‘You are what you eat’
Third-generation Iowa farmer (and registered Republican) speaks out against GMOs
Howard Vlieger does not fit the stereotype that some people may have of a person strongly opposed to GMOs (genetically modified organisms). He’s no tree-huggin’, long-haired liberal, in other words.
Rather, the 52-year-old third-generation Iowa farmer and widely traveled anti-GMO activist is “a registered Republican and a firm believer in the Second Amendment,” he said in a recent noontime phone interview from Irvine, where he was readying himself for a speaking engagement that evening.
Vlieger—who also describes himself as “a student of the soil” and “a crop and livestock-nutrition adviser”—will be in Butte County today, Jan. 30, to deliver informational talks at two local Granges. His Chico presentation will take place at the Chico Grange Hall at 4 p.m., followed by a talk at the Thermalito Grange Hall, in Oroville, at 7:30 p.m. Vlieger’s local talks are presented by the California State Grange, Label GMOs and Moms Across America, “a national coalition of unstoppable moms committed to empowering millions to educate themselves about GMOs and related pesticides, get GMOs labeled and offer GMO-free and organic solutions,” as the Moms Across America website puts it.
Vlieger has become an in-demand speaker, in part due to the fact that he is one of a team of eight people—including Judy Carman, a well-known GMO researcher who works as an associate professor of biochemistry at Flinders University in Australia—who authored a long-term study published in June of last year in the Journal of Organic Systems that found that pigs fed a combination of genetically engineered corn and soybeans experience more frequent uterine enlargement and severe inflammation of the stomach than do those fed a non-GMO diet.
Vlieger said his “must-know” talk—which will cover in significant detail the findings of the study and its implications for the health of humans, who, according to Carman, have digestive systems similar to those of pigs—is aimed at everyone from “consumers to producers, and all points in between.”
There has been, since the late 1990s, a “significant fundamental change in crop production that is having an upstream effect on what’s going into the food supply,” Vlieger said, referring to the introduction of GMOs and the accompanying herbicides and pesticides that become necessary in the production of GMO crops. “The side effects that are being documented more and more all the time are in the soil itself, as well as in the livestock that is consuming these crops. …
“We started witnessing problems in livestock in 1998, when we first started feeding genetically engineered crops to animals,” Vlieger said. “First, we noticed conception problems.” Also in 1998, “we noticed different digestive issues and immune system problems.” Beyond the ample anecdotal evidence that Vlieger and his farming colleagues had amassed, the June 2013 study provided “solid statistical, scientific findings” that pigs overall had “a 260 percent increase in the number of them who had severe inflammation in their stomachs, severe stomach erosion,” including ulcers, after consuming GMO soy and corn.
Vlieger also noted that livestock fed the GMO feed have behavioral problems, such as increased aggressiveness quite possibly due to stomach irritation. “These behavioral changes to me are a flashing red light. … We have witnessed these varying issues and problems from the beginning in introducing genetically engineered crops into the feed supply.
“The day our scientific study was published,” Vlieger continued, “I received a call from a Chicago Tribune lady, [reporter] Monica Eng, who said she wanted my response [for her article] to a guy from a biotech organization who said he didn’t understand why we looked at stomachs and uteri [in our study]. He said there was no difference in feed conversion and rate of gain [on a GMO diet versus a non-GMO diet].
“I literally laughed out loud, and then I apologized and said, ‘That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard! Why would you not care about how [a GMO diet] might affect the different body parts of the animals who consume it? We mustn’t be a bunch of extremists to care about how this might affect our organs.”
After returning home to Iowa on Feb. 3 from his current speaking tour—which includes stops in the Rogue Valley area of Oregon—Vlieger will head to Lancaster County, Penn., on Feb. 5, to speak about genetically modified crops and the accompanying use of the broad-spectrum systemic herbicide glyphosate at the 23rd annual Farming for the Future Conference, hosted by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.
For her part, former Thermalito Grange member Rachelle Parker is excited that Vlieger is bringing his educational talk to her neck of the woods. Plus, “[t]he fact that Howard is a tea party patriot will give this issue credibility with many of the people who voted against Measure D [the initiative ordinance prohibiting the growing of genetically engineered organisms in Butte County] back in 2004,” she offered.
“I view this as an educational opportunity about genetically engineered crops,” said Vlieger of his upcoming talks. “This is a ground-level view—a ground-level, dirt-under-your-fingernails perspective of what I have witnessed either firsthand or witnessed by family farmers I have been privileged to work with … in the United States and Canada.
“I have communicated with a lot of medical doctors, nutritionists and, maybe more importantly, mothers,” said Vlieger of the countless people worldwide with whom he has discussed the eating of GMO food. “The thing that’s a unanimous report is that … the[ir] patients, clients or children see improvement in their health when they get GMOs out of their diet. And that’s never going to be published in a scientific journal. But the mothers don’t care—all they care about is the health of their family.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” Vlieger added. “You are what you eat.”