Autism and Veganism

Toxic Soup:

Vaccines, Factory-farmed Animals, and the Politics of Autism

In mid-September of 2008, on national news reports, we heard the story of a severely autistic 13-year-old boy adrift in an ocean overnight being able to stay alive, in part due to his optimistic spirit and light-hearted repetition of lines from his favorite Disney movies. The cheeriness of many children like him with severe autism ought to be an inspiration to us all, especially during a time of much controversy in the debate on the best methods of explaining, preventing, and treating autism. On Sept. 3, the week before, CNN, and CBS had reported that a new study had shown that the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine—long declared by some parents of autistic children to be responsible for their children’s autism–does NOT cause autism, that it is safe.
Although encouraging the American public to continue to have confidence in the vaccination process, which could be considered noble, the CNN MMR report did nothing to further public understanding of the complicated science and politics behind autism research. It also failed to mention that some vaccines, like the flu vaccine, still contain large doses of Thimerosal, a preservative which contains a high amount of mercury and which if ingested in large amounts (such as from multiple doses of vaccines at one time) could be toxic to the brain and central nervous system, and cause developmental problems for a growing fetus or young child. We also heard that the MMR vaccine, either by itself or in combination with other thimerosal-containing vaccines, is currently being accused, in Federal courts, of being the cause of autism by families of autistic children, with 8 test cases out of 9 to be heard starting this year, and 4900 similar lawsuits waiting in the wings.
This year will also see major studies about alternative theories of causation of autism coming out, as it is becoming clear that the number of cases of autism is still rising, despite the removal of the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal from almost all vaccines five to seven years ago.
Many of us have questions about autism: What causes autism? Is it true what anti-vaccine groups are saying—that vaccines or the mercury-containing thimerosal within them causes autism? What does consumption of dairy have to do with autism?? What can anyone do to help these unfortunate children and their families?
If one looks into the story of autism, one makes some disturbing discoveries. One finds that the gene theory of causation is extremely popular and such research is generously funded, whereas other theories such as that vaccines or some of the excesses of Western culture (such as pollution) might be part of the etiology of autism have been generally under-funded and slandered. Theories which blame environmental factors–such as dairy, various pollutants, or (in the case of autism) the vaccines–are thought too simplistic, even by many autistics’ family members. These theories, which include evidence that factory-farmed food is routinely contaminated with high amounts of toxic metals, are also thought too unlikely. After all, as one educated person put it, “Doesn’t the FDA test food for those things?”
To complicate things further, the diagnosis of autism itself can mean many things: cases range from “mild” to “severe” autism (with much physical disability) to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder on the “autism spectrum disorder” scale (with little or no physical disability). No treatment is known to cure severe autism, partly because no one seems to be able to speak authoritatively about what causes it. One of the most disturbing discoveries one finds about autism—among many others–is that children with autism, both “mild” and “severe” cases, are routinely being given high dosages of psychiatric medication—medication which is known to have negative effects on brain and nervous system development!!!
Other distressing information comes to light. One discovers that the Food and Drug Administration, the regulator of pharmaceuticals, as well as upper management at Merke and Eli Lilly manufactures had for years ignored evidence that vaccines were related to autism, even though major players in the pharmaceutical industry knew it by 1991. However, it wasn’t until 1999 that a little-publicized deal was struck between the pharmaceutical companies, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC): the pharmaceutical companies would quietly begin taking thimerosal out of vaccinations and pediatricians would postpone some of the birth vaccines until the baby was two to six months old.
Further, possible factory-farmed food sources of dangerously-high amounts of toxic metals, such as arsenic and mercury have been discovered up by the FDA and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA, which is in charge of inspecting meat and feed for contaminants, and the FDA decided to announce to agribusiness in 1999 that arsenic should be removed from their animal feed; no requirement was made, however, and these toxics are still found in meat and dairy.
Even more shockingly, one discovers that Eli Lilly executives, working with Bush Jr.’s White House, had been able to secretly put an “immunity” clause into the Patriot Act of 2002, absolving them of any future liability in lawsuits filed by parents who felt their children were damaged by vaccines (later repealed due to public outcry). (Psychologist Bruce Levine terms Eli Lilly scandals such as these “Lillygates”.)(1)
We all heard the results of the Hannah Poling case, decided last fall before even going to trial, the first of the 9 test cases (among 4900) regarding vaccinations and autism to be settled in Federal “Vaccine Court” (before trial), and the first case in which the government admitted that their vaccinations had “triggered” a case of autism. However, they claimed that this was a rare case, that Hannah Poling had an underlying mitochondrial disorder, an unusual “predisposition”, which had contributed to her development of autism.
