Into realms that belong to God and God alone

I’ve long disliked Vandana Shiva, and here’s more reason to dislike her: Michael Specter in the New Yorker:

Like Gandhi, whom she reveres, Shiva questions many of the goals of contemporary civilization. Last year, Prince Charles, who keeps a bust of Shiva on display at Highgrove, his family house, visited her at the Navdanya farm, in Dehradun, about a hundred and fifty miles north of New Delhi. Charles, perhaps the world’s best-known critic of modern life, has for years denounced transgenic crops. “This kind of genetic modification takes mankind into realms that belong to God and God alone,” he wrote in the nineteen-nineties, when Monsanto tried to sell its genetically engineered seeds in Europe. Shiva, too, invokes religion in her assault on agricultural biotechnology. “G.M.O. stands for ‘God, Move Over,’ we are the creators now,” she said in a speech earlier this year. 

Oh piss off, both of you. You could say the same thing about farming of any kind, including “organic.” You could say it about houses (how many of those do you have, Charles?) and medical care and cooking.

Piss off.


  1. Al Dente says

    More and more I see Prince Chuck as one of the leading intellectual lights of the 14th Century.

  2. AsqJames says

    To be fair to old big ears, being born into that family (and particularly his position within it) is bound to mess with your head a little bit. Imagine being told from birth what your one job in life is supposed to be…and then not being allowed to do it until (to date) the age when most people retire. I know there are some nice perks, but I’m really not sure they’re worth it.

  3. Al Dente says

    Right now Charles’ sole function is to ask every morning: “Is Mummy still alive?”

  4. Andrew B. says

    “You could say it about houses (how many of those do you have, Charles?) and medical care and cooking.”

    Yes, the first thing that popped into my head was “vaccines” and how some declare them to be an affront to God. Whenever someone tries to involve God in any issue, I always ask “is God affected by this issue? No? Then he doesn’t get a vote.”

  5. RJW says

    I noticed that Shiva is a Brahmin, I wonder if she were a member of the lowest castes, living hand to mouth, that she would be such a food traditionalist. That said, she still has some valid points in regard to the toxic influence of transnationals, if only she would leave “God” out of the discussion. Charles definitely needs a real job.

  6. Blanche Quizno says

    Did God intend for Its highest creation to overpopulate the planet to the point that large swaths of said highest creation are starving to death? Was that part of God’s brilliantly divine plan? Because if so, God’s an idiot.

    Or did God “inspire” all those brilliant human beings to figure out ways to manipulate the natural world so that we could feed our overpopulation, despite it being impossible if everything were left alone?

    Where was God when people were selectively breeding milch cows vs. beef cattle, draft horses and race horses, Great Danes and Chihuahuas and the modern banana? Why, if God mightily disapproved, did God just slink off in impotent rage instead of going all smiteysmite on our abominable forebears?

    Religion is stupid. Yes, I said it. Stupid.

  7. Blanche Quizno says

    She’s right – we ARE the creators.

    Except she has missed the point – we’ve been the creators all along. We created all the gods that have ever “existed”.

  8. quixote says

    As some may remember from a thread many moons ago, I’m a biologist who’s very ambivalent about GMO. I consider stuff like Monsanto patenting GMO seeds for plants that can withstand megadoses of Monsanto’s herbicide RoundUp to be a crime against nature. The *environmental* (not GMO) effects are massive. There are insufficient long term studies of human health effects from e.g. some of the viral vectors used in creating GMO foods. Etc., etc, etc. On the other hand, I think something like Vit. A-enriched rice is a boon.

    All that said, even I think the line Shiva takes is complete tripe. People have been practicing genetic modification since they first domesticated dogs. Every crop and farm animal we use has been bred — read: genetically modified — to express useful traits and lose uselessness ones. The only difference in GMO as far as that goes is genetic engineers can do it in a much more targeted fashion and much faster.

  9. Ichthyic says

    I’m a biologist who’s very ambivalent

    that’s not ambivalent, that’s rational.

    nobody who is a scientist takes an entire field at face value; you examine each contribution on its own merits.

    Think: Evolutionary Psychology for another example.

  10. jenniferphillips says

    I consider stuff like Monsanto patenting GMO seeds for plants that can withstand megadoses of Monsanto’s herbicide RoundUp to be a crime against nature. The *environmental* (not GMO) effects are massive. There are insufficient long term studies of human health effects from e.g. some of the viral vectors used in creating GMO foods.

    Don’t want to derail from the Shiva focus of the OP, but I’m a biologist who’s seen these claims analyzed quite thoroughly, and none of them stand up to much scrutiny. I can provide links if you are interested.

