New Yorker Takedown of Leading Anti-GMO Activist

Theral Timpson

Michael Specter has written an excellent comprehensive piece on the GMO debate over at the New Yorker this morning.

Structured loosely around following Vandana Shiva, a popular anti-GMO activist from India, on tour to Italy, Specter dedicates the first half of his article to fully hearing out the arguments against using genetically modified crops. This is a long article, but don't be deterred. It does appear at first that Specter is in awe of Shiva and her "nature against biotech" rhetoric. I almost stopped the article midway and tweeted my disappointment in the New Yorker for sounding too much like chef and organic movement activist, Alice Waters.

It's only after giving voice to Shiva and telling her story at length--she trained as a physicist before becoming one of the most popular anti-GMO activists, particularly in the West--that Specter begins to question her.  And then he takes off the "kid gloves," and line by line discredits her claims.  For example, most of Shiva's book jackets refer to her as one of the leading physicists in India.  When Spector asked her if she'd ever worked as a physicist, she told him to Google her.  He found nothing.  The more he questioned, the less answers she had.  Finally she stopped talking with him at all.

“It is absolutely remarkable to me how Vandana Shiva is able to get away with saying whatever people want to hear,” Gordon Conway, author of "One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World, tells Specter.  “Shiva is lionized, particularly in the West, because she presents the romantic view of the farm,” Conway continues. “Truth be damned. People in the rich world love to dabble in a past they were lucky enough to avoid—you know, a couple of chickens running around with the children in the back yard. But farming is bloody tough, as anyone who does it knows. It is like those people who romanticize villages in the developing world. Nobody who ever lived in one would do that.”

Specter interviews some other notables in the article, including Mark Lynas, the British environmentalist who recently turned an about face of 180 degrees on the question of GMOs, apologizing to the Oxford Farming Conference for "demonizing an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.” 

And Specter makes it to St. Louis to talk to Monsanto chairman, Hugh Grant, to ask him how he deals with the backlash.  Grant confesses to Specter that in 2002, after commissioning a study to explore the idea of changing the company's name, he decided against it.  

“It was my call, and it was a big mistake," says Grant.

It's great to see the New Yorker taking a firm, pro-science stance on this topic.


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