Longer video at billmoyers.com
We turn now from one champion of the public interest to another. From
Sheila Bair fighting for greater oversight of the big banks to a global
advocate for social justice named Vandana Shiva.
We need a new paradigm for living on the earth because the old one is clearly not working.
The last time we spoke with her, she was battling Coca-Cola and other
multinational giants over the privatization of water in her native
India—including the waters of the sacred river Ganges. Since then,
Vandana Shiva has become a rock star in the worldwide battle over
genetically modified seeds. Those are seeds aggressively marketed around
the world by big companies like Monsanto to not only increase, but also
to monopolize food production and profits. Opponents challenge their
safety, claim they harm the environment, are more costly, and leave
local farmers deep in debt and dependent on suppliers.
Following Europe’s example, many American consumers are demanding
that food products made from genetically modified seeds be labeled.
Monsanto, the world’s largest supplier, claims intellectual property
rights over its seeds and usually wins when it takes farmers to court
for patent infringement.
But in India, Monsanto claimed its seeds would produce bountiful
crops and when the results fell short, many bankrupted farmers
reportedly killed themselves.
Vandana Shiva, founded India’s Navdanya movement to promote the use
of native seeds, and she has become a formidable figure in all these
battles. Trained in physics, she’s an activist and prolific author whose
books include “Earth Democracy,” “Soil Not Oil,” “Water Wars,” and her
latest, “Making Peace With The Earth.” I talked with her again recently,
when she came to New York to be honored by Union Theological Seminary.
Wonderful to be back with you.
It's an uphill battle you're waging. How do you keep doing it? What drives you really?
You know, we have this very beautiful text in India. We have the Gita.
The Bhagavad Gita. And there's a very simple lesson that Krishna gives.
That you do not measure the fruit of your action. You have to measure
your obligation of action. You have to find out what's the right thing
to do. That is your duty. Whether you win or lose is not the issue.
The obligation to do the right thing, for me, you know, I've grown up as
an ecologist in a major level, from my very childhood.
And for me, the diversity of species, their intrinsic value, their
integrity is vital. The rights of our farmers to be able to have seed,
the most fundamental source of livelihood in a poor country. Eighty
percent of the food of the world is even, today, produced by those small
farmers of the kind that we have in India. Our small farmers are
feeding 1.2 billion Indians. We forget the scale of what smallness
means multiplied many times. Because we've got used to the dinosaur
mentality. We only see the big. We forget that dinosaurs go extinct.
You have obviously seen things differently. Because you studied nuclear physics, right?
I studied nuclear physics. But I also studied quantum theory. My thesis
was on non-separability and non-locality in quantum theory.
Which basically means everything is connected. Because the industrial
revolution and the scientific revolution gave us a very mechanistic idea
of the universe. First, we were told “Nature is dead. There's no
living Earth. How can you even imagine the Earth lives? How can other
species-- they're just inferior creatures of God. And you've got to
have man's empire over God, over the Earth."
The idea that everything is this hard matter, unrelated to each other
is still guiding a lot of science. And genetic engineering is based on
that hard matter, genes in isolation, you know? Genes determine
everything. There's a master molecule that gives orders. Old
patriarchal stuff. The real science--
The real science is the science of interconnection. Whether it's going to--
Of interconnectedness, of non-separation. That everything is related.
Farming, for example, you must see the soil, the plants, the pollinators, the food that's produced, all of it in the whole.
Let's take that to the system of economics. Because some people have
said that globalization, the movement of ideas, of people, of money,
across arbitrary boundaries, as if they didn't exist, also reflects the
interconnectedness of everything. That globalization is an economic
equivalent of what happens in the world of nature in that everything is
connected. And you can't stop it Vandana Shiva. This is the way the
First of all, this is not interconnectedness of the ecological level.
It's an extremely artificial, corporate rule on a planetary scale. Some
corporations get to control the world. And then all that's flowing
around is commodities. Commodities that don't have to be moving. It's
still the old, hard, billiard ball model. You know?
You load the ships from China for cheap consumer products in Wal-Mart
here. That is not a world of interconnectedness. The world of
interconnectedness would recognize that the rivers of China need to
flow, clean and free. It would recognize that the people of China need
to exercise in work, in freedom, not as slave labor in factories to
produce cheap goods.
This corporate globalization, based on more, higher, a deeper reach
of corporations in fields where they had no role, food, water, the air,
all into commodities—you know, transforming the Earth into commodities.
