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ISIS Report 01/02/08

UK and Irish Politicians Denounce Canadian Government Agent’s Dirty Tricks over GMOs

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Prominent politicians condemn Canadian government employee for fraudulent research, disinformation, intimidation of UK and Irish citizens and attempt to sabotage Irish Government policy. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
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Early Day Motion in UK Parliament against the corporate corruption of science

UK’s ex-environment minister, the Rt. Hon. Michael Meacher MP tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) in the UK Parliament [1] (see Box), now signed by 27 MPs from different parties, the latest being Alex Samond, the leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) and Scotland's First Minister.

The EDM succinctly points the finger at the corporate corruption of science, most visible and ruthless when it comes to promoting GM crops, and every part of the corporate structure is complicit, the scientific establishment, the learned journals and big government held to ransom by the biotech industry.

Early Day Motion: Scientific Research into GM Crops, 28 November 2007

That this House regrets the continuing attempts to silence or misrepresent scientists whose research indicates possible human health problems from GM crops, as in the case of Dr Irina Ermakova who was misled by the editor of Nature Biotechnology into submitting an article to the journal to be published under her name, with the article in fact published under the editor's name with criticisms by four well-known GM supporters not seen by Dr Ermakova prior to publication; deplores 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; and calls on the Government Chief Scientist to protect the integrity and objectivity of science by reasserting the right of scientists to have their views published by journals without underhand interference by journal editors, and for the Chief Scientist to encourage journal editors to withdraw papers they have published which subsequently turn out to be grossly misleading or even fraudulent.

The EDM refers to Dr. Irina Ermakova’s findings [2] (GM Soya Fed Rats: Stunted, Dead, or Sterile, SiS 33), which are very uncomfortable for the biotech industry, and Nature Biotechnology’s editor has been roundly condemned for abusing his position in an attempt to undermine her work; the matter is still unresolved [3] (see Letter to Nature Biotechnology: Systematic bias in favour of no adverse impacts from GM feed, SiS 37). So is the controversy surrounding the paper published in British Food Journal given an Award for Excellence, which turned out to be fraudulent, and one of its authors, a Canadian government agent, has resorted to intimidation to defend the research.

UK’s Chief Scientist Sir David King, an active supporter of GM crops, has remained conspicuously silent on these matters that threaten the very credibility of science and the peer-review process, let alone the integrity of GM research. But 40 scientists from all over the world and two UK Members of Parliament signed an open letter to British Food Journal on 23 January 2008, condemning the Journal for having brought science into disrepute and demanding the withdrawal of the paper and the award [4] (see Wormy Corn Paper Must be Retracted, SiS 37).

Denounced in Irish Senate, and MEP demand an investigation

On 6 December, Irish Senator David Norris called on the Leader of the Senate to raise with Government [5] “the extraordinary interference by an agent of the Canadian Government in political discourse in this country,” drawing attention to Meacher’s EDM. Senators Dan Boyle (Deputy Leader of the Senate), Deirdre de Burca, Pearse Doherty, and Phil Prendergast have since supported Norris.

Kathy Sinnott MEP (Member of European Parliament) has added her voice to demand an investigation by the European Parliament [6]. She said the “covert interference by the Government of Canada is an affront to Irish and UK sovereignty and to the Precautionary Principle which is a cornerstone of EU policy on GM food and farming”, and called on the European Parliament “to investigate this scandal,” as they have done regarding the CIA’s violation of European airspace for illegal torture flights.

“We need a full investigation into the extent of covert influence by foreign governments and corporations on the GM policies and decisions of the Commission, EU member states, and their regulatory bodies.” Sinnott said.

Michael O’Callaghan of GM-free Ireland added [6]: “The investigation should also examine the amount of industry lobby funding in the area of Public Relations and public perception management which, in some member states, distorts media coverage of GM policy issues and stifles public debate on the biotech industry threat to European food sovereignty and food security.”

The UK government has already been exposed for funding GM crop projects at tens of millions of pounds and colluding with a biotech company to ease its GM field trials in Britain [7] (UK Government's Dirty GM Secrets, SiS 36).

Biotech Canada’s undercover agent exposed

Canada’s covert strategy to undermine Ireland’s growing opposition to GM crops came to light in February 2006 [6], after it failed to force the EU to accept its unwanted GM food exports via the WTO trade dispute arbitration; and Canada has given the EU until 11 February 2008 to change its policy on GM foods.

