“”Vandana Shiva would rather have her people in India starve than eat bioengineered food.
|—C. S. Prakash, Professor of plant molecular genetics, Tuskegee University|
Vandana Shiva (1952–) is an environmentalist from India. She is known for her opposition to genetically modified food, particularly Golden Rice (a variant of rice modified to contain beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A). She is also a prominent member of the ecofeminist movement.
She earned her doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Western Ontario in 1978 by a dissertation titled Hidden Variables and Locality in Quantum Theory. However, she claims to be a quantum physicist. Various environmentalism and left-wing websites also introduce her as a physicist. To be fair, she did actually receive both a bachelor's and master's in Physics from Panjab University in Chandigarh in 1972 and 1974, and then briefly worked at the Bhabha Atomic Research Center.
If you would pardon the unfunny pun, these are some of the rather unscientific stances of Vandana Shiva.
The gradual spread of sterility in seeding plants would result in a global catastrophe that could eventually wipe out higher life forms, including humans, from the planet.
This is of course, not even wrong. By the very definition, sterile plants don't reproduce, and thus wouldn't be able to spread throughout wild populations. GMOs do not produce anything that couldn't possibly be produced by natural means; it just does it faster. Injecting jellyfish DNA into corn might seem like something that's impossible, but such events do happen in the wild; in what is known as horizontal gene transfer, viruses can take DNA from one organism and inject it into an unrelated organism, allowing for genes to appear in an organism almost out of the blue.
During the aftermath of the devastating 1999 Orissa cyclone, Shiva wrote a letter to Oxfam, in which she pointed out Ofxam's position on GM and WTO policies, expressed disappointment and expressed hope that their food aid will be GM-free. Shiva's group gathered grain donated for relief, apparently had it tested and then claimed that it was genetically modified. They then demanded that this "corn-soya blend" food be withdrawn immediately. She also claimed that biotechnology companies were trying to use the people of Orissa as guinea pigs for products that had been rejected in Europe and Japan.
In a Huffington Post interview published on 28 October 2010, she claimed to have in her possession letters from Chinese scientists proving that SARS was caused by a virus from a genetically modified plant crossing into animals. And 10 years later, this hasn't changed for the better. She now claims that the COVID-19 Coronavirus was caused by GMO animal feed.  During a panel at the "Real Truth about Health" naturopath summit in the US, joined by fellow crank Jeffrey Smith, she claimed that - according to "a lot of scientists and some people" - this is also true for viruses that caused the "new epidemics" in general; and she also implies that this is all connected to a sinister plot devised by Big GM and Big Pharma for their own financial gains.
The new epidemics of new viruses, a lot of scientists have said, are coming from the hybridisation of viruses that are used as promoters and the viruses in our gut. I got a letter from a Chinese scientist when the SARS epidemic broke, do you remember, and he said “We are feeding all our animals GMO soya and it could so easily be that this horizontal gene transfer is happening and the animals are developing super-viruses which are then jumping from animals to humans." This also, some people have said, is related to the H1N1 which are very lethal viruses compared to earlier viruses. Again, because the GM-chemical industry, the GM industry and the pharmaceutical industry is one industry for them it’s wonderful there’s more diseases. It’s a very good successful business model. But for the people … it’s not. [all said while wearing a gleeful smile ] 
In January 2013, Mark Lynas addressing the Oxford Farming Conference said that:
But most important of all, farmers should be free to choose what kind of technologies they want to adopt.
Shiva replied to this on Twitter:
- MarkLynas saying farmers shd be free to grow #GMOs which can contaminate #organic farms is like saying #rapists shd have freedom to rape
This tweet was in the immediate aftermath of the much publicized Delhi rape and murder case that happened in December 2012. She has also "discovered" links between increased use of GMOs and glyphosate, and rise in autism, as there is a one-to-one correspondence between their graphs. Remember correlation does not imply causation.
On nuclear energy and fertilizers
Shiva hates nuclear energy and fertilizers, as both were originally "designed for war". She often compares fertilizers with nuclear energy. She has argued that anything with "origins in war always has the potential for war". She has pointed out that fertilizers are being used by terrorists to make explosives. She called for a ban on fertilizers which is a "weapon of mass destruction" according to her. This is an absurd argument since many everyday objects are the result of wartime inventions, e.g., vegetarians sausages, modern feminine hygiene products, stainless steel, air traffic control, nylon and other synthetic fabrics, most of the field of aviation, satellites and the rest of the space program, computers, the internet, and portable X-rays.
Her position with regards to nuclear energy is particularly surprising, given that she once worked at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, India's premier nuclear research facility.