That flow is not a flow of interconnectedness. And in fact, it is
leading to a disconnection. If you look at the violence being
The reason I've written my new book, “Making Peace with the Earth,”
is because I'm watching every day. I get calls every day from remote
areas. "Please come down. They're shooting us. They're trying to tear
down our sacred mountain of Niamgri, which has-- for aluminum. We have
an iron ore in our mountains. They're displacing us." Every day
there's a land war. Every day there's a water war. Because of the
appetite of this global commodity-producing, consumption-based
And I often say that what we have is an interconnectedness of the
world through greed, which is not how nature works, which is not how
humanity works. And an exclusion of people, a killing of their
humanity. It is not an accident that with the rise of corporate
globalization and economic globalization, we have seen the rise of
religious conflict, ethnic conflicts, where people get divided, more and
more and more.
So we're seeing human divisions. You're seeing a deeper division
between human beings and the Earth. And all you see is a global reach.
We are seeing a drop in our sense of a common humanity, and definitely a
collapse in the planetary consciousness that we need to have. And for
me, those are the two elements of making peace with the Earth.
Reclaiming our common humanity and reclaiming our recognition that we
are Earth’s citizens.
The last time you were here, you were fighting Coca-Cola in India over
the privatization of water. Now your bulls-eye is on Monsanto. Why is
Monsanto so crucial to this fight overseas?
Monsanto is crucial to this fight because they are the biggest seed
company now. Monsanto is privatizing the seed. They control 95 percent
of the cotton in India, 90 percent of the soy in this country. They've
taken over most of the seed companies of the world.
You say it's all about seeds. And that it comes down to corporations
wanting to patent seeds. How does that work? What do you mean it comes
down to seeds?
Well, it comes down to seeds for the simple reason everything begins a
seed. The food on our plate. You and me were seed at one point. The
little calf that becomes the cow. Seed is the source of life. And seed
is the source of renewal of life. That is where life gets renewed in
So what does it mean when a corporation patents the seed?
The first thing it means is a lie. That "I have created it. I have created life."
"I, the corporation."
The corporations claim that-- and, you know, we joke and say, a G.M.O., a
genetically modified organization, which was the path to get patenting
on seeds-- I sat at meetings where the corporations said, "The reason
we've got to do genetically modified organisms is because it’s the only
way we can claim a patent. A patent is a claim to invention, a claim to
creation. And it brings with it an exclusive right to exclude anyone
else from using, having, distributing the patented product."
What's the claim? Speak from their side. What are they claiming?
Well, they're claiming intellectual property. And they changed the
language. They say the seed is no more a seed. It's an intellectual
property. They make the society shift its thinking of what is at stake.
Seed is the first link in the food chain. And therefore, when you
control seed, you control food.
You say that corporations have hijacked our food system. How so?
Well I come from a country where there were no corporations in the food
system until 20 years ago. They weren't allowed to be. Our rules said
food was too precious. It was an important source of livelihood. So we
had to protect our small farmers. Every law protected the small
farmer, land rights, markets, prices, everything worked so a small
farmer could have a living. Food processing stayed in what we call the
cottage sector, the small scale sector. That's why we didn't have junk
food and processed food. Globalization changes the rules. And
agriculture agreement is written by a former official of Cargill to
represent the U.S. public.
Is the world's biggest grain trader. The second is the intellectual
property treaty controlled and written by Monsanto. And then you have
the so-called food safety agreement called The Sanitary and
Phytosanitary Agreement. Every one of these are very highly complex
names. Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights, Sanitary and
Phytosanitary. All of them are basically saying, "Let there be a
monopoly of a corporation to have-- to write the rules so that only they
can be players in the food system."
And the final step is the retail, where food reaches our table,
Wal-Mart wanting to have foreign direct investment in retail. A big
issue in India's parliament, a very big issue on the streets of India.
So from the seed to the table, corporations are saying, "We want to be
the only players." Five in seed, five in grain trade, five in
processing, and five in retail. That is a corporate hijack of our food
and a corporate dictatorship over our food system.
But here’s what you’re up against. Several activist organizations—some
seed businesses, some farmers, organizations like yours—filed a suit
here in New York, challenging Monsanto's seed patents. And the U.S.
district judge here in New York threw it out, saying it was “a
transparent effort to create a controversy where none exists.”
