Vandana Shiva stands for organic like no other. For over 40 years she has been campaigning for ecology and organic farming. In October 2022 her memoirs “Terra Viva” were published. End of November she came to Germany to present the autobiography and to attend the premiere of the documentary film about her life which has been showing in German cinemas since December. From WDR and SWR to Hamburger Morgenpost, Badische Zeitung and Münchner Merkur to Deutsche Welle, WELT and Focus, reports and interviews (*) with the Indian environmental activist and winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize were published.
However, ARD’s (German public television) in-house fact check – the online portal “Faktenfinder”, which, according to its own information, is intended to “collect and correct phenomena such as political propaganda, rumours, lies and half-truths on the internet” (source: Wikipedia) – apparently took the big media echo around Vandana Shiva as an opportunity to present its very own view of things. On 13.12.2022, the article “Indian activist Shiva: eco-icon with questionable views” (English version here) was published which itself is rather questionable, teeming with half-truths and which, however, neither elaborates on the film nor on Dr. Shiva’s work.
On the other hand the Fact Finder complains right at the beginning that she has been “courted by politicians for years” but at the same time spreads “disinformation and conspiracy myths” – thus indirectly denying our politicians the ability to distinguish between real information and humbug. The fact that a bust of Dr. Shiva stands in the garden of Highgrove, the family seat of King Charles III, also seems suspicious to the fact finder but it is unclear for what argumentation this is supposed to serve, especially since it is only one among many busts of personalities who have all rendered outstanding services to the protection of nature.
Genetic engineering better than nature?
Almost the entire Fact Finder article reads like an advertising campaign for genetic engineering. It is the most natural thing in the world, in fact much better than nature itself, has reduced the use of pesticides in agriculture, brings salvation and blessings for the world’s food supply and anyone who sees it differently is a conspiracy ideologue and hopeless romantic, according to the undertone of the article. The man who pushes genetic engineering worldwide like no other – Bill Gates – is a victim of enemy images that such ignorant people who oppose genetic engineering unconsciously build up, it suggests. Moreover, everyone who criticises him is spreading fake news, above all Vandana Shiva.
But is that really the case? Has the Fact Finder really collected all the facts on the topic and compared all opinions and points of view or has it selectively presented only what fits into the prefabricated picture? Are the sources cited independent or industry-financed? A detailed analysis of the Fact Finder article yields some astonishing answers.
Bt-cotton and suicides
The ARD culture format “Titel, Thesen, Temperamente” reported on 26.11.2022 in a very good piece about the film and Vandana Shiva’s work but surprisingly accused Shiva of “bending the truth” by establishing a connection between the introduction of genetically modified Bt-cotton and the suicides of Indian cotton farmers. The report refers to “statistics” that are supposed to prove this claim, but without naming the source. The ARD Fact Finder makes up for this and presents a discussion paper from 2008 financed by the agricultural industry. Studies with different findings were disregarded, as were the statements of the Indian government, which openly confirm the connection. Just a one-off research mistake?
Probably not, as the article continues with the claim that Vandana Shiva and other activists have prevented the use of the genetically modified “Golden Rice” in the Third World and thus denied starving children access to vitamin A. What is not mentioned is that the GM rice is neither mature in its development – according to the developers themselves – nor nutritionally relevant – according to none other than the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In fact, political and patent hurdles but also technical problems were the reason for the delay. Activists had nothing to do with it, as even one of the leading scientists in the field admits. This is not a factual fact-check taking into account all available sources, but opinion-making.
Less pesticide through genetic engineering?
On closer examination the Fact Finder’s claim that genetic engineering has reduced the use of pesticides is also untenable. While the use of insecticides has decreased, the use of herbicides – including Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup – has multiplied. Both are so-called plant protection products – pesticides – and if one is weighed against the other, pesticide use has increased by 7% overall, as studies show that were, however, not included in the fact check. Only one meta-analysis was used, the author of which contributed five studies of his own – and received subsidies and prizes from the agricultural industry. The Fact Finder’s presentation is one-sided and neither neutral nor balanced.
Bill Gates and “conspiracy myths”
This kind of presentation runs through the entire article, which of course also mentions Bill Gates, who cannot be avoided anyway when talking about genetic engineering, the agricultural industry and the hunger problem in the Third World. But instead of looking at his influence and the question of how successful his efforts really were and what consequences they have, the stick of “conspiracy ideology” is used to batter and condemn everything that critically deals with the subject. Not a word about the international journalistic research that sheds light on the background of his foundation’s work, nor about the millions of people worldwide who are campaigning for agroecology without pesticides and for food sovereignty and freedom of choice when it comes to genetic engineering. Not a word about the fact that the cultivation of genetically modified plants is still strictly regulated in the EU and has de facto not taken place in Germany since 2013, even if the industry lobby is trying to change this.
In a detailed analysis and counterstatement prepared by the German publisher of Vandana Shiva’s books, all those points are listed which the Fact Finder article should have illuminated and weighed up if it had worked objectively and accurately. In addition to further studies, sources and background articles, the rebuttal also cites other ARD formats which, in earlier contributions on these topics, presented claims made by the Fact Finder in a contrary manner. Hence the question arises as to what prompted the Fact Finder to produce such a didactic piece of bias, one-sided reporting and neglect of due diligence which also violates Vandana Shiva’s personal rights. Quoted from the summary of the rebuttal:
This Fact Finder article largely focuses on unsubstantiated, refutable criticism of Dr. Vandana Shiva without seriously engaging with her work. Only industry-related and/or unqualified sources were used without presenting independent views, other perpectives or counter-arguments. Statements by Dr. Shiva were taken out of context or distorted, facts were misrepresented.“
The article by the Fact Finder – which calls itself the “verification team of the ARD” – is far removed from a factual and objective analysis of the facts, moreover it is written in a tendentious manner and makes serious accusations which, however, are not credibly substantiated. This can in no way be justified by freedom of the press or freedom of opinion, all the less so since it is supposed to be a so-called fact check.
The impression almost arises that the Fact Finder wanted to kill two birds with one stone: the discrediting of the entire organic movement and an absolution for the still highly controversial genetic engineering, including its biggest investor, Bill Gates. One might have expected more from a public service medium that is committed to independent, critical and balanced journalism. Especially since, according to a report by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Newspaper, the Fakt Finder has already run down a wrong track in the past and in another case even had to be legally reprimanded by a court. Fact Finder, quo vadis?
Link to the detailed counterstatement (PDF, English)(*)
- *Coverage by German media on the occasion of the premiere of the film “Vandana Shiva – Ein Leben für die Erde”:
- Vandana Shiva: Kinofilm über den Welthunger – WDR 3 Kultur am Mittag, 28.11.2022
- Ökofeministin Vandana Shiva: Film und Diskussion in Freiburg – SWR Aktuell, 29.11.2022
- Öko-Aktivistin Vandana Shiva in Hamburg – mit spezieller Botschaft an den Senat – Hamburger Morgenpost, 26.11.2022
- So war’s bei Vandana Shiva auf der Freiburger Messe – Badische Zeitung, 29.11.2022
- Umweltschützer sehen „gentechnikfreien Landkreis“ in Gefahr – Münchner Merkur, 06.12.2022
- Gandhi des Getreides: Doku über Vandana Shiva – Deutsche Welle, 01.12.2022
- “Wie eine Show mit vorgetäuschten Lösungen“ – Interview in Die Welt, 07.12.2022
- “Unsere Landwirtschaft ist viel umweltschädlicher als Fliegen“ – Interview im Focus, 02.12.2022