Modern day heretics have it easy compared to their medieval antecedents (at least in the West). Denouncing dogma that they once propagated won't get them tortured and burned at the stake. But they do stand a good chance of provoking hostile blowback, which is what Mark Lynas, the British environmental writer, has experienced this week. That's because Lynas has just repudiated, in no uncertain terms, the anti-GMO movement he helped give birth to in the 1990s. In a heartfelt and hardhitting speech, Lynas apologized "for having spent several years ripping up GM crops," and for sowing unfounded fears that have been "exported by NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to Africa, India and the rest of Asia, where GM is still banned today." Referring to the worldwide biotech restrictions, Lynas also said:
But most important of all, farmers should be free to choose what kind of technologies they want to adopt.
Now there's a number of things in the speech by Lynas that people can take issue with, such as what I already discussed here. But I don't see how a statement defending the rights of farmers is controversial. Somehow, though, Vandana Shiva, the Indian environmentalist and anti-GMO activist blurted this out on twitter:
#MarkLynas saying farmers shd be free to grow #GMOs which can contaminate #organic farms is like saying #rapists shd have freedom to rape — Dr. Vandana Shiva (@drvandanashiva) January 5, 2013
When I saw this, it took my breath away, especially in light of the recent horrible gang rape and death in India that seems to have jolted that country into confronting its predatory culture of harassment and violence against women. Others, I noticed, were similarly aghast.
@drvandanashiva Shame on you for comparing GMOs to rape. That is a despicable argument that devalues women, men, and children. — Karl Haro von Mogel (@kjhvm) January 5, 2013
That was from one scientist. Here's from another:
.@drvandanashiva Really?! This is a disgusting comment, insulting on so many levels. I'm not a big fan of GMOs, but you should apologize. — Jonathan Foley (@GlobalEcoGuy) January 5, 2013
Could Shiva's insensitive tweet have been said in haste, or did it reflect the warped attitude of an activist? You be the judge after reading this op-ed from her last week, which includes this statement:
I have repeatedly stressed that the rape of the Earth and rape of women are intimately linked, both metaphorically in shaping worldviews and materially in shaping women's everyday lives.
This is a person who is widely venerated as a feminist and champion of social and environmental causes. UPDATE: Having been offline for nearly a day since Shiva made her offensive tweet, I didn't catch what some others had already blogged, such as Robert Wilson here. Definitely check it out.
Image/Vandana Shiva during a television interview with Bill Moyers in 2012.