Tag Archives: genetically modified foods

The Wheat Series- Part 1

My time here in Brazil is allowing me to do some research into different topics I don’t really have time to look into in my regular life. I have been reading the book Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis, which describes how the genetic modification of wheat has affected human health over the last 50 years. I have decided to write a series on wheat based on what I learn from the book, including some of my own research on the topic. Hopefully, you will get more educated on this topic as well.

Why is it necessary to even genetically modify wheat or any products in the first place? Why not just leave things the way mother nature created them? The main reason is to increase crop yields is to feed a growing world population (now estimated to be at 6.98 billion). About 1/6th of the world is hungry and suffering from malnutrition. That doesn’t even include those who are undernourished and not getting adequate vitamins or minerals needed to truly thrive. For those of us who generally have too much to eat, not having enough food seems like a crisis, and we need to solve it! We need to feed these people! Everyone should have a chance, right? It would be inhumane to not help these people! Don’t get me wrong, I have a bleeding heart myself. I donated money to Doctors without Borders because I learned on the evening news that 25,000 children had died recently in Africa, I bought towels for the victims of hurricane Katrina when Oprah asked me to. I get the desperation to fix human issues like world hunger.

So, scientists were put to work to figure out HOW to increase crop production,  so we could feed more people for less money. Of course part of the problem is about power and social inequality more than it is about lack of food, but that is a whole other post. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (IMWIC) located in Mexico, decided to start working on genetically modifying wheat to produce larger yields and make it more energy dense. Norman Borlaug, one of the primary scientists at the IMWIC, created a dwarf wheat plant (shorter than normal varieties) which could hold a larger seed, was disease resistant, and had a high yield. He won a Nobel Prize for this work and is called the father of the Green Revolution. He was able to help several countries, who were on the brink of famine, feed their population. This was an amazing feat! The dwarf wheat he created is now more than 99% of the wheat grown worldwide. This means all of us eat the wheat he created, people are being fed because of this genetically modified wheat. This is awesome right?  The issue is that none of this wheat was tested for safety….stay tuned.

Genetically Modified Foods

In case you don’t live in California, Proposition 37, the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food, did not pass in the last election. This was a surprise to many of us in the nutrition/health industry because we didn’t understand why people wouldn’t want to know if their food was genetically modified. Overall, there were two issues with the election. First, there was a big ad campaign on TV that talked about how all the grocery prices would go up. In this economy, no one wants to pay more for groceries! Second, it is unclear if people understand why it’s important to know if food is genetically modified. Here are some important points on genetically modified foods (GMOs):

  • There are over 40 plant varieties in the US that are genetically modified. The US produces 68% of the GMO crops in the world.
  • GMOs have been changed in a laboratory to have certain desirable traits such as resistance to pesticides, improved nutrition, or better appearance.
  • Mostly found in processed foods in the US, most whole fruits and vegetables are not genetically modified. 54% of the soybeans grown in the US are genetically modified.
  • GMOs may cause harm to other organisms and disrupt certain ecosystems. For example, pollen from GMO corn will kill a monarch caterpillar.
  • Plant genes can transfer from one plant to another. There is a fear that the GMO plants will transfer their pesticide-resistant genes to other plants, causing weeds to become resistant, leading to the formation of “super weeds” that cannot be controlled.
  • Increasing levels and severity of allergies to peanuts and other foods in children has been linked to GMO crops.
  • GMO crops have not been tested for long-term consumption and potential effects on human health.
  • GMOs are modified so that the plants are sterile and cannot reproduce. This forces farmers to purchase new seeds yearly.

Several countries have either completely banned GMOs or have labeling requirements so that consumers can make their own decisions. Although GMOs can help solve important world-wide problems, more research needs to be done on the potential long-term effect on human and environmental health.