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Vlieger: Non-GMOs is way to go

By Staff | Oct 24, 2014

HOWARD VLIEGER talks on film for a German film crew about non-GMO versus GMO grains. He said GMO seeds, which were resistant to weed killers at first, have, over the years, passed that trait onto the weeds, making what he calls “genetically modified weeds” less susceptible to herbicides.

MAURICE – Howard Vlieger’s “no GMO” farming commitment dates back to the 1990s.

He’s especially against GMO corn and soybean seed.

It’s the way he and his son manage their 500 acres at Maurice. It’s where Vlieger, 53, was born, and where his forebears farmed.

He emphasized that his is not an organic farm. He uses biologic farming practices, including chemical fertilizers and insecticides, but only sparingly.

Mostly, he relies on maintaining a good balance in his soil.

WATERHEMP IS AN invasive weed native to Iowa and has only become prevalent north of Interstate-80 in the past few years. Each plant produces thousands of seeds. It is pictured at the edge of a soybean field in Sioux County.

He said he applies the right form of calcium to strengthen plants and establish an environment where weeds don’t thrive.

His “no GMO” commitment includes his animals’ feed as well. After all, the pigs, cows, chickens and their eggs are part of his family’s food supply.

“If the chemical fails, the farm fails,” said Vlieger concerning reliance on glyphosate, the active ingredient in Round-Up and other generic products, against which weeds are becoming resistant.

Vlieger is among a number of farmers and scientists who stand by studies that show that non-GMO foods have more robust nutritional value and do not have the genetic properties that appear, according to some research, to promote conditions such as diabetes or gluten allergies in humans.

And, perhaps, birth defects in pigs, Vlieger said.

“If the chemical fails, the farm fails.” —Howard Vlieger Maurice area farmer

Vlieger said his activism and advising farmers in the U.S. South, Midwest and Canada on how to care for their crops without planting GMO seeds or using glyphosate have gotten him widespread notice.

He was invited to speak at the 2014 Food Safety and Sustainable Agriculture Forum, held in July in Beijing. His topic was farming without GMO seed or herbicides and how GMO breeders are promoting them for profit, but not sustainability.

Other participants included genetics researchers, university professors, medical doctors, veterinarians, livestock farmers, arable farmers, agricultural consultants, mothers, non-government organization leaders and social activists.

In addition to the U.S., they hailed from China, Taiwan, Russia, U.K., France, Denmark, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil and Peru.

He said China may be questioning feeding GMO grain to livestock, too.

HOWARD VLIEGER, left, and cameraman Thomas Willke, set up a shot with sound engineer Christine Trendelkamp for a documentary for DENKmal-Film, a German documentary film company. The shoot was about one mile from Vlieger’s farm at Maurice.

According to Reuters.com, China cut its own GMO seed development program by 80 percent this year with no explanation, even as it works to produce enough food for 1.4 billion people.

The report notes that Chinese consumers are suspicious of eating GMO foods. Currently, China allows only two GMO crops, one for fiber and the other for soy for animal feed.

Vlieger cites a study headed by Dr. Monika Kruger, head researcher of a study at the University of Leipzig, Germany, on the effects of GMO feed on sows and their pigs.

Kruger’s study indicates a notably higher rate of birth defects in pigs born to GMO-fed sows compared to non-GMO fed pigs, and concludes it was due to glyphosate.

The study, “Detection of glyphosate in malformed piglets,” is available at www.omicsonline.org, an open source website.

Sticking with, or reverting to non-GMO seed, Vlieger said, is still a controversial tack to take, despite the movement’s growth.

Some observers predict that U.S. farmers will flock to non-GMO seeds next spring, due to the expected rise in the price of GMO seed in the U.S.

Documenting no-GMO

The topic of non-GMO farming caught the attention of German documentary filmmaker, DENKmal-Film, this year, too. A crew from the Munich-based company first filmed in several southern U.S. states where Vlieger had advised farmers, and then headed to his Sioux County farm, shooting there and in several nearby fields.

Crew director Alyssa Koske told Vlieger about the 10-foot-tall amaranth pigweed she had tried to uproot in Alabama. Its base was too big for her to get her hands around.

“It used to be three-feet-tall and have about 100,000 seeds,” he told her of that species. “Now it can be 12-feet tall and have 300,000 to 400,000 seeds.”

A stop to film a neighbor’s weedy field revealed a heavy invasion of water hemp, each also heavy with seeds.

Vlieger explained to the camera what had happened in that field and what practices could have prevented it.

Planting non-GMO in 2015?

Sticking with or reverting to non-GMO seed is still a controversial tack to take, despite the movement’s growth, Vlieger said.

But some knowledgeable observers, including Joel DeJong, an Iowa State University Extension field agronomist, are predicting that the expected rise in the price of GMO seed next spring will drive more U.S. farmers to plant non-GMO seed in 2015.

Perhaps that will allow an unanticipated scientific comparison of GMO versus non-GMO grain on a more meaningful scale, using the same local weather conditions.

It’s something non-GMO proponents like Vlieger would like to see.

Vlieger said livestock producers may want to see what differences may occur if they feed non-GMO grain to their hogs, cattle and dairy cows.

Vlieger has participated in some of the research on that topic as well.

Vlieger’s point of view is not shared by DuPont Pioneer spokeswoman Susan Slusark, who said her company produces a wide variety of seed, not just GMOs.

“Weeds and insects are biological things that evolve and adapt over time,” Slusark said.

She said that DuPont Pioneer offers growers “the most comprehensive chemistry and seed options to best address local resistance challenges” based on its knowledge of local growing conditions and practices.

Pioneer established a “local breeding presence” in China in 1998 and works with local governments and industry partners to improve the productivity of Chinese farmers through the use of high-quality hybrid seed, increased mechanization and improved farming practices.

The company also develops new products for Chinese farmers, she said, making sure they adhere to government regulations.

And, she said, her company exports grain to China for cultivation trials, along with grain oil and other products for the manufacturing of biotech products.

Slusark said that since weed management has become so complex, her company works with producers so technologies are used correctly and can continue to be effective.

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