It’s Not Pretty Behind the Biotech Veil, an Interview with Howard Vlieger

Howard_Vlieger at 2011 WAPF ConferenceHoward Vlieger and I talked during the Weston A. Price Wise Traditions conference in Dallas, Texas, November 11-14.  Why did I want to talk with Howard and write about GMOs (genetically modified organisms, also described as genetically engineered)? I am passionate about food rights and access to raw milk; I want my family to be healthy and remain healthy; and I want to help everyone have convenient,  affordable access to wonderful, nutritious foods. However, I’m very concerned about how genetically engineered crops are contaminating our food supply. Think a minute–what if we win the battle for food rights?  What if we have the right to buy whatever foods we believe are healthy for our families, including raw milk, grass-fed beef, and organic produce? And then, when we finally have the right of access, we can’t get those wonderful foods because we’ve allowed our farmland to be destroyed, our organic crops have been contaminated with GMOs, and we can’t find a way to recover our wholesome natural foods? Do you think that’s impossible? Maybe it is impossible, but what if it’s not? Do you know how many acres of farmland around the world have already been converted to GMO crops? In 2010, 365 million acres in 29 countries, about 10% of global cropland, were planted with GMOs, and the U.S. leads the world in GMO crop production—165 million acres, almost half of the world’s GMO crop production. Do you know how many acres of farmland the biotech industry (it’s a high-tech industry, not earth-based growers and farmers) wants to have converted to GMOs? Yes, that’s right, 100%. Why? Profit of course! Billions and billions of dollars are at stake, more than enough money to pressure the governments of countries around the world to approve cultivation of GMO crops with little or no testing for their safety to humans. No country has as yet proven completely resistant to being persuaded with biotech money and false promises.

Biotech companies want complete control of the seed supply so that farmers will only be able to buy and use seed that’s been patented by the biotech companies; the farmers will not be allowed to save the seed to plant the next year as farmers have been doing for thousands of years. In fact, biotech companies will, and have, filed lawsuits against farmers claiming they have planted patented seeds, while in many cases the suspected
violation is the result of contamination from nearby fields and not deliberate theft by the farmer. Biotech companies make billions of dollars on GMO seed sales each year, and not only from the sale of the seed but also billions from technology fees—the required fees they charge per bag to farmers for using the patented seeds—and they would love to see those billions grow. However, not enough people understand what GMOs are all about, and they don’t realize the the very real dangers and risks. I am committed to helping others understand what’s really going on so that we can all work together to prevent this devastation. That’s why I wanted to talk with Howard about GMOs.

Let’s start with a little background on Howard–who is he, what he stands for, and why he campaigns so hard against GMOs. He is the president and co-founder of
Verity Farms which had its beginnings in the 1970’s when a South Dakota farmer wanted
to reduce his use of chemicals and fertilizers. Other farmers joined the commitment and have developed a protocol that recognizes “the importance of life and balance in the soil and the complete food chain.” Verity Farms works with family farmers in 8 states. The Verity farmers have a NEVER EVER policy to not use “antibiotics, artificial hormones, growth promotants, and animal by-products while raising livestock.” They never ever use GMO seeds. They cleanse the soil and test it initially and regularly for chemical residues. The mission of Verity Farms is the “reestablishment and prosperity of the “Family Farmer.” Howard joined the chemical/GE free practice in 1989. He began studying GMO crops in 1994 and works with many of the leading scientists in the world
on research projects involving GMO crops.

Howard’s subject at the 2011 Weston A. Price conference was GMOs and Mammal Health. He is a well-informed and interesting speaker, but the room should have been much larger and, if the conference attendees had really grasped the importance of GMOs, it would have been overflowing–standing room only. He spoke about how livestock are affected by eating GMOs, the prevalence of GMOs around the world, the failed promises of GMOs, the contamination of our air and water supply by glyphosate [more to come on glyphosate in future posts], and the studies showing the dangers of GMOs to humans and animals.  It is very important to understand exactly what GMOs do to the animals and to us because we are being forced to eat GMO contaminated foods and eat the milk, eggs, and meat from animals which are fed with GMO grains.  Howard is a tireless champion for educating people about the risks and dangers of GMOs and his mission is education, not promoting himself, or even Verity Farms.

In order to understand the significance of the dangers we’re facing, we now have to dig a little bit into the nitty-gritty about the difficulties facing scientists trying to study the effects of GMO crops on mammals, including humans.

Howard has worked with many scientists around the world who have extensively studied GMOs, and he spoke about the risks these scientists encounter when they speak out  about GMOs. Some scientists have been willing to expose the dangers documented in their studies on GMOs, and, as a result have been punished for doing so. Dr. Arpad Pusztai, the lead scientist on a project to develop protocols for studying GMO safety, released the damaging results of his research on the GMO Bt potato in 1998 and had his career destroyed because he dared to tell the truth. However, he  was successful in stopping the approval of the GMO potato, which was found to damage the intestines and immune systems of rats. We owe him our gratitude for his bravery and honesty. Many other scientists and researchers are prohibited from telling the truth for fear of losing their reputations and careers. The biotech industry has put another roadblock in the path of discovering the truth about GMOs.  They have made it almost impossible for scientists to perform independent tests on their GMO crops by restricting access to their patented genetically engineered seeds. One biotech foray into the consumer food market, the use of rBGH, rBST, a GMO growth hormone, which causes unhealthy increased milk production in dairy cows, was largely defeated by consumers’ refusal to buy milk produced by these cows. Many common foods containing GMO ingredients have not been equally rejected, probably because most people don’t have any idea how much GMO contamination is already in the food they are eating. Attempts to label foods containing GMO crops have been blocked by the biotech industry. The FDA has consistently discouraged food makers from labeling their products as GMO-free, claiming that such labels are confusing and misleading.

