Oregon teacher: Anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva talk slippery on facts

[Editor's note: On November 21, 2016, prominent GMO critic Vandana Shiva gave a presentation titled Soil not Oil at the Peace Center at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon. You can read the GLP profile on Shiva here.]

The promise of our Brave New “Information Age” is being seriously compromised. As sensational, profitable clickbait spreads like online wildfire, a new skill set is emerging needed to separate fact from fiction. In this effort, I rely on our educational institutions to help me understand the problems we face today with solid evidence and sound reasoning.

As a teacher and an activist, I am troubled that Vandana Shiva was promoted this week at our local community college by a campus “Peace Center.” My own university training is in music and political science, not biology and chemistry. So when I first heard Shiva’s claims some years ago, I was compelled to fact-check her questionable statements with those who are far more expertly trained in the matter at hand.

My initial misgivings have been increasingly validated.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-3-24-28-pmShiva advertises herself as a scientist, but this is not the case. Her degree is in philosophy, which even then might lead one to believe that her positions would be founded on the highest caliber of critical thinking, but that is not what I have observed. To the contrary, Shiva consistently makes assertions that fail even the most superficial tests of intellectual and ethical rigor.

For instance, Shiva has proclaimed that “fertilizer should never have been allowed in agriculture… it’s a weapon of mass destruction.” Such an outrageous blanket statement would fly in the face of the daily experience of practically every farmer from the Fertile Crescent onward. The more scientific application of fertilizer was one of the inputs that allowed the “Green Revolution” to provide greater food security for more than a billion people.

Even less tenable is her view of the introduction of “terminator technology” into seeds, devised in the 1990s (but never developed or released) as a kind of fail-safe to prevent horizontal gene transfer into open-pollinated crops. Ironically, this trait—which was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture—would have addressed one of the primary (hypothetical) concerns of the anti-biotechnology activists. Yet Dr. Shiva protested it, writing “the possibility that the Terminator may spread to surrounding food crops or to the natural environment MUST be taken seriously.” The notion that sterile seeds would run the risk of spreading their sterility is, quite frankly, preposterous to any attentive student of the most basic biology course.

market-bangladesh-with-brinjal-eggplantAlso troubling to me, as an advocate of environmental and social justice, are the many ways in which Dr. Shiva’s unscientific platform actually runs counter to her own exhortation for better lives, better soil, less oil, and fewer pesticides:

  • Shiva would end use of a genetically engineered eggplant (which contains a gene(s) from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis that produces a protein toxic to certain agricultural insect pests) that is helping farmers in Bangladesh rise from poverty. It saves them money because they no longer need 80 sprays per season of dangerous insecticides that are common in the developing world.
  • Shiva would deny African farmers the drought-resistant strains of maize and other crops that will be necessary for their prosperity and survival as global warming continues.

I would hope this to be enough to give activist organizations pause. Yet, consider some other implications of Shiva’s positions:

  • Shiva promoted the “Monsanto Collaborators” website, featured by Mike “The Health Ranger” Adams for his detestable “Natural News” website. It compared modern agriculture to the genocide against Jews and was replete with Nazi and Holocaust imagery throughout. It was accompanied by an actual hit list of those he considered to meet the criteria deeming them as worthy of assassination, including public scientists and neutral journalists. The site was posted on Shiva’s “Seed Freedom” page on July 25th, 2014. In response to an immediate and unequivocal backlash, it was removed four days later.

The organization which hosted Shiva’s visit to my community describes its mission as...founded on the understanding that peace is rooted in social, economic, political, racial and environmental justice.I hope they will carefully consider whether or not Vandana Shiva’s own statements, positions and approaches to her activism live up to such honorable and particularly timely aspirations.

Scotty Perey is a music teacher, theater coach, and social activist living in Eugene Oregon, and tends to respect microbiologists' views on microbiology and farmers’ views on farming as much as he would hope they would respect his views on piano and guitar theory.  Follow him on twitter @scotty_p_music

  • Shameful. Instead of 800 million starving today, she prefers 2.1 billion starving … THAT is what would have happened if the Green Revolution did not take place. She should be ashamed of herself for misleading the public!

    • R Craven

      Well said.

    • Wackes Seppi

      No Sir !

      The starving would have mobbed and attacked the affluent. By way of diversion and dire need to find food, Governments would have staged wars against their neighbors, triggering alliances extending the local wars into World War III. May be some crazy ruler, general or sargent would have pressed the red button, initiating some cordial A and H bomb exchanges, leading to a century-long nuclear winter…

  • R Craven

    As a holder of the same qualification as Vandana Shiva – PhD Philosophy – I would like to take this opportunity to say that she is an embarrassment to our discipline. I am depressed by her. She disgusts me.

