By: Ken Roseboro, 2014

A growing number of farmers are reporting health problems with farm animals fed genetically modified feed and saying that animal health improves when feed is switched to non-GMO

When Troy Knoblock, a farmer who operates a hog nursery in Rock Rapids, Iowa, switched from feeding his animals GM feed to non-GMO feed several years ago he didn’t think there would be a difference. In fact, he says: “We laughed about it.”

But he did see differences in the health of his sows and young hogs. Knoblock, who keeps extensive records of his operation, found that drug treatments for sicknesses were cut in half. Sow conception rates increased from percentages in the 80s to 90s, and the size of hog litters increased.

The switch to non-GMO feed “has made my operation a lot more enjoyable,” Knoblock says.

Over the past few years, Knoblock has also gradually increased plantings of non-GMO crops; this year all his corn and 75% of his soybeans will be non-GMO.

“We have been very happy with yields of everything,” he says.

Jon Blomgren, who works with Knoblock, agrees. “Switching to non-GMO lowered our input costs. The seed is much cheaper, about $150-$160 per bag, while GM seed can cost $300 per bag.”

Knoblock thinks more farmers will switch to non-GMO production. “There is interest out there, and it’s catching on a lot,” he says.

Knoblock is one of an increasing number of farmers reporting better animal health with non-GMO feed. Steve Tusa, who raises beef cattle in Alpha, Minnesota, has seen improvements in his herd with the use of non-GMO feed. Cattle deaths due to digestive problems or pneumonia have been cut in half from 1.2% of his herd to 0.6%.

Tusa grows 1400 acres of non-GMO corn, most of which he uses for feed.

“The yields are good as or better than my neighbor’s traited (GM) corn,” Tusa says.

Farmers afraid to speak about non-GMO
Tusa say that many farmers are afraid to talk about their non-GMO production. “There are more people out here doing it, but no one wants to talk about it,” he says.

Knoblock says that an atmosphere of fear has been created that discourages farmers from growing non-GMO. “It’s such a scare tactic,” he says. “Many farmers are afraid to try it.”

In fact, two farmers described improvements in livestock health with non-GMO feed but did not want their names revealed. A Wisconsin farmer who raises young cows for dairy operations has seen overall better health and weight gain in his herd from non-GMO feed. “We haven’t done a scientific study; it’s just something we’ve seen with our own eyes,” the farmer says.

Similar to Knoblock and Tusa, the Wisconsin farmer has gotten good yields from non-GMO corn. “We haven’t lost yield; in fact yields have increased,” the farmer says.

A farmer based in South Dakota, who also asked to remain anonymous, reports greater efficiency with non-GMO feed; his livestock don’t have to eat as much. “When we switched to non-GMO, we saw a 5% reduction in feed use. Animals only eat as much as they need,” the farmer says. He also says his livestock seem more content.

The farmer had previously grown Roundup Ready crops. “We thought Roundup Ready was the saving grace but now it isn’t working; weeds are resistant and it ties up nutrients in the soil,” the farmer says.

Switching to organic feed could produce even better results, says Jordan Simone Tate, CEO and founder of Nature’s Way Feed, Inc. “I’ve noticed a decline in mastitis issues from some of my clients’ cattle and goat herds, an increase in milk production as well as quality of milk. There is also better quality of eggs and poultry meat,” he says.

Improvement in herd health and performance
Agriculture advisors have also seen better results with non-GMO feed. “If you want healthy animals, put them on a non-GMO diet. They will gain weight faster, their health and reproduction will be better overall,” says David W. Nelson, president of Minnesota-based Pedogenesis, Inc.

Iowa-based crop advisor Howard Vlieger has seen fewer health issues and reduced expense and need for antibiotics. “There will be an improvement in overall herd health and performance,” he says.

Vlieger was co-author with Australian scientist Dr. Judy Carman of a study published last year in Journal of Organic Systems that found that pigs were harmed by the consumption of feed containing GM corn and soy. GMO-fed pigs suffered severe stomach inflammation that was markedly higher than in pigs fed non-GMO feed. The study’s findings were significant because they were found in actual farm conditions and not in a laboratory.

Iowa veterinarian Art Dunham, who works with dairy and beef cows and hogs, says he has seen many animal health problems resulting from GM feed and particularly glyphosate herbicide, which is used extensively with Roundup Ready GM corn and soy. These include reproductive problems in hogs and beef cows, botulism in dairy cows, and bloody bowels, rickets, and viral diseases in hogs. “Glyphosate definitely increases many risks and makes it harder to have healthy animals,” he says.

Animals avoid GMOs
Some farmers say animals instinctively avoid eating GMOs. In a survey conducted by Practical Farmers of Iowa, one farmer reported: “I haven’t seen it directly in our family cattle, but other family members have seen cattle not grazing on corn stubble very well on GMO they’re just not eating it.”

There have been many anecdotal reports of animals that, if given the choice, will eat non-GMO or organic corn and leave the GM corn untouched. The South Dakota farmer mentioned earlier tested this theory by putting non-GMO corn and GM corn into #10 envelopes and placing three sets of envelopes in his shop, garage, and an electrical utility shed for mice to eat. The mice ate through the non-GMO corn envelopes and left the GM corn envelopes untouched, leaving the farmer to wonder: “Why do the mice go to the non-GMO corn? Animals aren’t dumb. Something’s going on.”

© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report, May 2014