The most common commercially grown GMO crops are corn, canola, cotton, soybeans, and recently added alfalfa and sugar beets. Over 75% of all grocery store processed foods contain at least one ingredient from GMO crops in some form, such as corn oil, corn syrup, cornstarch, soybean or canola oil. GMO crops have been engineered to perform in several ways. Among the most common attributes are resistance to herbicides and in plant insecticides. Some GMO crops have been modified to add desired qualities. For example, genetically engineered “Golden Rice” has supposedly been enhanced with beta carotene, which is intended to address vitamin A deficiencies in the developing countries; GMO canola and soybean oils have lower polyunsaturated fatty acids and higher monunsaturated fatty acids; other GMOs have alterations for the energy industry. The submission for approval of GMO salmon is the first major entry of the biotech industries in GMO animal production.

Howard explained that GMOs have been promoted to farmers, and also to consumers, with promises of greater crop yields and lowered costs due to less need for added chemicals such as herbicides–usually glyphosate–and pesticides. However, studies have shown that these promises have not been fulfilled. Crop yields have either not increased since conversion to GMO seeds or they have actually decreased. The herbicide resistance has also not lived up to its promise. Glyphosate, the main chemical in herbicide-resistant GMO crops, has caused the development of ‘superweeds’ that cannot be killed by glyphosate even when three times the normal rate of chemical is applied. There are 21 weeds confirmed world-wide that are now resistant to glyphosate.  GMO Corn, called Bt corn, has been genetically engineered to contain an insecticide to kill the corn borer and corn rootworm, but it’s also showing signs of losing its effectiveness. Bt corn crops in the midwest are now heavily infested with rootworms that have apparently become resistant to the embedded insecticide. The Bt corn farmer must now use more pesticide to try to control the rootworm infestation. A researcher has found that the corn rootworm can pass the Bt resistance to its offspring. The farmer incurs increased costs because of the increased chemicals needed as well as the increased cost of the seed. GMO crops raised with the use of glyphosate require twice the amount of water as required for non GMO crops. Among other GMO crop promises that have yet to be proven are drought tolerance and increased nutrient content.

Howard provided solid information about the dangers and risks of GMO crops to humans and mammals. Resistance to glyphosate is the most common herbicide resistance genetically engineered into plants. Howard explained that glyphosate is a systemic herbicide and will be take up into all parts of the plant. 20% of the glyphosate applied to the plant goes into the soil and can affect subsequent crops. Scientific studies have also documented infertility and endocrine cellular damage as a result of glyphosate residue.  Rats fed GMO potatoes had severe organ damage and damage to the digestive system. A Canadian study found a Bt toxin in 93% of the pregnant women tested. 80% passed this toxin on to their babies. Bt toxins have been found in the intestinal contents of livestock fed on Bt corn implying a risk of exposure from eating GMO contaminated meat.

Four GMO crops, brassica, bentgrass, cotton, and canola, have been found growing outside of their supposed contained boundaries, sometimes hundreds of miles from the nearest known location. Examples have been found of GMO crops that are now cross-pollinating with other plants in the wild. The questions we need to ask about GMOs are:

(1) Can GMO crops be contained as promised?

(2) What damage can the GMO crops do to us?

(3) What can we do to ensure our food is safe?

I will have many more posts on the subject of GMOs and what they are doing to our food supply, because new information is continually being revealed about the dangers and risks of this sprawling, creeping, spreading world infestation. The veil of secrecy with which the biotech industry has been covering their engineered organisms is being pulled back, and what’s behind that veil is not pretty.

Resources:

Food & Water Watch,  Genetically Engineered Food An Overview
Carrasco, Andres E.,  Glyphosate-Based Herbicides Produce Teratogenic Effects on Vertebrates by Impairing Retinoic Acid Signaling
Aziz, A, Leblanc, S., Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated
to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec,Canada.
Reprod
Toxicol(2011),doi:10.1016/j.reprotox.2011.02.004
Seralini, G.E., Time- and Dose- Dependent Effects of Roundup on Human Embryonic and Placental Cells
Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance/GMOs
Organic Consumers Association, Interview with Dr. Arpad Pusztai

Real Food Houston Posts:

What Does Genetically Engineered (or GMO) Mean?
Why Was an Antibiotic-Resistant GE Potato Approved?
Biotech Industry Group Looks for Influential ‘Ambassadors’

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8 Responses to It’s Not Pretty Behind the Biotech Veil, an Interview with Howard Vlieger

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