In light of all this, parents considering vaccinations and safe diets now still have many questions, but answers are difficult to come by. How safe are vaccinations now, truly, as only 60% of thimerosal has been removed (and some is still used in “processing”), but only as a supposed “precautionary measure”? Are children still being struck down by autism? And why are autistics’ parents’ group still protesting about thimerosal? Are they really just “looking for someone to blame” as one parent of an autistic girl claims? Should pregnant women avoid meat and dairy products altogether? The politics of autism has made true scientific inquiry into the subject difficult. Emotions run high among the victims of autism as well as the vaccine-makers—and vaccine-promoting FDA, NIH and WHO officials. The “money trail” often leads back to the pharmaceutical-industrial complex—the pharmaceutical companies, the government regulators and the doctors who too often work together for less than lofty reasons.
As an indication of the inefficiency of the politics of autism, we remember that although thimerosal’s safety began being questioned in the seventies by autistics advocacy groups, the truly scientific study of thimerosal was NOT done by the FDA as one might expect, but was begun in the late nineties by university researchers, led by Neal Halsey, M.D.. Yet, after it became obvious to responsible, ethical researchers that thimerosal could cause at least a substantial number of cases of autism, the removal of thimerosal from the vaccines is said to have actually been completed in U.S. pharmaceuticals by only 2003!
So, given that the thimerosal was eventually removed from vaccinations here in the U.S. and in Europe, we would expect that the incidence of autism would be going down since approximately 2000. Yet, government figures indicate that the numbers of children being diagnosed with classic/severe autism in the U.S. are smaller, but only by approximately 50% between 1999 and 2007.
Interestingly, Third World vaccinations still contain Thimerosal, due to international health officials concern that vaccines transported to the Third World would become too expensive if required to be shipped without the preservative. The consequences of this decision deserve more analysis.
What, then, is the relationship between thimerosal, toxic metals and autism? What else might be causing autism? Some scientists, such as those at the John Hopkins School of Public Health, are beginning to suspect that other sources of toxic metals in a young child’s or fetus’ development may, as thimerosal has been thought to, be providing the “trigger” dose of mercury and/or other toxic metals which leads to autism. Currently, for example, John Hopkins is investigating the effects auto exhaust fumes, pesticides and other pollutants can have on the development of babies and small children’s brains and central nervous systems as they relate to autism. Underlying sensitivities to toxic metals may also be playing a role.
Environmental sources of mercury and other toxic metals are many, but one of the prime suspects today is the fish we eat—such as swordfish, sea bass, halibut, and tuna among others. They can too often contain toxic levels of mercury and it is often recommended to pregnant women that they eat it only two times per month at most. Habitual eating of mercury-containing fish or other long-term toxic metal exposure could lead one to have an underlying sensitivity to toxic metal poisoning.
According to John Robbins’ , shockingly, fishmeal is also the main component of the feed of our factory-farmed animals! Doctors began surmising in 1999 that the high dose of mercury in thimerosal combined with another high dose of a different form of mercury in fish could lead to autism. Combine that with the facts that the factory-farm feed contains arsenic to kill pathogens and to promote animal growth (17) and that factory-farmed animals are themselves given massive amounts of antibiotics (some of which did and may very well still contain mercury), and you have a potential food and health disaster. Perhaps the mercury and other toxic metals found in our food supply, combined with other factors, like the mercury-containing vaccines, might help explain autism today? We shall see if our society can rise above politics and focus on much needed research and transparency in this area.
A NEW VARIABLE: The Meat/Poultry, Fish and Dairy Connection
So reputable scientists reporting in such journals as the International Journal of Molecular Medicine, Toxicology and the Journal of Integrative Medicine generally concur now that thimerasol (and possibly merthiolate, another mercury-containing vaccine preservative) can be the “straw that broke the camel’s back”, for children who also had either other sources of mercury and/or toxic metal in their diet/ environment (such as high levels in their factory-farmed food) and/or low inherited or genetic tolerance to mercury/toxic metals. (2)
More like the “bale of straw that broke the camel’s back” for some, as it was finally discovered by FDA scientists and Neal Halsey, M.D. of the John Hopkins School of Public Health, a famous international epidemiologist, in 1999. These scientists finally “did the math” on thimerosal and found that in vaccinating a child on the usual “schedule” of vaccinations, a child might receive 85-87 times the FDA standard for mercury before age 6 months! (3) This depended on how many of their vaccinations were drawn from the “large vial” containers! It may be possible, again, that this kind of dose of mercury can also be found in other environmental sources.
