Vandana Shiva: Prophet of Boom and Doom

In New Delhi, she's the bane of big agriculture and genetically modified food

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Vandana Shiva has a take-no-prisoners smile. But watch out for her teeth. For the past two decades, the physicist turned environmental activist has focused her righteous indignation against Big Agriculture and what she calls its weapons of mass destruction (pesticides, patented seeds and other genetically modified, or GM, organisms) with all the fury of a prophet crying in the wilderness.

The trouble, for corporations like Monsanto, is that Shiva is winning more disciples all the time, and India as well as some countries in Latin America and Europe are paying attention, considering limits on the kinds of genetically modified food they allow. Some of her critics question her views: Is it so terrible that pesticides help farmers in the developing world raise crop production? Or that rice is genetically engineered to deliver vitamin A to populations blighted with night blindness? Do-gooder billionaires like Bill Gates have contributed millions to develop GM foods as profitable enterprises to help lift millions out of poverty and hunger.

None of those supposed virtues matter to Shiva, who has called Gates "so totally wrong" during an interview with Bill Moyers in 2012, specifically referring to Monsanto's patented cotton seeds that failed to deliver improved harvests. Raised by parents who admired Mohandas Gandhi, she sees soulless big business profiting at the expense of the poor and the planet. "Nature shrinks as capital grows," she wrote in Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis. "The growth of the market cannot solve the very crisis it creates." In the Occupy age, it is the kind of prophecy many want to hear.