Commentary: New Year’s apprehensions

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Feel like you’re heading into the New Year in an optimistic mood?

Then let me introduce someone who can douse those sentiments with a cold water dose of danger, disease and deception, all stemming from genetically engineered foods.

He’s Jeffrey Smith, a self-described “guru” on the subject of GM foods and purveyor of a recent documentary titled, “Genetic Roulette —The Gamble of Our Lives.” Smith blames genetically engineered foods for an alleged rise in allergic reactions, infertility, digestive disorders and “numerous other problems” — too numerous to mention, apparently — all due to GMOs.

His latest fear-fueled campaign takes it up to another level altogether, and give the guy credit for capitalizing on the hot new marketing trend of gluten-free diets:

“Do you or a loved one suffer from gluten sensitivity? You may be wondering why you react to gluten now even though you never did in the past. You may be wondering why a gluten-free diet has helped, but has not completely resolved your symptoms.”

Well, wonder no more, because a new report from the Institute for Responsible Technology, which — what do you know? — was founded and is operated by Jeffrey Smith himself, answers your questions.

“Genetically modified foods, such as soy and corn, may be responsible for a number of gluten-related maladies, including intestinal disorders now plaguing 18 million Americans,” his report stated. “Gluten sensitivity can range in severity from mild discomfort, such as gas and bloating, to celiac disease, a serious autoimmune condition that can result in a four-fold increase in death.”

A sobering thought, the reality is ANY “serious autoimmune condition” left undiagnosed (and thus untreated) will most certainly increase one’s chances of death.

Facts, not fears

According to Smith, all these gluten-related maladies have an environmental trigger. He claims that Bt toxin, glyphosate “and other components of GMOs” may “initiate or exacerbate” a gluten-related disorder. Worse, since Bt toxin kills insects by puncturing holes in their cells, and since “that toxin is present in every kernel of Bt-corn and survives human digestion,” it likely punctures holes in human cells, as well.

Wow. If true, that would be seriously bad news.

But is it true? Knee-jerk reaction says no. Gut reaction, no pun intended, says please God, no! So let’s examine the facts, rather than continue to gag on speculative “what ifs.”

  • Fact 1. Gluten, a protein-starch composite, is only found in the endosperm of grass-related grains, namely wheat, rye and barley. Since Americans eat very little rye or barley — those crops are used primarily for animal feed or in beer and alcohol manufacturing — when gluten is discussed as a dietary compound, it refers to wheat-based foods. Although corn and rice contain a protein composite sometimes called gluten, it’s not the same compound, and that matters because allergies are linked to intolerance of very specific proteins.
  • Fact 2. There are no commercial varieties of genetically modified wheat available in the United States. According to the scientific group GMO Compass, “No genetically modified wheat is being grown anywhere in the world. Plans to introduce GM wheat in North America were abandoned in 2004.” The recent flap involving strains of GM wheat found in a farm field in Oregon came from a test plot, not a commercially available stand of GM wheat.
  • Fact 3. Gluten intolerance, which isn’t medically classified as a bona fide allergy, occurs in about 0.0075 percent of the adult population, according to the American Medical Association, and the majority of people with actual gluten intolerance suffer from celiac disease, which is the root cause of their problem. In other words, gluten intolerance is not widespread, as Smith would have his followers believe. Trendy? Yes. Epidemic? Not at all.

And here’s one final fun fact: Although Smith and those aligned to his thinking are strongly supportive of the veggie-vegan lifestyle, their dietary philosophy runs afoul of their fear-mongering, since one of the principal ingredients vegetarians are encouraged to embrace as a substitute for evil, cruelty-laden meat is seitan.

What’s seitan? It’s a marketing term for wheat gluten, which, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group, “stands in for meat in many recipes and works so well that a number of vegetarians avoid it because the texture is too meaty.”

Much more “meaty” than Mr. Smith’s pitiful attempt to demonize a “disease” that’s not a disease by claiming it’s an “epidemic,” when it isn’t, and trying to blame it on bioscience, when the alleged GMO culprit isn’t genetically engineered.

It’s not mathematically possible to be any more wrong on all counts.

Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator



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