is a follow-up on the Seed Patent law the U.S. has inflicted upon the Iraq people
published in the last issue of Green Dove - see www.greendove.net/zine2-3.htm)
agencies and NGOs across the globe have been reacting with horror to the news
that new legislation in Iraq was carefully put in place last year by the US that
will effectively bring the whole of the country's agricultural sector under the
control of trans-national corporations (TNCs). This will be a disaster for the
Iraqi government and especially for the country's farmers, since companies like
Monsanto and Syngenta will be empowered to control the food chain from planted
seed (1) to packaged food products, thus extending economic colonialism into every
walk of life.
new Iraqi Government is now being urged as a matter of priority to revoke Order
81, the offending piece of legislation which was signed and brought into force
by Paul Bremer (the Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority) on 26th
Order has been described by NGOs as "cynical and wicked", since the
section relating to the registration and protection of plant varieties was slipped
in almost as an appendage to an Order dealing with patents, industrial design,
disclosure of information and integrated circuits (2). "The manner in which
this Order was imposed on the people of Iraq is an outrage in itself," says
Dr Brian John of GM Free Cymru. "There was virtually no Iraqi input into
the wording of the Order, since the country and its people were on their knees
following the Iraq War (3). The Preamble to the Order justifies its provisions
as "necessary to improve the economic condition of the people of Iraq",
as desirable for "sustainable economic growth" and as enabling Iraq
to become "a full member of the international trading system known as the
WTO." That all sounds laudable, but when one looks at paragraphs 51 to 79
of the Order it is clear that they have been designed simply to facilitate the
takeover of Iraqi agriculture by western biotechnology and agribusiness corporations."
is not surprising that Order 81 was written as "enabling legislation"
for American corporate interests. The US Agriculture Department, which aided Bremer
in writing the Order, was headed by ex-management of the huge US seed and biotech
companies, such as Monsanto and Cargill (4). Ann Veneman, who recently resigned
as US Secretary of Agriculture, had a long career working for large US agribusinesses
(including Calgene) before going to work for the government. She appointed Cargill's
Dan Amstutz to head Iraq's agricultural reconstruction. The Order fits in neatly
into the US/TNC vision of future Iraqi agriculture - that of an industrial agricultural
system dependent on a small number of cash crops, with large corporations selling
both chemical inputs and seeds. It also arises naturally from the USAID programme
in Iraq, which unashamedly confirms the thesis that foreign aid programmes are
primarily "commercial opportunity" programmes designed for the benefit
of American companies (5).
Iraq is thought to be the place where wild wheat originated,
and it once had the world's greatest diversity of wild and cultivated wheats.
Many of its cereal varieties have been exported and adapted worldwide through
breeding programmes. The country was once self-sufficient in agriculture and was
also the world's number one exporter of dates. Twenty seven percent of Iraq's
total land area is suitable for cultivation, over half of which is rain-fed while
the balance is irrigable. Wheat, barley, and chickpeas are the primary staple
crops, and traditionally wheat has been the most important crop in the country.
Before the Iraq War, average annual harvests were 1.4 million tonnes for cereals,
400,000 tonnes for roots and tubers, and 38,000 tonnes for pulses. Over the last
20 years Iraq's agricultural sector has collapsed, and only half of the irrigable
area is now properly utilised (6). It is not known how many of the country's 600,000
farmers are still able to produce food. Grain production during 2003 was less
than one-half the grain production in 1990. On average, agricultural production
levels have been declining by 2.6 percent per year since that year, and today
more than 50 percent of the population is affected by food insecurity. The Oil-For-Food
Programme, while essential to the humanitarian situation in Iraq, was a severe
disincentive to food production. From the beginning, it was criticized as a scheme
designed to guarantee oil supplies to the west and to create food dependency in
Iraq. Now over half of Iraq's total food requirement is imported, and a large
portion of the population is dependent upon government-financed food rations for
survival. The World Food Programme (WFP) plays a key role in coordinating the
flow of food aid , and recently three million tons of wheat have been imported
yearly, mostly from Australia, to be distributed to Iraqis as part of their food
rations. There is a lack of farm machinery and equipment, water shortages, a low
technology uptake, and a lack of profit incentive. The cost of the annual food
rations provided to Iraqis is estimated at over $2 billion per year. Ministry
of Agriculture (MOA) officials and the United States Agency for International
Development (USAID) Agriculture Reconstruction and Development Program for Iraq
(ARDI) are continuing implementation of a national wheat production campaign,
so as to reduce the dependency on aid. Under the campaign, 1,500 tons of wheat
seed has arrived in Mosul. ARDI procured the seed to assist the MOA to distribute
high quality, certified seed to as many farmers as possible. Over 400 tonnes of
this seed has already been distributed and incorporated into high-profile "reconstruction
and re-education" programmes, and another 4,000 tonnes are on their way (1)
(4). We have been unable to discover which varieties are involved, who the seed
owners are, and the terms under which the seed stocks are being "donated".
But some of the seeds, at least, appear to have come from the World Wide Wheat
Company of Arizona, which has links with the Texas A&M University.
AID -- A NICE LITTLE EARNER
Order 81, like the other 99 orders brought
into law at high speed by Paul Bremer on behalf of the Coalitional Provisional
Authority, was conceived by the US administration as part of the plan to install
a "friendly and compliant" and essentially colonial regime in Iraq.