Halsey investigated the theory that the ethyl-mercury/vaccine + methyl-mercury/fish = autism connection. American fish of the past hundred years have contained higher and higher levels of mercury and other toxic metals because the water they live in is routinely contaminated with them. This pollution’s sources are everything from smelter smoke deposits and pollution from various industries to water run-off from factory farms. At the same time as the level of mercury in our environment and diet was increasing, vaccination schedules, with multiple vaccinations in one shot and/or one visit to the doctor’s office, had begun to include more and more thimerosal—particularly in the 1990’s, when the nation also experienced a large percentage increase in the numbers of young children with severe autism.
However, things are not so simple. Apparently, an environmental source of mercury or other toxic metal can be inserted into either of the variables in the above equation, and under a standard set of conditions (including possibly sensitivity to toxic metals, which is possibly genetic or inherited), autism results.
One of the scientists responsible for the discovery that different toxic metals can work together synergistically and devastatingly was Dr. Boyd Haley, Chair of the Chemistry Department at the University of Kentucky (he was investigating the toxic metal aluminum in relation to Alzheimers). In a 2002 interview with Arthur Allen, he called ethyl mercury and methyl mercury, “oink and oink-oink”. (4)
Where do we find toxic metals and how does mercury pollution happen in the food chain? First, mercury and other toxic metals get dumped into the water from water runoff from metal mines, smelters (where metals such as gold and silver are purified), chemical and weapons factories, glass manufacturers and nuclear- and coal-fueled power plants, and other factory waste (including that from factory farms). Fish consume water in huge amounts. As many of us know, mercury doesn’t just pass through an animal’s body easily; all of the mercury in a small fish that a bigger fish eats is passed on to that fish, along with the mercury that THAT fish has eaten, and then an even larger fish eats the smaller fish and picks up all ITS mercury PLUS its own, and so on. When a mammal (including human) eats fish, or otherwise absorbs mercury, they too cannot digest the mercury well, and end up storing it in their bodies, primarily in their fat, or in the case of females, in their fat and mammary glands.
Apparently, if there exists a preexisting genetic predisposition, “mitochondrial disorder” or if the dose of mercury or toxic metal is too high for the immune or secretion systems of the body to handle, the mercury can also ”float around” the body and wreak havoc on the brain and central nervous system, the endocrine system and the digestive system. Theoretically the human eating the “wrong bite” at the top of the food chain could be ingesting a huge dose of mercury, which could be devastating for a child.
Most of us know that virtually all fish in America now are contaminated with mercury and other toxic metals; pregnant and nursing women are warned to limit fish intake, particularily big fish like tuna. However, many may not be aware that mercury-contaminated fishmeal became, as meat production became more industrialized and geared towards profits in the latter part of the 20th century (when autism first began growing in the U.S.), a primary source of food for food animals, such as cows, pigs, turkeys and chickens. In fact, mercury-containing fishmeal is the main component of ninety-percent (90%) of the food fed to chickens on factory farms, and half of all of the feed fed to factory-farmed animals in general! Such mercury contamination in the food supply has been shown to have effects on developing children’s brains! (5) It appears that autism could be one of the possible devastating outcomes of such damage to a child’s brain and central nervous system. Also, as mentioned earlier, many farm animals eat feed containing arsenic, as in small amounts it is thought to control disease in farm animals; up to 70% of factory-farmed animals, especially chickens, eat arsenic in their feed (18).

