Dr Luther Val Giddings is the 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. P rior 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 is framed so as to deceive. 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.