Unfortunately, the wheat of our ancestors and the wheat of today are very distant relatives. In order to gain revenue the food industry has, for decades, used cross-breeding and hybridization to create a kind of wheat that has been lovingly named Frankenwheat.
This term is used to describe modern wheat that generally all Americans eat today. These modified crops have undergone serious genetic modifications to produce a “dwarf stalk” that is about 2 ½ feet shorter than a stalk of 50 years ago.
According to William Davis, a cardiologist and author of Wheat Belly, it’s the extreme techniques used to produce these dwarf stalks that should be cause for concern:
“New strains have been generated using what the wheat industry proudly insists are “traditional breeding techniques,” though they involve processes like gamma irradiation and toxins such as sodium azide. The poison control people will tell you that if someone accidentally ingests sodium azide, you shouldn’t try to resuscitate the person because you could die, too, giving CPR. This is a highly toxic chemical."
Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) has developed a type of genetically modified (GM) wheat that may silence human genes, leading to disastrous health consequences.
Last year, University of Canterbury Professor Jack Heinemann released results from genetic research he conducted on the wheat, which showed with “no doubt” that molecules created in the wheat, which are intended to silence wheat genes to change its carbohydrate content, may match human genes and potentially silence them.
University Professor Judy Carman agreed with Heinemann's analysis, stating in Digital Journal:
"If this silences the same gene in us that it silences in the wheat -- well, children who are born with this enzyme not working tend to die by the age of about five.”
Heinemann reported that his research revealed over 770 pages of potential matches between two GM genes in the wheat and the human genome. Over a dozen matches were “extensive and identical and sufficient to cause silencing in experimental systems,” he said.
Experts warned that eating the wheat could lead to significant changes in the way glucose and carbohydrates are stored in the human body, which could be potentially deadly for children and lead to serious illness in adults.
Since this adverse effect is extremely plausible, long-term studies are needed before the wheat is released into the environment and the human food chain – but a new review states that the risks are still not being adequately assessed.
So does this go for the wheat that was found in Oregon?
The biotech company Monsanto did create varieties of wheat that tolerate the weed killer glyphosate, or Roundup — just as it created "Roundup Ready" corn, soybeans, cotton and canola. It also carried out field trials of this wheat in 16 different states.
But the country's wheat growers told the company that they did not want it.
"We are not in favor of commercializing any biotech trait unless it's gone through regulatory approvals in the U.S. and in other countries," says Steve Mercer, vice president of communications for U.S. Wheat Associates. Many countries, including some that import wheat from the U.S., are quite hostile to genetically engineered crops.
Monsanto dropped the wheat project. It never asked for government approval, and it ended its field trials of wheat in 2005.
Fast forward eight years. About a month ago, a farmer in eastern Oregon noticed some wheat plants growing where he didn't expect them, and they didn't die when he sprayed them with Roundup. The farmer had planted winter wheat in the fall of 2011 and harvested the crop in spring of 2012, Firko explained. The field lay fallow for one year until the farmer, preparing for the spring 2013 planting, sprayed the “volunteer,” or unwanted, wheat plants with glyphosate. The farmer sent the surviving plants to Carol Mallory-Smith, a scientist at Oregon State University who has investigated other cases in which genetically engineered crops spread beyond their approved boundaries.
She found that this wheat was, in fact, genetically engineered. She passed samples on to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which confirmed her results.
Bernadette Juarez, an official with the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said in a statement that her agency is collecting more samples from the farm, conducting more tests. "We have a team of dedicated investigators working on the ground daily to figure out what's going on here," she says. USDA confirmed that field tests did occur in Oregon, but did not say whether the field in question is the same as or near a former field test site.
Nobody knows how this wheat got to this farm. Monsanto's last field trials in Oregon were in 2001. After all such trials, the genetically engineered crops are supposed to be completely removed.
Also, nobody knows how widely this genetically engineered wheat has spread, and whether it's been in fields of wheat that were harvested for food.
If further tests show that this unapproved wheat has spread into the food supply, it could play havoc with wheat sales.
In 2006, a large portion of the American long-grain rice crop was found to be contaminated by an unapproved experimental strain from Bayer CropScience, prompting import bans in Europe and Japan. That incident led to sharply lowered market prices, and the company eventually agreed in 2011 to pay $750 million to farmers as compensation.
The wheat harvest is much bigger.
Following the USDA’s confirmation that GMO wheat was present, Japan immediately canceled a 25,000-ton import of soft white wheat, and both South Korea and Europe announced more stringent testing of American wheat shipments for possible contamination.
And now, American Farmers have launched two class action lawsuits against biotech giant Monsanto following the discovery of unapproved genetically modified wheat growing in Oregon. According to farmers, the company’s negligence has ruined sales.
Farmers contend that Monsanto was aware of the "potential detrimental market effects arising from the use of such crops" but failed to enact safeguards.
"Due to Monsanto's wrongful conduct, soft white wheat destined for export markets for use in food products has been rejected for the purposes for which it was intended. Because scheduled shipments already have been postponed and canceled, the presence of genetically engineered wheat has detrimentally impacted the domestic and global wheat markets and damaged plaintiffs and other wheat farmers," states one complaint.
Plaintiffs now seek compensatory, exemplary and punitive damages for negligence, nuisance and product liability, according to Courthouse News. Farmers are also asking that Monsanto decontaminate farmland, equipment and storage facilities that may be tainted by GMO seed.
So will this new Frakenwheat found in Oregon silence human genes? It doesn't seem like anyone is waiting around to find out.