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Nick Altieri

I am one of many people poisoned by the food we eat. A radical comment? Sure. Factual? Yes, depending on your point of view. Are you a victim or a perpetrator? For me, the answer is "absolutely." I, a victim, was poisoned by the genetically modified wheat that is being mass-produced by the corporate farming interests -- the "perpetrators."

Don't stop reading because you think I am some nut job. I am not. But I am mad that I have developed gluten intolerance simply by eating grains that my doctor and nutritionists encouraged me to eat; that is, of course, until I found out why I have been sick.

I thought for several years the whole "gluten free" movement was a fad, a misguided effort by folks to lose weight. In fact, part of it is just that, but certainly to those of us who have developed an intolerance to gluten, it is not a fad. It is required of us to be gluten-free in order to stay healthy, and for some just to stay alive.

Why do I blame corporate farming interests and certain seed companies? Because they changed the wheat that we eat to include a substance the human body does not always recognize as food.

Gluten intolerance isn't a food allergy. It's a physical condition in your intestines. Basically, undigested gluten proteins (prevalent in wheat and other grains) hang out in your intestines and are treated by your body like a foreign invader, irritating your intestines and flattening the microvilli along the small intestine wall. Without those microvilli, you have considerably less surface area with which to absorb the nutrients from your food. This leads sufferers to experience symptoms of malabsorption, including chronic fatigue, neurological disorders, nutrient deficiencies, anemia, nausea, skin rashes, depression and more. Other symptoms include, but are not limited to, cramps, tingling and numbness, depression, headaches, exhaustion, infertility, irregular menstrual cycles and miscarriage.

If you remove gluten from the diet, the gut heals and the myriad symptoms disappear -- depending on the level and degree of the intolerance (which can range anywhere from gluten sensitivity to full-blown celiac disease). We should not have to eliminate food because chemical companies changed it! Heck, in a few years we would not have any food to eat.

Research shows that gluten sensitivity in some form, including celiac disease and mild gluten intolerance, affects approximately 15 percent of the U.S. population and is on the rise.

Why is it on the rise?

In the past few years, researchers have learned that the primary culprit in celiac disease and gluten intolerance is a particular peptide strand in the gluten molecule, not the gluten itself. It is theorized that this peptide strand wasn't present in ancestral varieties of wheat.

So where did it come from?

In the last few decades, gene-injection techniques have been used to produce transgenic wheat. In this manner, the wheat has been genetically engineered to contain what are referred to as "funny proteins" from a variety of plant and animal sources, including flounder (the fish) and ergot (a mold). This genetic engineering of wheat has resulted in a crop that is no longer classifiable as a plant, but rather is a genetically modified organism, or GMO.

Companies such as Monsanto claim that the use of genetic modification delivers only good results. These "good results" include higher crop yields and higher gluten content, as well as resistance to drought. But what good will it do to produce a high yield of a product that ultimately makes many of us sick?

So what can we do? For starters, there is a proposition on this November's ballot, Proposition 37, that "requires labeling on raw or processed food offered for sale to consumers if it's made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways."

Agribusinesses and food manufacturers oppose this because they say it is confusing. What? How is it confusing to add an ingredient to the ingredient labels they already put on their products?

The fact is that companies like Monsanto, Dow Chemical, BASF, Bayer, E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., Syngenta Corp. and others don't want you to know what you are eating and how it may affect your health.

Nick Altieri lives in Stallion Springs and has a background in marketing and sales. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.