GM-FREE IRELAND


Canada's covert attack on Ireland's GM-free policy

1.

The Canadian Government's dirty tricks campaign

2.

The GM Propaganda Lab - the article they didn't want you to read

3.

Pseudoscience

4.

Professor Joe Cummins: SLAPP suits in biotechnology

5.

GW Watch response: Propaganda, Fraud and Libel

6.

Soil Association: complaint to UK High Commissioner for Canada

7.

Soil Association: British Food Journal should withdraw paper by Powell, Blaine, Morris and Wilson

8.

GM Watch article: "Wormy corn scientists' claims 'untrue'"

9.

University of New South Wales computer imaging expert: Morris paper's claims "untrue"

10.

Agri-biotech industry lobbyists rally around wormy corn scientist

11.

Cambridge University research ethics expert: Morris paper is "flagrant fraud"

12.

Private Eye "Corn Fakes" article: Shane Morris libel threats are "heavy-handed"

13.

Soil Association: Morris criticised for "personal abuse"

14.

Food Consumer Org article: company research on GM food is rigged

15.

The Ecologist magazine: who pulled the plug on GM Watch website?

16.

Private Eye magazine: Corn on the cobblers

17.

UK House of Commons: Early Day Motion condemns Shane Morris

18.

Irish Senate: call for Government to condemn Canadian interference in Irish political discourse

19.

Open letter to British Food Journal signed by 40 leading experts

20.

Canada dirty tricks exposed in WTO dispute on GMOs (GM-free Ireland press release, 28 January 2008)

21.

Michael Meacher MP - correspondence with High Commissioner for Canada

22.

London Times article: Researchers call on journal to retract paper on GM food


Download press release, 28 January 2008:
Canada dirty tricks exposed in WTO dispute on GMOs


Part 1: The Canadian Government's dirty tricks campaign

Five Irish Senators and twenty six British MPs have condemned the Government of Canada for its covert campaign against Ireland's policy to prohibit the release of genetically modified (GM) crops and livestock.

Background

In 2003, the USA, Canada and Argentina (the world's three largest producers of GM crops) filed a WTO trade dispute against the EU for suspending approvals of biotech products, and for national bans on EC-approved GM crops in six EU member states. In 2006, the WTO rejected most of the arguments, conceding that national bans are justifiable subject to risk assessment. Since then, EU Environment and Agriculture Ministers twice voted to support the member states' legal right to maintain these bans.

Following the WTO's failure to prevent EU resistance to GM food and farming by legal means in 2006, Canada adopted an undercover strategy to stifle debate and intimidate NGOs working to promote public awareness about the issue. Using a sophisiticated high tech PR propaganda technique called Public Perception Management (PPM), the strategy uses computerised semantic analysis of daily media coverage of GM issues to feed pro-GMO stories to public relations companies, spin doctors, policy makers, and journalists. The current PPM objective of the WTO, the agri-biotech corporations and the governments which support them aims to convince policy makers, farmers and consumers that nothing can be done to stop the GMO invasion. This strategy has proven extremely effective in shaping coverage of GMO issues in the Irish media, whose superficial coverage of the GMO controversy usuallly frames the debate as scientists versus Luddites.

Shane Morris

The Canadian Government uses Shane Morris to promote GM crops in Ireland. He is an Irish citizen currently employed by the Public Health Agency of Canada (and formerly employed as Senior Consumer Analyst at the Consumer Analysis Section of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada - see www.gmfreeireland.org/morris/ShaneMorris.pdf).

Morris has a Bachelor's degree in biology and statistics from the National University of Ireland (Maynooth) where he was a member of Young Fine Gael advising his party's policy makers (including Alan Dukes and Denis Naughten) on GM issues. Following the launch of the GM-free Ireland campaign, Morris regularly gave a Dublin address in letters and correspondence to the Irish media, even though he mostly lived in Canada at the time. He now appears to be living in Ireland, and continues to issue pseudo-scientific letters promoting GM food and farming, which are frequently published by the Irish Times, the Irish Independent and the Irish Farmers Journal. It seems unlikely that he is their real author.

He is married to bioethicist Vardit Ravitsky (a faculty member at the Department of Medical Ethics and a fellow at the Center for Bioethics, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia) who claims "any new technology is 'value neutral'".

He was a PhD student under Dr. Charlie Spillane at the the Biochemistry Department & Biosciences Institute, University College Cork, where he set up his new "GMO Ireland" blog at http://student.ucc.ie/blogs/GMOIreland/. He then worked as a Research Fellow at the Department of Botany and Plant Science, National University of Ireland, Galway.

