Getting beyond the ‘mom guilt’ over what my child eats

May 5, 2016

teresa1This Sunday, I will be celebrating Mother’s Day with a whole new perspective – as a first-time mom to an amazingly perfect little girl.

Back when I was a kid, my dad used to warn me not to get between a mama cow and her calf out in the pasture, because the cow will trample you. Now I know how the cow feels – overprotective to the extreme.

I’ve learned that “mom guilt” isn’t just a clever Instagram hashtag; it’s all too real. I can’t count how many times a day I google information on whether my baby is sleeping too much or not enough, whether it’s OK to give her a pacifier, if I’m putting her in the car seat correctly or whatever little worry that pops into my head.

And like every mom, one of those worries is whether she’s eating well and growing like she should.

When you’re a soon-to-be mom, a lot of formula companies send you samples and coupons in the mail. I was sent a free sample of a non-GMO (genetically modified) formula. And after our daughter was born, the hospital gave us more free samples of the same non-GMO formula, which I assume they got as a promotional gift from the company.

I know from talking to experts like Dr. Ruth MacDonald, professor chair of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University, that there is no difference nutritionally between foods made with genetically modified corn and soy ingredients and those that are non-GMO. But there is a difference in price. The non-GMO formula is more expensive, and those formula costs add up quickly during the baby’s first year.

I’ve compared the labels on both the non-GMO and conventional baby formula, and they are nearly identical in nutritional content. So as long as it has the vitamins, protein, etc., that my baby needs, I’m comfortable feeding her the conventional formula as recommended by our pediatrician.

Yet I wonder if other moms pay the extra money for formula labeled “non-GMO” because of the mistaken belief that it’s healthier for their babies.

A few months back, I read in disbelief a New York Times article ( about one mom’s worries that organic formula wasn’t “organic” enough for her baby. She ended buying an expensive formula shipped in from Europe.

I understand all too well the endless worries and lost sleep when it comes to caring for our precious babies. But whether the formula is made with GMO ingredients is not one of them.

As long as the formula is proven safe, it is approved by our doctor and our baby girl is eating and growing like she should, I’m OK with my choice.

Instead, I’ll worry about what I can control, like keeping food safety in mind by refrigerating the formula properly and washing my hands before touching the baby’s food.

When we first brought baby home, I asked my own mom if I’ll ever stop worrying about my daughter. She told me that even when your daughters grow up, you never stop worrying. It melted my heart to hear her admit that.

So happy Mother’s Day and thanks to the moms and grandmas for all you do to care for your babies, throughout life and beyond. Like those calves out in the pasture, we will always be protected by our mamas.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is senior features writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

Moving beyond blah, blah, blah to show the safety and value of GMOs

October 30, 2015


Iowa corn harvestHave you heard about the safety and value of GMOs? Probably not, and that’s a big problem.

America’s food and environmental safety agencies have repeatedly vouched for the safety of foods made with crops developed using biotech, which are often called GMO foods. Officials with the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and other food safety agencies – not to mention major health organizations like the American Medical Association – all assert that the scientific evidence strongly shows that GMO foods are safe. They also stress that biotech crops have helped the environment by reducing the need for pesticides and aiding farmers’ efforts to save soil.

The agencies say it makes no sense to force the labeling of foods made with GMO crops. That’s because there is really no difference in the quality or the safety, they say, and labels should be reserved for things that consumers really need to know, such as allergens.

But, as lawmakers crossly stated at a recent hearing in biotech crops, the message on GMO safety and value is just not getting out to the public. After one official cited various scientific studies his agency used to reassure the public, North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp told him bluntly the efforts just weren’t working. “You say that, but what people hear is blah, blah, blah,” she said.

And she’s right.

Despite overwhelming scientific evidence showing they are wrong, biotech opponents have been far more successful at spreading mistruths and fear about the technology. They wear scary costumes to frighten consumers. They trot out ill-informed movie stars to attract media buzz. And they flood social media sites with bogus information to heighten the fear factor.

But like that newly carved jack-o-lantern on your porch, this scary stuff tends to have a short shelf life.

porkI’m starting to see more and more articles highlighting real scientific evidence which points to the safety and value of GMOS like this one, or this one.  Web-based sources, like Best Food Facts and GMO Answers, are providing consumers clear and timely answers to their questions about GMOS. And maybe even food safety agencies can someday move beyond blah, blah, blah, when they assert the safety of and value of GMOs.

The evidence is clear, GMOS are safe and valuable for consumers and the environment.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is news services manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and editor of the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman.

Sorry Gwyneth, but I’ll leave nutritional advice to the experts

August 6, 2015

Photo by AP.

