by Dr. Vandana Shiva – Huffington Post Italia, 10 December 2014
In 1962, Rachel Carson published a groundbreaking expose on the harmful effects of cancer-causing pesticides like DDT. Almost immediately, she found herself the target of a nasty smear campaign orchestrated by the poison’s manufacturer, a company based in St. Louis.
This company subjected Carson and her book, “Silent Spring”, to withering attacks. It went so far as to publish a spoof of her work, titled “The Desolate Year”, that portrayed a world without cancer-causing agents like DDT as a nightmare world overtaken by famine and insects. Despite these attacks, “Silent Spring” went on to sell millions of copies and win the National Book Award. Today, it is widely celebrated as the book that birthed the environmental movement.
Carson’s antagonist – the Monsanto Company – did not win any awards for “The Desolate Year.” The dreadful scenarios outlined in its caustic manifesto failed to occur when the US banned DDT in 1972. Today, the screed has largely been forgotten. But Carson’s experience with Monsanto is an important story to remember because, four decades later, Monsanto continues to wield these ruthless tactics against a new generation of activists.
The debate over Monsanto’s pesticides continues, but it has expanded to include a troubling new product line – Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). If anything has become clear in the debate over the dangers of GMOs, it is this: GMO companies like Monsanto will do or say anything to deny the growing number of credible concerns about its products.
This includes launching aggressive attacks like those Carson endured. Whenever confronted with effective criticism, the GMO industry and its apologists typically seek to “kill the messenger” rather than debate the facts.
In August, New Yorker writer Michael Specter published a terribly flawed piece clearly intended to undermine my credibility as one who speaks out against GMOs. Oddly, he failed to interview any other critics of GMOs, making it seem as if I am the only scientist expressing serious concerns about them. How ridiculous!
Equally troubling was Specter’s reliance on myths perpetuated by Monsanto and its allies to downplay the controversy – and hype the supposed benefits – of GMOs. Navdanya International has published an informative and comprehensive rebuttal of Specter’s piece here. I encourage readers to use it as a resource in the ongoing debate over GMOs.
In addition to exposing Specter’s personal attacks on me personally, the rebuttal also shines a light on Specter’s shoddy research. Specifically, it dismantles his pro-GMO arguments by clearly demonstrating that they are rooted in easily disproven falsehoods.
For instance, Specter embarrassingly evokes India’s 1943 Bengal Famine to bolster his case for GMOs, asserting that GMOs could have averted a food shortage. He seems to be completely unaware of the fact that famines often occur in places with adequate food supply. In fact, such was the case in 1943, when Britain was exporting food from India while three million Bengalis starved to death.
As the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen clarified decades ago, a lack of political and economic entitlement to food – rather than a lack of food supply – is often the cause of famine. The Bengal Famine was not caused by a shortage of food. It was caused by an imbalance of power.
This same imbalance of power is what profit-hungry multinational corporations like Monsanto tend to impose on farmers and citizens around the world. Farmers in India’s cotton belt, burdened by heavy debt due to Monsanto’s expensive seed pricing scheme, are committing suicide in alarming numbers. If GMO corporations like Monsanto wanted to help the poor, they could start by lifting the debt burden off of these farmers.
Of course, anyone who dares to challenge immoral GMO monopolies quickly finds him or herself accused of fomenting famine. In this respect, not much has changed since Rachel Carson’s time. But this baseless old famine canard failed to stop Carson, whose work led to a US ban on DDT in 1972. It will also fail to stop those of us working to raise public awareness of the dangers posed by GMOs and pesticides in the 21st century.