ST. PETERSBURG — Physicist, environmentalist and author Vandana Shiva will deliver a lecture titled "Making Peace with the Earth" Monday evening at Eckerd's Fox Hall. One of the world's leading anti-GMO activists and a major critic of modern agriculture, she is controversial, the subject of an excoriating Forbes piece who has also been called "the Gandhi of grain" by her admirers. She tirelessly crisscrosses the globe preaching, in large part, against globalization. We caught up with her by phone in India in advance of her U.S. visit. She says her talk "will be about the larger context of the very ruptured relationship we have to our planet in the current economic model."
How do you respond to the argument in favor of GMOs that, on a planet of nearly 7 billion people, high-yield modified seeds are essential to feed all those mouths?
It's just not true. No matter how many times a lie is repeated, it stays a lie. First, the industrial agriculture system has become a recipe for removing nutrition from our food. Basically what is being produced is a nutritionally empty commodity. Second, 70 percent of the food today still comes from small farms and (organic) farms; 30 percent comes from industrial farms. And of the two crops corn and soy, only 10 percent is going to feed humans. Ninety percent is going to fuel and animal feed because the subsidies are higher.
How is it then that industrial agriculture has been so widespread and companies like Monsanto so successful?
In my view, there are three reasons. The first is that those who brought chemicals into agriculture, and who are now bringing us GMOs, have their roots in war. They were the ones who were tried in Nuremberg. They were used to manipulating facts, used to putting science to perverse applications. Second, the wars disrupted agriculture in such a serious way that the same factories that had produced explosives were now employed to produce pesticides, which were offered up as a miracle. And third, because the same model uproots farmers from the land, now less than 2 percent of Americans are farmers. Society is constantly trapped in the public relations spin of the agriculture industry.
Do you see awareness of these issues changing?
Now that there are health problems in the U.S., now that the people of the U.S. have seen how much money has been spent to deny people the right to know what they are eating, the majority of citizens are waking. I am absolutely sure industrial agriculture and GMOs will destroy themselves, but the question is how many species will be destroyed with them?
Skeptics are still looking for proof that GMOs have deleterious effects.
Take the simple fact of the monarch butterfly. It is proven that Roundup and Roundup-resistant plants have destroyed the milkweed on which the butterflies feed. But false narratives have been created.
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What can consumers do to understand the issues and have a voice in this debate?
First, don't panic. Don't respond through fear. Find out more, become more informed. Second, become more engaged. Practice food democracy, shape your rights through your food. Third, grow your own food. That should be very easy in Florida. And organize around the food issue to ensure that all of the tax money doesn't go to produce poison food. You owe it to yourself to get access to healthy and safe food.
Contact Laura Reiley at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.