WASHINGTON, Aug. 22, 2014 -- Forty years ago in November, the World Food Conference in Rome was my first encounter, as a young congressional staffer, with the followers of Lyndon LaRouche, a group of zealous activists bent on exposing what they saw as a vast conspiracy of multinational companies, government agencies and foundations bent on starving humanity.

Fast forwarding to the present day, I can hear the echoes of the widely discredited LaRouche from 1974 reverberating in the fulminations of Vandana Shiva, a self-appointed crusader who sees agricultural biotechnology as a similar plot that will bankrupt farmers and starve the poor.

The LaRouche acolytes in Rome circulated tracts – still available online – that denounced the international grain trade, the State Department and then-Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and his family’s foundations for promoting a supranational agency that would control world food supplies to the detriment of underdeveloped countries. Ironically, they credited former Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz for initially resisting “the Rockefeller cabal.”

For Shiva, today’s successors to the conspirators of the 1970s are Monsanto, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, USDA and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They and co-conspirators at FDA, EPA and U.S. scientific organizations seek to impose “food totalitarianism” on the world, Michael Specter writes in thecurrent issue of The New Yorker.

Specter, author of the 2009 book “Denialism,” neatly debunks a series of Shiva shibboleths – that biotech cotton has driven Indian farmers to suicide and that the “Green Revolution” caused rather than alleviated hunger. (In a blog post this week, Specter disposes of the arguments for mandatory labeling of biotech food).

Jon Entine of the Genetic Literacy Project this week also posted a thorough takedown of Shiva’s litany of unscientific allegations. His website provides an even more detailed background.

The similarities between the message I took from Shiva’s talk to scarcely more than 200 enthusiasts in Lafayette Park three years ago (see Agri-Pulse, Oct. 19, 2011) and the implications of what LaRouche preached in the 1970s are many and eerie. Shiva decried the “culture of bad food” and “the food dictatorship that Monsanto has spread.” (Her talk is on YouTube.) The LaRouche emissaries said “Rockefeller’s World Food Conference flunkies” plotted “mass starvation” and claimed that the White House advocated “food as a weapon” to aid in Third World depopulation.

The LaRouche literature was especially critical of the late Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., for whom I worked at the time, because he advocated a “World Food Bank” that would give the Rockefellers control over global food supplies. It also faulted his legislation to create the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, “preventing any USDA intervention in the interest of farmers” and putting them at the mercy of “such Rockefeller linked speculators as Cargill and Continental Grain.”

Despite the consistency and overlap in the conspiracy theories put forth by Shiva and LaRouche, there is one significant difference between them. While LaRouche was regarded as a fringe actor and never taken seriously, Shiva and her message have drawn attention and even admiration in respectable circles. Public television commentator Bill Moyers referred to her as “a rock star in the worldwide battle” against biotech food. She has received honorary degrees from universities in France, Norway and Canada and been given a prestigious platform at Beloit College in Wisconsin.


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