Biting the Hand That Feeds You – Those Who Oppose The Green Revolution

I am lucky enough to live in a part of the world in a time where I would have to go out of my way to experience the physical sensation of hunger. It is a luxury that few in history have had, and one that I have never taken for granted, however, some do. There are people out there who view their high standard of living, where they have easy access to relatively cheap nutritional food, as the baseline. They have no appreciation, in fact I would go as so far as to say that some have a disdain, for the very technology that is allowing them to live so well. They fetishise the past and yearn for a time when everything was grown organically, without fertilisers or pesticides and there was no hunger… a time that never existed! Despite having a child-like understanding of food production, they believe they have the right to dictate how the less fortunate grow their food, all the while safe in the knowledge that no matter what they do/say, it will not affect them. These are the people who oppose the technological advances made during the Green Revolution and who, if they ever got their way, would be responsible for the death of over a billion people and the malnutrition of many more.

The Green Revolution, sometimes known as the Third Agricultural Revolution, refers to a period of time when the productivity of global agriculture increased dramatically as a result of new technologies. During this period, high-yielding crops were developed and new chemical fertilisers, synthetic herbicides and pesticides were created. When combined with a controlled water supply and new methods of cultivation, we were able to prevent famine and help feed the worlds ever-growing population.

One person who became famous for his involvement in the Green Revolution was the American scientist Norman Borlaug, who is credited with saving over a billion lives. In the 1940s, Borlaug developed a strain of wheat that could resist disease, was short (reducing damage by wind), and could produce large seed heads and, therefore, higher yields.

In addition to producing larger quantities of food on the same area of land, not only did the Green Revolution help avoid widespread famine, but it created a surplus, lowering the cost of food, and allowing sometimes, for the first time, their export to different countries. However, nothing in life is perfect, and the Green Revolution did have some negative socioeconomical, environmental, and health impacts. For example, the overuse of synthetic pesticides, coupled with poor education, led to loss of containment and contamination. This resulted in the death of beneficial insects and wildlife and, among other things, increased risk of cancer in humans. The increased need for pesticides also inadvertently led to what is considered the worst industrial disaster the world has ever seen, when a gas leak at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, exposed over half a million people to methyl isocyanate, resulting in the death of thousands.

In short, there is plenty to critique about the Green Revolution and how the technology was handled, however most agree that the benefit of not only saving a large portion of the worlds population from starvation, but also improving the living standard of most people on the planet, is worth the cost. However, as I said at the beginning, there are some who flat-out oppose the Green Revolution and all its achievements.

I was first introduced to these people after reading the book, ‘Monsanto Vs The World’, which, at a whopping 42 pages, is really more of a pamphlet. The “book” brings nothing new to the table, and contains watered down versions of the same arguments we have heard against Monsanto and the agricultural industry a thousand times before, however, what makes it stand out from its counterparts is what it has to say about Borlaug and the Green Revolution. Although it never flat-out says it, it seems to imply that, due to overpopulation, the world would be a better place if the Green Revolution never happened and we allowed people to starve to death.

I am not going to lie and say that I have the solution to the very real problem of overpopulation, but I know the answer can’t be to let people die of starvation. How anyone can be so detached from humanity and think of themselves as above those who their views could potentially harm is beyond me. But the author of Monsanto Vs The World is not alone, as I discovered after Googling Norman Borlaug’s name.

I came across what I can only describe as a hit piece published in The Guardian by the former environmental editor, Jon Vidal. The article which, like my old MySpace profile, ends with lyrics from a song was titled, ‘Norman Borlaug: humanitarian hero or menace to society?’, with the tag line, “The work of the agricultural scientist who helped launch the ‘green revolution’ continues to divide opinion long after his death”. Vidal, who is helping to cement the idea in my head that the word, “environmentalist”, is synonymous with “technological regressive”, starts his article by quoting a fraction of the positive things people have said about Borlaug in his later years, or after his death in 2009. He then moves on to a brief synopsis of what Borlaug actually did, and it’s here that we see the author’s shoehorned-in views on the agro industries.

