What Happened to our Wheat? (Why Organic Matters)
How is it that only now wheat is causing people problems when generations before us ate it without issue?
The answers can be found when we look at the farming practices for these crops. For decades, the application of glycophosate-containing herbicides (such as Roundup) to wheat crops has been an unregulated practice, often applied 7-10 days before harvesting to help dry out and kill the plant. While this practice has only been around since the 80's, the process grew in popularity in the late 90's. Today, the commonplace nature of this in conventional farming means that most, if not all, non-organic wheat is contaminated with these chemicals.
This practice has become more commonplace for three reasons:
Wheat fields do not always mature in a uniform manner. This leaves farmers with sections of their fields that are still green, and any green in a crop diminishes its value and ability to be sold into the marketplace. Roundup, when applied, will even out the green parts to help balance them out with the more mature plants before the field is harvested.
The longer it takes for a field to mature, the more risk there is of frost damage. The harvest season starts in August but can run through to the end of October, and in prairie provinces where the weather can be unpredictable, there is always the risk of an early frost which will damage crops. Roundup acts to kill the plant early and allows for the fields to be harvested before they are exposed to frost damage.
Increased crop production. When you expose wheat to a toxic chemical like glyphosate, it actually releases more seeds resulting in a slightly greater yield since the plant goes to seed as it dies (allowing for a slight increase in seed post-application).
While other products cannot be sold to the marketplace if they have been sprayed with Roundup, wheat is considered safe even after application of this herbicide. Countries such as the Netherlands and France have moved towards banning the use of Roundup on wheat crops, which may be why that baguette you consumed while on holiday caused no digestive problems!
Bottom line, wheat has become a plant that conventionally receives herbicide applications at a higher rate than has ever been seen. So what can glycophosate do to our bodies? In short, it inhibits cytochrome P450 enzymes found in our digestive system, which are key players in the detoxifying pathways of the liver. The absence of this system results, over time, in systemic inflammation, which can be seen in conditions such as diabetes, obesity, GI disorders, cancer, multiple sclerosis, infertility, and even depression.
Understanding how and why some wheat products are more aggravating to our bodies than others not only helps us make smarter choices but enables us to help protect our health and the health of those around us. Listen to your body and know that if you have felt unwell after eating some foods, your body is trying to signal that there is a problem. And knowing where to start is half the battle!