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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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    With the genetic change would it still taste like wheat? Could the same things be made with it? Would the food products have the same characteristics? Or would it be like a totally different food source?

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    Wheat is a carbohydrate which is converted to sugar. Coincidentally, obesity and diabetes rates are skyrocketing. So make gluten-free wheat products with little nutritional value, so celiacs can get fat. Great. gluten-free Twinkies. Great.

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    I personally would LOVE to be able to bake and eat wheat again. I completely understand the argument against GMO's, but I guess I have gotten to the age where I realize there are advocates against just about everything and that everything is going to kill us somehow... spray on sunscreen, coffee, antibiotics in chicken, etc. etc. If I could enjoy baking for my family again, foods that taste normal and look normal, even if it shortens my life somewhat... so be it. Yes, I'm to that point.

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    If it is clearly labeled GMO and labeled low-gluten instead of gluten-free, yes why not go ahead and plague all the fields with it. There's no way I am eating it.

    Otherwise I agree with the first comment. Why is there such a pressure that everybody eats wheat? First of all, it had no nutritional value worth all this trouble.

    Second, there will be big problems with cross-contamination. It will need to be grown and processed separate from regular wheat and the costs of that will reflect in the price of such gluten-free wheat products.

    Third, in baking it will act like any other gluten-free flour. I remember a few years ago before Christmas certain stores started selling very cheap wheat flour. And since in our country we have a tradition of baking sweat bread and cookies for Christmas, everybody bought that flour and started baking - the cookies would fall apart, the bread dough wouldn't rise and bread would get very dense and tough. Turned out the cheap wheat had quite low gluten content, only about 3% instead of usual 10%. Now this GMO wheat will certainly contain much less than 3% of gluten to be 95% safe for celiacs. So for those who hope they will be able to make regular wheat bread with this wheat, well, don't let your hopes soar too high.

    And at last, 95% safe equals to 5% poisonous to celiac patients. Not to mention the gluten/wheat intolerant who react to a host of other peptides in wheat besides gliadin.

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    I find it sad that people are so eager to experiment on their families with GMO wheat....or GMO anything. It's not a risk you absorb alone. Your kids, grand-kids, great grand-kids are going to absorb the risk too. We don't know anything about the safety to current generation, let alone epigenetic effects. What if you're doubling a grandchild's risk of a neurodevelopmental delay because of your GMO cookie?

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    I have been on the gluten-free diet for over 40 years. We do not need wheat or bread in our diets. It is the culture and big business that has insisted we eat it. What is missing in this discussion of give me bread, is the fact that the crops deplete the soil, that there is no data on what harm will be done to bees and other insects as well as birds that eat this unnatural grain. We have seen the bee population drop as well as the Monarch butterfly due to human engineering of crops. I don't feel like being anyone's guinea pig. Celiacs should be healthier than the general population since we should be eating more healthy than filling up on breads and cookies filled with more carbs than we need.

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

    Yes, I don't understand what the big deal is with being able to eat wheat. If the gluten is removed then it will most definitely not taste or bake the same as actual wheat, so why even try?

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    No thanks! I don't want any genetically modified wheat. In fact I don't want genetically modified anything. There is more than enough evidence out there to suggest that the risks to human health might be more serious than we have been led to believe. There are plenty of other things to eat. Wheat is not an essential food item.

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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 had the same concerns about cross contamination when reading the article. I also wonder if it's healthy for a celiac to eat wheat that's only 95 - 97% gluten free. This doesn't seem like it would adhere to the less than 20 ppm gluten-free standard in the US.

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    Let's all keep in mind that a very significant study out of Columbia University last fall showed that a group of patients with celiac react to numerous other proteins in wheat, aside from those in gluten (gliadins and glutenins). So while gluten-free wheat may well address the most serious issue - the autoimmune response leading to villi damage, other symptoms related to reactions to other proteins in wheat will not be addressed. There are many considerations and implications to the Columbia U study:

    (1) Is there a pre-celiac condition (ala pre-diabetic) when patients are reacting to one or more proteins in wheat but not yet gluten specifically gliadin leading to positive celiac antibody testing and small bowel villi changes?

    (2) Is NCGS a reaction to one or of these wheat proteins presenting the plethora of cross symptoms with celiac disease - aside from the villi changes due to reaction to gluten proteins that have a tight genetic link?

    (3) Do other foods for which many celiac folks cross react to such as dairy, soy, rice, other grains, seaweed/seaweed additives have similar primary proteins to some of these wheat proteins?

     

    In conclusion, they can toss out the modified gluten-free wheat, as well as all the meds being tested to enzymatically eliminate accidental gluten ingestion - as no one may be able to tell if it is working if the other proteins are causing symptoms. While it will prevent the most serious damage caused by the gluten in wheat to the small bowel - the rest of the symptoms similar to those with NSCG may not be addressed. This all begs the question - are any of these other proteins in wheat causing intestinal damage?

     

    If the new research is correct - patients may still have reactions to the other proteins in wheat - despite the action on the gluten to prevent intestinal damage.

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    Why do people think if you don't eat wheat, you are somehow deprived? When I hear about the "wholesomeness of whole grain wheat" it reminds me of the commercials from my childhood for "wholesome Hostess Cupcakes" and is about as accurate.

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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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