I couldn't believe my ears when Iowa farmer Jerry Rosman told me what he believes genetically modified corn had done to his sow herd. In October of 2000 Rosman started feeding his 200 sows feed produced from GMO corn he had grown on his farm. Now Rosman believes the decision ended up costing him $1 million, the loss of his sow and cattle herd and eventually the entire farming operation.
Everything was going fine with Rosman's breeding program. The sows were artificially inseminated and turned out with a boar every other day to be heat checked for the full gestation period. The boars caught 5% of the sows that didn't get pregnant. The well-managed herd had ultrasounds conducted every 30 days to be sure things were going as planned.
As the sows grew larger during their pregnancies, they let milk down and were prepared for birth. Rosman moved the sows to the farrowing house. Then on the 113th day, with no aborted fetuses having ever been found in the entire facility, the sows began to gradually shrink back down to their normal, pre-pregnancy size and lost all signs of being pregnant. The sows would then cycle back into heat within 14-30 days.
Totally bewildered, and financially hurting, this trend continued on 80% of his sow herd for a two-year period. Rosman decided to butcher some sows at his local locker and conduct further tests. Autopsy results showed no signs of pregnancy but fluid was found in the uterine tract, as with all pregnant animals. The sows' bodies thought they were pregnant. Disease tests came back with negative results. Birthrates would be normal and then a group of Rosman's sows would have pseudo-pregnancies again. Then Rosman's veterinarian told him four other area farmers within 15 miles were experiencing the same problem.
Rosman suddenly realized, as he rotated the feed grinder between three bins of corn, the GMO bin was being fed as the pigless sows were being bred. Suspecting the corn, Rosman asked each affected farmer to tell him which hybrids he had raised. All the corn planted was from GMO hybrids. Rosman called the seed dealer, veterinarian, herd nutritionist and the five farmers together to talk about their problem with representatives of Garst Seed. Garst officials have said their own investigation showed nothing seemed amiss.
"We are confident that corn seed has not caused the problems he has experienced," company spokesman Jeff Lacina told the Associated Press. "The hybrids that Mr. Rosman purchased have been widely grown for several years and no one else who has grown them has reported similar experiences to us."
The pig problem was just the tip of the iceberg. Rosman's 16-year-old daughter, Alicia, has been diagnosed with Hashimotos' Thyroiditis a couple years back. Now her older sister is also having thyroid problems. What if their diet of meat coming from the hogs has anything to do with that? The question is just conjecture on a father's part. As time went on Rosman's cattle herd started exhibiting the same symptoms as the pigs.
Rosman hasn't sat still. He has contacted the EPA, the FDA and the USDA. The EPA and FDA claim Rosman's complaint doesn't fall under their jurisdiction. It does fall under the USDA's jurisdiction, however they tell Rosman to tackle it at a state level. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge hasn't given Rosman much encouragement to pursue the issue. The state veterinarian did call Rosman and stated he needed to find scientific proof that there is a problem.
Oddly enough, the Baylor College of Medicine completed a study on a rat population showing depressed fertility when housed on corncob bedding. The rats also developed breast and prostrate cancer as they ate the bedding. The corncob bedding was found to be shipped from Conrad, Ia. Baylor also found that the same compound found in the corn bedding was present in corn products taken from grocery store shelves.
As fate would have it, Jerry Rosman fell into financial problems when 80% of his sows had no piglets over a two-year period. Rosman used the GMO corn as collateral on a loan to his operation through the local Farm Service Administration office, a branch of the USDA. USDA officials in Washington, D.C., had directed that the corn not be sold as food or feed. The FSA attempted in late 2002 to sell the corn for ethanol production but it was rejected by a local processor. A byproduct of ethanol is gluten, used in animal feed and human food, raising concern that any problem with the corn might enter the food chain. The FSA has now reportedly sold part of the corn to a company that handles animal feed destined for export markets.
Rosman is trying to hang on to the rest of the corn until someone can conduct long-term research to find out exactly what is going on with genetically-modified organisms and what effect they are having on other living things. He's also searching for a 10,000-bushel bin that is sitting empty somewhere to store the remaining "contaminated" corn.
He is hoping someone will listen before Iowa undertakes committing scarce state funding to attract or enhance biotech industries. Stock of Monsanto, the world's leader in biotech seed sales, fell 43% last year. Drought-ridden, starving nations in Africa refuse American food aid for fear of biotech contamination in their country. After hearing Rosman's story who can blame them? Knowing what he knows, Rosman questions why any state would want to open up the Pandora's box that is often sold to us as "Life Sciences" in the name of economic development. "Everything that the researchers found in my hog feed was present in the corn products they tested off the grocery store shelf. We are all eating it. Everyday. It's going to mean economic disaster down the road."
For more information do a Google.com search on "Jerry Rosman." Jerry continues to search for more farmers with similar problems and more research results. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Financially, the Rosmans are barely hanging on. He tells of a farmer in Colorado who requested his money back from the corn check-off and sent the check to Rosman. Jerry insists that the money will go for corn research that will help human beings, not commodity sales.
LaVon Griffieon of Ankeny, Iowa, is a farmwife and co-founder and president of 1000 Friends of Iowa, a group that promotes responsible land use. Opinions in this column are her own.