One Mother’s Reflections

By Robyn O’Brien, AllergyKids


Given the rates of allergies, diabetes and other conditions impacting our families, a lot of moms now find themselves reading labels. And you seriously have to wonder this Mother’s Day, since when? Our grandmothers certainly didn’t have this juggling act. And our moms? They didn’t really have to worry about a carton of milk or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as a loaded weapon on a lunchroom table either.

But on any given day, we could probably find the fat, calories, sodium or allergy content on just about anything we put onto our plates.

That’s about as far ahead as I thought when it came to knowing my food until one of my kids got sick. When she had an allergic reaction to breakfast one morning (which in all candor came straight out of the frozen food aisle), I had to do a down and dirty class in food ingredients. And what I learned was pretty jaw-dropping.

The U.S. leads the world in so many areas, and I am downright proud to be an American. But when it comes to transparency about what is going into the foods we are feeding our family, I quickly learned that as a country, we tend to leave a lot off. Take “pink slime” for example, that wasn’t labeled. As a matter of fact, that’s not the only thing, it seems that we lag behind most developed countries when it comes to telling people how our food is produced.

One of the biggest offenders, and in all honesty, something I’d never even heard of until our kids got sick, are genetically engineered ingredients. If you haven’t heard of them, you’re not alone.

Introduced in the 1990s, with nothing more than 90-day animal feeding studies done, these ingredients were added to the American food supply (mostly processed foods) without labels. So while all of the countries in the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and China – as a matter of fact, over 40 countries around the world – decided to let their consumers know that these novel ingredients were being introduced into the food supply without any long-term human safety studies, these ingredients were given a pass (known as ‘substantial equivalence’ – a term used by the food industry when long-term testing is either too risky or hasn’t been done).

And what is fascinating is that at the same time we introduced these ingredients and the novel proteins they contain, which organizations like the United Nations were worried might trigger allergic reaction due to the proteins they contained and the ones that were produced in the process, guess what happened? That’s right, a sudden and dramatic increase in the rates of allergies in the United States.

Now correlation is not causation. And the industry would claim, “There’s no evidence…!” And they’re right. With no long-term studies and no labels, there is no evidence! I suppose you could say that the American children are the evidence, especially in light of the fact that the Centers for Disease Control recently reported a 265% increase in the rates of hospitalizations related to food allergic reactions.

So what can we do to protect the health of our families, to learn more and to call on the science that the United Nations has suggested be conducted? We can label these ingredients here in the United States, the way that they have been labeled around the world, so that American eaters can make an informed choice, too. And moms have extraordinary power to do just that, not only in the food choices that we make for our families, but also in our ability to connect with each other, at playgroups, online and in school, and leverage our collective voices as voices for our children.

Didn’t know about genetically engineered foods before today? Don’t worry, you are not alone. But what’s interesting is that once people learn about these new ingredients, over 90% of Americans want them labeled.

Want to learn more? Then visit, Just Label It. A campaign that over one million Americans have joined that is making news worldwide with the record number of requests that have gone to the FDA asking for our right to know what we are eating. And it needs you, moms (and dads too!), to lend your voices as the voices for your children, because these ingredients are labeled for moms, dads and families in over 40 countries around the world due to all kinds of concerns.

So share your love, spread the word and let other moms know this Mother’s Day that there is so much that we can do to help protect the health of our loved ones and little ones, starting with labels.

-Robyn O’Brien authored “The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It.” A former food industry analyst and mother of four, Robyn brings insight and detailed analysis to her research into the impact that the global food system is having on the health of our children. She founded allergykidsfoundation and was named by Forbes as one of “20 Inspiring Women to Follow on Twitter.” The New York Times has described her as “Food’s Erin Brockovich.” Watch Robyn’s TEDx Austin talk here or learn more at

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