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Is Wheat Toxic?, Carver Responds

The safety of wheat has come under attack. A recent blog post questioned the safety of wheat in mentioning a common wheat harvest protocol in the United States in applying the herbicide Roundup on wheat fields several days before the crop is harvested. Oklahoma State University Wheat Breeding and Genetics Chair Dr. Brett Carver along with his OSU colleagues Angela Post, OSU Weed Specialist and Jeff Edwards, OSU Wheat Extension Specialist responded to the claims about the safety of wheat. Together the wrote for the blog "Best Food Facts".

First Carver addressed the use of Roundup, also known as glyphosate on wheat. He said there is no doubt glyphosate is used on wheat and the application is legal. Secondly the team addressed to what extent is glyphosate applied and could it be harmful to the consumer.   Carver said application must be done according to the product label where residues that might end up on the grain but they are not going to be in amounts that will be of any concern to a consumer.

"We're talking about a quart over an acre, which really amounts to a light mist," Carver said.

The other question is how much Roundup is applied prior to harvest. Roundup can be used as a means to kill the plant prior to harvest, but how much of the country uses this practice? Carver said that really depends region to region as there are certain pockets of wheat production that use this practice more than others. In areas like the Southern Great Plains, he said practice is hardly ever used. As a herbicide, Roundup may be used during the growing season to kill weeds. Carver said when the weed pressure was really bad in the panhandle this past year Roundup was used as a weed control measure.

In responding to this blog post, the concern over gluten remains to be at the heart of the issue. Carver said it is continued conversation over the safety of wheat gluten. He said there is this a under lying current of misbelief that wheat has become different over time with modern breeding, so he has had to spend a lot of time reminding people nothing has changed.

"Wheat is really no different than what has been, even if you back thousand of years, genetically speaking, its not different," Carver said. "We are using the same techniques in terms of breeding that would occur in nature anyway. We are using just convention selection techniques to improve the wheat plant and make it better adapted to the place where it is going to be grown. Nothing in there to really scare anybody."

Additionally, Carver said people have come to believe "gluten" is bad, but in believing that people are ignoring the fact that gluten is simply a plant protein and humans need protein to survive. He acknowledged there are certain people that are truly can not completely digest gluten, but to really know if this is taking place people need a clinical diagnosis by a doctor. The likelihood of someone having celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or a wheat allergy is less common than what one might think. Carver said celiac disease only impacts a small number of people, less than five percent of the population.

With this ongoing debate for wheat, Carver said agriculture will have to work to connect with a public that is not very well connected to agriculture. And its not just a challenge for ag producers, Carver said educators, university scientists, researchers and extension specialists will have to get their message out to the public.

"Because we tend to trusted, I hope we are," Carver said. "That's our job is to be trusted and give trust worthy information. We also have to accept the fact there are certain beliefs out there that we can't criticize. There are a reason that those beliefs are out there. We have to embrace to some extent the skepticism that's out there and try to understand where that skepticism comes from."

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