“The US agricultural science establishment, chemical and agribusiness industries love him, if only because he helped their industries grow massively around the world on the back of patented seeds and herbicides.”

And I am sure pharmaceutical companies love Bill Gates because of his, and his foundations, work in vaccinating those in developing countries. But it does not change the fact that their work is chipping away at the 1.5 million children who die each year as a result of vaccine-preventable diseases. This kind of shallow argument is quite clearly designed to imply to the reader that the person in question has been tainted by industry, and that their motives and reputation are questionable.

Later in the article, in what I can only describe as throwing the baby out with the bath water, Vidal goes on to criticise the Green Revolution for not completely eradicating world poverty, almost implying that it was therefore a failure. I guess he also thinks we should burn nothing but coal here in the UK because our energy supply is not 100% renewable. Vidal next does the unthinkable and quotes someone who uses Vandana Shiva as a reputable source.

Vandana is an Indian environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate who would have you believe has a PhD in physics, specialising in quantum theory. On one of her book jackets, it even states that, “before becoming an activist, Vandana Shiva was one of India’s leading physicists”. When questioned about this by investigative journalist, Michael Specter, she simply told him to Google it. In reality, Vandana has a PhD in philosophy, with her thesis focusing on the philosophy of physics, which to me is an immediate red flag. If someone has to mislead you about their qualifications, as I believe she does, to me it means they are not to be trusted.

I was first introduced to Vandana Shiva in what I consider to be my all time favourite anti-GMO documentary, Seeds of Death. The documentary was written, produced and published by Gary Null (an alternative medicine promoter who was once almost killed from one of his own supplements), and claims to expose the dangers of genetically modified foods. Like nearly all other anti-GMO documentaries, it’s full of the same scientifically inaccurate statements, but throws in a few curve balls that took me completely off guard. For example, one of the “experts” interviewed claims that whenever you eat a GMO, its DNA is incorporated into your own genome, and then into your children. What cements this documentary as my all-time favourite is the rap at the end by Natural News’ very own Mike Addams.

Soon after watching Seeds of Death, I started to notice Vandana in more and more anti-GMO, anti-corporation, anti-technology documentaries. She appeared in so many that my friends gave her the nickname, ‘Nicholas Cage’, because she has never turned down a role or an opportunity for self-promotion, and it does not hurt that she charges a reported $40,000 per speaking lecture either.

Vanadana is also a prolific writer, and is the author of more than twenty books. One subscriber of mine recently sent me a copy of perhaps her most famous book, Ecofeminism, which has been given the precise honor of being one of only two books (the other one been Robert Youngs The pH Mirical) that I have been unable to finish. The book is nothing but word salad with key concepts undefined, overuse of emotional language rather then relying on cold hard facts, and ambiguous wording which leaves a lot up to the reader to interpret. I pride myself on my high tolerance for bullshit, but after reading the word “rape” a million times, as well as finding out that “GMOs embody the vision of capitalist patriarchy” and that they “perpetuate the idea of master molecules”, I decided it was time to put the book down. However, for those with time, I do recommend reading the preface, especially the part where Vandana talks about chemtrails and artificial volcanoes.

Vandana has some very unusual views with regards to agriculture and is not, as so many claim her to be, the champion of the poor as, if she got her way, millions would starve. Vandana wants to literally take us back to the dark ages, and for us to ignore all the advancements in technology that have taken so many from the brink of starvation. She wants us to go back to a time where we farmed by hand, and to do this she perpetuates myths about farmer suicide rates in India, fans the flames of anti-GMO histeria, and downplays the impact the Green Revolution had in India, where a population of 1.3 billion is now self-sufficient in food production which, at times in certain places, was on the brink of famine.

