I have called Vandana Shiva One of the Worst People in the World, so I was thoroughly delighted to read Michael Specter's new article in The New Yorker, in which he reveals the anti-biotech campaigner as the evil fraud that she is. She compares biotech crops to rape and claims that they cause autism. Naturally, progressive TV pundit Bill Moyers has called Shiva a "rock star in the worldwide battle against genetically modified seeds." Sadly, yes.
Here are a few excerpts:
"There are two trends," she told the crowd that had gathered in Piazza Santissima Annunziata, in Florence, for the seed fair. "One: a trend of diversity, democracy, freedom, joy, culture—people celebrating their lives." She paused to let silence fill the square. "And the other: monocultures, deadness. Everyone depressed. Everyone on Prozac. More and more young people unemployed. We don't want that world of death."
Shiva insists that the only acceptable path is to return to the principles and practices of an earlier era. "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."
Lie. The Haber-Bosch technique was devised to produce nitrogen fertilizer and was later diverted during World War I into munitions manufacture. The New Yorker article correctly counters:
"Without the nitrogen fertilizer to grow crops used to feed our recent ancestors so they could reproduce, many of us probably wouldn't be here today," Raoul Adamchack told me. "It would have been a different planet, smaller, poorer, and far more agrarian." Adamchack runs an organic farm in Northern California, and has served as the president of California Certified Organic Farmers.
In fact, about half of the nitrogen molecules found in the tissues of people today were derived from industrially produced fertilizers.
Next Shiva asserts that biotech crops are somehow responsible for the rise in autism:
On March 29th, in Winnipeg, Shiva began a speech to a local food-rights group by revealing alarming new information about the impact of agricultural biotechnology on human health. "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that in two years the figure of autism has jumped from one in eighty-eight to one in sixty-eight," she said, referring to an article in USA Today. "Then they go on to say obviously this is a trend showing that something's wrong, and that whether something in the environment could be causing the uptick remains the million-dollar question.
"That question's been answered," Shiva continued. She mentioned glyphosate, the Monsanto herbicide that is commonly used with modified crops. "If you look at the graph of the growth of G.M.O.s, the growth of application of glyphosate and autism, it's literally a one-to-one correspondence. And you could make that graph for kidney failure, you could make that graph for diabetes, you could make that graph even for Alzheimer's."
Specter correctly notes:
Hundreds of millions of people, in twenty-eight countries, eat transgenic products every day, and if any of Shiva's assertions were true the implications would be catastrophic. But no relationship between glyphosate and the diseases that Shiva mentioned has been discovered. Her claims were based on a single research paper, released last year, in a journal called Entropy, which charges scientists to publish their findings. The paper contains no new research. Shiva had committed a common, but dangerous, fallacy: confusing a correlation with causation. (It turns out, for example, that the growth in sales of organic produce in the past decade matches the rise of autism, almost exactly. For that matter, so does the rise in sales of high-definition televisions, as well as the number of Americans who commute to work every day by bicycle.)
When environmentalist Mark Lynas came to his senses and apologized for his unscientific opposition to biotech crops, Shiva vengefully tweeted:
"#MarkLynas saying farmers shd be free to grow #GMOs which can contaminate #organic farms is like saying #rapists shd have freedom to rape."
In The New Yorker article Lynas observes:
"When you call somebody a fraud, that suggests the person knows she is lying. I don't think Vandana Shiva necessarily knows that. But she is blinded by her ideology and her political beliefs. That is why she is so effective and so dangerous… on a fundamental level she is a demagogue who opposes the universal values of the Enlightenment."
I think that Lynas is being far too gentle. And Shiva's opposition to Golden Rice, enhanced by biotech to alleviate tens of millions of cases on vitamin A deficiency is actually helping to kill people:
Two economists, one from Berkeley and the other from Munich, recently examined the impact of that ban. In their study "The Economic Power of the Golden Rice Opposition," they calculated that the absence of Golden Rice in the past decade has caused the loss of at least 1,424,680 life years in India alone.
As I reported earlier (see beginning link), Shiva is the chief proponent of the lie that biotech cotton has somehow induced more than a quarter of million Indian farmers to commit suicide. Spector thoroughly debunks that claim. (For another excellent refutation of this claim, see Keith Kloor's, "The GMO-Suicide Myth" in the February, 2014 Issues in Science and Technology.)
Rich westerners apparently love being duped by Shiva. For example, Spector reports this disheartening reaction of a young Italian anti-GMO activist:
I asked a twenty-year-old student named Victoria if she had been aware of Shiva's work. "For years," she said. Then, acknowledging Shiva's undeniable charisma, she added, "I was just in a room with her. I have followed her all my life, but you can't be prepared for her physical presence." She hesitated and glanced at the platform where Shiva was speaking. "Isn't she just magic?"
For my part, I have been in many rooms with Shiva where I have seen deluded throngs fawn on her every deceitful word. My reaction: Revulsion.
The Specter article is really well worth your time.