Tuesday, September 10, 2013

we are the FDA

Welcome to the September 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Staying Safe
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and tips about protecting our families. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
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FDA Quotes

I steer clear of giving too much advice to new parents; what I know, they either won't understand or aren't ready to hear yet. Besides, being a mom for five years doesn't make me a parenting expert, and I am far too aware of the foibles I've made along the way to feel I would be any good at telling others what to do. There is an exception to this no-advice rule, and it's concerning the food and drug choices we make as parents. Here is the sum total of that advice: as a parent, you are the funnel by which all materials will reach your children. You are the screen, the poison detector, the regulation. In essence, YOU are the FDA.

One difficult truth I learned in public health graduate school is that the FDA is an agency under extreme political pressure to make profit-based rather than evidence-based decisions. The integrity of their decision-making process has come under scrutiny in recent years for good reasons. The FDA has repeatedly been accused of or directly confessed to succumbing to pressure by Congress, whose members are funded by big companies peddling myriad faulty products.

Note that this pressure isn't exerted by one political party or another; it is a problem that crosses the aisle. Even easier to demonstrate than the political pressure is the whacky organizational make-up of the agency where food is concerned. Let's take frozen pizza as an example; if you want inspection information about a frozen pepperoni pizza, you should seek out the USDA, but if you want the same information about a cheese pizza, go to the FDA. The same could be said about egg regulation, which this article cutely and aptly calls "scrambled."

The problems in FDA regulation aren't limited to processed food but rather extend to sunscreen (see EWG's July 2013 letter to the FDA here), cleaning products, produce, seafood, vitamins*--which the FDA doesn't currently regulate at all (see footnote about vitamins below)--etc. Problems aren't limited to the FDA either. There's bad news for other regulatory agencies as well. Take the FTC (please!), which regulates all advertising, including for children's and infant products, but chooses to provide less regulation and more frustrating "guidance."

A particularly frustrating example of this lack of adequate FTC regulation concerns infant formula. Back in the late 1980's, pediatricians were outraged at a change in formula advertising to direct-to consumer-as opposed to doctors; some pediatricians even went so far as to boycott formula companies. The AAP then and now recommends against direct-to-consumer advertising, but they wield no regulatory power, and even though other countries have banned the practice, the US (via the FTC) continues to allow it.

Why were pediatricians so up in arms? They knew what could (and did) happen; formula companies now manage the information you receive and lead women to believe failure to succeed at breastfeeding is normal and expected. The hazard boils down to this likelihood: if you don't do your own research to become educated, you know only what they want you to know. Perhaps more importantly, you don't know what they don't want you to know.

What all this evidence means, unfortunately, is that parents can't rely on the federal agencies** to protect us; we need to do our own research when making decisions about purchases, particularly when they are for our children. If you're looking for a place to do such parenting research, Environmental Working Group is a good place to start.

*Should you take a multivitamin? This Harvard School of Public Health website discusses the evidence both for and against synthetic supplemental vitamins.

**It's not all bad news at the federal agencies of health protection. The CDC does a fantastic job of relaying transparent and evidenced-based data to the public. I highly recommend checking out their website for child-related health and safety information.

