A non-celiac gluten-sensitive friend recently returned from Paris reporting that while away, he’d eaten a croissant every morning and felt fine. Another gluten sensitive pal spent a week in Spain enjoying the crusty country bread with no ill effects. More and more, I hear from those who are sensitive to gluten happily eating in foreign countries what makes them so sick at home. How is it possible for the same substance to make you sick here, but not over there?
Does the rest of the world know something we don’t?
In November of 2013, Victoria Shannon reported for The New York Times that Japan and South Korea flat out barred some imports of American wheat from entering their countries. The city of Seoul, quarantined U.S. wheat for livestock feed. Thailand put its ports on notice and the European Union urged its 27 member nations to increase testing certain shipments from the United States. The Thai government makes it clear that if any U.S. shipment tests positive, they will not be sold. Many developed nations, 64 in all according to the watchdog group, Non-GMO Project, have banned the production and sale of GMO’s or have put serious restrictions on them.
Are 15 million Americans giving up gluten or GMO’s?
GMOs were introduced in l996, but only in the last ten years have they become so ubiquitous in mass produced food, they are impossible to avoid — unless, of course, you give up gluten. Is the answer to gluten-sensitivity and the sudden rise of digestive disorders and other heath problems as simple as the body reacting to foods that look and taste like food but are anything but? Simply put, should we stop making conditions and categories of food reactions and look to the food itself? And shouldn’t we question the secrecy and lack of transparency around ingredients made not in a kitchen, but in a biotech lab?
What exactly is a GMO?
GMOs or genetically modified organisms are plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology, also called genetic engineering. Unlike cross breeding which farmers have done for centuries to improve the genetics of their crops for drought, resistance to disease and pests, this experimental technology merges DNA from different species creating combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding. For example, GMO wheat, soy, flax and corn seeds contain powerful herbicides. Unlike natural life forms, GMOs can be patented. For the first time in history private corporations can own a food source and sue if their seeds end up in a neighboring farm.
Are GMOs safe?
The FDA has approved GMOs based on studies conducted by the same corporations that create them and profit from their sale. Despite an increasing public outcry, the FDA does not independently test these products, nor do they require GMO-containing foods to be labeled as such. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine urges doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets for their patients. The academy cites animal studies showing organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging and infertility.
The Institute for Responsible Technology gives 10 compelling reasons to avoid GMOs:
1. People are getting sick. According to the Institute, numerous health problems increased after GMOs were introduced in l996. The percentage of Americans with three or more chronic illnesses jumped from 7% to 13% in just 9 years. Food allergies have skyrocketed. Autism, reproductive disorders, digestive and neurodevelopment problems are on the rise. The American Public Health Association and American Nurses Association are among the many medical groups that condemn the use of GM bovine growth hormone, because the milk from treated cows has more of the hormone IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor), which is linked to cancer.
2. GMOs are forever. GMOs cross-pollinate and their seeds can travel. It is impossible to fully clean up a contaminated gene pool. Self-propagating GMO pollution can outlast the effects of climate change and nuclear waste, sickening future generations. This threatens organic and non-GMO farmers who struggle to keep their crops untainted.
3. GMOs increase pesticide use. GMO crops are engineered to tolerate deadly weed killers. Monsanto, for example, sells Roundup crops, designed to survive applications of their Roundup herbicide. Between 1996 and 2008 farmers were forced to spray an extra 383 million pounds of herbicide on GMOs, resulting in super weeds resistant to Roundup, which has been associated with sterility, hormone disruption, birth defects and cancer.
4. You can’t put the genie back in the box. Mixes genes from totally unrelated species can unleash unexpected side effects. The very process of creating a GMO plant can produce new toxins, allergens, carcinogens and nutritional deficiencies. You can’t recall a novel life form. If foods are not labeled, illness is not traceable.
5. Government oversight is lax. The FDA approved GMOs not with impartial independent science, but with industry-funded research. To put it as delicately as possible, big money talks. At this writing the GMO lobby has squashed all attempts to require the clear labeling of GMO-derived ingredients.
6. GMOs are toxic to the environment. GMO crops and their associated herbicides can harm birds, insects, amphibians, marine ecosystems and soil organisms. They reduce bio-diversity, pollute water resources and are unsustainable. GMO crops are eliminating habitats for Monarch butterflies, whose populations are down by 50%. Bees are being affected in greater numbers.
7. GMOs won’t feed a hungry world. Sustainable non-GMO agricultural methods used in developing countries have resulted in yield increases of 79% and higher. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development report, backed by 58 governments and 400 scientists around the world, concluded that GMO crops were “highly variable” and in some cases, “yields declined.” The report concluded that GMOs have nothing to offer the goals of reducing hunger and poverty, improving nutrition, health and rural livelihoods.
8. GMOs negatively affect American farmers. Because GMOs are novel life forms, biotech companies have been able to obtain patents, which restrict their use. As a result, GMO companies have the power to sue farmers whose fields are contaminated with GMOs, even when this is a result of drift from neighboring fields. This is a serious threat to farmer sovereignty and to food security, not just in the developing world, but here at home.
9. GMOs are a direct extension of chemical agriculture. These are sold, not by food companies, but by the world’s largest chemical companies.
10. GMOs offer no consumer benefits. At least the companies developing them have offered none. Given the lobbying efforts to keep consumers in the dark, one wonders. Why such great lengths to conceal?
As research looks feverishly for answers and new screening methods for gluten sensitivity, we would do well to ask — Is the problem not gluten or some mysterious weakening of the human immune and digestive system at all, but simply a growing reaction to the way wheat and other foods are grown and processed in the country? Never in history have so many children been put on medication for mood and sensory disorders. Obesity and cancer is a national crisis, as is Alzheimer’s with the age of onset getting alarmingly younger and younger every day. Is the epidemic of gluten sensitivity really just the canary in a coalmine about to collapse under the weight of chemicals, pesticides, high fructose corn syrup, antibiotics, hormones and questionable GMO ingredients found on every supermarket shelf in America?
There are no easy answers. But if we want to make sure we get the right ones, we have to start asking much tougher questions.
Author Bio: Jax Peters Lowell, author of The Gluten-Free Revolution, diagnosed with celiac disease more than twenty years ago, was the first to bring national attention to the gluten-free diet. In addition to writing bestselling books on living well without wheat, she is an award-winning poet and the author of the novel Mothers, released this year in a new edition. She is a recipient of the Leeway Foundation Transformation Award for fiction and poetry as well as for her pioneering efforts in bringing public awareness to gluten intolerance. She lives in Philadelphia in a restored bread factory.
See our review of The Gluten Free Revolution
Photo credit: french-toast.apps.vi.com