By following the Wheat Belly lifestyle, you may not be aware that you have largely opted out of the world of GMOs, genetically-modified organisms.
Because we avoid all wheat and grains, we also avoid most GMOs. Wheat and grains are the crops most widely treated with herbicides. We thereby dramatically reduce our exposure to the herbicide, glyphosate, that is widely applied to GMO crops, as well as non-GMO crops. This alone provides benefit in reducing potential for cancers such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, reducing potential for endocrine disruption, and removes a disrupter of intestinal microbiome composition, given glyphosate’s properties as an antibiotic.
Most corn grown and sold today is genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. It means that a farmer can spray his cornfield liberally with glyphosate that kills weeds, but not the corn plants. But it also means that corn people consume contains substantial quantities of glyphosate.
Soy, likewise. While soy is not a grain, it’s something we avoid or minimize on the Wheat Belly lifestyle along with grains. Putting aside glyphosate issues, soy is not as harmful as wheat and grains, so some products such as gluten-free soy sauce/tamari and fermented tempeh are tolerated in modest quantities. But, like corn, most soy products today are from GM crops sprayed liberally with glyphosate. (Should you choose to include some soy products, be sure they are labeled organic.)
Canola, cotton, sugar beet, and alfalfa have also been genetically-modified to be resistant to glyphosate, and are therefore other potential exposure sources, as are some nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Glyphosate is therefore widely used in non-GMO crops, but application in GMO crops continues to dominate. Here is a chart showing the huge upward trends in glyphosate application (in pounds applied per year) since 1995 across various crops (from Benbrook 2016):
Glyphosate use in corn alone increased 7800% from 1990 to 2014, 4500% for soybeans.
While not “genetically modified” in the obfuscating language of agribusiness, wheat and oats, and some non-grain crops, also commonly contain glyphosate residues. (The term “genetically modified” refers to the use of gene-splicing techniques to insert or remove one or more genes. Wheat has not been “genetically modified” but has instead been subjected to thousands of genetics experiments, including use of methods such as chemical mutagenesis that introduced dozens of mutations, making it a process worse than genetic modification. But agribusiness will make statements like “Wheat has not been genetically modified,” purposefully obscuring the fact that it has indeed been genetically altered to extreme degrees.) Is is therefore uncommon to find crackers, granola, or bread that does not contain residues of glyphosate.
And, due to the application of hundreds of millions of tons of glyphosate to crops throughout the U.S. and the world since its release in 1974, glyphosate is now ubiquitous, measurable in the urine of virtually every American even if you never worked on a farm, don’t live in an agricultural area, or have never sprayed your lawn with Roundup weedkiller.
For years, Monsanto argued that glyphosate was non-toxic to humans, citing their own animal studies from 30 years ago involving direct administration of the herbicide. They argued that, because glyphosate blocks an enzyme in plants that humans do not possess, there is no potential for human toxicity. But, despite Monsanto’s filing of a patent on glyphosate as an antibiotic, they apparently did not anticipate effects on the human intestinal microbiome. It is now becoming clear that glyphosate is an antibiotic of the worst kind: It is effective in killing healthy bacterial species such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, but is ineffective against unhealthy and potentially pathogenic species such as Salmonella and undesirable strains of Clostridia. Glyphosate therefore essentially selects pathogenic species to proliferate at the expense of commensal (benign or desirable) species. And numerous studies since the original toxicity studies suggest that the toxic effects of glyphosate are far worse than originally suspected, with adverse effects including mutations in offspring. Toxic effects are also magnified by other ingredients such as alkyl polyglycosides in commercial herbicides like Roundup that, for instance, enhance entry into the plant.
There are other uncertainties and serious questions raised about GMOs outside of glyphosate. But the glyphosate issue alone carries huge implications for human health that cannot be ignored. As regulatory and legal remedies creep along, those of us living the Wheat Belly lifestyle have essentially voted with our mouths and wallets and have largely opted out of the world of GMOs.