Propaganda, fraud, and libel - Part 3 of our response (4/9/2007)

This is the third 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

The article at the centre of the controversy is at

Part 1 of our response to Apel looked at the extraordinary hypocrisy of his attack

Part 2 looked at how the claim of libel simply fails to stack up

Part 3 (below) raises serious questions about Apel's defence of the study.


Propaganda, Fraud and Libel - a response (part 3)

In Propaganda, Fraud and Libel, Andrew Apel attacks GM Watch over an article on our website about an award winning paper reporting research conducted by Doug Powell, Shane Morris and others at a Canadian farm store (Agronomic and consumer considerations for Bt and conventional sweet-corn, D.A.Powell, K.Blaine, S.Morris and J.Wilson, British Food Journal, Volume 105 Number 10, 2003, pp. 700-713). The research was into consumer preference in relation to GM and non-GM sweet corn.

According to Apel, "The activists' case was opened for them by Toronto Star reporter Stuart Laidlaw. The reporter claimed that when he visited the Birkbank farm store on several occasions during the start of the trials, the hand-written sign above the non-GM corn said, 'Would You Eat Wormy Sweet Corn?' while that above the engineered corn said, 'Here's What Went into Producing Quality Sweet Corn.'"

Note how Apel tries to undermine the Toronto Star reporter by shoehorning him in with the "activists". Note how he also limits the time frame for Laidlaw's visits to the farm store to "occasions during the start of the trials". As Laidlaw doesn't date his visits to the farm store in his book Secret Ingredients, it would be interesting to know how Apel can be so specific about such a limited time frame.

One reason this is an important issue soon becomes apparent:

"What the opponents of Powell's work pointedly failed to mention is that after the first week of the study the signs they complained about were taken down. Only then did the formal data-gathering phase begin - using machine-printed, laminated placards."

The implication seems to be that while Laidlaw visited the farm store several times during the study, because all his visits fell, according to Apel, "during the start of the trials", he won't have seen the problematic signs come down before data gathering began.

Of course, even if this scenario were correct, it wouldn't actually resolve anything, because the farm had a lot of repeat customers, as the sweet corn paper itself notes, so their purchasing preferences could have been influenced before the problematic signs were taken down.

But that aside, in relation to the involvement of one of the researchers - Shane Morris, Apel says it is particularly libelous to implicate him in anything to do with the signs:

"..the hand-written "wormy" sweet corn signs had gone up and come down before Morris was in Canada, before he was employed at the University of Guelph, and before the data were gathered."

And, Apel says, there is independent verification of that, because these newer signs were "viewed and photographed by Michael Khoo of Greenpeace", although "Greenpeace has for unknown reasons failed to make these pictures public."

Curiously, Apel does not mention in his article that there is plenty of photographic evidence available independently of Greenpeace, as Shane Morris tells us on his blog:

"There are lots of pictures and video footage of the store that show no misleading signs during the data collection period (see pic above). "

To date, Morris has made two of these images available on his blog to show the wormy corn sign wasn't in the store

Unfortunately, these images are at such a low resolution that it is not easy to read what the signs say. This problem could easily be resolved by Shane Morris making the images available at a higher resolution. This is particularly important since, as we have noted before, irrespective of any newer signage, there is a sign in these images which looks as if it might be the wormy corn sign.

Like Apel, Shane Morris is emphatic that the wormy corn sign was not there when he went to the farm store for the first time in late September 2000 - the same day, as Morris notes, that Michael Khoo of Greenpeace came to the store:

"I never saw any such misleading "signs" (granted, I only came to Canada in Fall/Autumn (mid September)

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