Farmers fund new research to breed gluten-free wheat.
[Agriculture] 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.