On farmers' suicides
Shiva has argued that a non-food GMO, Bt-cotton, ruins poorer farmers and causes farmers' suicides in India. But the suicide rate among farmers actually had started rising more than 5 years before its introduction. In fact, a long-term study released in 2012 on the economic impacts of Bt-cotton in India showed that Bt-cotton has increased yields, profits, and the living standards of smallholder farmers. Another 2014 study found that high suicide rates were also observed in states which don't even cultivate cotton. The study found that suicides were caused by indebtedness due to lack of access to formal banking, and lack of irrigation facilities which could have prevented crop failures.
On economic policy and rape in India
Shiva has linked the rise in reported rape cases in India to the economic reforms introduced in 1991. She has pointed out that were 10,068 reported rape cases in 1990 and the number jumped to 24,206 cases in 2011. She has blamed it on the economic reforms carried out by India in the early 1990s. She argued that the traditional patriarchy and "capitalist patriarchy" has combined to form a hybrid. She has called the growth-focused policy "myopic" and GDP a "patriarchal construct". She has argued that it disregards the contribution of women towards their family and community, and makes them economically vulnerable. She has argued that limitless economic growth is not possible without the powerful grabbing the resources of the vulnerable, which subjects the women and the planet to a culture of rape.
However, the increased reported rapes in India and other developing parts of the world is, perhaps counter-intuitively, a good thing; it means that rape victims are able to speak up about it with the assurance of justice and without the fear of social stigma. Or at least, a greater chance of justice and reduced amount of social stigma.
On Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Shiva has accused the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation of "attempting to impose 'food totalitarianism' on the world." because of Bill Gates' investment in genetic modification in foods. In her book One Earth, One Humanity vs. the 1%, she states that "Bill Gates is continuing the work of Monsanto”" and also targets other billionaires' (comparatively lame) philanthropy such as Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos. Due to her cult-like following in India, these poor accusations have not been viewed in much critical lens. She also states:
They cause all this destruction in the name of feeding the world, but has the world been fed? We need to take a step back to understand the true meaning of economy and ecology”.
The benefits of his investment in GMOs are discussed at the GMO page.
2022 Sri Lankan crisis
In 2021, President Gotobaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, after consulting an India-based NGO linked to Shiva, instituted a law which banned the import of genetically modified food and made the nation's agricultural system all-organic. This decision had disastrous consequences, as the all-organic crops produced a lower yield and thus triggered a serious food shortage, which Shiva admitted would likely happen yet lobbied the Sri Lankan government to pass the law anyway. The food shortage became one of many crises which led to mass unrest in 2022, ending with Sri Lankan protesters overrunning the presidential palace and Rajapaksa fleeing to Singapore. Not surprisingly, the all-organic law was repealed following Rajapaksa's ouster.
Vandana Shiva was to speak at Stanford and the University of California, Santa Cruz on “equitable and sustainable” farming methods in late January 2020. This outraged several members of the scientific community in Stanford. 39 scientists co-authored an open letter, reproduced below in full, talks about Shiva and her “use of anti-scientific rhetoric to support unethical positions.”
Dear Professor Field,
We are scholars of life sciences and social sciences who have published many scholarly papers and articles about agriculture, food and biotechnologies.
Perhaps you are unaware of Dr. Vandana Shiva’s constant use of anti-scientific rhetoric to support unethical positions. We are very surprised that any science-based and ethically inspired institution would invite her to speak.
Here are some of her prejudicial, anti-science, anti-social stances:
1. Her astonishing tendency to nonsense: see the absurd statement regarding the supposed functioning of the Genetic Use Restriction technology (GURT), from her book Stolen Harvest (p. 82-83): “Molecular biologists are examining the risk of the Terminator function escaping the genome of the crops into which it has been intentionally incorporated, and moving into surrounding open-pollinated crops or wild, related plants in fields nearby. Given Nature’s incredible adaptability and the fact that the technology has never been tested on a large scale, the possibility that the Terminator may spread to surrounding food crops or to the natural environment MUST be taken seriously. The gradual spread of sterility in seeding plants would result in a global catastrophe that could eventually wipe out higher life forms, including humans, from the planet.” Same words in other documents in her websites.
One may need to read these statements twice, because they are too bewildering to be understood at first sight. In fact, she claims that sterile seeds – which of course cannot germinate – can spread sterility. A middle school student expressing such views would fail the biology exam.
