Davoud Hayatgheib (Biosafety Project National Coordinator)
Atefeh Sahlabadi (Interpreter/Translator/Reporter)
I.R.I. Department of Environment
GMOs have been a hot topic for a while now, inviting in questions and speculations as to whether genetically modified organisms are safe or not. A lot of businessmen believe GMOs are the way to humanity’s salvation where poverty is only a history, but a lot of environmental activists oppose the idea—they believe GMOs are only the card businessmen play to fill in their pockets, and GMOs do more harm than good.
We spoke about GMO—and its unending claims of being safe—with physicist Dr. Vandana Shiva, an Indian scholar, environmental activist and anti-globalization author who has risen as a star in the fight against GMOs.
DOE: A lot of GMO supporters believe GMO helps poverty reduction. What is your view on this?
Vandana Shiva: If GMOs reduce poverty, three hundred thousand Indian families wouldn't have committed suicide because of debt. GMOs have only one objective: turning seed into intellectual property and collecting royalties. If you collect royalty, the seed is more costly. If companies manipulate through genetic engineering seeds to sell more of their chemicals, farmers also spend more on chemicals, so they get into debt. This is not just a poverty trap, but a death trap and a suicide trap. So, anyone who wants to see what GMOs do, come and visit Bt-contained areas in India and talk to the farmers.
DOE: As you know, big companies sell seeds to 28 countries around the world. Do you think they’re all aware the companies they cultivate seeds from are multinational?
Vandana Shiva: I think when farmers shift their seeds and their countries shift to these seeds, they’re never informed. They’re not informed that supply will mean total dependence [on those companies].
DOE: Companies like Monsanto…
Vandana Shiva: Exactly.Eventually the other five companies will become smaller because Monsanto has been buying up the second biggest companies in their business. I think it’s criminal to create such dependency on something as widely used as seed which is the foundation of food security. It is an obligation of the companies to put labels that this seed is GMO, it has Bt toxin and it does this and this, etc.
DOE: Which leads to the crucial question: Do the companies that make GMOs spend enough money on post-marketing, labeling, and risk management?
Vandana Shiva: No. They’re only spending money on communication in public relations. They have spent more than a billion dollars in the last two— three years only on buying up media, advertising, and creating public relations.
DOE: Let’s speak about the GMO supporters in Iran. They believe GMO products are as safe as organic products. Is that the true?
Vandana Shiva: Not at all.
DOE: But they believe there isn’t enough research to prove against it.
Vandana Shiva: First of all, if they’re looking to the United States, the US has assumed you don’t have to do the research, because they have a false principal substantially equivalence which is false by the standards of the industry itself, because when it comes to the same entity which we see it seems natural, when it comes to safety testing and they say we don’t have to test it, they’re treated as not natural, when it comes to intellectual rights.
Outside of U.S. lots of studies have been done that show there is not just no proof of safety, but evidence of lack of safety. There have been long-term studies such as Eric Seralini’s two-year study.
We’ve done studies on two dimensions of GMOs. Soil ecology and beneficial soil organisms have been killed, because the Bt toxin is in older cells of the plant, including the roots and the leaves that fall. That toxin is then killing beneficial insects and organisms. We’re doing right now a pollinate study, and our team has found not one pollinator on the Bt-contained plant. And honey producers are telling us there is no honey in the GMO Bt-contained areas.
DOE: Let’s speak about big GMO producers and consumers. United States is the largest GMO producing, cultivating, and consuming country in the world…
Vandana Shiva: First of all, the US government is captive to Monsanto. It is not an independent government. It no more represents the safety and will of the people; it is representing Monsanto’s interests. GMO pushing other countries means other countries will become captive to Monsanto and I hope they don’t. Monsanto has tried to use every disaster in the world to force GMOs on people. After the earthquake in Nepal, Monsanto tried to block other supersedes of plants. They also did in Haiti.
More important than anything else is the fact the US citizens are now experiencing the health damages of eating GMOs. They’re fighting for something very simple: labeling. We should have the right to know what we are eating, and we should have the right to choose. The demand for labeling is a clear sign that US citizens are not eating GMOs by choice.
DOE: So the US citizens don’t exactly know when they’re eating GMO food?
Vandana Shiva: The US citizens eating GMOs because they’re been denied choice and the fact that in the US government Monsanto’s pushing a new act which would prevent American citizens from knowing what’s in their food—people call it the ‘Dark Act’, denying Americans the right to know—industry calls it the ‘Safe Food Act’, that also shows Monsanto and the US government are acting against their own people, not just the people of the world.
Vandana Shiva is one of the leaders and board members of the International Forum on Globalization, and a figure of the global solidarity movement known as thealter-globalization movement. She has argued for the wisdom of many traditional practices, as is evident from her interview in the book Vedic Ecology (by Ranchor Prime) that draws upon India's Vedic heritage. She is a member of the scientific committee of the Fundacion IDEAS, Spain's Socialist Party's think tank. She is also a member of the International Organization for a Participatory Society. She received the Right Livelihood Award in 1993, and numerous other prizes.