Author's Note: This post was shared with Works for Me Wednesday.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon September 10 with all the carnival links.)
  • Stranger Danger — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares her approach to the topic of "strangers" and why she prefers to avoid that word, instead opting to help her 4-year-old understand what sorts of contact with adults is appropriate and whom to seek help from should she ever need it.
  • We are the FDA — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger makes the case that when it comes to food and drugs, parents are necessarily both their kids' best proponent of healthy eating and defense against unsafe products.
  • You Can't Baby Proof Mother Nature — Nicole Lauren at Mama Mermaid shares how she tackles the challenges of safety when teaching her toddler about the outdoors.
  • Bike Safety With Kids — Christy at Eco Journey In the Burbs shares her tips for safe cycling with children in a guest post at Natural Parents Network.
  • Spidey Sense — Maud at Awfully Chipper used a playground visit gone awry to teach her children about trusting their instincts.
  • Watersustainablemum explains how she has used her love of canoeing to enable her children to be confident around water
  • Safety without baby proofing — Hannabert at Hannahandhorn talks about teaching safety rather than babyproofing.
  • Coming of Age: The Safety Net of Secure AttatchmentGentle Mama Moon reflects on her own experiences of entering young adulthood and in particular the risks that many young women/girls take as turbulent hormones coincide with insecurities and for some, loneliness — a deep longing for connection.
  • Mistakes You Might Be Makings With Car Seats — Car seats are complex, and Brittany at The Pistachio Project shares ways we might be using them improperly.
  • Could your child strangle on your window blinds? — One U.S. child a month strangles to death on a window blind cord — and it's not always the obvious cords that are the danger. Lauren at Hobo Mama sends a strong message to get rid of corded blinds, and take steps to keep your children safe.
  • Tips to Help Parents Quit Smoking (and Stay Quit) — Creating a safe, smoke-free home not only gives children a healthier childhood, it also helps them make healthier choices later in life, too. Dionna at Code Name: Mama (an ex-smoker herself) offers tips to parents struggling to quit smoking, and she'll be happy to be a source of support for anyone who needs it.
  • Gradually Expanding Range — Becca at The Earthling's Handbook explains how she is increasing the area in which her child can walk alone, a little bit at a time.
  • Safety Sense and Self Confidence — Do you hover? Are you overprotective? Erica at ChildOrganics discusses trusting your child's safety sense and how this helps your child develop self-confidence.
  • Staying Safe With Food Allergies and Intolerances — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is sharing how she taught her son about staying safe when it came to his food allergies.
  • Don't Touch That Baby!Crunchy Con Mom offers her 3 best tips for preventing unwanted touching of your baby.
  • Playground Wrangling: Handling Two Toddlers Heading in Opposite Directions — Megan at the Boho Mama shares her experience with keeping two busy toddlers safe on the playground (AKA, the Zone of Death) while also keeping her sanity.
  • Letting Go of "No" and Taking Chances — Mommy at Playing for Peace tries to accept the bumps, bruises and tears that come from letting her active and curious one-year-old explore the world and take chances.
  • Preventing Choking in Babies and Toddlers with Older Siblings — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now gives tips on preventing choking in babies and toddlers along with Montessori-inspired tips for preventing choking in babies and toddlers who have older siblings working with small objects.
  • Keeping Our Children Safe: A Community and National Priority — September has many days and weeks dedicated to issues of safety; however, none stir the emotions as does Patriot Day which honors those slain the terrorist attacks. Along with honoring the victims, safety officals want parents to be ready in the event of another disaster whether caused by terrorists or nature. Here are their top tips from Mary at Mary-andering Creatively.
  • A Complete Family: Merging Pets and Offspring — Ana at Panda & Ananaso shares the ground rules that she laid out for herself, her big brown dog, and later her baby to ensure a happy, safe, and complete family.
  • Be Brave — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about helping her kids learn to be brave so that they can stay safe, even when she's not around.
  • Catchy PhrasingMomma Jorje just shares one quick tip for helping kids learn about safety. She assures there are examples provided.
  • Know Your Kid — Alisha at Cinnamon&Sassfras refutes the idea that children are unpredictable.
  • Surprising car seat myths — Choosing a car seat is a big, important decision with lots of variables. But there are some ways to simplify it and make sure you have made the safest choice for your family. Megan at Mama Seeds shares how, plus some surprising myths that changed her approach to car seats completely!
  • I Never Tell My Kids To Be Careful — Kim is Raising Babes, Naturally, by staying present and avoiding the phrase "be careful!"

10 comments:

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

In researching for a green cleaning book I've been writing, I've come across similarly scary info about governmental agencies. It makes me sad and angry and motivated to make some changes.

Justine said...

I'll look forward to reading your book, Dionna! Good for you for writing it. It's a much needed resource for moms like us.

Lauren Wayne said...

Very insightful post. It's scary how much political and financial pressure is put on these "unbiased" regulatory agencies (groups like the AAP, too, for what that's worth). I wish I could trust the government with my best interests, but I know way too much. I guess that's a good thing in the end, but it does make it hard sometimes to know where to turn for the truth.

Maud said...

This is fascinating and informative. And not a little scary. Thank you for opening up my view.

Jennifer Saleem said...

I could get on my soapbox over this topic. But you did a fine job of starting the conversation about regulatory agencies. It drives me nuts when I hear parents says things like, "its FDA approved. That makes it totally safe." Blarg!

Christy said...

As a parent and a consumer it is so frustrating that we have to be so informed about all of the food and personal care product purchases we make. I am not a scientist, biologist or agrologist and I don't have the time to research everything I buy and use. Thanks for your insight into what can go on in health agency decisions. I live in Canada, but I think it is a somewhat similar process with lots of political and industry pressure.

SALMA said...

Thanks so much for sharing! Lots of thanks for this post.I think it is a very good post. It helps us many away. So many many thanks for this article.

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