2. Her stunning ignorance: “Most #GMOs are #Bt toxin or #HT herbicide tolerant crops. Toxins are poisons. GMOs=Poison Producing Plants. Poisons have no place in food.” www.twitter.com/drvandanashiva/status/440363765821747200
Somebody should explain to her that Bt proteins are toxic to some clearly identified classes of insects (plant pests), but not to fish, birds, mammals. www.ucbiotech.org/answer.php?question=31. See also the scientific papers quoted in response to her delusional post, in particular, a “classic” study which clarifies that plants naturally produce substances to defend themselves from pests and 99.99% of pesticidal substances in food are natural – and harmless to humans.
3. Her proclivity to offend: “Saying farmers should be free to grow GMOs which can contaminate organic farms is like saying rapists should have freedom to rape”. www.twitter.com/drvandanashiva/status/287397046447640576
She is comparing farmers, who grow crops which are scientifically and legally recognized as safe, to rapists! It’s a grotesque insult to millions of honest farmers who aspire to use modern technologies to farm sustainably and efficiently. Understandably, her outrageous abuse raised many angry reactions (see the replies to the same post).
4. Her rejection of technologies which help farmers (mostly women and children) to alleviate the painful, back-breaking labour of hand-weeding: “Indian women selectively do weeding by hand, hereby preserving our biodiversity.” www.navdanya.org/attachments/Food_Sovereignty4.pdf Photo and caption at p. 21.
This is a preposterous statement; any act of weeding is exactly aimed at eliminating detrimental plant “biodiversity” which, in a field, stifles crops.
5. As a final treat, a ridiculous statement: “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.” Quoted at www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/08/25/seeds-of-doubt and in other websites.
Let us ask her if she is going to ban metallurgy, since it has been used to forge cannons…
Furthermore, some ironies associated with Shiva being invited to promulgate her unscientific and anti-social stances at Stanford:
The first concerns Shiva’s invitation having come from Students for a Sustainable Stanford, because her views are demonstrably, unequivocally anti-sustainable. Her ideas on farming would relegate it to a primitive, low-yielding, wasteful activity.
Second, the co-discoverer in 1973 of recombinant DNA technology, the prototypic, iconic molecular technique for genetic engineering, was Stanford biochemist Dr. Stanley N. Cohen, who is still a professor of genetics and medicine at the university. Shiva’s appearance at Stanford is an affront to Professor Cohen and all of the university’s other scientists.
Last but not least: Dr. Shiva is known for requiring large honoraria for dispensing her mendacious and antisocial opinions: we would like to know how much Stanford University is going to pay for her appearance.
We are confident that our reasoned remarks will be seen by the addressees of this letter, by their colleagues and by students at Stanford as constructive criticism.
We are afraid that none of us will be able to attend the event to challenge Dr. Shiva in person. We would appreciate if you can make our letter available to the participants.
Sincerely yours, Giovanni Molteni Tagliabue – Como (Italy)
Independent researcher in philosophy of life sciences, political science
Philipp Aerni – University of Zurich, Switzerland
Director, Center for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, Geography, Public Policy
Klaus Ammann – University of Bern, Switzerland
Professor Emeritus, expert in agri-food biotech regulation
Mahaletchumy Arujanan – Adjunct Lecturer, Monash University, Malaysia
Executive Director, Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre
David J. Bertioli – University of Georgia, USA
Georgia Research Alliance Distinguished Investigator and Professor, Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics
Peter Beyer – Albert-Ludwigs University Freiburg, Germany
Professor (retired). Co-inventor of the Golden Rice. Member of the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board
Borut Bohanec – University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Biotechnical Faculty, Plant Biotechnology and Breeding
Enrico Bucci – Temple University, Philadelphia, USA
Adjunct Professor in Systems Biology, Sbarro Health Research Organization
Trevor Charles – University of Waterloo, Canada
Professor in the Department of Biology, Director, Waterloo Centre for Microbial Research
Bruce M. Chassy – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA
Professor Emeritus, expert in agri-food biotech regulation
Felice Cervone – University of Rome “La Sapienza”, Italy
Full Professor, Dept of Biology and Biotechnologies, M.A.E. (Member of Academia Europaea)
Pellegrino Conte – University of Palermo, Italy
