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Gluten-Free Genetically-Modified Wheat: Exploring the Possibility

Posted Jul 17 2013 6:42pm

    A biotechnology conference is convening in Germany exploring the possibility of genetic varieties of wheat without gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, raising concerns in the gluten-free community. While proponents of biotechnology consider the prospect of gluten-free wheat a   potential solution to those suffering from celiac disease, an autoimmune disease caused by exposure to gluten, some members of the gluten-free community are concerned about the effects of consuming GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

     Celiac disease is an autoimmune reaction to the protein called gluten. This is commonly found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. In celiac patients, the villi which line the inside of the small intestine are attacked by the body’s immune system when exposed to gluten. This makes celiac disease a disease of malabsorption as essential nutrients aren’t absorbed, leading to a variety of physical and mental symptoms and complications. It is estimated that 3 million Americans have celiac disease and 18 million have a food sensitivity to gluten.

     A conference titled “Better Living Through Science” at the German Center for Research and Innovation took up the subject of the development of gluten-free wheat through biotechnology. According to proponents,a genetically-altered wheat without gluten could help those who have been diagnosed with  celiac disease.

    With the current global population approaching seven billion people, biotechnology advocates argue that genetically modified foods will benefit the health of planets and help in producing human food supplies.

     The subject of genetically modified foods is the subject of great controversy, as studies show serious health risks associated with GM foods, which means that genetically modified gluten-free wheat may cause more harm than good.   The Institute of Responsible Technology documents several animal studies by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) showing health risks such as “infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.” According to the Institute of Responsible Technology, “The AAEM has asked physicians to advise all patients to avoid GM foods.”

     In 1996 GM ingredients were introduced into most Americans processed foods.According to the Institute of Responsible Technology, FDA scientists consistently urged long-term safety studies, warning that GM foods can cause side effects such as allergies, toxins, new diseases, and nutritional problems, but they were ignored. Some experts attribute part of the rise of gluten sensitivity to genetically modified versions of wheat. Since the original genetic manipulation of wheat led to so many health issues, opponents predict even more problems.

     GM food opponents aren’t only concerned about health problems but argue that GM wheat is a threat to farmers and the U.S. economy as well. According to their website, farmers havce suffered from “massive problems with the genetic contamination from neighboring farms with GM corn, soybeans and canola.” Furthermore, GM crops are patented, which means farmers are required topurchase the patented seedon an annual basisfrom the seed company.The Organic Consumers Association has called GM wheat a “mortalthreat” to our country’s wheat market: “It is estimated that the loss of markets for GM corn, soy and canola has reached over 300 million dollars per year because the European Union will not purchase GM crops.Although the U.S. is the leadingexporter ofwheat, many foreign companies will not purchase GM wheat or even any wheat where GM wheat has been grown in the area.  

     With the problems that have arisen from genetically modified foods, there is much opposition to genetically modified wheat in the U.S. Although gluten-free GM wheat may sound tempting to some, the health risks and other dangers may outweigh the positives, especially since the dietary needs of the celiac and gluten-sensitive community can be sufficiently met on a well-balanced gluten-free diet.    


Miranda Jade Turbin


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