The following information is based on his LinkedIn profile (accessed 30 May 2011):

Current

Manager at Public Health Agency of Canada which claims it "serves to protect and promote the health of Canadians. As the federal government's lead on public health, the Public Health Agency pursues a vision of healthy Canadians and communities in a healthier world. Its activities focus on preventing chronic diseases, like cancer and heart disease, preventing injuries and responding to public health emergencies and infectious disease outbreaks. The Agency has national and regional offices located throughout Canada."

Researcher at NUI Galway (which describes itself as "one of Ireland's foremost centres of academic excellence").

Past

Senior Policy Analyst at the Office of the Comptroller General, Treasury Board of Canada, which describes its purpose as "creating a performance-based regulatory system that will protect and advance the public interest in the areas of health, safety and security, the quality of the environment, and the social and economic well-being of Canadians", and whose activities include leading the design of Canada's integrated communications and outreach strategy, partnership with public education, and "development and implementation of the national outreach strategy".

Senior Policy Officer at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), which claims to provide "information, research and technology, and policies and programs to achieve an environmentally sustainable agriculture, agri-food and agri-based products sector, a competitive agriculture, agri-food and agri-based products sector that proactively manages risk, and an innovative agriculture, agri-food and agri-based products sector."

Researcher at ASK-FORCE, "consulting in Biosafety GM crops (Self-employed)". ASK-FORCE is a programme of the so-called Public Research & Regulation Intiative, run by the notorious pro-GMO lobbyist Klaus Amann who warned the UN Commission on Sustainable Development against "needless over-regulation" of GM on the grounds of "the very real threat that an overly-strict adherence to precautionary regulation could pose to both the environment and to the well being of human populations around the world." Amann also played a leading role in circulating and encouraging the attacks on researchers David Quist and Ignacio Chapela and their paper on GM contamination of Mexican maize published in Nature.

National Biotechnology Operations Coordinator at Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

Professional Consultant at Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Biotechnology communications officer and researcher at Centre For Safe Food, University of Guelph.

Teaching Assistant at University of Limerick.

YFG National exec at Fine Gael.

General Operator and Quality assessment at Leo Laboratories Ltd.

Canada's dirty tricks campain in Ireland

Canada's Irish campaign involves an arsenal of "dirty tricks" reminiscent of Nixon's Watergate scandal. These include misinformation, intimidation, character assassination, libel, defamation, and so-called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP).

The strategic interference in Irish policy-making on GMOs includes:

A web blog maintained by Morris at http://www.gmoireland.blogspot.com which attempts to discredit Ireland's GMO-free zone policy through misinformation, slander, ridicule, and childish defamatory attacks on political parties, non-governmental organisations, politicians and citizens who want to keep Ireland free of GM crops and livestock. These "shoot the messenger" attacks include highly personal accusations, for example, of "FAKE information and Lies!!!".

In June 2006, Morris intimidated a senior executive at Bord Bía (the Irish Government Food Board) into withdrawing agreed sponsorship for the Green Ireland conference on branding for food, farming and eco-tourism where leading experts on GMOs including Vandana Shiva, Percy Schmeiser, and Benedikt Haerlin, warned Ireland of the economic benefits of keeping Ireland free of GM crops. After Bord Bía subsequently denied having made the offer to sponsor the event, Morris published defamatory allegations that GM-free Ireland had lured funding from Glenisk and other sponsors under false pretenses, by lying about the Bord Bía sponsorship which he himself caused to be cancelled: see details at http://www.gmfreeireland.org/conference/trans/bordbia.php.

In June 2007, Morris harassed sponsors of a 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 on 15 June. The briefing included a speech by Ireland's new Minister for Food and Horticulture, Trevor Sargent, who outlined the government's policy to declare the whole island of Ireland as a GMO-free zone, the launch of the book "Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods" (www.geneticroulette.com) with a related briefing by the author Jeffrey M. Smith, presentations by the geneticist Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher PhD on genome scrambling found in GM crops (www.gmfreeireland.org/health/BSR-2-BGERvol23.pdf), and on a recent scientific study which found that a variety of Monsanto GM maize widely fed to Irish cattle and sheep causes liver and kidney damage in laboratory animals (www.gmfreeireland.org/health/SeraliniPaper2007.pdf). The briefing was co-hosted by Kathy Sinnott MEP and GM-free Ireland co-ordinator, Michael O'Callaghan.

In 2007, Morris carried out a shoot-the-messenger style letter-writing campaign to Irish newspapers (see news coverage for June, July, August, September and October 2007).



Strategic lawsuits against public participation

As Professor Joe Cummins (Emeritus Professor of Genetics, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada) pointed out [see next article below], the Canadian government then threatened the GM-free Ireland Network with a so-called Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP).