My Twitter feed lit up this week with breathless news that actress Gwyneth Paltrow was speaking out against genetically modified foods (GMOs) and for a campaign to force food companies to label all food made with GMOs.

Sure, the actress in Iron Man and the Avengers added star power to the anti-GMO event in Washington. But on the facts, Paltrow was actually really pretty weak. Especially when she stated that “the science is still out on GMOs.”

Sorry Gwyneth, that’s just plain wrong. The science is in and it shows that foods made with GMOs are safe. Indeed, are the most researched and tested agricultural products in history. Leading scientific groups, such as American Medical Association, the World Health Organization and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have verified the safety of genetically modified crops. And billions of meals around the world have been consumed over the years without a single incident of a person getting sick from a GMO.

The labeling campaign Paltrow shills for—called Just Label It—is just as wrong on the facts. It seeks to force food companies to label foods made with GMOs, even though there is no nutritional difference in them, and endorses a state-by-state labeling which would cause a nightmare of confusion and raise food prices by $500 per family per year, according to a Cornell University study. (For stars like Paltrow, who make millions on each movie, an added $500 may not be a big deal. But it’s real money to the rest of us.)

What really has Paltrow and her pals riled up is a bill which just passed the House in a bipartisan vote and is making progress in the Senate. Called the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, it would create a uniform, science-based standard overseen by the FDA and prevent a confusing and costly patchwork of state food labeling laws. It would also establish a new certification program similar to the highly successful USDA Certified Organic initiative. And it would provide those consumers, like Paltrow, who are seeking a GMO-free option a reliable, consistent and verified means of doing so.

It just makes a lot of sense, except maybe if you live in the unreal world of Hollywood.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is the News Services Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and editor of the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman.


Is that GMO label really necessary?

July 30, 2015

Nutrition Labels1I’m an avid food label reader. When I’m shopping at the grocery store, I stop to look at the nutrition facts before I buy a food that’s new to me, and I check out the produce labels to see where the blueberries or the kiwis were grown.

Yet I’ve also noticed questionable labels popping up on food packaging that leave me feeling more confused than informed.

For example, my favorite brand of popcorn is labeled non-GMO, even though I know that there is no such thing as genetically modified popcorn. Same with the canned pineapple that’s also labeled non-GMO. Again, there’s no such thing as GMO pineapples.

You might be surprised to learn that there are only eight crops grown in the United States that are GMOs ( That means many of the non-GMO labels you see in the grocery store, with the exception of processed foods made from corn or soy ingredients, have never been a GMO food.

In reality, GMO labeling isn’t a nutrition, health or food safety issue. Leading scientists and world health organizations agree that GMO foods are safe to eat (

So the non-GMO labels I see in the grocery store aren’t about safety. They’re about marketing. It’s another way for food companies to try to capture your attention and separate their product from the competitors on the shelves.

groceryFood marketers have a history of taking advantage of consumer confusion. “Multi-grain” doesn’t necessarily mean that the bread is a good source of whole grains; almond milk is mostly water (

Unfortunately, many people fall for misleading food labels. Heck, even I’m guilty of this myself (

That may be why, in a recent survey, 80 percent of consumers say they believe foods containing DNA should be labeled ( Never mind that nearly all foods contain DNA because they come from living organisms.

I get that we all want to know more about where our food comes from. But don’t overlook the most important info on food packaging –- the nutrition facts.

And a quick tip: Use your smartphone to scan the QR codes you may see on produce stickers or food packages. I promise, you will be surprised what you’ll learn about how those blueberries were grown. (And no, blueberries aren’t GMOs.)

 By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is senior features writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.  

Ditch the fear to eat (and live) healthy

July 13, 2015

blood pressureAfter years of ignoring doctors’ warnings, I finally agreed last month to start taking medication for high blood pressure.

In my case, high blood pressure is genetic. My dad was in his 20s when he was first prescribed medication to control his blood pressure. I remember how Dad complained about the side effects – how he had trouble waking up the mornings, how he didn’t like how it made him feel.

But the doctor “got real” with me, explaining that high blood pressure increases my risk of heart disease and stroke. I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I had to get over my fear of taking medication.

So far, the side effects have been less scary than I imagined. I’m groggier than usual during the day. But other than that, I feel like my normal self, just with a calmer heart.

As is often true, my fears were misplaced. I was more afraid of the side effects than I was about the very real threat of a debilitating stroke if my high blood pressure went untreated.

I got to thinking about misplaced fears the other day when I stumbled upon the CommonGround Facebook page, where a dairy farmer ( explained why she doesn’t worry about hormones in milk.

