Propaganda, fraud, and libel - Part 4 of our response (5/9/2007)

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


Propaganda, Fraud and Libel - a response (part 4)

In Propaganda, Fraud and Libel, Andrew Apel charges GM Watch with targeting Shane Morris's "employment with the Canadian government" and of re-casting the dispute with Morris "as a conflict between Canada and Ireland". Apel also brands GM Watch as "Irish activists" out to discredit Morris because of his talent in exposing activist "misinformation" about GMOs in Ireland.

As usual with Apel, the misinformation is entirely his own. Although the GM Watch team includes people in Brazil, India, The Netherlands, Germany, and New Zealand - as well as different parts of the UK, there are (as yet!) no "Irish activists" amongst us. And the issue of Morris's employment with the Canadian government was first raised not by GM Watch but by a Canadian citizen - Professor Joe Cummins (Emeritus Professor of Genetics, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada).

Shane Morris has always been anxious to present his pro-GM views as purely personal and the gmoireland blog on which he has promoted them, and attacked those who take a different viewpoint, as something that he should not be barred from doing having been born and bred in Ireland. But there is a problem. As Prof Cummins has noted, others in the Canadian bureaucracy, such as Shiv Chopra, have got into big trouble for expressing views about biotechnology that were not to the liking of senior Canadian bureaucrats.

Canada, Prof Cummins points out, also has a history of secrecy in testing and marketing GM crops that makes one less than confident about the transparency of its activities in promoting the GM agenda. And Prof Cummins is far from alone in seeing Canada as being prepared to promote its biotech agenda in an underhand fashion (see, for instance, the article below).

What is undeniable is that public servants usually tend to be very wary of getting involved in public controversy. But Shane Morris, who has worked as a biotech regulator in Canada and is currently employed as a Senior Consumer Analyst at the Consumer Analysis Section of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, has not only used his blog to ridicule Irish and EU decison makers, and those political parties who fail to follow a pro-GM line, but he has also, according to GM-free Ireland:

* intimidated a senior executive at Board Bia (the Irish Government Food Board) into withdrawing agreed sponsorship for a Green Ireland conference at which international speakers were to warn Ireland of the economic benefits of keeping Ireland free of GM crops;

* published defamatory allegations claiming GM-free Ireland lured funding out of sponsors under false pretenses, by lying about the Bord Bia sponsorship which Morris himself caused to be cancelled;

* harassed both the Ireland Fund and the Irish Doctors Environmental Association for their sponsorship of the Briefing on Food Safety and GMOs co-hosted by the European Parliament Independence / Democracy Group and the GM-free Ireland Network at the European Parliament Office in Dublin in June 2007;

* carried out a shoot-the-messenger style letter-writing campaign to Irish newspapers, targeting critics of GM.

Morris and Apel contest GM-free Ireland's account of these events, but if even a part of it is true, it seems hard to imagine that a public servant would have embarked on such a vigorous public campaign without the reassurance that his superiors were at ease with his actions. Or to put it another way, can one imagine that a Canadian government employee would have dared promote scepticism about GMOs as aggressively as Morris has sought to undermine those opposing them? Canada, after all, is one of the world's biggest producers of GM crops and has a reputation for gagging and even sacking public servants who step out of line.

Prior to working for the Government of Canada, Morris worked as a research assistant at the University of Guelph. His boss, Doug Powell, has been decribed as the "darling of the pro-biotech lobby and its chief attack dog". John Morriss, the editor of a Canadian farming paper, once described Powell as a "tenured Assistant Professor at a Canadian university" who at some point "morphed into a full-blown apologist for biotechnology, while still operating under his 'food safety' umbrella". Guelph agricultural scientist, Ann Clark, went even further in condemning Powell's behaviour, "what some are doing today under the umbrella of academic freedom is actually not far removed from the proclamations of Orwell's Ministry of Truth."

Powell also stands accused by his critics in Canada of having used his "regular appearances on the op-ed pages of the nation to denigrate anyone who criticizes the science or the regulatory framework around biotechnology". While John Morriss in his editorial condemened Powell's "aggressive if not vicious attacks on other scientists who dare to challenge his views". He gave the example of an "offensive attack on no less than the Royal Society of Canada and the members of the panel it appointed to review food biotechnology" (Rude Science, The Manitoba Cooperator 58(46):4 21 June 2001). That attack was co-authored by none other than Shane Morris, who became very well know during his time at Guelph for promoting the pro-GM agenda with just as much fervour as Doug Powell.

Shane Morris was certainly active within Powell's controversial "Food Safety Network", which enjoyed the financial support of Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Syngenta Seeds USA, ConAgra, Ag-West Biotech, Bioniche Life Sciences Inc., Southern Crop Protection Association, and the (biotech industry funded) Council for Biotechnology Information.

Given that track record, some might find it hard to believe that the Canadian government could be so naive as not to recognise who they were offering employment to or the kind of services they might expect in return. It is also understandable that those who see Morris's "food safety" role at Guelph as having more to do with "PR for biotech" than academia, and his sweet corn research as having more to d

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