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Stupidity and Intelligence: Science, GMOs and Our Food


Stupidity and Intelligence: Science, GMOs and Our Food

Vandana Shiva

"Science" is derived from the scire – "to know".

Each of us should know what we are eating, how it was produced, what impact it has on our health.

The knowledge we need for growing food is knowledge of biodiversity and living seed, of living soil and the soil food web, of interaction between different species in the agroecosystem and of different seasons. Farmers have been the experts in these fields, as have ecological scientists who study the evolution of microorganisms, plants and animals, the ecological web and the soil food web.


"Ninety percent of the genetic information in our body is not human but bacterial. Out of the 600 trillion cells in our body only 6 trillion are human, the rest are bacterial. And bacteria have the shikimate pathway. The bacteria in our gut are being killed by Roundup..."

I thought this was interesting as I have neutropenia which leaves me more prone to bacterial diseases. I am also a farmer who grows GMOs and uses glyphosate (Roundup). However, I am not convinced that this technology is any more harmful than the thousands of chemicals and combinations that we are assaulted with every day. I am glad that there are corporate nay-sayers who push for more research and understanding.


Vandana Shiva was trained as a physicist. Wish she would include that in her short bio. She has been working with farmers in India for ages. In addition, there are several studies that show that small, even organic and/or sustainable farms actually produce more yield and certainly produce healthier, more content communities, than the industrial agricultural system.


Hi, Monkes. Good to see you back and sorry to hear that you are ill.

Still wish you'd say goodbye to those GMOs, tho! :O)


Did not know that she was a physicist, thanks for the information. It's quite relevant as that education prepares one to contemplate cause-and-effect circuits comprehensively. Her reductionist abilities are quite astute; she is a great educator.


polarbear, I'm not actually ill. I merely have an easier potential to become ill. So far, so good. Now days I mostly chat with other farmers on an ag site. Most are quite conservative and some pretend they are moderates. With so many weeds and crop pests it is difficult not to use GMOs. I have one glyphosate resistant weed that is giving me problems in soybeans. I hand weed out a lot of them, but impossible to get them all.


Excellent article - and puts s lot of the push to ban GMO labeling in perspective.
GMOs cannot sand the light of facts and will go the way of trans fats.



In fact she's discussing how a particular form of science--reductionist science--has turned out to be too primitive to cope adequately with complex organic systems such as nutrition and agricultural. The same is true in education, where factory-style schooling boosts test scores faster in the short run (just as Round-up ready crops yielded faster yields at first) but yield poorer overall results in the long run, and cause significant collateral damage (the same pattern seen with GMOs).

Whether its agriculture or nutrition or education, reductionist science tries to reduce a complex system to a few variables, and in doing so loses sight of the big picture that one must understand in order to grasp any complex endeavor. In nutrition, we tried to reduce eating to a list of vitamins and minerals, plus certain percentages of fat, protein, and carbohydrates, and then created artificial fortified foods that had those things--and we got very large and very sick. It turns out that the way you get those nutrients matters enormously, because natural, plant-based foods versus processed foods set in motion very different dynamics in the body, with one path leading to greater health, and the other leading to greater disease. In agricultural, we tried to reduce it all to crop yields, but learned that the way you grow the crops matters enormously--since local-organic vs. factory farming producing fairly similar crop yield but actually have dramatically different impacts on human health, ecosystem health, and even local communities and the strength of democracy. In education, we reduced it all to test scores, but here again, different paths to achieving similar test scores have dramatically different effects for student motivation, students' emotions and mental health, cross-curricular learning, and outcomes such as creativity, initiative, and respect for diversity. Healthy nutrition can't be reduced to counting calories or carbs or vitamins, healthy agriculture can't be reduced to greater short-term crop yields, and healthy education can't be reduced to greater short-term test score gains. The history of each field indicates that reductionist science has taken us down a counterproductive dead end, with seductive and narrow short-term benefits being followed by a broad pattern of collateral damage, and more troubling still, an increasing dependence on the unhealthy foods, unhealthy agriculture methods, and unhealthy teaching methods. Colin Campbell's book Whole captures this dynamic for nutrition, and I'm working on a book that examines this unhealthy dynamic (and the alternatives) for education. In each field, trusting reductionist science too much led to identifying as effective methods that achieve those short term gains in a way that undermines the capacity of the body, plant, or learner to achieve healthy gains in the future.

