On September 23, 2014, Takeaway Host John Hockenberry sat down to interview anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva. A transcript of their conversation appears below.
John Hockenberry [JH]: Vandana Shiva is an author, environmental activist and the charismatic founder of Navdanya, a movement of 500,000 seed keepers and organic farmers in India. She gives rousing speeches about corporate agribusiness destroying traditional farms, but she often makes additional frightening claims that GMOs cause farmer suicides, malnutrition, and toxic contamination. Monsanto and its scientists have made billions, she says, while millions of people have suffered.
Vandana Shiva [VS]: Forty percent of greenhouse gases are coming from an industrialized agriculture and globalized agriculture. One-hundred percent of the emissions could be absorbed into the soil by doing ecological agriculture which is the future, not just because it rejuvenates the soil. It’s a climate solution, and good soils with ecological systems, robust with the billions of microorganisms working with us, can produce two times more food, especially if we intensify biodiversity. That’s my work in India through Navdana.
We are doubling food production per acre we are doubling nutrition production which is the most significant issue so it’s a solution to hunger and poverty and malnutrition, but more important when farmers have seed sovereignty, when farmers do organic farming and are not blowing up money on patented seed royalties, expenditure on pesticides and fertilizers, they actually can increase income tenfold. Our members, who are small farmers, have done that.
JH: Monsanto says that it is in fact working on the front lines of increasing food security in the world by doubling food production using its technological techniques. What do you say to that?
VS: Well sadly, [that idea] does very well in advertisements, but not on the ground. The technology of genetic engineering, which made Monsanto a seed giant before it was just a chemical giant, that had brought us dioxins and that had brought us the toxins, that genetic technology is not a breeding technology. It takes existing plants that have been bred by farmers through selection or cross breeding or hybrids, and then it introduces it, through shooting with a gene gun, a gene that doesn’t belong to that plant.
And so far the majority of that application have been two traits. One is called BT toxin where BT is Bacillus thuringiensis, pulling a gene out of a soil organism to now produce a pesticide inside a plant. The approval for BT crops in the United States is for a pesticide, it’s not for food crops. The second family is herbicide tolerant crops where Roundup can be sprayed on plants and the plants survive, but everything else dies. Now not only have these not increased yields, they are actually leading to a decline in yields where superpests and superweeds are now overtaking agriculture.