  11. Blanche Quizno says

    The fact is that we’re losing butterflies, frogs, and the all-important bees at catastrophic rates. We need to figure out why, and now. If the monstrous amounts of herbicides that are being poured onto farm fields, mediated by the presence of the genetically modified plants that can tolerate such overwhelming concentrations, we need to know that. And we need to know it NOW.

    Technology always advances far ahead of any understanding of ethical implications and proper safeguards. We cannot afford to dilly dally on this. Monsanto has taken advantage of the vacuum of regulation to storm into the field, leaping in with both feet and an arsenal; we need to know what the impact on the rest of the world is.


  12. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    There are insufficient long term studies of human health effects from e.g. some of the viral vectors used in creating GMO foods.

    …I’m a biologist who’s seen these claims analyzed quite thoroughly, and none of them stand up to much scrutiny. I can provide links if you are interested.

    Surely there can’t have been long-term studies of human health effects yet. GMO products haven’t been around long enough for them.

  13. kevinalexander says

    The man is a living reminder of the false claims of the aristocracy. If it were possible to create a superior human by selective breeding then you could explain Prince Charles.

  14. peterh says

    Not withstanding the potential ill effects of some approaches to agriculture & animal husbandry (Monsanto is not alone in this), the human race has been consuming genetically modified foods since before the dawn of written history.

  15. Ron Miksha says

    The article by Michael Specter in the New Yorker, Seeds of Doubt, is very much worth the twenty minutes it takes to read. Specter’s slow, respectful unveiling of Shiva as a fraudstress is a masterful work of resporting. It is sad that someone such as Vandana Shiva – who is arguably culpable in the deaths of millions who are being denied essential nutrition – is hailed as a hero by so many poorly informed westerners. But she is living well, traveling broadly, and enjoying the good life. She’s got hers.

  16. jenniferphillips says


    I consider stuff like Monsanto patenting GMO seeds for plants that can withstand megadoses of Monsanto’s herbicide RoundUp to be a crime against nature.

    re: seed patenting, lots of R & D dollars go into making GE products, just as lots of R & D dollars go into thousands of other patented things. GM seeds are not the only type of agricultural product to be patented. See, for example, the history of the plant variety protection act:

    re: ‘megadoses of roundup’, that’s not what RR crops are designed for, technically. Mostly they allow for additional treatment later in the growing cycle, reducing or omitting the need for tilling and other weed control methods that have their own environmental and economical impacts. Sure, the genetically introduced resistance could allow the plants to endure ‘megadoses’, but that would be an astonishingly stupid thing for any farmer to do. Roundup is expensive. Most farmers are able to restrain themselves from spraying roundup on everything 24/7 and instead use it according to the product instructions.

    re: long term safety studies–GE-derived products have been in our food system for over 20 years. No human health issues associated with any GE trait have ever been reported. That said, many of the GE traits in our *current* food have not been on the market that long, and thus have not been subjected to ‘long term studies’ (for some values of ‘long term’)–but you could say the same thing about dozens of other materials we consume, or which are used as part of the food processing system. GE products undergo rigorous pre-and post-market testing. There have been thousands of independent studies that have shown no ill effects. Here’s one recent review:

  17. dshetty says

    I wonder why these people don’t complain about the places where humans actually play God to a larger extent – i.e. medicine

    @Ophelia @17
    I think people like me are mostly suspicious of what is being tested (and what isn’t) – ecosystems are finely balanced and one cannot simply predict the side effects of doing something like making crops resistant to pests (if the pests die out, what happens?). We have been burned too many times by things that are supposedly perfectly fine , until they aren’t .

  18. jenniferphillips says

    The generic name for Roundup is glyphosate. It’s actually one of the least toxic herbicides in use, which is part of the reason (in addition to its broad spectrum effect) that it was used as the basis for the GE trait in Roundup Ready products. Here’s a chart (scroll down) comparing toxicity of common ag chemicals:
    Glyphosate use has indeed increased a bit due to the increase in RR crops, but that has been accompanied by a net decrease in other, more toxic pesticides.

  19. Blanche Quizno says

    Ophelia, I know. I have nothing against GMO. What I am deeply suspicious of is capitalism and corporations – they’d sell us all for meat if they thought they could get away with it.

    It is my (extremely cursory) understanding that it is herbicides widely in use (not just on farms) that are adversely impacting the butterflies/frogs/bees. Yes, some crops have been engineered to be more pest resistant – good show. But look at all the landscaping firms and all the pest control products being sold off the shelf at stores everywhere. And don’t get me started on the golf courses!!

    What *I* have noticed is that my suburban yard seems to host a superfluity of parasitic wasps. Every year I plant tomatoes in hopes of raising a nice crop of fat tomato hornworms, which are native to this area, but to no avail. The parasitic wasps are always on the lookout. Is there a large-scale population expansion of parasitic wasps (deadly to butterfly/moth populations) happening (to explain butterfly/moth population crashes), and if so, why? What can be done about it that won’t make the problem worse in the long run (the rabbits in Australia example)?

