What’s WORSE than genetic modification?

Food Mutation Wheat

Genetic modification (GM) is coming under increasing scrutiny, despite the efforts of companies like Monsanto and Coca Cola to squash legislative action to require the labeling of genetically-modified foods.

GM refers to the use of gene-splicing technology to insert or remove a gene, a collection of techniques advertised by agribusiness to be precise, generating the desired characteristic, such as resistance to an herbicide, and nothing more.

Of course, this is patent nonsense: Insert a gene to resist an herbicide, for instance, and there are unforeseen consequences in changing other genes alongside the inserted gene, alterations in epigenetic control over gene expression, interactions with the products of other genes, not to mention the uncontrolled nature of just where in the chromosomal collection the gene is actually inserted. We now have a number of reports, including a recent French study of glyphosate-resistant corn fed to rats documenting early deaths from large tumors, suggesting that genetically-modified foods, as well as glyphosate itself, are not as benign as advertised.

Stephen Colbert: Amber Waves of Frankengrain
Stephen Colbert: Amber Waves of Frankengrain

So could anything be worse than GM? Yes: Mutagenesis.

Mutagenesis refers to the intentional induction of mutations in an organism, usually using chemical methods, ultraviolet radiation, gamma rays, or high-dose x-ray. Geneticists make vigorous use of the methods of mutagenesis, as mutations can help define the function of various genes by turning them “on” or “off,” changing their code sequence, and other manipulations.

But key to understanding mutagenesis is that it is not a fully controllable process. If I aim a beam of gamma rays at a seed, embryo, cell, or other creature, plant or animal, I cannot predict what will happen, where in the genetic code changes will occur, or whether they result in viable or non-viable organisms.

Take a look at this study, for instance, from a Portuguese research group working with rice (not wheat): Microarray analyses reveal that plant mutagenesis may induce more transcriptomic changes than transgene insertion. (Transgenetic = GM. Yes: genetics is painful!) From the abstract:

We found that the improvement of a plant variety through the acquisition of a new desired trait, using either mutagenesis or transgenesis, may cause stress and thus lead to an altered expression of untargeted genes. In all of the cases studied, the observed alteration was more extensive in mutagenized than in transgenic plants. We propose that the safety assessment of improved plant varieties should be carried out on a case-by-case basis and not simply restricted to foods obtained through genetic engineering.

(Note that the genetics of rice are far simpler than the genetics of wheat. For instance, rice contains 24 chromosomes, while modern high-yield semi-dwarf Triticum species of wheat contain 42 chromosomes.)

In short, the techniques of mutagenesis have potential to exert greater genetic change and thereby more biochemical alterations in the plant than genetic modification. And the potential for unpredictable changes via mutagenesis are likely to be much greater in the more genetically-complex wheat plant than in rice.

So the mutated products of mutagenesis, such as imazamox-resistant Clearfield wheat, now grown on one million acres in the Pacific northwest, have been on store shelves for years. The Wheat Lobby is absolutely correct when it says that no commercially sold wheat today is genetically-modified. The wheat sold today, much of it the product of the techniques of mutagenesis, are the product of something potentially far WORSE.

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Comments & Feedback...

  1. Neicee

    I live in the 3rd largest wheat producing state in the U.S.. Where 30 yrs. ago most of the populace were lean and trim they are now obese and most males show huge wheat bellies. Some to the point of looking like they are ready to deliver a litter of puppies, wearing clothing clear down to the buttocks. The women are also very big boned due to their ethnic groups, yet seem to gain equally all over. To say anything about wheat or other grains is almost sacrilege. Yet, the restaurants don’t bat an eye when you ask for no bread. When you try to gently tell them what they could be eating for optimum health most get really excited and recite the same old tunes – how the Bible even used reference to wheat and the land of milk and honey, and then to how they and their families have eaten it for generations and most lived to be a hundred. How do we get past this? The saddest part is that the dept. stores cater to them in increased sizing. I know I’m small, but it’s getting to the point I can’t find clothing nor shoes. Thank goodness for the internet shopping sites.
    Thank you for the great article. Perhaps I’ll print it and carry a few copies with me.

  2. Nancee

    I have been wheat free for 8 weeks now and never felt better. My family is like one in the comment from Neicee. They keep telling me my food can not taste good and how can I go one day without eating bread. I will never go back to eating wheat again!!

