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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Are Anti-GMO Campaigners Blocking Gluten-free Wheat that Could Help Celiac Sufferers?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Caption: Wheat grows in a field. Photo: CC--Roger Karsten

    Celiac.com 09/25/2015 - Are anti-GMO campaigners blocking gluten-free wheat that could help people with celiac disease?

    Photo: CC--Roger KarstenThere's an interesting blog post by Daniel Norero in Biology Fortified. The blog post claims that a type of GM wheat that may improve the quality of life for celiac patients has faced opposition from anti-GMO campaigners who oppose approval and commercialization of the product.

    Certainly, producing a variety of gluten-free wheat offers one alternative to avoiding gluten. However, it is difficult, if not impossible, to create a baking-quality gluten-free wheat strain using conventional techniques such as selection and hybridization.

    That reality led a team of Spanish scientists, headed by Dr. Francisco Barro, to use RNA interference (RNAi) to deactivate or delete the genes in wheat that produce the gliadin proteins. By 2011, the team had created four strains of wheat with particularly low amounts of gliadins, which produced in people with celiac disease a reaction up to 95% less toxic than the one produced by standard wheat.

    Two of those wheat strains, E82 and D793, showed gliadin reductions of about 96% and 97% respectively. For people with celiac disease, this would equate to a safe maximum daily consumption of bread up to 43.6 and 66.9 grams per day.

    The blog entry goes on to say that, despite the opportunity presented by this GM crop to improve the quality of life of celiac patients, problems have arisen at the approval and commercialization stages, largely due to opposition from Spanish and European anti-GMO activists.

    Norero then quotes from blog post by Jose Miguel Mulet, a Spanish plant scientist from CSIC:

    "How can it be that a technology created with Spanish public funds end up in the hands of a private American company? Because of the aberrant anti-GMO European law. No European or Spanish company is interested in commercially developing this wheat due to obstacles in the authorization process…The result: licensing rights have been acquired by the…Dow Agrosciences, given that the authorization process in the United States is much easier."

    Norero makes an interesting read. It's certainly possible that some type of genetic modification could benefit people with celiac disease. However, it's unclear how a wheat with a 95-97% reduction in gluten toxicity would relate to the current 20ppm total gluten allowed by U.S. law, or exactly what the nature of the alleged benefits for celiacs might be.

    What do you think? Should genetically modified wheat be permitted if it's helpful to people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance? Or no, should there be no GMO wheat, no matter the claimed benefits? 


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    GMO marketers are touting GMOs as custom solutions to various digestive issues. Just as the wind blows and birds and insects fly, GMOs cannot be contained and threaten to contaminate other crops, affect important pollinator insects, and affect humans and animals in ways that can't be foreseen. GMOs are like opening Pandora's box on nature. Some GMOs allow plants to survive ever larger amounts of pesticides, pesticides that get into the food chain and pesticides that end up in our bodies. The corporate giants that control GMOs want us to think that they will have the keys to all sorts of ailments, of course -- great marketing for their profit-maker and great way to get more taxpayer research dollars. Heck, wouldn't it be great to walk through the woods and be able to eat bird berries and poisonous mushrooms? When do we say enough is enough and ask the powers to be to stop messing with nature? How about focusing on cleaning nature up? Look up the number of toxic Superfund sites in the USA that have been sitting for decades right in our towns and countrysides? How about working to protect pollinators and work with nature? Oh, not enough profit in it. The downsides and risks to swamping our environment with GMOs are too great. I'm celiac and I'm tired of hearing about "cures" all the time so that I supposedly can stop watching what I eat. GMOs unleashed will make our choices even harder. I imagine many of us will end up in the doctor's office trying to figure out what is still bothering our gut after our bodies are forced to deal with the unknowns of GMOs. How long will it take doctors to figure all that out? Think how long it's taken many of them to get on board understanding celiac. I know some would like to think we're on an episode of Star Trek and that the science of GMOs is moving us ever-closer to curing all disease and creating food in a replicator. Who will own that monopoly? I think we know.

    (This comment is submitted as a personal opinion on the topic and not meant to reflect at the writer's or owner's of the celiac.com website in any way. I appreciate the opportunity to express opinion here and to read opinions of others. Thanks!)

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    Jefferson, certainly genetically modified wheat should be permitted particularly if it will help celiacs. The anti-GMO folks sound politically correct on all fronts, but the science is lacking to underscore their concerns. Someday science may show their concerns justified--and also that may prove to be shown to be a straw man. Time will tell, but the most important thing is to utilize ALL efforts at improving life for those of us with celiac sprue. Which is the traditional name for the condition--which I use and urge all others to do likewise also.

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    I would be thrilled to imagine there would be a wheat that wouldn't have the gluten proteins that make me sick.

    GMO crops were launched without the scientific inquiries that would make certain that the modifications would do no harm.

    Most GMOs currently in production were done to increase resistance to glysphosate (roundup).

    Although the techniques are possible, without evaluation of long term exposure to the modifications, the initial consumers become the test set.

    Personally, I would stay far, far away from GMO Wheat.

    so many problems that could occur:

    Cross contamination in the fields,

    cross contamination in the processing

    How could a consumer know whether or not they are getting modified wheat or regular?

    I'll continue to eat my gluten free grains and stay healthy, thanks

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    I don't understand why a government would block it. Let a company make the product and make sure the label clearly states its a GMO product and let the people decide if they want it or not.

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    I'm all for gluten free wheat - but GMO usually means treating seeds with herbicide, pesticide resistant roundup Monsanto products. YUK! We are making our nation sicker and sicker. Get back to nature and enjoy God's gifts (Not Chemicals).

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    Why the obsession with the idea that people HAVE to have wheat?

    I agree - I live happily without wheat. I don't want wheat in my diet. I especially don't want to be someone's experiment. GMO is about profit and nothing else. BigAg is freaking out because people are actually beginning to question how their food is raised. We celiacs are the proverbial "canaries in the coal mine" and BigAg will do just about anything to discredit us.

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    I don't understand why a government would block it. Let a company make the product and make sure the label clearly states its a GMO product and let the people decide if they want it or not.

    GMO doesn't have to be labeled in the USA and I'm positive the private company won't voluntarily do so. I agree that the consumer should have the opportunity to decide what goes in their bodies. As for me and my celiac... I avoid GMO as much as possible!

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    No. What about the 5% in that strand that could cause problems? Did the doctors in Spain forget that a single grain of gluten causes a reaction in the small intestine for 72 hours? Five percent of gluten is still gluten. If they could produce a strand that is 100% safe it would be good, but it still seems too commercial and less natural. Are we here for the money or to help people with celiac disease? Why instead of trying to produce something anti-nature , they look for other alternatives that seem more logical?

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    I would be thrilled to imagine there would be a wheat that wouldn't have the gluten proteins that make me sick.

    GMO crops were launched without the scientific inquiries that would make certain that the modifications would do no harm.

    Most GMOs currently in production were done to increase resistance to glysphosate (roundup).

    Although the techniques are possible, without evaluation of long term exposure to the modifications, the initial consumers become the test set.

    Personally, I would stay far, far away from GMO Wheat.

    so many problems that could occur:

    Cross contamination in the fields,

    cross contamination in the processing

    How could a consumer know whether or not they are getting modified wheat or regular?

    I'll continue to eat my gluten free grains and stay healthy, thanks

    I totally agree!

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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