Why Can I Eat Bread in France, but not the USA?

Updated 10/31/2017 as the National Organic Standards Board meets in Jacksonville, FL. This may well be the most important thing you read this year for your health. (Originally written in 2015 while I was traveling-- and eating bread-- with my wife in France.)

I've got a food riddle for you from Paris, France: Why can I eat bread over here when it makes me sick at home?

I'll share my best guess in a minute, but first, a little personal background.

Since my senior year of high school, I've not been able to eat much bread at all. For five years, I was severely hypoglycemic, and everything I ate had to have more protein than carbohydrates. That meant, in effect, that I spent my years of college beer-less and eating lots of salad with meat on top. I ate tons of vegetables, very little fruit, basically no carbohydrates to speak of, meat, nuts, eggs, and cheese. If I accidentally ate, say, meat loaf that was, unbeknownst to me, made with bread in it, I'd spend the next 2-3 days mentally cloudy, depressed, and lacking motivation. It was a health-imposed paleo diet of sorts.

Finally, the year after my college graduation, I learned to manage (and all but eliminate) my hypoglycemia in two ways. First, I took chromium supplements (chromium is an essential micro-nutrient that helps the pancreas regulate its production of insulin) for 8 months. Second, inspired by Michael Pollan's reporting on green vs grain-based food chains, I made sure to eat sufficient sources of omega 3s: sardines, flax, grass-fed meats, and especially loads of green vegetables (sustainably raised on good soils are especially balancing for me).  Though I still do not eat much refined sugar in the form of candies, sweets, or sodas by American standards, at least I can now eat carbohydrate basics like rice and potatoes, fresh fruit, and, well, ice cream from time to time :).

In spite of having learned to dietarily manage my hypoglycemia, your typically, store-bought bread has continued to cause me problems. From constipation and abdominal bloating to hypoglycemic-like low-blood sugar symptoms such as exhaustion and irrational anger, eating bread in the States causes me all kinds of problems.  Dr Li, a Tallahassee acupuncturist (also trained in Western science as an MD physician) says that wheat exacerbates swelling in my low-intestine, which puts pressure on my pancreas and gall bladder. The pancreas is responsible for insulin production, thus the hypoglycemic reaction, and an irritated gall bladder, I hear, is often accompanied by anger. So, you might think that I'm gluten intolerant or otherwise allergic to wheat.

Except: When I eat bread homemade by friends with organic wheat in the States: no problem. And then, also, in France, I've eaten all manner of bread. Well, I should say: baguette, baguette, baguette. Over here too: no problem whatsoever. Why?

Here is my working hypothesis: In light of the fact that France is very restrictive on GMOs and increasingly on Roundup® (more generally glyphosate, the active ingredient), I'm guessing that the reason I can eat bread in France but not at home is due to RoundUp® residues in US bread. And, I'm guessing I can eat bread made with organic wheat at home because neither GMOs or Roundup® is permissible in USDA Organic foods.

To paint the full picture, let me delve in a little. This is my health (perhaps all of ours) and a $200 billion rabbit hole, so stick with me. Here's what I've learned:
  1. Although GMOs are sold to the public as a way to "feed the world" by developing more bountiful, nutritious crops, the most numerous* genetic modifications is, in fact, seeds/crops that are "Roundup Ready®." Roundup Ready® means that a field of, say, Roundup Ready® corn can be sprayed with Roundup® (or, a generic brand of glyphosate) and the weeds will die, but the corn won't. The obvious labor-saving benefit has, you might imagine, led to incredible amounts of Roundup® being used on US crops. (* in terms of total number of seeds grown).
  2. Roundup® kills plants - not directly- but by blocking the absorption of key micro-nutrients critical for plants' immune defense. Without a functioning immune system, non Roundup Ready® plants (like weeds) succumb to any-ole soil fungi that comes along. Spraying Roundup® could be considered akin to giving a plant a particularly brutal strand of HIV-Aids. (An interview with Don Huber, a world-renown expert in plant pathology from Purdue University explains it all if you want the details. Or: here if you'd like it in plainer speak.) On a personal note, it seems reasonable that there may likely be a connection between my chromium deficiency and the fact that the active ingredient* of Roundup® is a chelator, meaning it "binds up" (makes unavailable) nutrients like chromium. (*Glyphosate).
  3. For years, the counter argument against worry concerning widespread use of Roundup® on our food went like this: Roundup® only affects plants, not humans. Turns out, this does not appear to be true because Roundup® disrupts key metabolic processes in our gut bacteria rendering them stunted or killed outright, which seriously compromises our overall health -- not to mention the general mineral chelating (nutrient "blocking") property of Roundup®, which was the reason it was patented in the first place. In Dr. Huber's words, "You may have the mineral [in your food], but if it's chelated with glyphosate, it's not going to be available physiologically for you to use, so you're just eating a piece of gravel."
  4. Since the release of Roundup Ready® crops into the US Food System in the early 90s, and, thus, increased Roundup® residues in our food, a host of health problems (including ADHD, Alzheimer's, Celiac/Wheat intolerance, cancer, obesity, high blood pressure, depression, and diabetes) have risen drastically in almost direct correlation to the increase in use of Roundup®. This article explains the medical links to glyphosate. To lay the case bare, this study shows that "chronically ill humans showed significantly higher glyphosate residues in urine than [a] healthy population."
  5. Back on the topic of wheat: though Monsanto discontinued its Roundup Ready® Wheat development program in 2004, Roundup® is, nevertheless, being used in US Wheat production as a "harvest aid" demonstrated by this South Dakota Ag Extension resource. Basically, glyphosate is being sprayed on wheat that is done growing but has not yet died and dried. This speeds up the day when wheat could be harvested, which decreases the risk of late-season crop failure due to, for example, a hail storm. So again, there's a logic, but it results in Roundup®, or, glyphosate residues in our wheat... and therefore flour... and therefore, potentially, all non-organic U.S. bread.
  6. This same practice of "chemical ripening" is being used in sugar cane production as this LSU Ag Extension resource explains. Additionally, the other major source of sugar in the U.S. food chain, is Roundup Ready® sugar beets, which the USDA says accounted for 95% of all sugar beets planted in 2010. Just like Roundup Ready® soybeans and canola, these GMO sugar beets are being regularly applied with Roundup® or, a generic brand of glyphosate in order to kill weeds that would compete for nutrients with the farmers' cash crop. Once again, it seems the only way to enjoy sugar in the US without consuming probable gylphosate is to chose USDA Organic.
  7. In a 2013 presentation in Tallahassee, Dr. Don Huber, the world-renown plant pathologist from Purdue University suggested that the real reason Monsanto and the BioTech industry is fighting GMO labeling tooth and nail with millions of dollars is not because of direct labeling-related costs or even an anticipated drop in sales. The reason for the biotech industry's fight is because labeling will allow for interstate health comparison studies. For example, if Florida adopts labeling while Illinois consumers remain in the GMO dark, state-wide health comparisons could be made with millions of replicates to implicate GMOs (and the related use of Roundup® or, glyphosate. Friends of Dr. Huber in the public health arena have estimated the cost of public expenditures on Roundup® and GMO-related health problems at $200 billion. That is an average of $4 billion per state, or, in other terms, 4x all the Big Tobacco settlements put together. But for the trial lawyers to pick up the case, they need major health comparison studies. Thus the fight.
In light of all this, I'm guessing that Roundup® (active ingredient: Glyphosate) residues in conventional US store-bought bread is the reason I can't eat it. The real kicker for this idea came while visiting Switzerland. Within a day or two of being in the country, with no real change in diet (still plenty of good cheese, fresh veggies, fresh bread, and local wine-- just like while in France), my stomach bloated up like I was stuffing myself with white sandwich bread from the USA. Come to find out, Switzerland is more GMO and Roundup® friendly than most countries in Europe. When we left Switzerland, I almost immediately began to feel better.

