Propaganda, Fraud and Libel - Part 2 of our response (1/9/2007)

This is the second part of our response to an article attacking GM Watch published on AgBioView by its "guest editor", Andrew Apel.

Apel's article can be found at

Part 1 of our response is at
Propaganda, Fraud and Libel - a response (part 2)

In Propaganda, Fraud and Libel, Andrew Apel attacks GM Watch over an article on our website originally entitled Award for a Fraud.

The article was about an award winning scientific paper by Doug Powell, Shane Morris and two other authors, published in the British Food Journal. This paper described research carried out at a Canadian farm store that reported a marked consumer preference for GM (over non-GM) sweet corn.

Apel claims our article "implicated Shane Morris, a co-author of the paper, in committing outright fraud". This, it is implied, is why Morris asked our ISP to ensure that either the title of our article was changed or our website disabled.

We have already dealt with the extraordinarily hypocritical nature of the attack on GM Watch in part one of our response to Propaganda, Fraud and Libel. Here we're going to deal with the question of whether our article about the research was libelous and why this study remains so controversial.

The way in which Apel's article is sequenced implies that GM Watch was a relative late-comer to this controversy - a Johnny-come-lately wading in with a gratuitously libelous article that unfairly targeted Shane Morris, forcing him to take action. But nothing could be further from the truth.

We were, in fact, the first people outside Canada to draw out the significance of the reporting of the Canadian journalist Stuart Laidlaw, who visited the farm store on several occasions during the research and observed at first hand a series of interventions by the researchers that were completely at odds with the way the research was later promoted to the scientific community.

In his book Secret Ingredients, Laidlaw reported how a sign above the GM corn on sale in the farm shop referred to "quality sweet corn", while a sign placed above the non-GM sweet corn effectively labelled it "wormy". GM Watch was the first to make a photograph of the wormy corn sign, taken by a Toronto Star photographer, available on the web.

Equally importantly, Laidlaw also reported that there were a number of pro-GM fact sheets - some authored by industry lobby groups - available to shoppers at the store without any balancing information from critics of genetic engineering. He also reported how he observed the lead researcher, Doug Powell, directly influencing a customer in favour of GM sweet corn.

What Laidlaw observed going on at the farm store convinced him that the only conclusion which could safely be drawn from the study was that, "fed a lot of pro-biotech sales pitches, shoppers could be convinced to buy GM products."

Our article drew attention to the fact that none of these "pro-biotech sales pitches" made their way into the award winning paper. When our article was published, together with the wormy corn sign, back in April 2006, it caused quite a stir, and prompted an article in New Scientist a month later.

The article reported how a leading researcher into scientific ethics had called for the British Food Journal to retract the paper - something its editor refused to do, although he was prepared to publish letters criticisng and defending the research.

The point to note is that absolutely nobody suggested at the time that our article was defamatory. Nobody asked for any element of its content, including its title, to be changed or expunged from the web. In fact, Shane Morris, while branding our article "bullsh*t", claimed to be the very first person to publish it!

Morris even claimed to have had access to the article pre-publication. This is what he wrote on his blog at the time:

Monday, April 24, 2006
Leak of Unreleased Report
This unreleased info below was given to me by folks who cannot believe the GM Watch lies and spins any longer. It was not available to the public on their [ie GM Watch's] website...
My sources have shown me the info is currently stored at
[http://gmwatchbullshtt.blogspot.com/2006_04_01_archive.html ]
The implication of this statement, if it were to be taken at face value, is that Morris had been given information stored in a file on a third party's personal computer and not intended at that point for publication, and that he then deliberately published it. Leaving aside the legality, never mind the ethics of such an action, if this article were, as is now claimed, defamatory, why did Morris, having had pre-publication access to it, not try to prevent its publication, rather than claim to be the first to make it publicly available? Indeed, at the time of writing, the article that Morris has recently gone to such lengths to censor is still available uncensored on Morris's own blog!

Not only did Morris not make any claim of defamation, he stated unambiguously that the article did not accuse him of fraud, commenting: "He [ie the supposed author] still refuses to claim I (Shane Morris) committed fraud."

Nor when Morris first contacted us about alleged defamation did he make any reference at all to our article. His concern was said to be purely about a statement made about him in an unpublished letter to a newspaper by GM-free Ireland. Only when we had

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