Meacher replies to Canadian government (31/1/2008)

1.Text of Michael Meacher's reply to the UK High Commissioner for Canada
2.Original letter from the UK High Commissioner for Canada

NOTE: Here's the text of Michael Meacher's reply to a letter from the Canadian High Commissioner in London concerning the Early Day Motion (EDM) on the abuse of science tabled in the House of Commons. Meacher's EDM, incidentally, has so far attracted the support of 27 Members of Parliament from a range of Parties - the latest Alex Samond, the leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) and Scotland's First Minister.

1.Text of Michael Meacher's reply to the UK High Commissioner for Canada

Many thanks for writing with respect to the Early Day Motion (EDM) I tabled on November 28th. I am obviously reassured that the Canadian Government wishes to distance itself from the behaviour of its employee, Mr. Shane Morris, and the article he co-authored in the British Food Journal on 'Agronomic and consumer considerations for Bt and conventional sweet corn'.

I quite accept that Mr. Morris was not working for the Government at the time he participated in the research back in Autumn 2000 and that he co-authored this paper in a private capacity, but I cannot accept that that makes it an entirely private matter. Throughout his employment by the Canadian Government - first in Summer 2001as a Professional Consultant to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and later as its National Biotechnology Operations Coordinator, before going on to his current post as a Consumer Analyst for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada - his scientific credentials, particularly in relation to biotechnology and consumer issues, must have been a significant consideration in assessing his suitability for the roles he was undertaking. The fact that he now stands accused of being party to mendacity, falsification and fraud in respect of biotechnology and consumer issues, is therefore hardly something that the Canadian Government can turn a blind eye to.

This is also not simply an issue of what Mr. Morris may have got up to before he was employed by the Canadian Government, as it is not only the study itself that is controversial but Mr. Morris's more recent attempts to defend the study. His statements as to how the study was conducted, and his role in it, have been contradicted by a number of scientists and others, who as you may know have in some cases directly accused him of making 'untrue statements'. In this context, I would also refer you to the current issue of the magazine Private Eye where he is accused of 'melodramatic lies' in relation to claims he recently made to the magazine.

It is also inevitable that Mr. Morris's use of heavy-handed libel threats and aggressive public statements will be viewed as reflecting on the institution that employs him. In this context I think it would be wise for you to take a look at some of the material he has published on his blogs. This, for example, is what he had to say on his 'gmwatchbullshtt' blog about a Canadian agricultural scientist, Dr. Rod MacRae of York University, who contradicted what Mr. Morris had claimed about how the research was conducted:

'Has GMWatch (or their big funders) bought lies in Canada??? In a desperate attempt to gain creditability (sic) GMWatch has rolled out a anti-GM consultant, Rob (sic) McRae (sic) to contradict me. McRae is a long time paid lackey of Greenpeace. In a hilarious farce McRae claims, without any evidence, all sorts of things about his visits to Birbank Farms......Just shows that anyone can be bought...oh well, I ain't going to argue cos I'm sure he is 110% correct!!!(wink)'.

I understand that Mr. Morris has subsequently replaced the word 'bought' with the word 'used', but I still find it hard to imagine that this kind of potentially libellous abuse is the sort of thing with which the Canadian Government would wish to be associated.

His employment by the Government of Canada also raises other questions. Immediately prior to that employment, Mr. Morris was employed as an assistant to Dr. Douglas Powell at the University of Guelph. Dr. Powell is a highly controversial figure who has been described in the Canadian press as the 'darling of the pro-biotech lobby and its chief attack dog', and Mr. Morris became very well know during his time at Guelph for his similarly aggressive promotion of the pro-GM agenda. Powell and Morris stand accused by their critics in Canada of using the op-ed pages of Canadian newspapers to denigrate anyone who criticized the science or the regulatory framework around biotechnology. For example, John Morriss, the editor of a Canadian farming paper, condemned Dr. Powell's 'aggressive if not vicious attacks on other scientists who dare to challenge his views' using 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' which was co-authored by Mr. Morris. A colleague of Powell and Morris at Guelph, Dr. E. Ann Clark, has even referred to what was going on there as 'not far removed from the proclamations of Orwell's Ministry of Truth'. Given this, some might find it surprising if the Canadian Government failed to recognise who they were offering employment to.

You mention that Mr. Morris is not an officially designated spokesman for either Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada or the Government of Canada, and that his views do not represent the views of the Government of Canada, but does the Government of Canada always grant such leeway to its employees to lobby for whatever causes they wish regardless of the political and other repercussions? As you will be aware, others in the Canadian bureaucracy are alleged to have got into considerable trouble for expressing their views. In the case of Shiv Chopra, Margaret Haydon and Gerard Lambert, the Canadian Government is accused by some of having gagged and eventually sacked them because of their public statements. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that perception, it does make it surprising if a public servant embarked on such a vigorous and controversial public campaign as that of Mr. Morris without the reassurance that his superiors were at ease with his actions. Or to put it another way, given that Canada is a major GM crop exporting nation, would a Canadian government employee have dared promote scepticism about GMOs as aggressively as Mr. Morris has sought to undermine and attack those opposing them?

Mr. Morris's behaviour also raises interesting questions of sovereignty. While I understand that Mr. Morris is still an Irish citizen, it is, I would have thought, unusual to have an official of the Canadian Government apparently briefing the main opposition Party in Ireland on how to create difficulties for Irish Ministers over Government policy. This is particularly the case when their policy of seeking to create a GM-free island of Ireland clearly runs directly counter to Canada’s economic interests and the mandate of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

I look forward to your response to the points I have made, and I hope this helps explain to you how Members of Parliament in this country, where government employees are not expected to behave in the way Mr Morris has, view this issue.

2.Original letter from the UK High Commissioner for Canada

Dear Michael

I am writing with respect to the Early Day Motion (EDM) you tabled on November 28th. I wish to clarify the role of an employee of the Federal Government of Canada in the publication of an article in the British Food Journal in 2003 on 'Agronomic and consumer considerations for Bt and conventional sweet corn.'

While now a Federal Government employee, Mr. Shane Morris was not working for the Government when he participated in research related to the publication of the article in the British Food Journal. The publication of that research paper, authored principally by Dr. Doug Powell of Kansas State University, was a private matter in which the Government of Canada had no involvement.

Any legal steps that Mr. Morris may have taken to defend the research paper were also a private matter in which the Government of Canada played no role. Mr. Morris is not an officially designated spokesman for either Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada or the Government of Canada, and he has not identified himself as such in his public correspondence. The views expressed are his personal views. They do not represent the views of the Government of Canada on genetically modified products.

Members of Parliament should understand therefore that the Government of Canada has not been involved in any of the alleged actions referred to in the EDM. I would be grateful if you, and other signatories to the EDM, would keep this important context in mind.

Yours sincerely,
James R Wright
High Commissioner

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