    I’ve been out of the scientific loop for some years now, so I don’t present myself as any sort of expert. I just have questions.

  20. Blanche Quizno says

    @19 dshetty – I myself wonder why it is that the religious crazies focus on the theory of evolution for vigorous attack and not the germ theory of infection. After all, the theory of evolution pretty much just affects the beginning of Genesis in the Bible, a book that already features TWO contradictory creation stories, and not too much else (aside from the whole “livestock that look at striped sticks will have striped offspring” and related howlers).

    But the germ theory of infection – oh my! That completely contradicts so much of the Bible – plagues as evidence of God’s wrath; Jesus healing someone and then telling him to “go and sin no more, lest something worse come to you”; illness in general being God’s punishment for “sin” – it’s a theme that pervades the entire set of books. To think that we mere mortals can bat away God’s punishment by distributing vaccines – heresy! Slander! Blasphemy!! Taking God’s power to punish away from God?? It just doesn’t get any worse than that. (As a brief aside, the theme of God being afraid of Its creation is seen in Genesis 3 – that’s why God had to boot A&E out of the garden; they stood the chance of becoming “competition” – and in the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11 – people could build a tower tall enough to climb up and confront God face to face. How rude.)

    I think that, in the end, if they’re even *aware* of the germ theory of infection, they realize how much they benefit from it – and how much they DON’T want to have to rely on useless prayer! – so they attack the theory of evolution, which they see as having no usefulness to them personally.

  21. Kevin Kehres says

    @22– In the early days of anesthesia, some people objected to giving it to women in labor on biblical grounds. Because one of the punishments for Eve was to have a “greatly increased” pain of childbirth. (Compared to goats, I suspect, since they rarely complain when kidding.)

    So … be careful what you wish for.

  22. quixote says

    I know, jenniferphillips. And the scientists who share your view that we know everything we need to know are in the majority. (Are they always? It seems so.) That doesn’t change the fact that, indeed, as one commenter mentioned, there have not been any long term studies. That is, ones lasting several years. Almost all the studies on which regulation has been based were months long and funded by the industry. There are enough reasons for concern, such as viral activation where none was supposed to occur, that in a sensible world we’d be holding off for a while and checking it out properly. But that’s not the world we live in. There’s money to be made.

    Just because there are dumb bunnies and fraudsters — and Shiva is definitely one or both — who think GMO is bad does not mean it is okay. We really do need a lot more long term and independent evidence. To my mind, the worst damage the Shiva-types do is to taint calls for that evidence with their wild-eyed fantasies.

  23. jenniferphillips says

    Who ever said “we know everything we need to know”? Not me. But what we don’t know about GE food isn’t significantly greater than what we don’t know about a host of other things.
    Industry funded studies–not so much:

    What ‘viral activation’? With what GM trait, in particular? Here’s a great (independent!) review of the major concerns of GM and lots of references showing the (independent!) studies done to address them:

    No mention of ‘viral activation’ therein but if you give me more to go on I’d love to follow up, for my own sake.

  24. Pieter B, FCD says

    I think it’s a good bet that everyone posting here, especially those with misgivings about GMOs, accepts that global warming is happening, and that the burning of fossil fuels is the major cause of it. I also think it’s a good bet that our knowledge of climatology is sketchy at best. Why do we accept that it’s happening? For me, it is because there is a clear scientific consensus that it’s actually happening.

    Big Science orgs like NAS, AAAS, WHO, the EU’s EFSA, AMA, and the British Royal Society all agree that genetically engineered foods pose no significant risk to health or the environment, yet many people reject their consensus when it comes to GMOs. Why?

    Here’s the AAAS statement on labeling of GMOs. It’s a quick read.

  25. Pieter B, FCD says

    A frequently-used method of creating new strains of food crops is mutagenesis, literally “creating mutations.” Seeds are exposed to radiation or chemicals known to tweak DNA, and test plantings are done to see if favorable mutations result. Note that this changes the plant’s genome far more than injecting a single or just a few genes by gernetic engineering techniques; it’s not an exaggeration to say that this changes hundreds, if not thousands of genes. However, crops developed by this process are not required to undergo the extensive safety testing demanded of GMOs, and can be sold as “certified organic.”

    All breeding techniques can create plants with increased levels of naturally occurring toxins or with proteins known to cause allergic reactions. Reports from the National Academy of Sciences, representing the consensus of experts in the field, say the risk of creating unintended health effects is greater from mutagenesis than any other technique, including genetic modification. Mutagenesis deletes and rearranges hundreds or thousands of genes randomly, spawning mutations that are less precise than GMOs. The academy has warned that regulating genetically modified crops while giving a pass to mutant products isn’t scientifically justified.

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