We’ve had several presentations on GMOs in class, and I’ve been enjoying seeing the issue presented from different angles. I was most interested in the presentations discussing GMOs and possible health concerns, including celiac disease, so I did some research into that potential connection, curious about the science behind it. Here’s what I found.
First, GMO wheat does not actually exist. It is not sold commercially, and USDA investigations into possible use a few years ago found nothing. Monsanto, everyone’s favorite sinister corporation, is opening up exploring it after shutting it down earlier when no one was interested.
Second, the concern about GMOs and celiac seems to come mainly from this “study” (it’s actually a review). That’s what I discovered on Google, anyway; there may be more scholarly discussion that predates it, but almost everything on the common internet was dated from around this study, even if it doesn’t address it directly.
So, what did the review propose? Basically, the authors–one of whom is a computer scientist, one of whom is an independent scientist–propose that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is responsible for almost all modern disease. So the claim doesn’t actually have anything to do with GMOs–just the chemicals they’re treated with. They argue that the chemical interferes with reactions in your gut, resulting in “most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet, which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.”
I’m not going to deny that glyphosate could have negative effects, but the extremely broad claims in the paper, which isn’t a scientific study at all, set off huge alarm bells for me. Especially after reading this interview, where the author claimed “In fact, one of the people at this conference was Zen Honeycutt, founder of Moms Across America, which is an organization of moms. Her son had autism. She fixed his autism by putting him on an organic diet.” I hope it’s obvious that that sounds absolutely ridiculous.
It was hard finding sources discussing this issue that didn’t have a bias either way, but here are a couple that, even if they may have a bias, discuss the paper in detail and/or cite experts. This is a blog post, although I don’t know much about the author. This is an article citing the Celiac Disease Foundation and a plant geneticist’s responses to the review.
If you actually read through all of this (I know it’s long) what do you think about the so-called study? I find it interesting that so much of the public interest has resulted from one work. And did any of it change your mind about GMOs? I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with GMOs themselves. We’ve been altering plant genetics for thousands of years. Any issues stem from how we use them, and the agricultural and economical results.