
In other words, if we are susceptible to these dangers, think of what this spells for children whose immune systems are yet undeveloped at an early age. The consequences may not be immediately apparent but down the line, the story will certainly be different.
There was a recent news item about a botulism scare involving a certain brand of baby formula marketed in New Zealand. Botulism is a rare but sometimes fatal paralytic illness. Foodborne botulism in an intoxication caused by consuming food contaminated with the botulinum toxin. Thankfully it was found that the baby formula brand only contained clostridium sporogenes, a strain of the bacteria that does not produce botunlinum neutoxins.
In the light of all these alarming developments, there is now a growing shift to organic foods, a rational move that is probably overdue but welcome nonetheless. While the main benefit of organic food is the absence of substances that are harmful, especially to children, research has established increased nutritional value. Organic farming relies on increasing natural soil fertility and producing stronger, healthier plants that are pest and disease resistant. The produce from healthier, stronger plants is more nutritious. Organic fruits, according to a study done by the University of California, have higher vitamin C content and anti-oxidant levels than conventional ones.
When it comes to products for children such as milk, studies show that those that come from cows that are cared for, using natural methods, are allowed to graze on pesticide free grass, with a diet that is 100% free from growth promoting hormones and antibiotics, certainly have the edge over infant formula. Organic milk is composed only of lactose and is free from starch used as additive for the production of sodas and candy), corn syrup solids and sucrose.
A word of caution, though – before we all make a beeline for the shelves with products that claim to be organic, be sure that they bear the seal of Organic Certification Center of the Philippines (OCCP) which has stringent rules and requirements before handing out its stamp of approval.
But, everyone agrees that for infants, nothing is better than milk from a mother’s breast. No arguing about it. Breast milk provides vitamins, minerals, digestive enzymes and hormones. It also contains antibodies and lymphocites from the mother that help baby resist infections. This is the way children were raised in a world that was much simpler to understand, to live in and survive.