***Editor’s note: This guest post is by Layla Katiraee, a mom and scientist with a PhD in Molecular Genetics. Here, she writes about Similac’s hypocrisy and misleading marketing tactics. She argues that the company’s recent decision to go GMO-free is unscientific, and exploits parent guilt.***
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I’ve been very open on why and how I started my blog: first, I had seen a lot of information that concerned me about GMOs during California’s ballot measure on labeling GMOs. Second, after my son was born, I decided to “play it safe” and bought many organic ingredients. Finally, after a trip to Cambodia where I learned about the nation’s struggle to modernize farming after the devastating genocide it endured, I decided to buckle down and start doing my own research about genetically engineered crops and documenting my learning. I felt that, as a human molecular geneticist, I should be able to review the scientific literature for myself rather than follow the latest meme on Facebook. To date, nothing I’ve read in the scientific literature has caused enough concern to make me remove GMOs from what I feed my family or provide my family with a diet consisting exclusively of organic foods.
I also know that I’m incredibly lucky: I can afford to buy and feed my child whatever diet I choose to adhere to. Had I wanted to go exclusively organic, it would have been no problem. I also had enough breastmilk to probably feed twins and my freezer was stockpiled with my excess milk. My boss and director were incredibly supportive, and whenever I had to travel for work, I’d ship pumped milk back home overnight on ice. I am well aware of the fact that these are luxuries that the overwhelming majority of the population does not have.
Despite these all these luxuries, not a day went by in my son’s infancy, and even today, when I didn’t feel guilty or worry. Was he getting enough to eat? How was I supposed to know if I was feeding him too much? Or too little? When he got colicky, it was even worse: was it something I ate? Was it something I did? Looking back on it, I tried different solutions for colic that never in a million years would I try right now. I blame it on sleep deprivation and sheer willingness to just give anything a shot.
I wasn’t the only one struggling with new-parent guilt. When I went back to work, my husband became burdened with these feelings: was he using the right bottle for feeding? Was he burping the baby enough? Why was our son spitting up so much? Was it because he had been overfed?
Guilt during parenthood never ends.
irks frustrates pisses me off to no end that Similac, a popular brand for infant formula, has decided to go GMO-free. Looking over the article in the New York Times that outlines the move, there’s no mention of the company making this decision because it’s healthier for children. Because there’s no evidence that it is. There’s no mention of the company making this decision because it’s better for the environment. Because there’s no evidence that it is. Looking over the article, it is purely a marketing gimmick designed to generate higher revenue.
Similac’s slogan on their website states “Helping moms move forward while leaving the judgement behind.” If that were genuinely a principle they adhered to, this would be the last move they would have made. Because now, parents have one more thing to worry about. Now parents have one more thing to be judged over. Despite zero evidence suggesting that GMOs cause harm to infants, parents now have to deal with the worry about whether or not they’re harming their children by feeding them formula with ingredients derived from genetically engineered crops.
Many new moms yearn to breastfeed their children and for circumstances beyond their control are unable to do so. Many parents feel incredible guilt when they have to switch to formula. On top of it, formula is not cheap, so parents have a financial burden to deal with as well.
So imagine you’re a new parent, feeling worried about whether or not you’re doing what’s best for your child by using formula, and you see a new formula that has a label stating that it is GMO-free. There’s no reason given, no explanation on whether or not it is or isn’t better for your child. What would you do? In your sleep-deprived state, and possible hormonal mess (if you’re the mom), what would you do? If you’re like I was, you’d go GMO-free “just in case”. And if you can’t afford it, now you have one more thing to feel guilty about.
I have no problem with Chipotle’s push to go non-GMO. I have no problem with General Mills going non-GMO for their cereals. In fact, the whole Non-GMO Project certification doesn’t bother me very much because it doesn’t impact me, I can avoid it, and the market is simply offering options. Granted, people are being duped, but that happens all the time in marketing and diet fads.
But this… This is something else. This is guilting parents into buying a product and perpetuating the stereotype that GMOs are harmful when they aren’t, just to claim a share of a market. Similac: you genuinely suck.
And I wonder if it will satisfy the demands of those who petitioned for non-GMO formula? One of the organizations leading efforts for GMO labeling and the boycott of baby-foods containing genetically engineered ingredients, GMO Free USA, has already declared that it’s not good enough, based on the fact that Similac’s non-GMO claim will not be certified through the Non-GMO Project. Similac, you brought this on yourselves by refusing to stand for the scientific consensus that GMOs currently on the market are safe.
So here’s the advice that I offer all my friends on their journey towards parenthood: there’s enough real stuff that you’ll stress over, so you don’t need to make up imaginary things to be concerned about. As long as you vaccinate your child, use a proper car seat, don’t smoke around your kids, and don’t shake your child, you’re probably good. If you’re worried about something, you can ask your pediatrician. If you have to feed your child formula over breast-milk, it will not harm them. Feeding your child conventional produce over organic produce will not harm them. Feeding your child GMOs will not harm them. The medical consensus is that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables grown conventionally or organically is what we should focus on, and not some ridiculous notion of a GMO-bogeyman.
Similac, you suck.
Layla Parker-Katiraee holds a PhD in Molecular Genetics from the University of Toronto and a Bachelors degree in biochemistry from the University of Western Ontario. She is currently a Senior Scientist in Product Development at a California human genetics biotech company. All views and opinions expressed are her own. Check out her blog at Frankenfoodfacts.blogspot.com