A letter sent by scientists regarding Vandana Shiva’s invitation by Students for a Sustainable Stanford
Date: 13 December 2019
Chris Field, Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies, Director, Woods Institute for the Environment
Marc Tessier-Lavigne, President, Stanford University
Persis Drell, Provost, Stanford University
Christine Black, Communications Director, Woods Institute
Michelle Horton, Communications and Knowledge Manager, Woods Institute
Charlie Hoffs and Shikha Srinivas, Students for a Sustainable Stanford and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, event sponsor of the 8th Annual Stephen H. Schneider Lecture – Dr. Vandana Shiva – “Soil not Oil.”
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.
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 www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2014/01/29/vandana-shiva-anti-gmo-celebrity-eco-goddess-or-dangerous-fabulist
This post is also available in: FR (FR)