In May 2006 Doug Powell took up a post in the Department of Pathobiology at Kansas State University. He was formerly an associate professor in the Dept. of Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph, Canada. He was also the scientific director for Guelph's Food Safety Network, formerly known as the Agri-Food Risk Management and Communications Project, which now largely operates out of Kansas State.
Canada is one of the world's largest producers of genetically modified crops and Powell is a keen supporter of the technology. A member of the Ontario Bt-corn coalition, Powell accuses those who criticise GM crops of engaging in 'sound bite science' that has 'everything to do with political opportunism and nothing to do with food safety'. (Don't be fooled)
Powell is a fierce opponent of any move to make the labelling of GM foods mandatory. According to Powell, 'Mandatory labeling is not about creating choice at all. It's about targeting products, creating retailer nervousness and customer fears and ultimately removing choice from the marketplace.' (Consumers prefer genetically enegineered sweet corn)
The Food Safety Network has amongst its declared aims a commitment to 'actively engage the Canadian and international publics in discussions and debate about food safety options' via 'on-going media outreach, letters-to-the-editor, research-based press releases and weekly opinion articles distributed nationally and internationally.'
Powell's own commitment to media outreach can be assessed from his curriculum vitae (resume). Between 2000 and January 2003 he wrote some 80 articles for the general media, in addition to articles for trade publications. In the same period, according to his c.v. when it was available online, he was involved in approximately 1,500 'media interviews or hits (where Powell was referenced for background material)'.
Powell's prolific engagement on the GM issue has proven controversial. He has been called the 'darling of the pro-biotech lobby and its chief attack dog' and has been accused of using his 'regular appearances on the op-ed pages of the nation to denigrate anyone who criticizes the science or the regulatory framework around biotechnology'. (Propaganda is not science)
In an article entitled Rude Science in the Manitoba Cooperator (58(46):4 21 June 2001), editor John Morriss reviewed Powell's performance as a science communicator, describing him 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'. For Morriss, even more serious than Powell's role as a biotech apologist, is his 'aggressive if not vicious attacks on other scientists who dare to challenge his views' .
Morriss gives as an example Powell's 'offensive attack on no less than the Royal Society of Canada and the members of the panel it appointed to review food biotechnology'. He quotes from a piece Powell contributed to The National Post - as part of Junk Science Week - in which Powell dismissed the Royal Society's report (Recommendations for the Regulation of Food Biotechnology in Canada) as a document that more resembled a Greenpeace hatchet job than a reasoned analysis of the science surrounding GM issues'.
Powell also claimed the Royal Society report had 'aroused understandable outrage from this countrys scientists. Morriss comments, This countrys scientists? Perhaps Powell means all with the exception of the 14 scientists on the panel... including (one) at the University of Guelph... apparently "academic freedom" at that university allows trashing of your colleagues work in non-peer reviewed journals.'
Powell's notoriety for 'aggressive if not vicious attacks' extends beyond his 'attack dog' defence of GMOs. In autumn 2004 he made the front page of Guelph's local paper when he pleaded guilty to assault. He was ordered by the judge to take counselling for domestic violence after it emerged he had spat in the face of his girlfriend after subjecting her to 'a string of abusive terms'. He had also prevented her from making a 911 call. It also emerged in court that Powell had two prior convictions for criminal negligence causing death, for which he had been sentenced to 17 months in jail. (Professor Gets Probation for Spitting on Girlfriend, Guelph Mercury, 6 Nov 2004)
A curious aspect of the case was that the judge was asked to give Powell a discharge. Discharges are normally only granted to first offenders so that they do not acquire a criminal record. Powell, as the judge noted, already had a criminal record as a result of the two prior convictions for serious criminal offences. However, the judge was advised that Powell - 'a well-respected consultant, a p