To be sure, a great deal of traditional, reductionist science backs up the points that Shiva is making--Indian farmers who only had to spray their cotton crops twice in year one were spraying them 20 times in year seven, and all for a crop that produced inferior cotton, produced in a way that destroyed local communities and the ecosystem, that promoted monocultures, that bred superweeds, and in which many Indian children and adults were poisoned and became sick and even died. The tipping point seems to be about year four--after that even the economics of the GMO approach goes into the red (not even factoring in health to humans or the planet. The same phenomena occurred with Round-up ready soy in South America, and other GMOs elsewhere.

Reductionist science can identify such specific problems, but because it is poorly suited to systems thinking, it tends to lead us to treating isolated symptoms of a problem rather than looking for systemic prevention and cure--a path that often requires an entirely different paradigm.


To complete the thought, good science is not a specific method--that idea is a caricature of good science. Good science is adapted to the phenomena it is studying, and where complex systems effects exist, one can often run thousands of randomized controlled trials and still not uncover deep truths about what works best overall. Americans confusion about whether to eat low carbs or low fat is a perfect illustration of how tens of thousands of reductionist studies can leave people in the dark, while a few studies that better encompassed the complexity of nutrition rapidly revealed the dramatically healthier path.


All kinds of scientist write articles on this web site reasoning with philosophy.
You make these disparaging, thoughtless statements quiet often.

Hope you are not a true reflection of New Englanders.


Nature has had millions of years to perfect itself. Liberals and progressives work with nature in all its diversity. Conservatives work against nature by trying to impose uniformity and monoculture on it. Nature laughs at them.


Wouldn't you make more money farming organically?


No, I doubt it, natureboy. If one lives near a big city that would make it much easier. As it is, out in the "sticks," the premium for organic crops is generally not too much more than regular crops with a lot of hoops to jump through and potential trouble.


Thank you for another brilliant article and analysis, Ms. Shiva.

My favorite insight is this:

"At the level of organisms, epigenetics and the new knowledge that cells are in constant communication with each other is leading to the emergence of a new paradigm of life as communication and intelligence. Living systems are not dead matter, assembled like a machine."

This is such an important observation particularly since the goons at Monsanto and soulless beings like Bill Gates view the entire natural world, along with children's minds, as machines that can be placed into orderly rows and virtually enslaved.

The control of nature as outgrowth of patriarchal institution's concerted goal to control women factors powerfully into the sickness of war. Both are part of a Dominator Model that's being thrust upon the natural world.


She has explained how the yields work in previous articles. The woman's intelligence and scope are phenomenal whether she's a physicist or herbalist, etc.


I think you pose compelling arguments, analogies, and comparisons apart from one thing: your own reductionist acceptance of the passive "we" frame. It was not that WE went down particular paths emphasizing specific dietary factors, or compulsory standardized testing, or single crop-based agriculture. These initiatives were all instituted by powerful entities with the clout--financial & political--to implement their agendas to serve their own purposes.

When discussions fallback on the generic WE pronoun, they argue that everyday citizens were the cause of policies forced upon them. I think this is disingenuous particularly in a moment where trade treaties are about to demonstrate further... how little agency good citizens have in directing, amending, changing, and therapeutically altering policies that impact our food, educational systems, use of energy, and so much else.


I never thought that proximity to a big city would be a factor. Organic food markets often sell imported organic food. Evidently, to them it is worth jumping through a lot of hoops. If its an American problem, maybe we should petition the government to make it easier to grow organic.


Thanks for another great piece Ms. Shiva!


Ms Shiva's insight into how the World in fact works is leagues ahead of all those paid technocrats working for Governments and Corporations the world over.

That said as brilliant as she is , she recognizes that people have known what she knows for thousands of years and it is these people that have been displaced and are being displaced the world over by the very Corporations and Governments that are killing this Earth. These people of the Earth do not have scientific training and do not attend Universities yet have knowledge one can never learn in those places.

That in turn speaks to how these institutions of learning are being compromised as well and being redesigned on the Corporate model. They are taking away all pathways to knowledge so that they can control everything. They are turning everything into private property so that they can own everything.


Your cynicism cuts close to the bone, but your aim is pretty true.