GM Watch site taken down

Ever since the early 1990s claims have been made that GM food would be just as safe as conventional food, and that it's only because of campaigns of (mainly European NGOs) that consumers would just be to scared to eat it. Consumers who would be informed properly would not avoid GM food. To prove this point Douglas Powell, a Canadian scientist wanted to see whether consumers would prefer GM or conventional sweet corn. In to their scientific paper in the British Food Journal (105: 700, 2003) they described that the bins were "fully labeled" - either "genetically engineered Bt sweet corn" or "Regular sweet-corn", and they explain in detail how they made sure that buyers would not be biased, for example by regularly refilling the binsto the same level. The study itself is rather simplistic: giving consumers the choice in one shop for a few weeks to buy one or the other product without any controls or repetions, and without any control over what information the shop personal might give out already leaves a lot of room for improvement. One might wonder whether biologists are the best suited scientists to study shopping behaviour. In the end Powell et al. found that in a farm shop in Canada GM sweet corn even out-sold the conventional.

[img_assist|nid=113|title=|desc=|link=popup|align=left|width=200|height=150]This has been heralded a devastating result for anti-GMO compaigners... or so it seemed until a Canadian journalist spoke out. Toronto Star reporter Stuart Laidlaw had visited the Wilson's farm where the experiment took place a couple of times and found that the conventional maize was labelled as "wormy" and the GM maize as "quality". Needless to say that it's quite unusual fort a farm shop to promote its own products as "wormy", so Bernhard Weil, photographer of the Toronto Star, took pictures of the signs. Laidlaw used them to illustrate the case in his book Secret ingredients (2003). And just to be clear: those photos were taken on a media day that Powell and Wilson attended.

It's not really surprising that a study like that was not as unbiased as it was claimed to be, and the description of material and methods in the scientific paper clearly left out important information. When Powell was asked about it, he admitted that those signes were there. He just didn't consider them a problem. And to prove that he even links to a photo showing the complete setup, including the additional handwritten signs. However it is unclear when the big sign in the middle was added.

So this could have been the end of it... A biased study that wasn't well designed to start with, a scientist who apparently is not aware that he already is biased himself, and a study that should be retracted because the decription of the method used is so different from the actual method that the conclusions drawn from it cannot be considered valid.

[img_assist|nid=94|title=|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=200|height=150]Then Shane Morris entered the stage... As a research assistent and co-author of the scientific article he first claimed in his blog that there were no misleading signs, but the photo that he produced as evidence clearly shows them. It is the same photo that Powel also refers to, and it shows the signes that Laidlaw published, even if in contrast to Weil's photo it has an additional poster in the middle. As the GMWatch article explains in detail, the handwritten signs seem to have been moved but they are clearly the same.
Morris then went on claiming that Greenpeace Canada did not object the study, started to undermine Laidlaw's credibility, and even ended up claiming that he himself wasn't even in the country. (see GMWatch)

Morris, himself does not work as a biologist anymore, but as Consumer Analyst for the Canadian Government. According to GMfree Ireland, he played an important role in getting funding withdrawn for a conference title "Green Ireland".
Now he has taken this a step further and forced the provider of GMWatch to take down their complete site, gloating about it in his blog.