British Columbia

Controversial food activist Vandana Shiva dishes on GMOs for Indian Summer Festival

A social activist and author who campaigns for the security, sovereignty, and sustainability of the food system is turning her gaze on the next generation of environmental leaders. Vandana Shiva shares her views on GMOs in her Vancouver talk as part of the Indian Summer Festival.

Activist to talk about what she says are the negative effects of chemical farming and GMOs with message

Vandana Shiva speaks tonight on GMOs at the Indian Summer Festival with her presentation, Seeding the Future. (CBC)


  • This story now includes other perspectives on GMOs. A previous version was based on one interview

A celebrated yet controversial social activist and author who campaigns for the security, sovereignty, and sustainability of the food system is turning her gaze on the next generation of environmental leaders.

Vandana Shiva will speak about her views on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, July 14 in her Vancouver talk, Seeding the Future, as part of the Indian Summer Festival at St. Andrew's Wesley United Church.

Shiva's criticism of GMOs

"The story has been, for chemical agriculture and green revolution then and GMOs today, we feed the world," said Shiva, who entered the world of ecology after the Bhopal disaster in India that killed over 3,000 people in a pesticide plant leak.

"The idea of 'we feed the world' is what I learned to be a manipulation through the green revolution. GMOs are basically the old model of chemical farming and industrial agriculture now with new genes added to a crop."

However, a number of scientists agree that currently available food derived from genetically modified crops do not pose any greater greater risk to human health than conventional food 

In May of this year the National Academy of Sciences — a science group founded by the U.S. Congress — issued its latest report on genetically engineered crops which concluded they are safe to eat. 

Shiva told host Rick Cluff on The Early Edition that she began her journey to raise awareness of the issues chemical farming and globalization present and discover why people were dying due to the widely accepted forms of agriculture practices.

Social activist and author Sandana Shiva presents her talk 'Seeding the Future' tonight at the Indian Summer Festival. She joined the CBC for an interview on The Early Edition. (CBC)

Pesticides that increased in strength and use over time lead to the super resilient pests and weeds on todays farms, she explained, which have given way to new technology that continues to harm the environment. 

"I say if the tools have failed, change the tools. The technology so far has been to add a new toxic gene to the plant," said Shiva.

She has spent her life promoting non-violent agriculture, free of poisons and chemicals that kill, and now wants to pass along her wisdom to the next generation of activists to help them change the way the world is run.

"Big challenge is there are systems that work outside the corporate control. Those systems demand creativity. They demand cooperation and community. They demand courage. Those are the systems through which the young people will be able to serve the planet," she said. 

"They're seeking a way to reconnect to the earth, a way to provide for your own needs, grow your own food, and most importantly, a way for justice for future generations."

GMO crops are sustainable, prof says

​Shiva's views on GMOs have been met with criticism by other scientists, including Stuart Smyth, an assistant professor in the department of agricultural and resource economics at the University of Saskatchewan. 

"They're probably more sustainable than any other form of food production going right now," said Smyth, who also holds the university's industry research chair in agri-food innovation.

He said he led a study a few years ago in which he surveyed farmers all across Western Canada that were growing genetically modified canola.

"We found that it's 53 per cent more sustainable than even the production of conventional canola," Smyth said, adding that the plant was genetically modified so that it was tolerant to have herbicides sprayed on it.

"So we're able to use the best herbicides to control weeds, whereas previously ... they had to soil-incorporate many of the chemicals because it was so sensitive to chemicals when they were applied on the leaves when the plant was growing."

The World Health Organization states on its website that individual genetically modified (GM) foods and their safety should be "assessed on a case-by-case basis" and that "it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods."

With files from the CBC's The Early Edition

To hear the full interview with Vandana Shiva listen to the audio labelled: Vandana Shiva to talk on GMOs for Indian Summer Festival

To hear the full interview with Stuart Smyth listen to the audio labelled: Agriculture professor criticizes food activist Vandana Shiva's views on GMOs