Food Bullying Podcast

Parenting a child with diabetes through food bullying: Episode 39


Our guest, Heather Barnes, tells parents, “You are doing great.”  Having a child with different dietary needs opens the door to bullying. Parents have to make the choice about what is right for their family. “We need to respect the choices and the benefits of science.”

Heather grew up in town and didn’t know anything about farming other than how to identify cotton and peanuts before going to college. She began a career in agriculture after graduating from Virginia Tech with an Animal Science degree. Heather has worked with many different types of farms throughout her career as an Extension Agent and now Marketing Specialist. She is married to a second-generation farmer. They grow sweet potatoes, tobacco, corn, soybeans and wheat. She is the mother to three sons, ages 7, 4 and 1. Their oldest son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder four years ago and their middle son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes almost one year ago.

Farm mom Heather BarnesKey Points:

  • Type 1 Diabetes is scary, especially in the beginning. As a parent you are terrified for your child and that fear puts a target on your back. It’s easy for the anti-GMO groups to scare a person who is already terrified they will lose their child.
  • Insulin is a GMO – the first genetically engineered product approved by the FDA. It’s been used for 40 years. In the past, diabetes was a death sentence.
  • In the 1920s. insulin from pig and beef pancreas was used. It took 2 tons of pig pancreas to make 8 ounces of insulin for human use. People were concerned that there would be a shortage of insulin.
  • Modern, genetically engineered, insulin was developed in 1982. It is identical to human insulin and can be tweaked to be long and short acting to keep blood sugar under control.
  • Consumers fear GMOs in the agriculture world.  Those crops have given farmers more options and limit food waste.
  • Heather was surprised there were protests when insulin was being developed that put limits on the scientists.  People didn’t understand or support the science.
  • As a mom with a son who depends on insulin, Heather can’t imagine what it would be like to not have an unlimited supply.
  • Families are bullied because they are using GMO medications. Fear for your child makes you vulnerable to bullying.
  • Parents have to make the choice about what is right for their family. Rely on medical experts rather than people who aren’t entitled to be involved.
  • It’s important to educate teachers, care givers, and friends about what your child needs. Other children need to understand why a child with diabetes may need juice or a snack when they don’t get it.
  • Empowering a child to understand their condition and be able to talk about it.  Heather worries he will be bullied in the future. We have to get over “kids will be kids” and we have to talk to children about bullying.


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