Bengaluru: Scientists and biotechnology experts from around the world have written two open letters to the Stanford University and the University of California-Santa Cruz (UC-SC) protesting invitations extended to Indian anti-biotechnology activist Vandana Shiva to speak on “equitable and sustainable” farming methods.
The letters raise concern about Shiva’s “constant use of anti-scientific rhetoric to support unethical positions”. They also lay out some of her earlier positions on farming and comments which the experts believe are factually incorrect.
Shiva is a prominent proponent of land redistribution and farmers’ rights, besides Ayurveda and organic foods. She has been accused of being funded by organic food companies to speak out against conventional agriculture practices.
Known as one of the staunchest critics of genetically modified organisms (GMO), she claims them to be “toxic” for human consumption — a stance that has attracted strong criticism from the scientific community.
Shiva has also been profiled by The New Yorker in an article titled ‘Seeds of Doubt‘ by Michael Specter. The piece is an attempt too debunk her claims.
ThePrint tried to get in touch with Shiva and both the universities via emails. This report will be updated if and when replies are received.
‘Shiva’s unscientific, anti-social ideas’
Calling Shiva’s philosophy “unscientific and anti-social”, the letter addressed to Stanford cites some “ironies” associated with Shiva being invited by the institution.
“The first concerns Shiva’s invitation having come from Students for a Sustainable Stanford, because her views are demonstrably, unequivocally anti-sustainable. Her ideas on farming would relegate it to a primitive, low-yielding, wasteful activity.”
It goes on to read: “Second, the co-discoverer in 1973 of recombinant DNA technology, the prototypic, iconic molecular technique for genetic engineering, was Stanford biochemist Dr. Stanley N. Cohen, who is still a professor of genetics and medicine at the university. Shiva’s appearance at Stanford is an affront to Professor Cohen and all of the university’s other scientists.”
The letter also accuses Shiva of taking “large honoraria for dispensing her mendacious and antisocial opinion”.
‘Shiva’s stunning ignorance’
The one addressed to UC-SC similarly expresses surprise that a “science-based and ethically inspired institution” has extended an invitation to her.
Read the full text of the letter to UC-SC below:
“Dear Organizers and Professors,
We are scholars of life sciences and social sciences who have published many scholarly papers and articles about agriculture, food and related biotechnologies.
Perhaps you are unaware of Dr. Vandana Shiva’s constant use of anti-scientific rhetoric to support unethical positions. We are very surprised that any science-based and ethically inspired institution would invite her to speak.
Here are some (only some) examples of her prejudicial, anti-science, anti-social stances:
Her astonishing tendency to nonsense. See the absurd statement regarding the supposed functioning of the Genetic Use Restriction technology (GURT), from her book Stolen Harvest (p. 82-83):
“Molecular biologists are examining the risk of the Terminator function escaping the genome of the crops into which it has been intentionally incorporated, and moving into surrounding open-pollinated crops or wild, related plants in fields nearby. Given Nature’s incredible adaptability and the fact that the technology has never been tested on a large scale, the possibility that the Terminator may spread to surrounding food crops or to the natural environment MUST be taken seriously. The gradual spread of sterility in seeding plants would result in a global catastrophe that could eventually wipe out higher life forms, including humans, from the planet.”
One may need to read these statements twice, because they are too bewildering to be understood at first sight. In fact, she claims that sterile seeds – which of course cannot germinate – can spread sterility. A middle school student expressing such views would fail the biology exam.
Her stunning ignorance: “Most #GMOs are #Bt toxin or #HT herbicide tolerant crops. Toxins are poisons. GMOs=Poison Producing Plants. Poisons have no place in food.”
— Dr. Vandana Shiva (@drvandanashiva) March 3, 2014
Somebody should explain to her that Bt proteins are toxic to some clearly identified classes of insects (plant pests), but not to fish, birds, mammals. See also the scientific papers quoted in response to her delusional post, in particular, a “classic” study which clarifies that plants naturally produce substances to defend themselves from pests and 99.99% of pesticidal substances in food are natural – and harmless to humans.
Her proclivity to offend: “Saying farmers should be free to grow GMOs which can contaminate organic farms is like saying rapists should have freedom to rape”. She is comparing farmers, who grow crops which are scientifically and legally recognized as safe, to rapists! It’s a grotesque insult to millions of honest workers who use modern technologies to farm sustainably and efficiently. Understandably, her outrageous abuse raised many angry reactions (see the replies to the same post).
— Dr. Vandana Shiva (@drvandanashiva) January 5, 2013
Her rejection of technologies which help farmers (mostly women and children) to alleviate the painful, back-breaking labor of hand-weeding: “Indian women selectively do weeding by hand, hereby preserving our biodiversity” (Photo and caption at p. 21.) This is a preposterous statement; any act of weeding is exactly aimed at eliminating detrimental plant “biodiversity” which, in a field, stifles crops.
As a final treat, a ridiculous statement: “Fertilizer should never have been allowed in agriculture,” she said in a 2011 speech. “I think it’s time to ban it. It’s a weapon of mass destruction. Its use is like war, because it came from war.” Let us ask her if she is going to ban metallurgy, since it has been used to forge cannons.
We are confident that our reasoned remarks will be seen by the addressees of this letter, by their colleagues and by students at UCSC as constructive criticism. We are afraid that none of us will be able to attend the event to challenge Dr. Shiva in person. We would appreciate if you can make our letter available to the participants.”