Despite ongoing opposition to GMO wheat, the FDA approved the first variety, a glufosinate-tolerant GMO wheat. As with all GMOs, there have been no independent, long-term safety studies, no animal feeding studies. The FDA based its approval on safety assurances from the company that created and profits from the GMO wheat, Bioceres in Argentina. Now it’s up to the USDA as to whether it gets approval to be grown in the United States.
The alarm bells should be ringing. Even in Argentina, commercialization is facing widespread resistance. The genetically engineered wheat was banned in the province of Buenos Aires, the heart of agribusiness in Argentina. After an appeal was filed by the all-powerful industry lobby, the ban was lifted, and awaits a court decision.
Wheat is a staple of the American diet. The average American consumes 82.9 kg or approximately 183 lbs of wheat annually – more than any other grain. This amounts to about a half-pound of wheat per day, which comes from numerous types of food such as bread, pasta, cake and baked goods, breakfast foods such as bagels, pancakes and cereals, snacks, and desserts… not to mention certain grain alcohols and beer.
A Quick History
Even non-GMO wheat has become problematic. Wheat proteins have changed over time due to the practice of creating hybrid versions via traditional plant breeding. It’s estimated that 5 percent of the proteins found in hybridized wheat are new proteins that were not found in either of the original wheat plants. These proteins are part of the problem that has led to increased systemic inflammation, widespread gluten intolerance, and higher rates of celiac disease, according to a study published in the journal Clinical Chemistry.
We are no longer eating the wheat that our parents ate, and we’re eating more of it.
The FDA’s approval of the first herbicide-tolerant GMO wheat elevates the concerns around health threats linked to its consumption. The GMO wheat itself is potentially problematic since the genetic transformation process may cause unintended and off-target changes to the plant’s DNA, resulting in the production of toxins or other changes to the plant’s chemistry. This has not been studied.
Add glufosinate, a chemical even more toxic than glyphosate, to the mix and the health harms escalate. Flour processed from wheat grain that contained traces of glufosinate was found to retain 10-100 percent of the chemicals’ residues. The herbicide is also persistent; it has been found to be prevalent in wheat and other foods that were planted 120 days after treating a field with the herbicide. Its persistent nature can also be observed by its half-life which varies from 3 to 70 days depending on the soil type and organic matter content. Residues can remain in frozen food for up to two years and the chemical is not easily destroyed by cooking the food in boiling water.
This chemical is known to be neurotoxic and is linked to autism and memory loss. Glufosinate has also been found to be toxic to developing brains. This can be especially dangerous for babies and children. Glufosinate is also linked to birth defects. A Canadian study detected a metabolite of glufosinate (3-MPPA) circulating in the blood of pregnant women. The metabolite appeared to cross the placental barrier, raising concerns about the impact on the developing fetus. The study paves the way for a new field in reproductive toxicology including nutrition and utero-placental toxicities. More research is clearly needed.
If that’s not enough, it is common practice to desiccate conventionally grown wheat with glyphosate prior to harvest, a practice that would continue on GMO wheat. The levels of glyphosate that remain in wheat-based foods when they reach the consumer have been found to exceed levels linked to health harms in laboratory animal studies. The antibiotic properties of glyphosate are also linked to damage to the microbiome, which is an important part of a healthy immune system.
A Recipe for Disaster
Bioceres’ GMO wheat will bring us wheat laced with both glufosinate and glyphosate. Individually, both are toxic. But the health effects of consuming both chemicals together have not been studied. And science tells us that chemicals, when combined, are often more toxic than they are individually.
There are other risks as well. For Argentinian Judge Salas, the release of the first GMO wheat approved in the world could cause “serious and irreversible damage” to human health and the environment. He refers to both the crop itself and glufosinate. He warned, “If the material is released in Buenos Aires territory, this being the first GMO event to be applied to wheat seed, the crossbreeding of the material with non-GMO wheat can be irreversibly introduced” and cited “the potential horizontal transfer or exchange of genes” between GMO wheat and other seeds that could contaminate even organic wheat. Wheat self-pollinates before the flowers open, making cross-pollination rare, but it can and will happen.
The FDA’s approval paves the way for USDA to approve GMO wheat to be grown in America. Wheat ranks third among U.S. field crops in planted acreage, production, and gross farm receipts—behind corn and soybeans. According to the USDA, in 2021/22, U.S. farmers produced a total of 1.6 billion bushels of wheat from a harvested area of 37.2 million acres.
Herbicide-tolerant crops are designed to be used with their corresponding pesticides and cannot be assessed independently of the pesticide. HT crops are pesticide delivery systems. Glufosinate use will increase exponentially if GMO wheat is adopted in the United States.
Additionally, the adoption of GMO wheat across America would put non-GMO and organic wheat farmers at risk. It is beyond a reasonable doubt that these farmers will experience contamination of their crops. The approval of GMO wheat risks the livelihoods of these farmers.
GMO wheat would be a tragic mistake for Argentina, the United States and the world and would further escalate the chemical war on public health and the planet. The world is suffering enough from the products of industrial agriculture. We cannot let this happen.
WATCH RELATED PODCAST: Fork The System Podcast Episode 001 Glyphosate & Roundup: Poison In Our Daily Bread