Full Professor, Agricultural Chemistry
Gilberto Corbellini – Italian National Research Council (CNR), Rome, Italy
Director, Department of Humanities, Social Science and Cultural Heritage
John Davison – INRA Versailles, France
Research Director (Emeritus)
Thomas R. DeGregori – University of Houston, USA
Professor of Economics; Books, articles and field experience in agricultural economic development
Roberto Defez – Italian National Research Council (CNR), Naples, Italy
Senior Researcher, Microbial Biotechnology laboratory
Adrian Dubock – Former Global Head M&A, Ventures and Licensing, Syngenta, Switzerland (retired)
Member & Executive Secretary, Golden Rice Humanitarian Board
Nina Fedoroff – Penn State University, USA
Emeritus Professor of Biology; former President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Edgardo Filippone – University of Naples “Federico II”, Italy
Full Professor, Department of Agricultural Sciences, Section of Plant Genetics and Biotechnology
L. Val Giddings, PhD – PrometheusAB, Inc., USA
Expert in agri-food biotech regulation
Klaus-Dieter Jany – Wadi International University, Syria
Vice-President for Teaching and Research
Jonathan D. G. Jones FRS – The Sainsbury Lab, Norwich, UK
Professor and Senior Group Leader
Drew L. Kershen – University of Oklahoma, USA
Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law Emeritus
Marcel Kuntz – University of Grenoble-Alpes, France
Director of Research at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)
Alan McHughen – University of California, Riverside, USA
Botany and Plant Sciences, expert in agri-food biotech regulation
C. J. Leaver CBE FRS FRSE – University of Oxford, UK
Emeritus Professor of Plant Science
Bruno Mezzetti – Marche Polytechnic University, Italy
Full Professor, Dept Agriculture
Henry I. Miller, M.Sc., M.D. – Senior Fellow, Pacific Research Institute, San Francisco, USA
Formerly, Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy, Hoover Institution, Stanford University; Formerly, Consulting Professor, Institute for International Studies, Stanford University
Piero Morandini – University of Milan, Italy
Researcher in Plant Physiology, Environmental Science and Policy Department
Domenico Pignone – National Research Council, Italy
Emeritus Researcher, Plant genetics
Ingo Potrykus – ETH Zurich, Switzerland
Professor Emeritus, Institute of Plant Sciences, Co-inventor Golden Rice, Chair Golden Rice Humanitarian Board
Channa Prakash, Tuskegee University, USA
Dean, Arts & Sciences
Sir Richard John Roberts – Chief Scientific Officer, New England Biolabs, Ipswich, USA
1993 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine
Daniele Rosellini – University of Perugia, Italy
Associate Professor of Agricultural Genetics
Eddo Rugini – Università della Tuscia, Italy
Past Full Professor in Fruit Tree Science and Biotchnology
Donatello Sandroni – PhD in Ecotoxicology
Science Journalist, Italy
Angelo Santino – Institute of Sciences of Food Production, National Research Council (CNR), Lecce, Italy
Francesca Sparvoli – National Research Council (CNR), Milan, Italy
Senior Researcher, Institute of Agricultural Biology and Biotechnology
Teemu Teeri – University of Helsinki, Finland
Professor in Plant Breeding
Donatella Tramontano – University of Naples “Federico II”, Italy
Full professor of Applied Biology, Dpt of Molecular Medicine and Medical Biotechnology
Roberto Tuberosa – University of Bologna, Italy
Professor in Biotechnology Applied to Plant Breeding, Department of Agricultural and Food Sciences
Ignazio Verde – Council for Agricultural Research and Economics (CREA), Rome, Italy
Senior scientist on Plant Genetics and scientific advisor
Richard G.F. Visser – Wageningen University & Research, The Netherlands
Chair & Head Plant Breeding
Alessandro Vitale – National Research Council (CNR), Milan, Italy
Lead scientist, Institute of Agricultural Biology and Biotechnology
Robert Wager – Vancouver Island University, Canada
Molecular biology, Biochemistry
Institutional affiliation is for identification purposes only and does not indicate institutional endorsement.
Here are links to some articles that contain reasoned criticism of Dr. Shiva’s stances.
https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2014/08/23/who-is-vandana-shiva-and-why-is-she-saying-such-awful-things-about-gmos-2-2 reprinted in https://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2014/01/29/vandana-shiva-anti-gmo-celebrity-eco-goddess-or-dangerous-fabulist
In a nutshell
“” Ten thousand people were killed and 10 to 15 million left homeless when a cyclone slammed into India’s eastern coastal state of Orissa in October 1999. In the aftermath, CARE and the Catholic Relief Society distributed a high-nutrition mixture of corn and soy meal provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development to thousands of hungry storm victims. Oddly, this humanitarian act elicited cries of outrage.