So, here's my Food Gardening tip of the day: If you have weeds, before you reach for Roundup®, watch my YouTube video about weeding:

Until next time y'all-- happy growing,
Nathan, MIO
Originally posted June 2nd, 2015.

Since the time of publishing, I've learned and put together a few more things:
  • Roundup® is the original brand, but since the patent ran out over 10 years ago, there are other brands and seeds to match. Glyphosate, the broad spectrum chelator is the problem. The minerals that Glyphosate chelates (or "binds up") are essential for immune function in most or all life forms, not just weeds. 
  • When a farmer or other entity buys GMO seed, s/he must sign a contract that the seeds will not be used for scientific study. Thus, the meta-analysis of state-to-state comparisons is the only way to do studies on the effects of GMOs.
  • The French are writing the same things. Here's an article (in French) entitled, "The Real Reason the Wheat [in the US] is Toxic and It's Not the Gluten."
  • As I heard from a Cornucopia Institute representative at the "Keep the Soil in Organics" rally 10/31/2017 in Jacksonville, there have been major grain-shipments fraudulently labeled organic. This could explain why there are certain "organic" pastas that cause the same gastro-intestinal reaction in me as if I was eating conventional wheat-- since, it may have been conventional wheat "ripened" with glyphosate all along, simply fraudulently labeled.
  • I'm increasingly convinced that my "hypoglycemia" during my college years was, in fact, glyphosate intolerance. By inadvertently avoiding just about all non-organic grains & basic carbohydrates, I was, by accident, avoiding many of the Roundup Ready® and "chemically ripened" crops that had/have heavy Roundup® residues.
  • In April of 2017, there was an International  "Tribunal" to hold Monsanto accountable for crimes against Humanity. From the webpage: "Eminent judges heard testimonies from victims and experts. Then, they delivered a legal opinion following procedures of the International Court of Justice. They concluded that Monsanto's activities have a negative impact on basic human rights."
  • As glyphosate becomes less effective due to the rise of "super weeds" or herbicide-resistant weeds, some farmers are falling back on 24D, others on Dicamba, both widely available. Monsanto has developed "Dicamba-Ready" or Xtend® cotton and soybean seeds. Some organic and health advocates say Dicamba is even worse than glyphosate. Here's one reason why: It's volatile, so when it's sprayed onto fields, it can evaporate and then rain down on other farmers' fields. Neighboring farmers, if they're not growing Xtend® crops, may have their crops unexpectedly destroyed by "drift" the herbicide. It's a win-win-win for Monsanto: Xtend® crops leads to increase use of Dicamba, which may kill off neighboring farmers' non-Xtend® crops, which may force the neighboring farmers to grow Xtend® crops next year. A vicious cycle. 
To close, if you, like me, want to avoid eating probable glyphosate residues, these are the things you'll need to try to avoid: conventional (non-organic)... wheat, barley (yes, beer), sugar, oats, soy (beans, milk, oil), canola (oil) and wine (vineyards control weeds under grape vines with Roundup®).  In the US of A, our grocery stores are, unfortunately, mine-fields of Roundup® residue. And, yes, the alternative, eating organic does costs more...

Unless you grow it yourself.

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Nathan Ballentine (Man in Overalls)
Itinerant Urban Farmer, Entrepreneur, Educator, Community Organizer
Growing in Jacksonville, FL. Connecting Globally.
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