Yes, that case has been a sad ruling, a very sad ruling. In my view,
it's the same kind of status that says corporations have freedom of
speech and therefore they can hijack our democracy. Let them spend as
much money as they can to literally buy elections. But for every case
of this kind, there are other cases being won.
We have won cases against Monsanto in India.
But if something like this is as bad as you describe it. If it's a
monster roaming the countryside. How is it getting away with it?
Well, it's getting away for two reasons. First, freedom, democracy, and
choice is taken away. It's taken away from the farmer, by not allowing
them to have their seed. It's taken away from the consumer by not
letting them have labeling to say what they're eating. If there was
labeling of G.M. foods, no one would eat it.
Genetically modified foods. The second deeper tragedy, which is why I
link this always to democracy, is the fact that governments are being
hijacked and governments are being influenced.
We stopped a whole agreement in Nepal by building a movement.
Haitian farmers said, "We don't want this stuff." And they took it
after the earthquake. The French have said, "We don't want this stuff."
And the WikiLeaks show the ambassador saying, "We need retaliation.”
This is a seed war. This is a war.
President Bush and our prime minister signed an agreement on
agriculture, on the board of which sit Monsanto and Wal-Mart. And they
then sit and dictate the policies. That means that much more work for
us to reclaim our democracy and our freedom. So they're getting away,
because they're using governments to shut down alternatives and push
seed against the will of people.
And President Bush is on record in a film called “The World According
to Monsanto,” senior President Bush, asking Monsanto, "What do you want
us to do?"
MAN 1 in The World According to Monsanto:
And I would say quite frankly, we have no complaints about the way the
USDA has handled it. They’re going through an orderly process. They’re
making sure as they deal with these new things they do them properly.
No, uh, if we’re waiting until September and if we don’t have our
authorization we may say something different.
VICE PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH SR. in The World According to Monsanto:
Call me. We’re in the dereg business. Maybe we can help.
In India, Monsanto, in effect, controls our agricultural ministry and
our prime minister's office. And so very, very often, we have to work
very closely with our state governments, which are our regional
governments, to defend our constitutional rights.
To say, "Why should we be force fed a genetically engineered B.T.
eggplant, when we have the most delicious eggplants, 4,000 varieties?"
It took a movement, 13 governments, 7 public hearings to put a
moratorium. The advisors from here flew in to try and undo that
U.S. Government advisors.
On the side of Monsanto?
On the side--the White House, the USDA--
Department of Agriculture?
And the Department of Agriculture and the FDA all have a revolving door
with Monsanto. And this is all on record. So on the top, there's
Monsanto, hijacking all our governments. And through that, trying to
hijack our food supply. And from the ground, farmers, consumers,
regional governments saying, "We want a Monsanto-free food system. We
want Monsanto-free, G.M.O.-free, patent-free seed."
Now Vandana, the other side of the argument is made by people like Bill
Gates. Bill Gates says that genetically modified seeds are necessary to
prevent starvation in poor countries because they enable farmers to
double and triple their productivity.
Unfortunately, he's so totally wrong on this assumption that genetically
modified seeds produce more. In India, Monsanto came in with a claim
of 1,500 kilograms of cotton per acre with their genetically engineered
cotton. The average yields are 400 kilograms. Our studies show that.
The government studies confirm this.
When you grow just genetically modified cotton, you destroy all the
associate crops that were feeding the poor families. So it actually
leads to less food. When you spray roundup and kill the greens that are
necessary for women to have iron, for children to have vitamin A,
you're creating hunger. You're creating disease.
Super weeds taking over your fields are a recipe for hunger. Pests
overtaking your fields are a recipe for hunger. But worse, seed,
patents are a way of getting money out of poor people. This is not a
solution to hunger and poverty. This is aggravating the crisis poor
people already face.
You know, many people will hear you as they have the others who come on
this, at the table and describe what's going wrong in the world. And
they always-- they often write me on the web or stop me on the street
and say, I heard that diagnosis. But what can I do?
I think first thing is each of us has to daily ask a question, "Where am
I complicit in a war against the Earth? Where are my daily actions
part of a devastation of the planet and with it, a devastation of the
lives of people." Because the two go hand in hand. A war against the
Earth is a war against people. Peace with the Earth is peace among
Getting rid of the inequalities, the violence, the exclusions. And I
realize that food is a place where we can all begin. Food is a place
which is so loaded with dishonesty and is what keeps a false economy of
food alive. The subsidies that go to industrial agriculture.