This is a form of litigation filed by a large organisation or power plaintiff, to intimidate and silence less powerful critics by so severely burdening them with the cost of a legal defence that they abandon their criticism. The SLAPP technique has been widely used by Monsanto to intimidate farmers contaminated by GMOs in the USA and Canada, through extortion letters (http://www.gmfreeireland.org/conference/trans/exhibits/A.php) and patent infringment lawsuits (http://www.gmfreeireland.org/conference/trans/pschmeiser.php).

Monsanto's use of SLAPP patent infringement lawsuits led the European Patent Office to revoke Monsanto's species-wide patent on all genetically modified soybeans on 3 May 2007 (http://www.etcgroup.org/en/materials/publications.html?pub_id=616) and the US Patent and Trademark Office to revoke 5 of Monsanto's US patents on GMO soya beans in July 2007 after the company used its dominance to bully farmers into submission through a series of high-profile lawsuits that made examples of people who saved their patented seed for replanting (http://www.pubpat.org/monsantorejections.htm).

The pretext for the SLAPP threat against GM-free Ireland was the latter's reference to a GM Watch article titled "Award for a Fraud". The article concerned a paper co-authored by Shane Morris on consumer attitudes to GM food which won the British Food Journal "best scientific paper of the year" award in 2003, even though it was widely criticised for being scientifically misleading and unethical, triggering a controversy reported by New Scientist magazine. (See http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=mg19025533.300&feedId=gm-food_rss20 , and http://web.archive.org/web/20070522105547/http://www.gmwatch.org/p1temp.asp?pid=72&page=1, and various documents below).

GM watch (http://www.gmwatch.org) is a London-based public service non-governmental organisation which plays a central role in fostering global public awareness about GMO issues through a database of biotech lobby groups, front organisations, lobbyists and spin doctors, as well as a free email subscription to world-wide media coverage of GM issues.

On 20 July 2007, Morris threatened the GM Free Ireland Network with a defamation lawsuit unless we censored an unpublished letter sent to the Irish Times on 29 June (and copied on our web site) which mentioned the "Award for a Fraud" article.

On 3 August, Morris used the Dublin lawfirm of McCann Fitzgerald Solicitors to threaten our internet service provider, Hosting 365, with recovery of his legal costs unless GM-free Ireland removed the embarassing references on our web site.

In order to avoid an expensive lawsuit in which a jury would be asked to decide whether or not the word "fraudulent" was scientifically justified or defamatory in this case, the GM-free Ireland Network immediately deleted the word from our web site, and also reported the demand made by Morris that we publish the following statement to avoid further legal action:

Gmfreeireland.org would like to correct a claim previously made that Shane Morris made "fraudulent scientific claims". Gmfreeireland.org acknowledges such a claim has no legal basis and would like to point out that:

- No findings of fraud were ever made by the British Food Journal in regards to the claims in the publication in question.

- The paper in question remains published as a valid piece of scholarly research.

- The academic award for the paper remains valid.

- A letter of explanation on the matter was published in the British Food Journal 2006 Vol 108, Issue 8


The above statement was published without any apology or admission of liability.

On 6 August 2007, Morris disseminated a news flash entitled "Anti-GM activist group issues a correction with an apology" (http://gmopundit.blogspot.com/2007/08/flash-ant-gm-activist-group-issues.html which fasely implied that GM-free Ireland now approved of the paper and had apologised for describing it as "fraudulent".

On 7 August 2007, in an outrageous attack on free speech, Morris then threatened defamation lawsuits against the web hosting company EasyNet UK and its internet service provider unless they shut down the GM Watch web site at www.gmwatch.org that had originally published the various articles critical of his misleading paper.

Fearing lawsuits which they could not afford, EasyNet UK and its ISP immediately disabled the GM Watch web site from 17 to 22 August, without even contacting GM Watch to remove the material that was so embarassing to Morris. The web site was only re-activated after GM Watch agreed to change the title of one of the articles from "Award for a Fraud" to "The GM Propaganda Lab" (without apology or admision of liability). See related article at www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2007/08/379251.html?c=on#c179424.

The Canadian governmnent thus used its Irish agent to attack two European NGOs, shutting down one of their websites and intimidating both the censor their criticism of his misleading "scientifc" paper. But his goal went still further than that.

The initial concern was GM Watch's exposé of research which, according to Greenpeace Canada at the time, was "deliberately skewed to favour Bt corn, out of fear that consumers would reject the controversial technology", but once the GM Watch website had been forced down, his real goal became clear:

On 17 August, Morris attempted to cover up the scandal about his misleading paper with a second threat of legal action against the GM Free Ireland Network, via an email with the following demand that we remove all mention of him on our web site!

