The baby products industry is a really huge one, amounting to almost $8 billion. Right from food, toys, diapers to body lotion, shampoo, soaps and a myriad of other products are exclusively available for babies. However, the safety of these products raises a big question — are they safe at all?
By Akshat Rawal
When the stork comes calling, it is celebration time not just for the parents but also for the booming baby product industry. It means another customer of diapers, baby formula, baby food, lotions, toys, and so on. But how many of these products are really safe?
As reports of tainted baby formula, plastic baby bottles leeching bisphenol A (a development, neural and reproductive toxicant), toy recalls, and pre-eminence of processed foods in a child’s diet devour newsprint, documentary filmmaker and new mother Min Sook Lee set out to look for “safe, sane and affordable ways” to raise her daughter Song Ji in a toxin-embedded world.
The result, My Toxic Baby, is a powerful documentary that looks at a child’s exposure to chemicals and the appalling absence of regulations governing the baby products flooding the market.
The film also introduces viewers to parents who have made alternative choices, including one mother who insisted on breastfeeding her premature twins in the ICU, another who practices EC (Elimination Communication where mothers take the child to pee or poop to the toilet instead of conducting the business in a diaper) and yet another who launched a catering business that provides nutritious lunch and snacks to kids across Toronto.
The journey of My Toxic Baby began with Lee’s daughter kicking her way into the world. “I never thought too much about toxins and baby products until I was holding her in my arms. And it just hit me that it was my responsibility to take care of her. Friends had given me baby lotion, shampoo, plastic liners for bottles (with good intentions) but my gut instinct kicked in. She doesn’t need baby lotion. She has pure skin; she doesn’t need fragrance. At around the same time there were massive toy recalls happening internationally. Large brand names were recalling zillions of toys with lead paint or other toxic chemicals in them. I was very upset thinking and asking what kind of regulatory body is out there and my research showed there is no regulation. In Canada, you can find baby soothers with lead in them. There is no body to monitor or regulate the safety of what is inside baby products,” she explains.
Lee found out that there are petroleum products in bath rinse and her girl’s teething toy has orange plastic filled with liquid. “Some manufacturers have removed PVC from their products especially those that are intended to be put in children’s mouths. But no law requires or regulates these products and few are labeled,” says Lee.
These and many more facts emerged during her quest to find safe and affordable ways to raise her daughter and birthed the film, too. She started out the struggle to eliminate unnecessary chemicals and toxins in her home after Song’s birth. Lee weaves the documentary around some basic issues: breastfeeding, diapering, food and the way it is marketed to children, and vaccination. Various news items are used to chapter the story that concludes with an examination of toxins within her abode. “When we talk of toxins and baby products we cannot talk in a bubble we have to look at the wider environment,” she says.
In the course of making her own parenting choices, Lee comes across other parents who were making theirs. Monique Fabregas is an example. She has spent long hours researching toxins and how babies are affected by chemicals. Breastfeeding was critical to protecting her children and hence she chose to breastfeed her premature twins in an intensive care unit.
Preemies and their parents go through so much in the first few days that most are given formula and the film reports that 80 percent mothers give their babies formula in the first six months contributing to an $8 billion world market.
Then there is Lulu Cohen-Farnell, a mother of two, who was appalled by the quantum of processed, frozen and canned convenience food used at day care and school cafeterias.
She teamed up with her husband to form Real Food for Real Kids five years ago to address this issue and now their company provides nutritious meals and snacks —free of chemical preservatives, artificial coloring, fake sweeteners and preservatives — to 5,000 kids at daycares, schools and camps in Toronto.
Taking on the diaper industry is Christa Niravong and members of her group, who get their children to pee/poop in the toilet.
The average baby, Lee says, “will go through 6,000 diapers and each takes 400 years to decompose.”
A support group formed by Christa teaches the art of EC, a concept widely prevalent in Asia and Africa, though they may not have the vocabulary to express what they do.
“Many solutions in response to environment toxins are ancient ones that come from cultures that are quite old, practices that have been forgotten or disbanded because they are seen as backward. EC is a classic example. It was among the practices across world that was seen as dirty. So much so that when immigrants came to Toronto, many mothers from earlier generations set the practice aside because they were embarrassed by it, and immediately adapted to the new culture of buying disposables that are devastating to environment,” says the filmmaker.
Lee reveals, “Mothers (especially), have enough to worry about without yet another voice making them feel inadequate. It was very important for me to make a life-affirming documentary. It is an opening for debate, dialogue and for people to start investigating their own personal journey on where they need to go. This is a personal essay that aims to broaden the options that are made available to parents in the context of the chemical world we live in today.”