Subsidies we taxpayers--
Taxpayers pay. A high-cost system, which uses a lot of wealth of
society, then uses our wealth to cheat on the prices and make costly
food look cheap. So our choices are distorted. We go and eat the junk
food that then creates the high cost of disease, the high cost of
obesity, the high cost of diabetes at an early stage, the high cost of
And so we need an honest system. And we can begin by creating that
honesty and that peace by relating more directly to the food we eat, to
the people who grow our food.
To me, the beauty is, every time I come back to this country, there
are more farmer's markets. There is more commitment to local food
supply. Even in the city of New York, people are saying, "We'll make
local food. We'll grow local food." It is an easy step, but it is a
very far-reaching step.
You’ve spent time in this country, you know that in inner cities it’s
almost impossible to buy fresh fruits and fresh vegetables.
That's the challenge we have. It's not that there isn't a food stamp
system. Public money is being spent on feeding the poor. But then it's
insuring that the only access the poor have with the money they get,
again from public money, is to bad food. We could divert this to good
food. There's no rule in the book that says healthy food should be a
luxury for the rich. Healthy food is a right for all.
For the last 20 years, we've heard and read report after report of
progress in India, the creation of a middleclass enjoying its new
prosperity. At the same time, we read and hear and see stories of
people deprived of their livelihood and their homes from huge
environmental projects, big dams, big mines, big infrastructure. I mean,
it's always been a lot of poverty there. But are you becoming-- is
that great gulf becoming a permanent feature of India in this modern
Well, you know, my small effort is to not allow it to become a permanent
feature. But it's not that these are two separate worlds. They're
separated in terms of the status of people, their dignity, their rights.
But they are deeply connected at the levels of the Earth's resources.
The reason you have a few families joining the ten richest
billionaires of the world in the Forbes list is because they've grabbed
the land, the electricity, the resources, the oil, and that is what has
left the other India poorer. It wasn't that the other India was left
out. They've been pushed out. And that's why while we have some of the
highest growth rates in the conventional measure of economic progress,
which in my view is not a very reliable measure, we also have two of the
most outrageous indicators that are linked to that model. The first is
the quarter million farm suicides. If a quarter million farm--
Those have been documented?
They're documented. This is Government of India data. This is not our
data. It's official statistics. And you can do an overlay. And the
highest rates of suicides are in the cotton belt, 95 percent of the
cotton today is Monsanto's cotton. So there is a link.
Today ever fourth Indian is hungry and every second Indian child is
wasted or stunted, which in effect means that half of India is being
robbed of its future. And to me, this is not acceptable. That is why
we try and build a kind of agriculture that allows farmers to have a
livelihood, for the poorest child or the poorest household to have
nutritious food. It is not easy because the whole system is weighed
against alternatives that would work for everyone.
It's partly because of the pressure of the corporations, but partly
because of not thinking, of just being blind, of having been so fed by
what I have called monocultures of the mind, you know, just turning to
recipes from somewhere else. And of course the chemical industry will
tell you only chemicals grow food. Chemicals grow toxics. Chemicals
don't grow food.
That only Monsanto seeds will be able to remove hunger. And all of
this new mythology becomes part of the policy framework. But I am
deeply committed to make sure that this terrible brainwashing that is
robbing our present generation and our future generations, that we are
able to work collectively to change it. Because while in your parents’
generation, your generation, and in my generation, the doors of a
growing economy were constantly opening up, today we are in a period,
where for the majority, the doors are shutting down.
I work with people in Spain, with people in Italy. I advise the
governments there, work with the movements there, or Greece, or the
Occupy movement right here. They are realizing that what has been
created is not going to provide opportunities for all.
As you talk, I remember reading somewhere that Einstein had a big influence on you, right?
Yes, I became a physicist because of him. I mean, you know, even as
children, you get to, you know, if you read Nightingale, you want to be a
doctor or a nurse. I read stuff Einstein wrote and he wrote simple
stuff that you could read it. That's why I wanted to be a physicist.
And he said once, I'm paraphrasing it, but "Unless an idea is at first absurd, it has no chance of success."
Absolutely. He also said that you cannot solve the problems you face through the same mindset that caused those problems.
Vandana Shiva, thank you very much for being with me again.
Thank you, Bill. It's always such a pleasure.