"You will note that the GM Watch website in the UK has been disabled. As a matter of urgency please remove the (sic) all the GM Watch material on GM Free Ireland's website that you have reproduced in connection with me. The bulk of this material is sourced at www.gmfreeireland.org/news/2007/jun.php#shane and includes the following 'Award for a Fraud', published by GM Watch: www.gmwatch.org/p1temp.asp?pid=72&page=%201. Etc. Also please remove all references to "fraud" and myself including those you cite from GM Watch (for example at various locations I (sic) your news section). If this is not done by close of business today, August 17, 2007, I will have to further instruct my legal representatives on the matter."



On 22 August, GM-free Ireland notified Morris of our refusal to remove all references to him on our website, while updating the title of the quoted GM Watch article. We emphasized to Morris that this action did not constitute any admission of liability by us or our internet service provider, and requested him to cease and desist from further harrassing the GM-free Ireland Network and our internet service provider in relation to this or any other matter.

Morris responded by claiming that GM-free Ireland, GM Watch and their respective internet service providers in Ireland and the UK "have already admitted liability by your posting of an earlier correction" with the implied threat that he would yet seek recovery of his legal costs.

GM-free Ireland and our internet service provider responded to Morris stating they do not admit any liability whatsoever and refuse to pay his legal costs.

Morris's effort to censor GM-free Ireland and GM Watch have backfired by producing the opposite of the intended results via a flurry of criticism including a complaint to the UK High Commissioner for Canada, renewed calls for his paper to be withdrawn, expert photographic evidence concluding that the authors' scientific claims were "untrue", a description of his paper by a leading research ethics at Cambridge University as "flagrant fraud", a Private Eye article describing Morris's libel threats as "heavy handed", and an accusation by the Soil Association that he has engaged in "personal abuse".

In January 2008, 40 leading experts wrote an open letter to the editor and editorial board of the British Food Journal (BFJ), demanding that Morris's paper be retracted and that the Journal withdraw its "Award for Excellence for Most Outstanding Paper in 2004". The letter was signed by forty scientists, including leading experts in the areas of science policy and research ethics, and by two Members of Parliament in the UK, including Britain's former Minister of the Environment. The signatories include experts from Britain, Canada, the US, Norway, France, Italy, Brazil, Venezuela, Indonesia and Japan, all of whom have been disgusted by the failure of the British Food Journal to retract a paper which, as they note, "has brought science and the BFJ into disrepute."

Prof. Cummins commented on the Canadian campaign as follows:

"Shane is a bureaucrat in Agriculture Canada and his views are supported by that Ministry. It is very clear that the Canadian government hired Shane and promote him in the Ministry as a way of promoting GM crops. Shane's attacks may seem like sheer lunacy to most of us but the Canadian bureaucrats think that he is brilliant in damaging the detractors of GM crops. I expect that they will hire other nationals who will attack those opposed to GM crops in their home countries."

Morris and his co-author Doug Powell appear to have a history of aggressive attacks. After they wrote an article criticising an expert report on GM by the Royal Society of Canada, a Canadian farming paper editorial accused them of "offensive" propaganda marked by "irrational views" and "virulent attacks on respected scientists." (Rude Science, John W. Morris, The Manitoba Co-operator, June 21 2001)

The Canadian government's approval of GM crops in their own country was a collosal mistake, leading to widespread contamination, plummeting farm incomes, and massive loss of market share. Their attempt to solve this problem by eliminating the competition in Europe is contemptible.

As the Canadian National Farmers Union put it, "The claim that GM seeds make our farms more profitable is false... Farmers' profits haven't just disappeared; they've been taken. The farm crisis didn't just happen; it was caused. The family farm isn't dying; it's being killed. And the perpetrations of this destruction are the agribusiness corporations who are using their market power to extract profits that would otherwise end up on our farms. Farmers can't make a living because agribusiness giants insist on making a killing."

Canada's covert interference in Ireland's GM-free policy and its attempt to censor the freedom of speech of Irish and UK NGOs is a diplomatic outrage.

Political reaction

Irish Senators David Norris, Dan Boyle, Deirdre de Burca, Pearse Doherty, and Phil Prendergast have asked the Leader of the Senate to request the Government to formally intervene to stop "the extraordinary interference by an agent of the Canadian Government in political discourse in this country". The Senators have taken this step following a speech by Senator David Norris at the Irish Senate on 6 December 2007.

Meanwhile in the UK House of Commons, 26 British MPs including the former UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher have tabled an Early Day Motion deploring "the continuing efforts by an employee of the Canadian Government, Shane Morris, to close down websites in the UK and Republic of Ireland which have, along with Dr Richard Jennings of Cambridge University, said that research which claimed that consumers prefer GM sweetcorn published by this employee and others and given an Award for Excellence, is a flagrant fraud".

continued in Part 2



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