Interview with Howard Vlieger on GMOs

FARFA Board member and President of Verity Farms, Howard Vlieger, conducted a telephone interview to discuss the issues related to genetically modified (GM) crops. Verity family farmers do not feed livestock any crops that have been genetically modified and with good reason. In a 1998 experiment, Vlieger noticed firsthand that his cows avoided the genetically modified Bt corn that was on one side of their feed trough while totally consuming the natural corn on the other side. What do the cows instinctively understand about genetically modified foods that many humans don’t?

While other countries have either banned GM foods or mandated labeling, the U.S. has allowed GM crops to be widely fed to both animals and humans without informed consent or sufficient research on their safety. Below is the first section of the interview.



Q: Are there any studies showing the effects of GMOs on the human body?

Not to my knowledge. This may be the biggest uncontrolled experiment that has ever been conducted. Genetically engineered crops were approved when George Herbert Walker Bush was president of the US. There is a video on the internet that shows him making the statement “I’m in the deregulation business.” The FDA did not require the bio-tech companies to submit independent studies proving the safety of genetically engineered crops. The biotech industry said that GMOs were substantially equivalent. A term was used: “GRAS,” or “generally recognized as safe.” Basically the FDA took the biotech industry’s word that the GMO crops were fine.

The industry claims there is no substantial difference between genetically engineered crop and a conventional crop. There is not independent research to proves this to be true. Michael Taylor who is now the food czar in the current administration was the head of the FDA during the first Bush administration. He has worked for Monsanto for most all of his legal career but he just kind of moves back and forth from one regulatory government agency to another.


Q: What about studies of the effects of GMOs on animals?

The US did not require animal testing for GM approval in our country. But there has been research done elsewhere on the effects of GMOs on animals. Dr. Arpad Pusztai is probably the most well-known scientist in the world from the scientific community who sounded the alarm in regards to the foreign proteins in GMO crops. He was at the Rowett Institute in Scotland and he was commissioned by the governing body in that region to do a study on genetically modified (BT) potatoes.

When you do a scientific study you write up a protocol and follow all of the guidelines that are established for you to do the study. You record all that happens and collect the data and when you finish with all of the data collection you put this into a numerical scientific graph and that gives you the statistical differences from the study. After this is all completed you write up the study and submit it to a scientific journal. The editor of the scientific journal looks at the paper and then sends it out to scientists who are qualified to do this same type of study and this is called a peer review. The reviewers analyze the study and ask questions they may have about the study. The questions are answered by the authors of the study. It can take approximately two years or more from the time you have the results of a study to the time when it is written up and peer reviewed and finally published.

Dr. Pusztai was so alarmed at the results of what they saw in feeding the GM potatoes to rats he asked for permission to go public with the information before it was published. Once he went public with it he was brutally and viciously attacked by the biotech industry. He lost his job at the Rowett Institute. This is a scientist that has over 300 peer reviewed studies published in his lifetime. The industry literally tried to destroy him. I’m very privileged to know Dr. Pusztai and his wife Dr. Susan Bardocz. I communicate with Susan now because Arpad suffered a stroke in December of 2009. Arpad really and truly was a pioneer in exposing the negative aspects of the foreign proteins that are established as a result of the genetically modified organism crops. The allergenic potential of these foreign proteins in our food supply is very high. Do you know anyone with food allergies?


Q: I have heard that products like corn that are on the grocery shelf that perhaps 80% of them are from genetically modified food but most people don’t realize that.

No they don’t and it is probably higher than 80%. Organic product companies attempt to minimize genetically modified products but with corn it is almost impossible because of the drift of the pollen and the subsequent contamination of the food supply. I’m trying to remember who told me and what year it was about the fact that at a biotech company board meeting, the board members bragged about the fact that they would be successful in polluting x percent of all of the different types of food with genetically engineering by the year 2015 or maybe it was 2012, I can’t remember. It is almost impossible to have no GMO contamination in the United States.

The Non-GMO Project is a growing movement is trying to take the steps to minimize the contamination and in time have products that have less than 1% contamination. It doesn’t matter how it is produced (conventionally, biologically or organically) it is their goal to reduce the GMO contamination level. The Non-GMO project is working with retailers, packaging and processing companies and also crop producers to accomplish this. October of 2010 was the first ever Non-GMO month.


Q: What’s the answer to dealing with GMOs?

There is a good thing about this battle we are trying to win. We have a road map of how to win: educate the consumer. Europe has been effective in keeping the GMO crops out of the majority of their countries. They are slowly getting infiltrated in a few places but they have been effective in keeping most of them out because of the consumers. Consumers said NO, we don’t want GMOs. This is what we have to do in the USA.

We also have a poster child of sorts in the USA and that is the rBGH or rBST milk. This is the genetically engineered hormone marketed under the name Posilac that was developed to inject into milk cows that causes the cow to give more milk. The consumers said no, we don’t want this in our milk. I remember when the big grocers across the country began to say no the rBST milk. I remember when Kroger Foods said that they would no longer sell rBST milk to their customers. This was a huge step in the right direction. It was like a domino effect, all of the other grocers decided they could not let the competition have an edge or advantage. The same thing can happen with all GMO ingredients in our food supply. Everyone can pick up a food package from their cupboard and call the phone number (many times toll free) and demand that the manufacturer or packaging company stop using GMO ingredients. Some will say we don’t want GMO foods, although I refuse to call GMOs “food.” What do you want your family to eat?

More coming soon.

Last updated April 10, 2011