Food inspectors from the Department of Agriculture are notorious for “looking the other way” when it comes to inspecting animal products for toxins, according to food-crusader John Robbins on-going study. And Caryn Hartglass of Earthsave International notes: “Food safety inspection is less reliable today than ever before.” However, the fact that the FDA recommended that arsenic be taken out of the factory-farmed production of food in 1999, and that Tyson (the largest U.S. manufacturer of chicken) did so only in 2005, may indicate not only that the government had wind of the problems associated with allowing so much toxic metal into the food supply, but also that food industry compliance has been less than stellar. Seventy percent of chickens in the U.S. are still being fed arsenic.(18)
Additionally, shockingly, according to Food and Water Watch (, 2008)(6), the fishmeal which is used to feed farm animals (and other fish) routinely has been found by independent researchers to have an average of 51ppb (ranging from 7 to 91 ppb) of mercury—when FDA regulators are supposed to declare it unsafe at 20 ppb. Most fishmeal and animal products are tested at a rate of 1 out of every 1,000 or 10,000 products. Who knows how high arsenic levels may be.
It is well-known that any lactating mammal that has ingested a toxin will excrete it through her breast milk. Hence, toxic metals ingested by cows and goats may be found in high amounts in dairy foods. (7) One fact which may confirm that animal products are providing some of the toxins involved with autism is that dairy is known to exacerbate, and sometimes even seems to cause, the symptoms of autism. Many claim that it is only the milk-protein (casein) which is the culprit; this is thought to be because some autistics have trouble breaking it down and so it creates an “opiate-like” substance. However, many parents of autistics do not give their children any dairy, even without casein, because they find their children simply seem better without it.(8)
Seemingly, this could be explained by the presence of toxic metals, even in low amounts, in dairy—it may be possible that the fact that dairy seems to consistently cause (increased) autistic symptoms is because toxic metals are uniformly dispersed throughout the liquid (just as they would be, presumably, in water or any other liquid), whereas in meat or other animal products the toxic metals “group-up” in random spots in the fat or substance. In other words testing large numbers of sample of meat and dairy for toxic metals for toxic metals is called for, as is surveying the diets of the victims of autism for the presence of toxics.
Also, it would be informative to test whether or not toxic metals in the environment might also cause symptoms (such as the John Hopkins study is doing, see below). In other words, perhaps autism is exacerbated by the presence–in the diet or in the environment–of toxic metals (due to prior development of autism; i.e., toxic metal poisoning), or if the autistic child is genetically sensitive or has allergy-like reactions to mercury (or other toxic metals). Again, distressingly these studies may have already been done, but the results concealed by the industrial-government complex.
If the politics surrounding the thimerosal connection to autism has been obscure, one can bet the politics attaching the meat and dairy industry to it will be even more so, based on their past history. In fact, the FDA official I spoke with regarding this issue begged me not to use his name!
As an easy starting point, we can see that John Hopkins’s Bloomberg School of Public Health is beginning to do research about whether the incidence of autism is correlated to various sources of toxic metals.(9) Other toxic metals which could be involved in the etiology (development) of autism include lead, antimony, arsenic, and copper. A cursory look at the maps that David Kirby shows us in his ground-breaking, recent book and website Evidence of Harm indicates that there is a relationship between proximity of coal-processing plants and development of autism; his research also indicates a correlation between deposition of mercury vapor in a particular area and development of autism, for example. (10)
Further, some studies indicate that children born near large farms where many substances contain toxic metals which may leak into the water supply, such as animal waste, pesticides and fertilizers (both routinely contain toxic metals) , showed a relatively high incidence of autism. (11) That radioactive nuclear waste metals stored in drums at the bottom of the ocean have begun to leak and could be contaminating our fish supply with radioactive toxic metals also should be another area of research. Obviously, more research is needed on the incidence of autism as it relates to the pollution of our food and water supply, and other potential sources of high levels of toxic metals. Whether or not politics will allow this important research concerning the health development of our children is the critical question, which we should not have to even ask.

Treating Autistics as Toxic Metal Poisoning Victims–or as Psychotics?
Dr. James Adams et al, found that chelating therapy to remove toxic metals—especially lead, mercury and antimony–can sometimes significantly improve the lives of autistic children.(12)
The Mayo Clinic website lists only a handful of available treatments for autism. One is psychological/educational therapies such as speech and occupational therapy and Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). Another is chelation therapy, which is portrayed on their site as an experimental and possibly dangerous therapy, even though several studies conducted within this past year indicate its safety and effectiveness. (13)
A third treatment listed as acceptable is anti-psychotic medication! Surprisingly, powerful anti-psychotic drugs like Thorazine, Haldol, Prolixin, and Mellaril, among other major tranquilizers and mood stabilizers are being used to attempt to control some of the symptoms of severe autism.
