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CAMPAIGN HERO: Vandana Shiva, anti-GM activist and head of Navdanya

Rosie Spinks

19th October, 2011

Vandana Shiva explains to the Ecologist how the global anti-GM food movement resonates with the Occupy Wall Street protests

Rosie Spinks: Tell us about Navdanya's new report? What is the main message you want to get across about GM food?

Vandana Shiva:
Our main message about GM is the title of the report: ‘the emperor has no clothes.’ It’s a bit like how Occupy Wall Street started. Everyone thought it’s too difficult to explain and understand the financial world and then all these young people came to Wall Street and said, ‘We know exactly what you guys do, and we want you to stop and we want the government to stop encouraging it.’ And I think the emperor has no clothes is similar; if one child speaks then 50 others will have the confidence to say, ‘Well I knew he wasn’t wearing any clothes but I didn’t have the guts to say it.’

In the past decade most [agriculture-related] movements got so busy fighting at the national level that the world didn’t know what was happening in Argentina, the world didn’t know that super weeds were taking over US farming, the world didn’t know was happening with farmer suicides.

The most important thing this report does is pull together the experiences of every continent, written by the movements themselves. The trends are clear through that. Once you put all that evidence together, you realise nowhere has production increased [from GM seeds], you realise chemical use has increased everywhere, and nowhere have pests and weeds been controlled so, ‘the emperor has no clothes’ rings true everywhere. The false claims are obvious across the board.

Rosie Spinks: What is the significance of the Indian government’s recent decision to file suit against Monsanto for developing Bt brinjal varities?

Vandana Shiva: It does do two things. One, it shows that every time these companies claim invention they’re basically engaging in biopiracy and something like the Bt eggplant is another example of that. The second thing is that [the legal action] has kind of grown from the ground up—an activist informed an agricultural scientist, who informed the state biological diversity authority (BDA), which then told the national BDA. The fact that the government at the central level has been pushed to recognising this as biopiracy does take the legitimacy away from the claim that these companies do something brilliant and new. They just steal the old and we could do without them.

Rosie Spinks: What is the Indian consumer’s view of Monsanto?

Vandana Shiva: The biggest population in India is of the small farmers and when they are locked into a monopoly seed supply they become consumers. We’ve just done a study to figure out why farmers were only buying Bt seeds. And we realised they were only buying Bt because there’s nothing else to buy!

First, Monsanto goes to the farmer and says give up your own seed and we’ll give you money for it. Second, the public sector is influenced to stop producing and breeding seeds—the Cotton Research Institute used to release about 20 varieties of cotton every year. Since Monsanto has entered they haven’t released a single cotton variety. So the farmer seed goes, the public seed goes and the contracted seed companies prevent those companies from selling anything but Bt. In the US, [Monsanto does it] by locking farmers into contracts; in India, its by locking seed companies into contracts. But there’s no alternative seed supply and then the farmer is a consumer in captivity and becomes a seed slave.

Rosie Spinks: How will labelling GM foods change consumers?

Vandana Shiva: In the US 80 per cent food is GM so the only way we can roll this back is beginning with a labelling demand. Labelling is a right everywhere and now [that the CODEX international food standards have allowed GM labelling] we all need to reactivate that demand. 

With labelling, people won’t eat it, people won’t choose it. We saw what happened with the Iceland supermarkets—the first to bring in labelling—once it’s there no one will use GM, no one will consciously pick it up. People pick it up in ignorance but will not pick GM foods with knowledge.

Rosie Spinks: Now talking about India’s environmental policy, what can you say about the recent removal of Jaraim Ramesh, India’s environment minister?

Vandana Shiva: The two most powerful people—the prime minister and the head of the planning commission—have both commented very clearly. In fact, the prime minister [Manmohan Singh] just before removing Jaraim Ramesh said that the concern for the environment was interfering in growth and growth is above all. It doesn’t matter what the cost is. And it doesn’t matter what the distribution is. You can have the ten biggest billionaires of the world and one third of India starving but that’s fine. [For them], growth is growth.

Rosie Spinks: What about India’s nuclear plans?

Vandana Shiva: The anti nuclear movement, which in India is both a movement against nuclear power as a power source and against the land grab that it entails. Everywhere farmers are fighting back. In India, with the kind of climate we have, solar and wind and diesel derived by small-scale biomass are the best [alternatives to nuclear]. And they are available in such abundance compared to how scarce uranium is in the world. Also, [when it comes to nuclear power], the problem of waste hasn’t been solved. In a country like India, which is so heavily populated, that means every time there’s an accident people get affected.

Rosie Spinks: Can India continue to develop at the rate it’s going?

Vandana Shiva: The definition of growth and development must change because today what is called growth and development is nothing but a resource grab and land grab. Very, very violent. It has pushed one third of India into the hands of the extreme left—the Naxalite movement. It is turning the rest of India into a very discontented India. India’s been having its own occupy movement in the form of the anti-corruption movement. So we are talking about huge instability—political, social—besides the ecological costs of all of this.

The point is with every resource grab there is corruption and beyond a point, how much coal, how much buxite, how much iron ore can you mine? This growth has become anti-constitutional and anti democratic. It can only proceed by violating the fundamental right of people built into our constitution.

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