While all milk contains naturally occurring hormones, the farmer noted that most milk hormones are destroyed in the pasteurization process.

milk-carton1What surprised me, however, was that one of the commenters asked if people who choose to drink raw, unpasteurized milk should worry about the hormone levels in milk.

“Raw milk” is indeed dangerous, but not because of hormones. Unpasteurized milk can carry bacteria that cause serious food-borne illness.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the food-borne illness statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC reports that between 2007-2012, there were more than 979 illnesses and 73 hospitalizations from consuming raw milk.

Yet from what I could find, there weren’t any reported illnesses caused by hormones in milk. In fact, the hormone levels in milk and dairy products are extremely low, as you can see in this infographic (

Like my misplaced fear over taking medication, sometimes we focus too much on the unlikely risks from the foods we eat – whether it’s hormones in milk or genetically modified (GMO) ingredients – even though scientists confirm their safety (

We all have the same goal: To live our best, healthiest life. But it doesn’t have to be complicated.

Eat your vegetables, lean meats and dairy. Go for a walk. Listen to your doctor. And relax, already. Worrying less really is the best medicine.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is senior features writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.  


Teaching about nutrition and connecting to the farm

July 1, 2015

There’s a certainly a bumper crop of misinformation floating around in social media about food safety, healthy eating and modern farming practices. And I recently got to talk with folks who see it first-hand: Iowa’s Family and Consumer Science (FCS) teachers.

At the recent Iowa FCS Educators Conference, I was asked to discuss Farm Bureau’s new Iowa Dish e-newsletter (—serving-up-a-taste-of-iowa-farm-fare) for foodies and to share a few tips on how to keep up with food trends.

The FCS educators told me that everything they teach about food in their classrooms connects back to the farm.

teacher1Yet many students today, even in rural Iowa, don’t know a lot about their food – how to cook it, how to shop for it and how it gets from the farm to the plate, they said.

The FCS teachers explained that they spend a lot of time teaching students about nutrition basics and how to prepare healthy meals at home. And the first thing they teach students is proper food safety.

The FCS teachers told me that they sometimes bring up current food topics in class. However, like many of us, they don’t always feel comfortable discussing controversial topics, such as genetically modified (GMO) foods or organic farming, because they don’t know where to turn for information.

I encouraged the teachers to check out the Best Food Facts ( website, which offers a wealth of information from the experts about food issues in the news.

And to keep up on current food issues, I encourage everyone to keep following (and commenting on) our Farm Fresh blog, where we cover timely topics on food and farming.

Also, feel free to ask a local farmer what he or she thinks about something you’ve seen or heard about your food. After all, farmers are foodies, just like the rest of us, and they are the true experts about agriculture.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is senior features writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.





Don’t be chicken about avian flu

May 5, 2015


eggsI’ve been reading and writing a lot of stories recently about avian flu, a virus that has stricken the poultry and egg industry across the country and in Iowa, killing more than 12 million birds in our state alone since April. Scientists say wild migratory birds are spreading the virus during migration, and they anticipate more cases this fall and next spring.

Last week, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad declared a state of emergency in efforts to provide additional state agencies and funding to help stop the avian flu. Scientists and other experts have been monitoring the virus even before it migrated to the U.S.

Obviously, this is a major concern for all poultry farmers, but they, like other farmers who raise animals in the state, continue to diligently watch over their animals, carefully monitoring their health, and calling their veterinarians at the first sign of an issue.

But what about consumers? Is it safe for me to keep eating my morning omelet?

Experts assure the virus doesn’t pose a threat to humans.

“Consumers should feel safe to eat properly cooked and prepared meat and eggs from poultry,” said Angela Shaw, assistant professor in food science and human nutrition and extension specialist in food safety at Iowa State University.

The virus has “never caused human illness anywhere,” said Ann Garvey, Iowa public health veterinarian, so consumers should continue to feel confident in the safety of eating eggs and poultry.

Great news! Not only are eggs the star of my breakfast, I also like them hard-boiled as a snack during the day and eat turkey in a wrap for lunch or as a component in meatballs for dinner. Let’s face it, poultry is a protein staple at my house.

Eating these delicious products are not only beneficial to my health, but it also helps support the farmers who have been affected by the virus. Experts say it may be several months until farmers are able to recover. This means they will see insurmountable losses. And the trickledown effect will impact area businesses that will lose sales because of the lost birds and the slowing of feed and supplies sales.

So let’s get crackin’ Iowa and continue to enjoy our eggs and poultry – for your health and the health of our farmers.

By Bethany Baratta. Bethany is commodities writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

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