Psychiatrists such as Dr. Riccio, head of the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology (ICSPP) are angry that these drugs are given to any children at all—let alone autistic children: “Anti-psychotic drugs are known to cause severe nerve and central nervous system damage (‘tardive dyskinesia”) if used over a long period of time—they should not be being given to autistic children who already have nerve and CNS damage. Dangers associated with these drugs actually include not only tardive dyskinesia but also the fatal “Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome.”
The ICSSP’s official position on the major tranquilizers, as well as other psychiatric medication commonly given to children (such as Ritalin), is that they are associated with many dangers and are not appropriate for children in general, and certainly not for developing children. (See for more information.)(14) Parent surveys completed by thousands of families of autistics generally listed psychiatric drugs as ineffective in controlling symptoms (except for those which control seizures) on the Autism Research Institute’s website. (15)

One of the reasons that thimerosal was not taken out of vaccines earlier than this past decade is that this mercury-containing preservative keeps vaccines “fresh” and effective longer. In 1999, when pharmaceutical companies were pressured into beginning to remove thimerosal from vaccinations in this country, international public health officials were concerned that the mercury-free individual dose vaccine vials were too expensive to distribute to the Third World, where massive vaccinations are undertaken as a service of the World Health Organization and international health organizations. Hence, Third-world vaccinations still contain mercury. (In mid-September of this year one and a half million people were vaccinated In Afghanistan—one wonders if they were vaccinated with the poisonous mercury-containing vaccines or the truly beneficial ones.)
After reading concluding dialogue in some of the first U.S. federal court cases regarding autism and vaccines, one might be struck by how the lawyers defending the FDA (and pharmaceutical) companies are so vicious in their approach towards the unfortunate victims of autism and their families; unabashedly accusing them of quoting faulty studies, which are actually generally quite reputable. Neither the pharmaceutical companies nor the FDA have ever admitted to the public that vaccines were responsible for the development of autism in any direct way, despite the noble work of responsible scientists, autism activists and Senator Dan Burton (whose grandchild became autistic after receiving a vaccination) to create an open dialogue about the issue .
One exceptional student educator sums it up: “In truth, the government, and all of us, should be taking much more care to be open and honest about vaccines relationship to autism, and to do meaningful research without political blinders on. We should be also being looking into cleaning up our nation’s water and food supplies to prevent autism. Above all, we should be helping to alleviate the suffering of all of the victims of autism. Our dealings with the autistic and their family should be full of caring concern.”
C. A. Marquis is a teacher and a writer. With a psychology degree (B.A.) from U.C. Berkeley, she started a non-profit group for alternatives to medical-model psychiatry in 1992, wrote a book on veganism entitled The Vegan Way in the nineties and is currently writing a book entitled The Three Blunders of Modern Medicine.

(1) Levine, Bruce, Ph.D,. “Eli Lilly, Zyprexa, and the Bush Family” Z Magazine Online May, 2004. Vol. 17, No. 5
(2) Kirby, David. 2005 Evidence of Harm St. Martins Press, New York
(3) Allen, Arthur. 2007 Vaccine W.W. Norton & Co., New York.
(4) I bid
(5) Robbins, John. 1987. Diet for a New America H J Kramer and New World Library, California.
(6) Food and Water Watch, 2008.
(7) Kradijian, Robert, M.D. 2007. The Milk Letter.
(8) 2008. The Autism Research Institute.
(9) 2008, Sept.The John Hopkins School of Public Health website.
(10) I bid, as per note (3).
(11) Arthur, C. et al. 2008, May. “Study Links Autism Risk to Distance from Mercury-Releasing Sources” Health and Place
(12) Adams, John, Ph.D. et al. Oct., 2007. “Results of a DSMA Chelation Treatment Study” as presented on .
(13) 2008, May. The Mayo Clinic website.
(14) 2008. Defeat Autism Now (DAN!)
(15) 2008. International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology.
(16) I bid. As per (8).
(17) From “National Center for Environmental Assessment”, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website, Jacobson-Kram, D., P. Mushak, M. Piscator, D. Sivullo, and M. Chu. Health Assessment Document for Inorganic Arsenic. Final Report, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C., EPA/600/8-83/012F
(18) Freston, Kathy. April 24th, 2007. Huffington Post –Health and Wellness as per Freston’s quote from Chemical and Engineering Magazine.


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