Propaganda, Fraud and Libel - a response (part 1) (28/8/2007)

This is the first part of our response to an article attacking GM Watch. Here we deal with the article's general criticism of us and other "activists". In part 2 we'll deal with the specifics of its allegations of libel.


Propaganda, Fraud and Libel - a response (part 1)

An article about the recent row involving the Canadian Government bureaucrat, Shane Morris, ourselves and GM-free Ireland, recently topped the daily bulletin of AgBioWorld's listserv - AgBioView - and was subsequently posted onto websites run by the Hudson Institute and Monsanto, as well as another pro-GM list, Doug Powell's Agnet.

Under the title Propaganda, Fraud and Libel, the author - Andrew Apel - paints a picture of Shane Morris as a scientist beset by "Irish activists" who according to Apel, "Apparently, cannot distinguish between scientific opinion, propaganda, fraud and libel".

There is considerable irony in such an accusation from such a source. Andrew Apel was formerly editor of the biotech industry newsletter, AgBiotech Reporter, but these days he is the "guest editor" of AgBioView. This listserv was in the forefront of the notorious campaign to smear the Berkeley scientists David Quist and Ignacio Chapela over their research on Mexican maize contamination.

The AgBioWorld campaign was initiated and fuelled by "anonymous" e-mail attacks on the integrity of the researchers. The attacks were subsequently shown to have been posted out of Monsanto and its Internet PR firm, Bivings. Bivings, it turned out, were also providing AgBioWorld with undisclosed support.

The accusations included the suggestion that the research had been constructed by Dr Chapela in collusion with activists for propaganda purposes, and there was even a call posted on AgBioView by Prof Anthony Trewavas that UC Berkeley should be pressed to dismiss Dr Chapela if he failed to give in to demands that he hand over his maize samples for independent scrutiny.

Another Monsanto PR attack posted on AgBioView was aimed at Greenpeace UK and its then head, Peter Melchett. When this AgBioView material ended up being published in a Scottish newspaper under the name of Prof Trewavas, it resulted in a successful libel action.

Andrew Apel's personal contributions to AgBioView have also been highly controversial. Following September 11th, for instance, he made an extraordinary attack on two GM critical scientists: "Vandana Shiva has blood on her hands, so does Mae-Wan Ho. So do others of their ilk."

A few months later Apel sought to link GM Watch founder, Jonathan Matthews, to terrorism, claiming, "He takes money from Greenpeace and has been associated with at least one terrorist group."

Shane Morris and his supporters have also repeatedly attacked Matthews and GM Watch, as well as Michael O'Callaghan of GM-free Ireland, in highly personal terms, accusing them, for example, of "FAKE information and Lies!!!". And while Apel seems to regard GM Watch as "Irish activists", Morris has even sought to link GM Watch to the colonial suppression of Ireland!

Morris and his co-author Doug Powell appear to have a history of aggressive attacks. After a press piece about the Royal Society of Canada's expert report on GM, an editorial in a Canadian farming paper accused them of "offensive" propaganda marked by "irrational views" and "virulent attacks on respected scientists." (Rude Science, John W. Morris, The Manitoba Co-operator, June 21 2001)

According to Apel's article, however, it is the "activists" who engage in aggressive propaganda and libel.


For more on the research at the centre of the row:

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