She is not a defender of the vulnerable, she is a danger to them. For example, when a cyclone hit India’s eastern coastal state of Orissa, the U.S. government dispatched grain and soy to help feed the victims, to which Vandana organised a press conference stating that “the United States has been using the Orissa victims as guinea pigs” for GMOs.

India’s own intelligence bureau, in a leaked classified report, raised concerns about Vandana’s connections to foreign-funded NGOs, saying that they are hampering India’s growth and development. Yet, despite all this, some, especially here in the west, see her as a hero when, if she had her way, a large chunk of the worlds population would be wiped off the face of the planet.

Going back to Vidal’s article, he next quotes political journalist, Alexander Cockburn, who accuses Borlaug of mass murder.

“Aside from Kissinger, probably the biggest killer of all to have got the peace prize was Norman Borlaug, whose ‘green revolution’ wheat strains led to the death of peasants by the million.”

The quote is not referenced and, as the saying goes, what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence, however I do want to pay attention to the cowardice of Vidal. He hides behind quotes and heavily relies on not-so-subtle implications to paint a picture of the Green Revolution as a dark spot on human history. He does this because if he were to give any hard facts or figures, he would be shot down for the inhuman idiot he is.

His overall message seems to be that the lives of a billion people saved from starvation would be a worthy price to pay for reduced fertiliser and pesticides. I have been racking my brain on how to finish this blog post and how to vocalise my disgust in people like Vidal. In the end I realised that I could not say it any better than Borlaug himself.

“some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They’ve never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things”

About Myles Power (757 Articles)
Hello Internet! My name is Myles Power and I am a chemist from the North East of England, who loves to make videos trying to counter pseudoscience and debunk quackery in all of its various forms! From the hype around GMOs through to Atrazine turning the freakin’ frogs gay, I’ll try to cut through the nonsense that’s out there!

1 Comment on Biting the Hand That Feeds You – Those Who Oppose The Green Revolution

  1. Brendan Davison // November 2, 2018 at 3:32 am // Reply

    I am gonna have to disagree with you when it comes to overpopulation. To put it simply Malthus was wrong. The thing is that overpopulation is not a scientific debate but an economic debate about the unequal distribution and unsustainable use of resources. There have been many articles, books and videos made about this by people much smarter than me, so I’ll just recommend the video the youtuber Mexie made on this topic.
    That being said being against Norman Burlaug should be praised because while he could not solve the problems of food distribution and waste, he at least made it much much easier and in a lot of ways put the final nail in Malthus’s coffin. The innovations he made and that were made because of him and he has saved the lives of billions which would have otherwise. Vandana Shiva’s arguments are premised on pseudoscience and rather than adapt her world view to the facts she just fills in the holes in her world view with nonsense. I used to be anti gmo but I not longer am. I’m still critical of the agribusiness industry for its emphasis on cash crops and not doing enough on sustainability, but that’s not because of the science, it’s because for the economic system, which is also the reason for the negative impacts do the green revolution in my opinion. It wasn’t Burlaug who used the green revolution to undo land reform and impose neoliberalism on the developing world, it was international institutions like the IMF and World Bank, western governments and corporations. I would think that Burlaug’s work made it possible for land reform to be even more effective, as governments would be able to distribute land more efficiently and allow other land to be used for other projects. Now Burlaug had views that were wrong and more than a little problematic, namely he was a Malthusian and this is ironic given his views basically undid the premise of malthusianism, but his work in agronomy has saved millions and if we use it with the right economic framework, it would work even better.
    It’s clear to me that if Vandana Shiva actually cared about the poor in the global south, she’d spend more time organizing for land reform and economic and political changes and less time on opposing GMOs and pesticides that might actually help.


3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Biting the Hand That Feeds You – Those Who Oppose The Green Revolution – Myles Power | jtveg's Blog
  2. 'A Matter of Taste: A Farmers' Market Devotee's Semi-Reluctant Argument for Inviting Scientific Innovation to the Dinner Table' — book review – AiPT!
  3. The Non-GMO Project EXPOSED!!! – Myles Power

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: