Action Alert

Fair trade or free trade? Let your voice be heard on Minnesota’s future!

The Obama Administration is negotiating two new mega trade deals (one with Pacific Rim countries, another with Europe) entirely in secret, with the goal of further expanding the NAFTA-model of free trade. These trade agreements could have major impacts on Minnesota's farmers, workers, small business owners and rural communities. They could limit Minnesota’s ability to support local food and energy systems and grow local businesses. In order to stay up to speed, Minnesota has set up a new Trade Policy Advisory Council (TPAC) to advise the state legislature and Governor.

TPAC wants to hear from Minnesotans: What concerns do you have about free trade? What role could TPAC play in the future? Now is your opportunity to have a say in our future trade policy. Complete the survey and let them know future trade negotiations should be public, not secret. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard in the development of trade agreements and that they protect local control and our quality of life. The free trade model has failed for Minnesota and we need a new approach to trade. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard before trade agreements are completed, and that they protect local control, our natural resources and our quality of life.

Please take five minutes and complete the survey. To find out more about these trade agreements, go to

Dr. Martha Herbert on autism, diet and the environment

Posted December 10, 2012 by    

Food and HealthHealthy LegacyAutismHealth

Dr. Martha Herbert at IATP's "Autism: What do diet and environment have to do with it?" event. 

Autism is a developmental disorder that impairs communication and social interaction. It is a whole body disorder, with immune system difficulties and often includes physical health problems such as gut disturbance, allergies, and seizures.  One in 88 children is now diagnosed with autism in the U.S., compared with 1 in 150 in 2000. 

While we don’t know exactly what causes autism or why it has increased, we know that genetics plays a role. Growing evidence suggests that it’s not genetics alone; environmental and dietary factors may play a significant role in increasing the risk for autism. Dr. Martha Herbert of Harvard University, a leading thinker on this issue presented at IATP’s event, "Autism: What do diet and environment have to do with it?" last Friday. Dr. Herbert is the author with Karen Weintraub of The Autism Revolution: Whole-Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be

Dr. Herbert walked the audience of 150 scientists, educators, health practitioners, parents and advocates through the complex science on factors contributing to increased autism risk. She explained that the brain may not be hardwired for autism as previously thought, but may be instead overloaded in people with autism because the signals aren’t working like they should. When the brain gets overloaded then some functions shut down resulting in autistic symptoms like lack of social interaction, inability to communicate and other problems.

How does the brain get overloaded? Dr. Herbert explained that it’s “too much bad and not enough good,” “bad” things are environmental toxins, viruses, infections and stress. Studies have documented increased risk of autism and/or autistic behaviors from exposure to pollution, pesticides, heavy metals and phthalates. Examples of “good” things are nutrients and rest. A diet of processed food lacks the nutrients our brains need to function.

Furhtermore, we can learn from the way diet and environment interact, explained Dr. Herbert. For example, exposure to pesticides and heavy metals is associated with increased oxidative stress in the brain, which contributes to metabolic abnormalities linked to brain dysfunction. Diet is an important factor in immune health and helping the body fight off toxic exposures, so when toxic chemicals build up, and nutrients are not available to help the body get rid of them, you get brain overload. Many children with autism experience relief in their physical and social symptoms through dietary interventions, such as avoiding foods with gluten and casein and increased consumption of nutrient rich foods.

Dr. Herbert summarizes what is happening as “… the outcome of a combination of complex genetic individuality interacting with immense variation in what combinations of toxic exposures, nutritional shortfalls and stressors people experience.”  

Viewing autism through the lens of environment and diet provides a more hopeful view of this puzzling condition. Exploring additional research approaches to identify key environmental factors and documenting successful dietary interventions are both needed to help the public health system put some of the pieces together and solve the puzzle of autism. 

For more information see IATP's Q&A Factsheet “Autism, Environment and Diet: Questions and Answers."

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