[...] Shiva not only opposes the food aid but is also against "golden rice," a crop that could prevent blindness in half a million to 3 million poor children a year and alleviate vitamin A deficiency in some 250 million people in the developing world. By inserting three genes, two from daffodils and one from a bacterium, scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology created a variety of rice that produces the nutrient beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. [...]Last June, at a Capitol Hill seminar on biotechnology sponsored by the Congressional Hunger Center, Shiva airily dismissed golden rice by claiming that "just in the state of Bengal 150 greens which are rich in vitamin A are eaten and grown by the women." A visibly angry Martina McGloughlin, director of the biotechnology program at the University of California at Davis, said "Dr. Shiva's response reminds me of… Marie Antoinette, [who] suggested the peasants eat cake if they didn't have access to bread." Alexander Avery of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues noted that nutritionists at UNICEF doubted it was physically possible to get enough vitamin A from the greens Shiva was recommending. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that poor women living in shanties in the heart of Calcutta could grow greens to feed their children.
|—Ronald Bailey, reason.com|
- Vandana Shiva: ‘Rock Star’ of GMO protest movement has anti-science history, on the Genetic Literacy Project, 2019.
- Who is Vandana Shiva and why is she saying such awful things about GMOs?, on the Genetic Literacy Project, 2014.
- Dr. Strangelunch, by Ronald Bailey, Reason, 2001
- GMO critic Vandana Shiva’s anti-modernity crusade threatens world’s poor, on the Genetic Literacy Project, 2018.
- The Germination of Outrage: How Vandana Shiva Fabricates Conspiracy Theories, Risk-Monger
- The Myths of Vandana Shiva, by Steven Novella, NeuroLogica Blog
- Dr. Strangelunch, by Ronald Bailey, Reason.com, 1 January 2001
- The "Golden Rice" Hoax-When Public Relations replaces Science by Dr. Vandana Shiva
- Jasmin Sydee and Sharon Beder, 'Ecofeminism and Globalism', Democracy and Nature, July 2001, pp. 281-302.
- "Hidden variables and locality in quantum theory" by Vandana Shiva (microform). Department of Philosophy, Graduate Studies, University of Western Ontario, 1978
- Seed Monopolies, GMOs and Farmer Suicides in India – A response to Nature by Vandana Shiva, 12 November 2012
- Dr. Vandana Shiva, EcoWatch
- Vandana Shiva, South End Press
- Benjamin F. Shearer, Barbara S. Shearer: Notable Women in the Physical Sciences: A Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood Press, 1997, p. 364
- Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply By Vandana Shiva
- OXFAM's Support to GM Crops for the Third World, Gentech, 8 November 1999
- Bountiful Harvest: Technology, Food Safety, and the Environment By Thomas DeGregori, pp 193-194
- Foreign Policy Annual, 2001: Events And Documents By Mahendra Gaur, p 188
- A Visit to My Kitchen: Vandana Shiva, The Huffington Post, 28 October 2010
- The Germination of Outrage: How Vandana Shiva Fabricates Conspiracy Theories, The Riskmonger", 27 February 2020
- What The - not actual - Experts Want You To Know About GMO's? Real Truth about Health", 20 February 2020
- Vandana Shiva Compares GMOs to Rape By Keith Kloor, 5 January 2013
- Seeds of Doubt, by Michael Specter, The New Yorker, 25 August 2015
- Koodankulam Must Be Stopped: Vandana Shiva, DiaNuke, 29 May 2012
- 10 inventions that owe their success to World War One by Stephen Evans (13 April 2014) BBC News.
- The 6 Most Surprising, Important Inventions From World War I by Simone M. Scully (Jul 07, 2014) Nautilus.
- The Selling of the Suicide Seeds Narrative, Discover blogs, 7 January 2014
- Bt Cotton and Farmer Suicides in India, by Guillaume P. Gruère, 2008
- Economic impacts and impact dynamics of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton in India, by Jonas Kathage and Matin Qaim, 2012
- Political Economy of Suicide: Financial Reforms, Credit Crunches and Farmer Suicides in India by Anoop Sadanandan, 2014
- Vandana Shiva: Our Violent Economy is Hurting Women, Yes Magazine, 18 January 2013
- What enables rape reporting?, The Hindu, 25 April 2015
- Vandana Shiva and the Seeds of the Sri Lankan Farming Disaster. Myles Power (YouTube). 30 July 2022.
- Vandana Shiva Is A Shameful Choice For University Lecturer, I&I
- 39 biotech experts’ open letter protests anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva’s ‘anti-science’ talks at Stanford and UC Santa Cruz (January 14, 2020) GLP
- From Letter regarding Dr Vandana Shiva’s anti-scientific and unethical stances
- Scientists write to US universities for inviting ‘anti-science’ activist Vandana Shiva by Sandhya Ramesh in Science (17 January 2020 5:41 pm IST) ThePrint
- Dr. Strangelunch by Ronal Bailey in the Jan 2001 issue
- Vandana Shiva Is One of the World's Worst People (7.29.2014 3:21 PM) reason.com
- The Myths of Vandana Shiva by Steven Novella