  3. Wow is all I can say! Just blowing my mind to read this and feeling guilty for all the years I never knew about the this sort of thing. I feel guilty for feeding myself and my family harmful foods all these years.

    • Culinary Adventurer

      Welcome to your new path! You are in great company! Don’t waste any of your energy feeling guilty about the past – just use that energy to learn and experiment with new healthy foods and recipes. Pick the ones that are right for you – now and going forward! Be about healing and living well and your family is likely to appreciate your every effort!

  4. Lisa Muzic

    Companies like Monsanto and Coca Cola can lobby all they’d like. We don’t have to buy their product(s). Somehow, Americans were trained to trust companies like this. They couldn’t possibly make a product that was bad for us! Ultimately we are responsible for our health. There should be more doctors like you Dr. Davis. Americans put far too much trust in their doctors and pharmacists as well. There is a prescription drug for just about every symptom. If people with RA, MS, fibromyalgia, lupus, obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance and more would look to their diets before drugs, they just might find a cure in breakfast, lunch and dinner. Thanks so much for your work- I really admire you.

    • wrotek

      I remember when coca cola was trying to explain why they put caffeine in it for taste :) and they could not replace this bitter alkaloid with anything else cause it would ruing the taste.

  5. Linda

    Would love to hear Dr. Davis’ opinion of Norman Borlaug.
    He is a “god” here in Iowa…………………

    • Dr. Davis

      I talked about him in some detail in the original Wheat Belly book.

      Serious, hard working man, but one who unfortunately did the world a big disservice with his views and his misguided work.

  6. DeeDee

    I was looking at old family pictures. Everyone is so slender! Women worried about middle age spread are actually only size 12. Watch old movies too. Greer Garson was considered a large woman with her 38 inch hips. Wonder what she would think about the 3xx size clothes available now. My friends are all having health and weight problems and yet won’t stop eating wheat. They think I’m eccentric and just a little odd. It is a sad situation facing our country with increasing health problems and costs.

  7. Culinary Adventurer

    We can all get away from all those horrible toxic “uncreations”and we can do it just as fast as is possible. Don’t buy them! Make sure they do not enter your home.
    Vote with your feet and your wallet -and- write to your representatives and demand they change their walk and talk too. Tell your friends about what you are learning. These awful companies cannot spend money they don’t have. Read labels. Buy books for others.
    It will take a lot – it always has to get the well ensconced status-quo to budge. It can be done.
    Walk your talk! Making this change is likely the most loving, generous and health affirming thing you can do!

  8. Culinary Adventurer

    Dr. Davis,
    Congratulations on your 6 MILLION visits on this blog site !!! Already over 6 million actually!
    When I go to the co-op or Trader Joe’s they are usually running out of the”staple foods we Wheat Belly folks eat – a good sign of your success! I meet more and more like minded eaters in the aisles of those stores everyday… and we are lookin’ g-o-o-o-o-o-d!

    • Barbara in New Jersey


      YES!!!! Just as John Naisbett of Megatrends fame spoke about: more print, more followers, then a trend which changes the status quo. Information is much more readily available on the internet without having to leave your home. As more of us walk away from the processed packaged items and purchase real food there will be some spot shortages. Markets certainly are rather efficient at sniffing out trends and then supplying them.

      In the 15 months of eating the WB way, there have been dramatic changes in available foods and in recipes. Lots of wonderful web sites for the recipes and even cookbooks worth buying. Yesterday I came across a site that sells many WB type items so you don’t have to order from company to company. It is called “Barefoot Provisions”. There is also a company that makes coconut wraps called “Improv’eat”. These wraps come in 2 flavors. Nice to have variety!

      Even my local supermarkets are carrying grass fed dairy and meat products. While the cost is a bit higher than the standard, it is not prohibitive. The downside is that fish seems to be mostly farmed and frozen/thawed. Hardly any fresh, wild caught items anymore and if you are lucky enough to find something, the cost really is getting to be prohibitive.

      Times really are changing!

      • Karen Scribner

        The grass ed meat at the grocery store is most likely grain finished in a feed lot. You usually must buy real grass fed meat frozen at a farmers market, special butcher, or healthfood store. That is the way it is in DFW, TX. Just buy real frozen fish yourself and thaw it when you need it or cook from frozen state, like a restaurant.

