Herbicide-resistant wheat?

It’s called Clearfield.

Clearfield wheat is the product of “hybridization” research at BASF, an international chemical company.

“Hybridization” is a loosely used term. Hybridization techniques fall within the range of “traditional breeding methods.” In common usage, of course, hybridization simply means mating two plants or animals to generate a unique offspring. Mate a red apple with a yellow apple, and you get a happy red-yellow hybrid. Mate an apple with a grape, you get a grapple, a sweeter grape-like apple. There is a presumption of safety with hybridization: The FDA doesn’t come knocking at your door asking for your animal or human test data. Hybridize to your heart’s content and you can just sell your unique vegetable or fruit.

But what if your “hybridzation” technique involves more than just introducing momma apple to daddy grape, but employs chemical poisons and radiation?

Clearfield brand wheat seed is sold to farmers in the northwestern U.S. Farmers in Colorado, Oregon, Idaho, Washington and other states are now planting 100,000s of acres of Clearfield wheat. Clearfield wheat is herbicide-resistant, resistant in this case to the herbicide imazamox, also known as Beyond. Imazamox resistance is conferred by an alteration in the acetohydroxyacid synthetase gene. The promotional literature to farmers proudly proclaims that imazamox resistance in Clearfield wheat is not the product of genetic modification: Clearfield wheat is non-GMO, unlike Roundup-resistant corn and soy.

So how did chemical company BASF (with work performed at Oregon State University), who holds the patent on Clearfield and sells the seed, create this genetic variant? By a process called chemical mutagenesis. They exposed wheat seeds to the chemical, sodium azide, NaN3. Sodium azide is highly toxic to animals, bacteria, and humans, with human ingestion of small quantities yielding effects similar to cyanide. With accidental ingestion, for instance, the CDC recommends not performing CPR on the victim (and just letting the victim die), since it may cause the CPR-provider to be exposed, nor to dispose of any vomitus into a sink, since it can cause an explosion. (This has actually happened.)

In addition to chemical mutagenesis, gamma and x-ray radiation are also used on seeds and plant embryos to induce mutations. This all falls under the umbrella of “traditional breeding methods” and “hybridization.”

So plants subjected to all manner of chemical- and radiation-based hybridization techniques are unleashed on the unwitting public, all presumed to be safe for human consumption, no questions asked about safety testing in animals or humans. (There are some efforts made to analyze carbohydrate content, fiber content, and other crude measures of induced compositional change.)

Oh, you’ll be happy to know that they also did test for its ability to yield cohesive cookies and light sponge cake.

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Comments & Feedback...

  1. Brian

    A grapple is an apple that’s been physically infused with grape extract, not a hybrid between the two species. Apples and grapes are too genetically distant to interbreed; that would be like breeding a panther with a buffalo.

    • Deborah Burgio

      I find it interesting that with all of the great info in this post, this is what the comment is. Oh well, I will be sure to show this post to my son. My daughter and I both have celiac so we are gluten-free. My son, 17, does not have celiac and is very much against trying to go gluten free for 30 days, just to experiment. He isn’t a rebellious teenager, but rather, I believe he is addicted to pasta, pizza, and cookies. These are things that there are much less of in our home since January 2011. I look forward to reading your book. It will be preaching to the choir, but this choir member will be very happy to have more evidence to back up our “crazy” new eating habits.

      • Brian

        I guess I should elaborate. Everything else in the post is great, and I completely agree that American-grown wheat is a harmful food for multiple reasons. Chemical mutagenesis, which produces random and unknown genetic changes, certainly could result in foods that are not safe to eat, just like it might not be safe to go into a rain forest and eat unknown plants willy-nilly. I did, however, want to help correct a factual inaccuracy and help keep the info here as reputable as possible.

        • Kurt

          Not correct. There is nothing wrong with U.S. wheat. It is in fact some of the safest in the world. The fact is that genetic mutations occur everywhere, everyday. Just walking into the sun exposes our skin to genetic mutations (cell damage). Where else do those freckles and moles come from? This process has simply sped up the genetic change that could occur naturally over many years.

          • Boundless

            > This process has simply sped up the genetic change
            > that could occur naturally over many years.

            Umm, no. Several current techno-crops would not have evolved naturally to their present genetics – flat out never – not before the heat death of the universe. Several reasons:

            1. Nature does not perform “embryo rescue” – using extraordinary means to keep defective organisms alive long enough to reproduce. Only crop geneticists do this.

            2. Nature does not select for attributes that are adverse to the organism. Many modern crops could not now survive in the wild. They’ve been frankensteined into mutants that require excess fertilizer, third-party weed control and other specific growing conditions. We won’t even discuss terminator genes (which Monsanto is lately hinting could re-appear soon).

            3. Nature does not select for attributes that are of no use to the organism, but are convenient for other organisms (like Round-Up resistance, which is not in wheat, yet).

      • Felicia

        Brian’s comment is actually quite relevant. I’d believed Dr. Davis’ writing about that, but after seeing Brian’s comment above I researched on it myself. Then I smacked myself in the head for doubting my initial instinct when I read the Dr.’s writing–since when could an apple and a grape be hybridized? I’m learning more about Wheat Belly, and I have no doubt that Dr. Davis is right and valid in his claims regarding GMO and how harmful today’s wheat is for that reason, but I don’t want to compromise truth for the sake of agreement with man. He’s right, but he’s not God. :(

  2. Good review! This is exactly the type of information that needs to be shared around the web. Shame on the Yahoo for not ranking this blog post higher!

  3. Paula

    Watch the documentaries “King Corn,” it’s follow-up called “Big River” and also watch “Food, Inc.” Then read “Seeds of Deception” by Jeffrey Smith and Lierre Keith’s “The Vegetarian Myth.”

  4. Kidding me?

    When you start reading an article and the first example, a big example at that, is just blatantly wrong you think you should keep reading and trusting what they have to say? This really speaks volumes for the authors time spent in research and fact checking.