By Chris Dunn
“They’re using poison to raise crops,” said Howard Vlieger, president of Verity Farms, speaking at the Farm and Food Leadership Conference Tuesday about the dangers of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Verity Farms is headquartered in Sioux Falls, S.D.
A GMO is an organism that has been genetically altered by the introduction of genetic material from another organism. Proponents of GMOs claim this kind of engineering can improve on nature, providing greater yields, improved quality, reduced costs and bigger profits.
Vlieger countered that GMOs do the opposite, harming the air, soil, plants, livestock, and people. “It is completely unnatural,” he said. Vlieger uses alternative farming practices at Verity Farms, which has affiliated farms in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota.
For example, he said to insert the genetic material from one organism into another a “shotgun type device” is used. “There is no control over where the DNA hits when introduced to a plant,” which forces manufacturers to use viruses, agro-bacterium, and other genetically engineered materials to accomplish the task, he said.
Vlieger also contended that GMO crops cost more than alternative agriculture. Tech fees, paid on top of the cost of seed to cover the cost of technology, have made the price of seed skyrocket since the first genetically modified crop was introduced to the United States in 1994. According to him, the total added fees are nearly $9 billion annually on “all seeds sold today.” And sometimes, crop yields are actually smaller.
Another cost, he said, is the harm done to livestock which feed on GMO crops.
Vlieger claimed hogs have increased stomach irritation and ulcers, decreased conception rates, and smaller litters when fed GMO grain. This is because the animal’s digestive system tries to reject the “foreign proteins” in the GMO food, which keep the animal in a constant state of inflammation. This weakens the immune system, which in turn causes many other health issues, including dependence on antibiotics, he said.
Vlieger said humans have a similar digestive system to hogs, inferring that the increased incidence of allergies and digestive ailments in people in recent years might be attributed to eating GMO food.
“Every prescription advertised on television has to list its side effects,” said Vlieger, but not GMO foods. “There are no independent long term studies showing no side effects from GMO grain,” he said, but many studies have been made that “document harm to mammals.”
In conclusion, Vlieger pointed to a disturbing connection between GMOs, herbicides, and pharmaceuticals, which are often made by the same companies. He used a circle chart to illustrate that these manufacturers perpetuate a cycle of unhealthy grain, livestock, and people which, in turn, require ever increasing amounts of herbicides, chemicals, and medicines to survive.
This might be a cycle that works for big business, but keeps consumers going in circles.
Chris Dunn is a San Antonio reporter and food writer, and a graduate of the San Antonio branch of the Culinary Institute of America.
The fifth annual Farm and Food Leadership Conference, at the Pearl Brewery Monday and Tuesday, was organized by Edible Austin.