Research Into Wheat Variety For People With Celiac Disease Gains New Ground

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — New research funded by farmers aims to breed a wheat variety for people who can’t eat wheat and other grains, an endeavor that comes as wider consumer interest in gluten-free foods is booming.

The Kansas Wheat Commission is spending $200,000 for the first two years of the project, which is meant to identify everything in wheat’s DNA sequences that can trigger a reaction in people suffering from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which eating even tiny amounts of gluten — comprised of numerous, complex proteins that gives dough its elasticity and some flavor to baked goods — can damage the small intestine. The only known treatment for it is a gluten-free diet, not eating foods that contain wheat, rye, and barley.

Though celiac disease is four to five times more common now than 50 years ago, only about 1 percent of the world’s population is believed to suffer from it, and just a fraction have been diagnosed. But the gluten-free food business has skyrocketed in the last five years, driven in part by non-celiac sufferers who are either intolerant to gluten or following a gluten-free fad diet because they believe it may help them lose weight or that it’s somehow healthier.

Sales of gluten-free snacks, crackers, pasta, bread and other products reached $973 million in the U.S. in 2014, up from $810 million the previous year, according to a January report by consumer research firm Packaged Facts, which analyzed the sales of hundreds of explicitly labeled and marketed gluten-free products and brands at supermarkets, drugstores, and mass merchandisers.

Supporters of the Kansas research, though, say this isn’t a way to regain market share.

“If you know you are producing a crop that is not tolerated well by people, then it’s the right thing to do,” according to the project’s lead —> Read More