  9. Reader1

    I am reading a book by Dr. Ancel Keys where he states that one in five people living in the United States can eat as much fatty foods as they would like to. This is really surprising by the father of the low fat diet. This was in a book published in 1975. I had thought that Keys always promoted the low fat diet.

  10. Rosa

    I’ve been gluten-free for about a year and a half now and have noticed a tremendous improvement in my overall being. However, I still have issues. And in reading this article, then doing some research on Clearfield varieties, I’m wondering if Clearfield rice is dominant in rice production today and is used in gluten-free products. I’m wondering if use of this genetically altered variety has caused or has the potential to cause issues that wheat is suspected of causing. After all, early wheat started with only 14 chromosomes. Hybridizing or crossing wheat varieties has upped that chromosome count. I’m now wondering is Paleo is the only way to be?

    • Karen Scribner

      Many people who have read Wheat Belly need to read it again. It is not about “gluten free”. It is about eating no wheat. The easy way for some people is to cut out the wheat then gradually cut out the other gluten foods: corn, rice, barley, rye, triitcale, oats. If you occasionally eat a grain other than rice you will not ruin the meaning of your new way of eating. Eating wheat will set you back months since it takes a year to get the wheat out of your body.

  11. It’s a shame that many people patronize the aforementioned companies. I for one am part of the crying shame. These multimillion companies are clearly up on the pedestal and and they would do all sorts of gimmicks to stay on top. When I think about it, there is not a single organic product they have produced nor have they managed to modify the ingredient for their bestselling soda to be more health beneficial .

  12. > We now have a number of reports, including a recent French study …

    For those who read this blog article when it was posted, no you weren’t imagining things, it had a link to the report. The report was reportedly “withdrawn”, over minor issues that would collapse scientific publishing entirely if uniformly enforced. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that the publication’s board recently took on a new member, who just happened to be a former Big Gene firm employee.

    Some perspective on GMO™, gmo, and crop breeding generally …

    Avoiding foods with novel/unknown genetics is at the moment pretty far down on my priority list, but it’s definitely on there. It’s mainly a question of: there are some known, and who knows how many unknown hazards, we don’t need gm food, so why not avoid it until all the consequences are known.

    It’s not trivial to avoid gm. Even if foods get GMO™ labeling, it may be of only limited use to consumers. Genetic modification is not just one issue, and the label doesn’t cover all of it. The “gm” topic comprises:

    1. a dictionary control battle
    2. a disclosure battle
    3. the GMO™ explicit gene insertion technology
    4. the gmo recklessly random gene insertion technologies
    5. rapid selective breeding by whatever means
    6. the direct consequences of the genes selected
    7. the indirect (field use intent) consequences of the genes selected
    8. unforeseen consequences of the genes selected
    9. the lack of unconfounded short term food safety testing
    10. the lack of any kind of long term food safety testing
    11. corporate harassment of independent investigations

    1. a dictionary control battle

    Is GMO™ an unregistered trademark of Big Gene-Chemo-Ag Inc?

    The food industry wants you to simplistically assume that GMO™ means only explicit gene insertion (gene splicing) and that anything non-GMO™ must be the result of “traditional methods” which they want you to assume means only annual selective breeding (ASB) of manually-cross-pollinated hybrids or naturally occuring genetic drift.

    The problem is that there are multiple worrying techniques in the spectrum from GMO™ to ASB, including but probably not limited to:
    a. RM: radio-mutagenesis
    (recklessly random gene insertion induced by radiation)
    b. CM: chemo-mutagenesis
    (recklessly random gene insertion induced by chemicals)
    c. ER: embryo rescue
    (keeping emergent non-viable mutants alive to reproduce)
    d. accelerated breeding seasons
    (multiple crop cycles per year, in the lab or
    at favorable geographic locations)

    2. a disclosure battle

    You already know that the food industry is resisting demands to disclose whether a product has any GMO™ content, and that’s just for gene splicing. In my mind, RM and CM (a & b above) are even more dangerous forms of gmo. If you are today actively seeking “non-GMO” foods, you have no assurance that the genetics aren’t RM or CM mutants, and you may not get assurance if mandatory GMO™ arrives. “Organic” may not help either.

