Vandana Shiva
File photo of Vandana Shiva | Wikimedia Commons
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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.

While there are 45 signatories in the letter sent to Stanford, the one sent to UC-SC has 39.

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.

GMOs are widely considered safe and endorsed by most scientific and medical bodies across the world.

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.

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She has also spoken out against the company Monsanto, which has been accused of engaging in predatory practices while funding genetic and cancer research as well as protecting its seed patents.

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.


Also read: A ‘post-chemical world’ is building as agribusinesses go green


‘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.”

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).

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.”


Also read: What’s the fuss over the new variety of GM cotton that farmers are batting for


 

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19 Comments Share Your Views

19 COMMENTS

  1. She is not “unscientific” — she just fights off the corporate quest to “own” natural resources. By calling her unscientific, you’re just enabling a make-believe witch-hunt. The modus operandi of the companies she fights against is easy to understand: Seeds, if patented, which GMO companies do, come within the ambit of IP laws and extend the ownership to the patent owner. Therefore, these companies can lay claim to the produce/harvest of all hapless farmers who use their seeds. It has more to do with unfair trade practices, less to do with science.

    • Wrong, patents expire. Hybrid seeds are not saved anyways. Farmers will still be free to quit buying the GE seeds any time they want. Your comment is not valid.

  2. I don’t know enough about the views of Vandana Shiva, but anyone who questions GMO products can expect serious attacks from GMO supporters. And those pesticides and fertilizers are not an unmixed blessings. We hear about “cancer colonies” caused by their use.

    • You hear wrong. There are no cancer colonies. NonGMO farmers also use the same fertilizers. GE crops require less pesticide use.

      • You must really be unaware of the cancer train that runs from Punjab to Rajasthan in India. I quite agree with Gurnam here.

  3. In this debate, it is very important to separate the science and the business, which unfortunately is impossible today thanks to the aggressive business practices of the GM-seed companies. As long as Monsanto (now Bayer) is secretive and underhand, people like Vandana Shiva are necessary even if some of their arguments are somewhat exaggerated or extrapolated. In an ideal world, there could be very well controlled and transparent research on the impact of GMO in human food on human health, and then we could have an entirely science based argument about it.
    In our world, the questions of food safely becomes entangled with questions of profit and trade-secrets. I would rather not eat OGM and stay safe than eat it without having first looked at clear and impartial data. Europeans can because they are fighting to keep it that way. India should too.

  4. Vandana Shiva and her anti scientific views conspire to kileep Indian farmers in poverty and are a menace to the planet. If she ever got her way billions would starve and the attendant expansion of agriculture necessary would destroy what is left of the natural world. Fortunately this kind stupidity is self limiting.

    • “Modern” “Scientific“ agriculture was started to ensure that the junk food industry in the US has an ample supply of cheap junk raw material to sell their junk wares to the American masses and later to the world. Apart from poisoning the environment this industry is responsible for an obesity epidemic in the US and the rest of the world. My God, I haven’t seen so many fat ( and thick) in a one country. Also all kinds of new diseases now emerge from the US. How a society, a country lives and acts is a direct reflection of the food they eat. And the fact that the US has so much of cancer and other exotic diseases, despite being an advance country, is because of the junk and other pesticide infested foods which they eat.

      Don’t try to impose that model on the rest of the world

  5. Yeah, right. The entirety of the GMO community is against her. Included on the list is the disgraced plagiarist Henry I. Miller – who had writings removed from publication as they were just re-hashed plagiaristic re-writes of Monsanto writings he was paid to publish. The list of “scientists” is merely the whos-who of Pro-Pesticide/Pro-GMO agribusiness. Most paid for their positions in one way or another.

  6. This is very clearly a very biased article! The author fails to mention that GMO foods are banned in Germany and most of Europe despite massive pressure from the American govt and companies. The organic movement is getting stronger and proof of this the huge availability of organic wares in most Western European grocery stores. More and more people are demanding organic simply because the trust in modern agriculture with its heavy use of pesticides, artificial fertilizers is not only poisoning the food but also the environment.

    The author failed to mention that many diseases, Especially in the US are not attributed to GMO crops and also heavy use of fertilizer and pesticides. Infact Monsanto is now facing multiple multi million law suits for its alleged cancer causing pesticides.

    Vandana Siva has done wonders by not only educating and influencing this debate with correct facts. Why is the scientific community afraid of her? Perhaps they that she is right and will expose them

  7. True Shiva is not very scietific – she is not a scientist and therefore it is not her job to explain the science. Yet scientists must hear voices like her. She knows about environmental destruction and to pretend that she is no valid point is not ok. the letter is condecending and offensive and reeks of being sponsored by biotech companies.

    • No, scientists have no more reason to listen to her than a math teacher needs to listen to a kid who just got a zero on a math test. She knows squat about the environment and your comment reeks of the ignorance of a guy who relies on the shill gambit.

      • In view of her long running feud with Monsanto, and past tactics from this company, my comment is not a shill gambit – it is entirely plausible given that Bt is mentioned explicitly in the letter. Your example is self defeating – a good teacher certainly should listen to a kid who failed an exam, in order to figure out what went wrong.

        • Reeks of being sponsored is a shill gambit. It is a dishonest attempt to spread your bias. Ine that has no factual basis.

      • now take your screen shot and re-post in GMOLOL, mmmkay, Eric? Perhaps the disgraced Kevin Folta will give your screenshot a like. hahahah pathetic GMOLOL’rs.

      • The natural instinct of scientists is to first listen to those who have different views. Rejecting views by calling them unscientific is a tendency of leftists and lobbyists pretending to be scientists even though they may have PhDs and serving vested interests.

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