  • Carolyn Parsons

    Thanks for an excellent rebuttal to Shiva’s lecture in Eugene and her activism in general. When asked about an issue directly related to soil, in her “Soil not Oil” lecture, she stated that the use of glyphosate in soil and greenhouse gas conserving no-till agriculture is worse than tillage because it uses an application of the herbicide. This is the kind of thinking that would keep millions in poverty and food insecurity while the lands that could feed them and provide them financial stability is eroded away and another stand of forest is cleared to seek out new agricultural land.

  • agscienceliterate

    Shiva is one of the most disingenuous, selfish, and destructive people on the planet.

    • hyperzombie

      but she does rock that giant bindi on her head..

      Do you think she uses a giant bindi to make herself look skinnier, Hmmm.

      • agscienceliterate

        Maybe she thinks “If they can see this GIANT BINDI from way across the cotton field, it’ll give me more cred.” Bigly. YUUUUUUUGEly. The best bindi. Everyone says so. People tell me that. I hear that. A fantastic bindi. The best.

      • Every person has value

        Are you kidding me with this comment? So being scientist’s gives you the right to rudely diss anyone you want.
        Talking about her binding and her weight is extremely immature, embarrassing and insulting.

        • hyperzombie

          I am not a scientist and never claimed to be one.

          Well it may have been a bit immature, but not embarrassing or insulting to me at all. And if she is embarrassed or insulted, tell her to take the giant stick out of her butt because it is making a giant red dot appear on her forehead.
          She is a grown Women and should be able to take a bit of mild mockery, if not she should stay out of the public sphere.

    • Every person has value

      Says you. I find this conversation disrespectful at best. Go ahead attack me as that is apparently the scientist’s way.

      • agscienceliterate

        My comment is not about you. My comment is about Vandana Shiva. Read my comment. And it sounds like you have a problem with scientists attacking pseudoscience and activist garbage. I have no problem with scientists doing that. That is exactly what they should do. If you have anything to say in Shiva’s defense, that is credibly science-based, go ahead and say it! This is the place to do it.

      • Guest

        Is it ok with you that Vandana Shiva compared people who grow GE crops to rapists?

  • Robert Howd

    Thanks for the report, Scotty! Was there no question and answer period at this talk? Sometimes those have been “instructive” to attendees at Shiva’s misinformation lectures.

    • scotty perey

      There was a Q & A, but it was a overflow house packed with an overwhelmingly fawning crowd of devotees. The one farmer who asked the question about no-till was kinda marginalized instantaneously, by both the shepherd and her flock. One of our well-known local wingnut types took to Facebook the next day to express her indignation that someone would have the sheer audacity to ask such an “insulting” question. And this question stood in stark contrast to the entirety of all the other “questions” which exhibited a character that might be generously summed up as, um, a bit hard to track… I think “choose your battles” was the order of the day here…

      And much to that effect, outside I joined with March Against Myths to stand in solidarity with the some of the Land Community College science faculty who were equally dismayed at the Peace Center’s choice to promote Dr. Shiva. We had a table with some great information and there were a lot of good conversations with folks who seemed to be honestly open to hearing what we had to share.

      Here is the open letter to the Peace Center that a good number of the science department had published in the school newspaper: http://www.lcctorch.com/2016/11/open-letter-to-the-peace-center/

      • Robert Howd

        Good letter!

  • Vandana

    You don’t know what you’re talking about, Sorry Scotty P.

    • RobertWager

      And yet he supplies all those links to back up his statements. Hmmm

      • Robert Howd

        And the unknown person who posted as Vandana provides nothing whatsoever to support “her” arguments – which sure look like BS to me. The worst of them is that we can feed the world by abandoning modern agricultural technology. Maybe this is really saying, let Malthus rule. Limit the world’s population by starvation.

  • scotty perey

    Hi everyone, I know this thread is slowing down now… for one thing, I think our attention is deservedly turned toward the impending debacle unfolding in Boulder County in Colorado, and I look forward to continue tracking developments on that front…

    But I did want to make an addendum to one of the responses I made below, where I replied to Robert Howd’s question about whether there was a Q & A period at the talk. I mentioned how one woman who was a farmer did stand up to confront Shiva about the inconsistency of her advocacy for “soil” and her relentless stance against the most advanced no-till farming methods. I described the reaction to her question as being dismissed disdainfully by both Shiva and her congregation in attendance. And I also added something about how it was a “chose your battles” sort of situation and went on to describe our tabling and conversations with the curious outside the event.

    But reflecting on that comment in the day or two since, I feel that I was pretty remiss in not making a point to give a super *big* shout-out to that woman who not only took the time to come into town for the event but who had the courage to stand up there amidst a room full of folks who were rather hostile to her perspective, to make a valiant attempt to register at least some sort of “reality check” to those hearing her.

    It was a very brave thing to do, and my hat’s off to her!

  • H. Miller

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