I'm by no means an industry expert, nor am I invested financially in any way into anything related to agriculture, but I have studied microbiology and chemistry, and because of my kidney disease I've been studying diet heavily as well lately, and I've noted this:
- Wheat is in fact bad for you in general. This doesn't mean it'll kill you, but it is something to avoid for optimal health. It always has been this way, modern agriculture hasn't "changed it for the worse" so to speak. It's just now that science has discovered that our bodies weren't built around eating it. (That doesn't stop me from eating it though - but like anything, use moderation.)
- There's a ton of misconception about what we should and shouldn't consider food. This is mainly spread by alarmists who don't actually understand the science behind it, and will readily accept poorly done research as long as it supports their philosophical view (i.e. being vegetarian for example) while discarding outright anything they disagree with.
A common thing I see for example is that you shouldn't eat McDonalds burgers because they don't decompose. But if you look at real honey (most honey you actually buy at the store isn't 100% real honey, by the way, google "honey laundering" for more on that) they've actually found honey in egyptian tombs that is over 3,000 years old and still tastes sweet, but because honey doesn't have a corporate logo, activists don't go around trying to ban it due to a lack of a conspiracy theory. Dark chocolate kills dogs, yet at the same time it has known nutritional benefits to humans. Avacado's are toxic to most animals, but have high nutritional value to humans. Different species have different physiologies and different needs. Just because a bacteria doesn't want to eat it doesn't mean you can't, so food that doesn't bio-degrade isn't inherently bad.
- And for the soup de-jour of this thread: GMO. From what I know of GMO, all they're doing is modifying a very small number of DNA codons to produce a protein that causes the plant to be resistant to the active ingredient in roundup. Just for a perspective, every time a plant breeds, thousands of codons of different genes elsewhere mutate in different and unpredictable ways. You're far more likely to see an unknown mutation that causes harm in one of those than you are from a deliberate known change. The most cited study by anti-GMO groups is around one where some rats got cancer after being fed some GMO corn. The problem with this study is that the rats they used were already known to be prone to that form of cancer. Likewise, nobody has been able to reproduce that result, but it still goes on being cited anyways.
Common talk among them is also that they, say for example, take a gene from a fish and put it into a plant. Those lateral DNA transfers were only done as experimentation. All commercially sold GMO are invented DNA sequences, and they're very tiny ones at that - again, much smaller changes than normally happen from naturally breeding from one generation to the next. But, lateral gene transfers happen naturally. In fact, the human genome is known to contain gene sequences that originated from other species, and made their way into our own via viruses. It's currently known that we have three whole virus genomes embedded into our much larger genome, one of these actually took a trait from some other species that serves a vital body function. There are also a hundred thousand or so incomplete virus DNA sequences in our genome as well.
I could go on for a long time about this, but if you really want to know why GMO is safe, you should take it from the source of one of the founders of the anti-GMO movement, who has since realized that what he helped start was built around irrational fear of the uknown:http://www.marklynas.org/2013/01/lecture-to-oxford-farming-conference-3-january-2013/
recommend watching that video.
There is something you all might like that I can add to this: Imagine if we could grow wheat so that it both tasted good AND was healthy to eat. GMO may make that possible one day. I personally think GMO is a great thing, and we shouldn't get rid of it, we should embrace it - safely of course. It makes food less expensive to grow, and in the future it may make it higher quality as well (both taste and nutritional value). If your concern is about playing with nature and modifying our food in general, you're several millennia too late for that concern - we've been doing it since time immemorial. Most of the plants and animals we consume only exist because we created them from something else. Take the cavendish banana for example (cavendish is the banana you most commonly buy at the store) - this plant is completely incapable of growing in the wild. Ever notice that it has no seeds? We genetically modified it through selective breeding a long time ago. Wild bananas are mostly seed, and the seeds are so hard you can't chew them.
Here's an argument against the activists by the way: Many of them have vested financial interests in organic farms. Organic is often touted as sustainable farming that is healthier, but none of this has been proven true. Organic food costs more, and requires four times the quantity of pesticide as modern farming. And because the "feel good" nature of organic, it also has higher profit margins. If people go GMO on the other hand, that puts them out of business, so it's only natural that they'd try to stop it.
Personally I think it is immoral to ask somebody to pay extra for something when they gain no extra benefit. This is what organic currently is. In blind tests, organic has been found to have no different taste than modern agriculturally produced food. Nor is there any scientific evidence to suggest that it is healthier for you.
However organic is known to have lower yields and thus requires more landmass to farm, which means it is less environmentally sustainable than modern farming. If you look at the trend from the 60's in modern farming, the amount of food we produce has increased 300%, whereas the landmass we use has only increased by 12%. For organic this isn't true, the yields can only increase somewhat proportionally to the landmass because the technological advancement is stunted. For GMO we could still increase yields while even potentially decreasing the landmass required.
Personally I'm not going to tell you what kind of food you should eat, that's your call to make. If you like organic, great. But don't let activists put a halt to progress.