Howard Vlieger in an alfalfa field

Non-GMO-fed birds stayed healthy in the avian flu epidemic – but will be culled anyway, according to livestock nutrition advisor Howard Vlieger

Last year the Organic & Non-GMO Report carried an article which documented the growing number of farmers in the US reporting health problems with farm animals fed GM feed and saying that animal health improves when feed is switched to non-GMO.

Non-GMO feed supplier and crop and livestock nutrition advisor Howard Vlieger (pictured above) says he sees fewer health issues in non-GMO-fed animals. Nonetheless, an unfortunate fact of our age is that livestock that stay healthy in an epidemic are euthanized along with those that fall sick.

In the UK, thousands of healthy animals have been killed in the midst of epidemics of foot and mouth and bovine TB in the name of eradicating these diseases.

By killing animals that remain healthy or relatively so in epidemics, we are killing the animals that have inherent or acquired immunity and eliminating them from the gene pool. This leads to progressively more sickly livestock flocks and herds as the animals used for breeding are likely those that have never encountered the disease in question and have not had a chance to build immunity. It is, to paraphrase Darwin, “survival of the unfittest”.

Several farmers have told us that they are conscious that “We are killing the wrong animals.” These are the ones that have not fallen sick with the disease and/or have produced antibodies, but are unfortunate enough to live in an area near to ag facilities where the disease is present and animals are dying.

Those ag facilities often engage in filthy practices such as that described below, in which birds that had died of flu were placed in a poorly designed compost pile attracting countless flies that subsequently travelled to neighboring farms, carrying the infection with them.

Below is Vlieger’s sad account of how non-GMO-fed animals in his region stayed healthy during an epidemic of avian flu that decimated the big ag facility where the disease apparently originated – but were euthanized anyway.

Howard Vlieger’s account

“We make Non-GMO feed from the nutrient-dense crops we raise biologically on our family farm. Many of our feed customers are smaller family farmers who raise animals for the meat for their family, neighbors, friends and customers.

“One of our broiler feed customers raises broilers (650 birds per batch) to feed their family and to sell to the customer base that have established over a number of years. They unfortunately live 3/4 of a mile from a 5.3 million-bird Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) for laying hens. This CAFO operation was one of the first laying houses in the region to test positive for the avian flu virus.

“When the outbreak was reported, state and USDA officials in white coats and hats began going door-to-door in a specific radius of the infected CAFO facility. Of course they came to our customer 3/4 mile down the road. The only birds they tested on the first visit were their laying hens which were running around outside on their farm. The outside hens were not eating Non-GMO feed but rather corn screenings* from a neighboring farm which cultivated GMOs. The 650 broiler chicks as well as 25 pullet chicks were all inside because of their age. They were on a Non-GMO diet, which was properly formulated and well balanced with nutrient-dense ingredients. The white coats tested some of the hens and reported back that the hens tested negative.

“After the CAFO facility began euthanizing their 5.3 million birds and putting them in a so-called compost piles (I say so-called because they were not properly designed compost piles), then came a massive amount of flies. The flies were so thick at our customer’s farm that they could not walk around outside with their mouths open. A couple days after the flies showed up, their outside hens began to show sign of being lethargic and then within a couple days began to die. The outside hens were not eating our Non-GMO feed as the man of the farm decided to save some money on feed and purchased some cracked corn and screenings from their neighbor last fall and – you guessed it – this was GMO corn.

“After a number of the hens died the farm owners had to notify the white coats and they came back and tested the broilers. This test of the broilers showed a “probable positive” and they were told that they would have to euthanize the broilers and all species of fowl on the farm.

“Here is where it becomes curious. The broilers were not getting sick and dying like the chickens at the CAFO facility. The lady of the farm called and told me this and of course we discussed the fact that their broiler chicks were being given a healthy wholesome diet and their immune systems were strong. They were able to avoid becoming ill even though they tested positive for the flu.

“They tried to convey this message to the white coats but in vain. The end result is that they are going to have to euthanize birds that refuse to get sick and die.

“It seems that common sense is not allowed in the regulatory system in our country.”

* Corn screenings are the stuff that’s taken out of corn to improve it for sale. They include broken grain, grain dust, chaff, and weed seeds.

Report and interview by Claire Robinson