    I call RM, CM & ER “gmo”. Even if we get GMO™ labels, you’ll still need to do your homework on the genetics of the crop.

    3. the GMO™ explicit gene insertion

    Gene splicing is just a technology, like chemistry. It is not inherently a hazard generator. It’s a matter of
    – what genes are selected (and equally important: why),
    – adequate safety testing and
    – monitoring for unintended consequences.
    We may actually need GMO™ at some point.

    4. the gmo recklessly random gene insertion

    Dr. Davis’ basenote here is about mutagenesis (RM & CM), so I don’t need to dig much into that. If you are a concerned big GMO™ activist, you need to be even more concerned about little gmo. Little gmo can cause chaos everywhere in the DNA, not just at the splicing site.

    GMO™ and gmo aren’t creating gene lines that might have existed eventually. They are creating gene lines that might never come into existence before the heat death of the universe. These technologies are often creating results that are adverse to the organism and creating organisms that cannot survive without specific human intervention in field practices. This does not describe natural selection.

    5. rapid selective breeding by whatever means

    Even without mutation-inducing technologies, agri-tech is evolving plant genetics at least twice as fast as nature. Absent controlled safety testing (and it does appear to be absent), you are the lab rat, subjected to novel foods faster than ever. Most of what is in the average food market (including in the produce section) flat out didn’t exist even 100 years ago. How fast are you personally evolving to keep up with this?

    6. the direct consequences of the GMO™ genes selected

    “Bt” GMO™ plants express the insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis (throughout the plant). If you eat corn products, you are probably consuming Bt. What is it doing to your gut biome? My guess is that it is not helpful, and that any testing done on it may have shown unclear results due to having been tested on a confounding diet loaded with other gut flora hazards (wheat, meat antibiotics, pesticide uptake, high sugar load, etc.).

    In the case of Bt GMO™, the genes selected are obviously inherently unwise.

    In other news, insects are rapidly evolving resistance to Bt.
    Now who would have guessed that? :)

    7. the indirect (end use intent) consequences of the genes selected

    “RoundUp Ready” plants were genetically tinkered with to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. Applying glyphosate to the pre-emergent or growing or near-mature plant is the whole point of RR GMO™. If you eat RR GMO™ crops, you are probably consuming glyphosate. What are the consequences of this? Big AgChem is working overtime to make sure that you don’t find out until it’s too late.

    Glyphosate risks aren’t limit to RR GMO™s. Farmers also use it off-label, to provide controlled termination of growth in non-RR crops (such as wheat). They euphemistically call this “dessication”. It was discussed on this blog a couple of years ago. So even though RR wheat is not on the market yet, anyone eating wheat may be consuming glyphosate.

    8. the unforeseen consequences of the genes selected

    The above expression and uptake risks are pretty obvious (unless you are in Big Gene or Big AgChem). What other adverse consequences might be linked to novel plant genetics, and the novel field practices they enable?

    Well, the trend lines for pretty much all chronic human ailments are all at historically high levels, rising and some even accelerating. There are definitely correlations (glyphosate & autism being particularly striking), and there may be causal links. You’d think this would be getting as much attention as climate change or even bee colony collapse disorder. Very few investigators, however, are looking into it, and those who do take huge professional risks.

    9. the lack of unconfounded short term food safety testing

    Does Big Gene or Big AgChem ever do short-term food safety testing? I’ve never seen any results.

    Of course, if they did, they’d be testing against SAD (Standard American Diet), which is so overloaded with adverse components that any direct and indirect risks of gm (which could be substantial) would likely be lost in the noise. Even if they were looking for trouble, it might not be apparent in the data.

    There is no chance that they would test against a grain-free LCHF diet with known healthy starting endocrine and gut biome status. What such test results would reveal (with or without the gm under test) would be far too dangerous to publish.

    10. the lack of any kind of long term food safety testing

    This, of course, is actually on-going. You are the lab rat, but relatively few scientists are checking your charts, much less connecting dots. And no, Big Ag isn’t particularly curious about your results, although they are deeply concerned that you might stop consuming their product, especially if you know what’s in it.

    11. corporate harassment of independent investigations


    …which is where we started here.