L. Val Giddings

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Dr Luther Val Giddings is the former Vice President for Food & Agriculture of the Washington DC-based Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) - the industry's major trade lobby which represents such corporate giants as Aventis, Bayer, DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta. Giddings' specific responsibility at BIO is to promote GM crops.

Giddings joined BIO in May 1997. Prior to BIO, Giddings was with the biotechnology products regulatory division of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

During his time as a biotechnology regulator for USDA (1989-1997), Giddings served on the US delegation to the first meeting of the Open Ended Ad Hoc Working Group on a Biosafety Protocol. He attended subsequent meetings on the protocol as the representative of BIO.

Prior to USDA, Giddings worked as a biotech consultant for the World Bank, following five years contributing to and directing biotechnology policy studies with the Office of Technology Assessment of the United States Congress.

In November 2002 Giddings wrote to the journal Nature Biotechnology to draw attention to something which would make us 'look back on [the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg as something of a watershed event - a turning point.' What made the Earth Summit so remarkable, according to Giddings, was a pro-GM protest march which, he told the journal's readers, was the very first time that 'real, live, developing-world farmers' had been seen 'speaking for themselves'.

In his letter Giddings singled out the statement of one of the protesting farmers, Chengal Reddy, leader of the Indian Farmers Federation. 'Traditional organic farming ... is the very technology that led to mass starvation in India for centuries,' said Reddy who argued that, 'Indian farmers need access to new technologies and especially to biotechnologies.' Giddings also noted that the farmers dedicated a 'Bullshit Award,' made with two varnished piles of cow dung, to those who were deepening their poverty by denying them biotechnology. According to Giddings, this all made what had happened in Johannesburg, 'something new, something very big.'

But, in fact, almost every element of the spectacle presented by Giddings was disingenous. Take the farmer he singles out, Chengal Reddy. Reddy is not a poor farmer, nor even the representative of poor farmers, but a politician who has on occasion admitted to never having farmed in his life. His 'Indian Farmers Federation' is a lobby for big commercial farmers in Andhra Pradesh, where Reddy's family is a prominent right-wing political force.

Similarly, the media contact on the march organizers' press release was Kendra Okonski, the daughter of a U.S. lumber industrialist. Okonski has worked for a variety of anti-regulatory NGOs, including the ultra-right Competitive Enterprise Institute. Okonski also runs Counterprotest.net, a website devoted to helping pro-corporate lobbyists take to the streets in mimicry of popular protesters.

Likewise Giddings' 'Bullshit Award' far from being the imaginative riposte of impoverished farmers, that Giddings suggests, was the creation of another right-wing pressure group. Based in New Delhi and well known for its fervent support of deregulation, GM crops and Big Tobacco, the Liberty Institute is part of the same coalition that organized the rally. The Liberty Institute like Chengal Reddy regularly cooperates with Monsanto in its promotional work for GM crops in India.

Chengal Reddy was brought to Johannesburg by AfricaBio, a lobby group that, like others represented at the march, is closely aligned with Monsanto and the biotech industry. All of which raises more questions about the role played in this PR spectacle by the industry's biggest lobby organisation, BIO and by Giddings who was in Johannesburg at the time.

As well as promoting GM crops, Giddings' job at BIO also involves resisting regulatory restrictions on approving and marketing new products. This means that Giddings is keen to dismiss concerns about GM products and those who raise them.

At the height of concern over the 'Terminator' seed-sterility technology, which it is feared could impact on the one and a half billion people who depend on farm-saved seed for food security, Giddings declared, 'The Terminator technology is not unethical. It is unethical to empower farmers with the ability to steal value added by companies.' Monsanto eventually pledged itself not to make use of the technology.

More recent attempts by Giddings to dismiss concerns over so-called 'pharma crops' - crops genetically engineered to produce pharmaceutical drugs and industrial chemicals - have also run into difficulty. When the alliance GE Food Alert warned that such crops could contaminate food crops (a danger also highlighted by a 2002 US National Academy of Sciences report), Giddings dismissed such concerns as baseless: 'They're trying their best to shout fire in a crowded theater when there is no smoke and no flame and very little combustible material.' But Giddings' claims were badly undermined by the ProdiGene pharma-contamination of food crops in Nebrakasa and Iowa in autumn 2002, which led the Grocery Manufacturers of America, amongst others, to attack the lack of credible US regulatory safeguards.

Giddings has been quick to condemn research that raises questions about the impact of GM crops. Questions have been raised about the role of Giddings and BIO in the campaign to discredit the Berkeley researchers Quist and Chapela and their Mexican maize study published in Nature. According to an Associated Press article, 'Nature's publication of the study in September almost immediately galvanized the Biotechnology Industry Organization into action. Led by the lobbying group, sympathetic scientists inundated the journal with complaints that the study's science was sloppy. They also denounced Chapela and Quist as politically biased.' (Corn study spurs debate over corporate meddling in academia, Associated Press).

When Nature distanced itself from the research it had published, Giddings told the Washington Post, 'We believe that Nature erred in publishing the article to begin with, and it seems they came to the same unavoidable conclusion. The authors . . . commitment was not to data and science but to a religious commitment to an [anti-biotechnology] dogma.'

Giddings' denunciation of the Berkeley scientists as ideologically driven is almost identical to the attacks which launched the campaign against them on the very day of the paper's publication. The widely circulated e-mail attacks surfaced first on the listserv of AgBioWorld, to which Giddings has been a regular contributor (often from his personal e-mail address shiva@pop.net). Messages from a 'Mary Murphy' and an 'Andura Smetacek' claimed Dr. Chapela was an 'activist first' and 'scientist second.' Smetacek even insinuated that Chapela had designed his research in collusion with 'fear-mongering activists.' In addition, Smetacek wanted to know how much money Chapela was getting in 'expenses' from the anti-biotech 'industry.'

Giddings has promoted a similar view of the industry's critics as part of a dubiously financed protest 'industry':

' "Green groups" in Europe are far more powerful than anywhere else as they are well funded by several interest groups. Activists, says Giddings are part of the global protest industry driven more by a need for financial gain than education and they are not accountable to anyone. He believes that they are at the heart of the negative publicity and misinformation and that the global protest industry find it far easier to raise money by playing to people's fears than educating them. Keeping activists groups alive is significant sponsorship from various interest groups who have much to lose from a global acceptance of GM crops. Information gleaned from income tax returns of various organizations sponsoring activist groups can make for some interesting reading!' (GM - why the frenzy, Science in Africa)

Smetacek and Murphy have been shown subsequently to be fronts for Monsanto and its Internet PR agency, The Bivings Group. The claims of dubious funding links have also been heavily promoted by PR agency, Berman & Co which has also received funding from leading BIO member Monsanto for its Center for Consumer Freedom front group.