Shane Morris, an Irish biotech scientist employed by the Canadian Government since 2001, began harassing the GM-free Ireland campaign from his office in Ottawa, while posing as an “Irish lad” and “private citizen” living in Dublin [6]. Morris has set up a dedicated web log to disseminate “disinformation, slander, innuendo and highly personal defamatory attacks” to discredit Irish politicians, scientists, and organisations which speak out on the dangers of GM food and farming. His antics included intimidating Bord Bía (the Irish Food Board) to cancel funding for a conference in June 2006 on GM-free branding for food, farming and tourism, and harassing sponsors of a scientific briefing on GMOs at the European Parliament Office in Dublin in June 2007, where the Minister of State for Food and Horticulture Trevor Sargent first announced the Government’s policy goal to declare Ireland a GM-free zone.

Morris is reported to be intending to set up “a similar info service from a National University of Ireland perspective”. He is advising opposition party Fine Gael representatives and MEPs, and was the author of a secret Fine Gael briefing on GMOs.

When GM-free Ireland and the UK-based GM Watch exposed Morris as a Canadian Government agent in July 2007 and reported his involvement in what they regarded as a scientific fraud (for details see [4] Wormy Corn Paper Must be Retracted, SiS 37). Morris engaged McCann Fitzgerald and other law firms to intimidate both organisations, using threats of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation to censor and/or shut down their web sites [8] (see Biotech Canada SLAPP Scandal, SiS 36). The attempt failed in Ireland but succeeded in the UK, when the GM Watch site was shut for nearly a week in August.

Canadian Government rejects responsibility

The UK High Commissioner James Wright wrote a letter to Michael Meacher [9] on the EDM, rejecting Canadian Government responsibility for Shane Morris’ behaviour, saying that Morris was not working for the Government when he participated in research related to the article in the British Food Journal, and further: “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.”

Meacher’s challenge to the Canadian Government

Meacher has replied in a detailed letter to the High Commissioner [10], stating he cannot accept the abnegation of responsibility by the Canadian Government with regard to Shane Morris: “Throughout his employment by the Canadian Government - first in Summer 2001 as 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.”

Meacher raised questions over Morris’ employment by the Government of Canada. As immediately prior to that employment, Morris was employed as an assistant to Dr. Douglas Powell at the University of Guelph, a highly controversial figure described in the Canadian press as the "darling of the pro-biotech lobby and its chief attack dog". 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, including an "offensive attack on no less than the Royal Society of Canada and the members of the panel it appointed to review food biotechnology". 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".

Meacher also challenged the High Comissioner’s statement that 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. Meacher reminded him that the Government of Canada has not granted such leeway to its former employees Shiv Chopra, Margaret Haydon and Gerard Lambert. The Canadian Government has been accused of having gagged and eventually sacking them because they, correctly, opposed the approval of genetically modified bovine growth hormone in Canada, and made their objections public [11]. That hormone was ultimately rejected by Canada.

Would a Canadian public servant have embarked on such a vigorous and controversial public campaign as that of Morris without the reassurance that his superiors were at ease with his actions? Or to put it the other way, given that Canada is a major GM crop exporting nation, would a Canadian Government employee have dared to promote scepticism about GMOs as aggressively as Morris has sought to undermine and attack those opposing GMOs?

Morris’s behaviour also raised questions of sovereignty, Meacher wrote. While Morris is still an Irish citizen, it is “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.”

References

  1. Early Day Motion, EDM 425, Scientific Research into GM Crops, 28 November, http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=34547&SESSION=891
  2. Ho MW. GM soya fed rats: stunted, dead, or sterile. Science in Society 33, 4-6, 2007.
  3. Ho MW. Letter to Nature Biotechnology. Systematic bias in favour of no adverse impacts from GM feed. Science in Society 37 (to appear).
  4. ISIS open letter to Editor and Editorial Board of British Food Journal. Wormy corn paper must be retracted. Science in Society 37 (to appear).
  5. Order of Business 6 December 2007 posted by Senator David Norris, http://www.senatordavidnorris.ie/blogger/
  6. “Canada dirty tricks exposed in WTO dispute on GMOs”, GM-Free Ireland Press Release, 28 January 2008, www.gmfreeireland.org
  7. “UK Government’s dirty GM secrets”, Geoffrey Lean, Science in Society 36, 50, 2007.
  8. Cummins J. Biotech Canada’s SLAPP scandal. Science in Society 36, 6-7, 2007.
  9. Letter to Michael Meacher MP from Candian High Commissioner James R. Wright,
  10. Letter from Michael Meacher MP to Canadian High Comissioner James R. Wright, 24 Janurary 2008.
  11. Shiv Chopra, Wikipedia, 8 November 2007,  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiv_Chopra
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