The Order explicitly states that its provisions are consistent with Iraq's "transition
from a non-transparent centrally planned economy to a free market economy characterised
by sustainable economic growth through the establishment of a dynamic private
sector, and the need to enact institutional and legal reforms to give it effect."
Pushing for these "transitional reforms" in Iraq has been the US Agency
for International Development, which has been implementing an Agricultural Reconstruction
and Development Program for Iraq (ARDI) since October 2003. To carry it out, a
one-year US$5 million contract was granted to the US consulting firm Development
Alternatives, Inc, followed by a further $96 million contract. At the same time,
there has been great speculation in sections of the American press about the fate
of Iraqi oil sales revenues since the invasion. Only a part of it seems to be
accounted for, and auditing procedures appear to have been corrupt. It looks as
if $9 billion worth of oil revenues have simply disappeared, and it is reasonable
to assume that the "unrecorded" income has simply been recycled by the
US Administration and dressed up as multi-million dollar "aid" from
the people of America to the people of Iraq (7). ARDI claims that it is rebuilding
the farming sector of Iraq, but its real intention is to develop agribusiness
opportunities for western corporations and thus to provide markets for agricultural
products and services on an ongoing basis. According to GRAIN and other NGOs,
"reconstruction" is not necessarily about rebuilding domestic economies
and capacities, but about helping corporations approved by the occupying forces
to capitalise on market opportunities in Iraq. The legal framework laid down by
Bremer ensures that although US troops may leave Iraq in the conceivable future,
the US domination of Iraq's economy will be sustained in law by one hundred very
The critical part of Order 81 deals with plant variety protection (PVP).
Superficially, its purpose is to protect the rights of those who develop new and
improved plant varieties (2), but it means that in future Iraqi farmers will have
little option but to plant "protected" crop varieties defined as new,
distinct, uniform and stable. The new law makes a very basic change to Iraqi "intellectual
property" law, for the first time recognizing the "ownership" of
biologic material and paving the way for the patenting of life forms. It also
opens the way for genetically modified crops to be introduced into the country.
Crucially, there are no special provisions for GM crops -- they are treated as
no more novel (and no more controversial) than new varieties developed through
conventional breeding programmes. Where ownership of a crop is claimed, seed saving
will be banned, and royalties will have to be paid by the farmer to the registered
seed "owner". Farmers will be required to sign Technology User Agreements
relating to seed supply and -- probably -- to the marketing of the harvest. Where
GM crops are involved (and possibly in other cases as well) they will also be
required to sign contracts for the purchase of herbicides, insecticides and fertilisers.
the new law does not prohibit the saving of seed from the harvesting of traditional
or long-established varieties that are deemed to be "matters of common knowledge."
(2) (4) But with Iraqi agriculture in a state of crisis, there are critical seed
shortages, and as mentioned above the "reconstruction" of the food supply
system involves a substantial involvement on the part of USAID and other food
donor organizations. "High quality seed" (whatever that means) is being
given to farmers along with technical advice; it is inevitable that that seed
comes from US registered varieties, and that within a year or two philanthropy
will be replaced by the collection of seed royalties. In addition, careful digging
reveals that Order 81 allows plant breeders to claim ownership of old varieties
(and to call them "new" varieties) if they are the first to describe
or characterize them. They can also then claim the ownership of related crops
if they are "not clearly distinguishable from the protected varieties."
The control of all protected varieties will last 20 years for field crops and
25 years for trees and vines. Farmers who do save seed or otherwise break their
agreements, and farmers unlucky enough to find the adventitious presence of "registered
varieties" in their fields, can be prosecuted, or else their harvests, tools
and buildings destroyed. Conversely, farmers will have no right to claim compensation
from the seed owners who, for example, allow their GM crops to pollute organic
cropping enterprises and destroy livelihoods in the process.
HEADS I WIN, TAILS
In the end the Iraqi farmer will have two choices. He can go it alone,
and try to grow crops from seeds of "traditional" crops that have become
rare during decades of war and sanctions; or he can sign up to the food aid /
agricultural programme and then buy seeds from companies like Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta
and Bayer. If he chooses the first option he may be left out in the cold during
the reconstruction programme (1) (4). If he chooses the second option he will
(after a period of free handouts and advice) be trapped into a high-cost cash
crop economy from which he will find it impossible to escape. He will also be
forced to use seeds which may appear to be high-yielding but which may in reality
be ill-adapted to his local environment; so crop failures and even famine may
10,000 years ago the people of the fertile crescent (now Iraq) began saving seeds
from wild grains and planting them. That was one of the most crucial developments
in the history of our planet, and the beginnings of agriculture led inexorably
to the development of civilization. The saving and sharing of seeds in Iraq has
always been a largely informal matter. Local varieties of grain and legumes have
been adapted to local conditions over the millennia. These strains of plant, developed
by traditional methods, are resistant to extreme heat, drought and salinity. They
are not only a national treasure for Iraq but could well hold the genetic key
to agriculture in other areas as global warming takes effect.
2002, FAO estimated that 97 percent of Iraqi farmers still used saved seed from
their own stocks from last year's harvest, or purchased from local markets. Order
81 ignores that tradition, and it brutally disregards the contributions which
Iraqi farmers have made over hundreds of generations to the development of important
crops like wheat, barley, dates and pulses. If anybody owns those varieties and
their unique virtues, it is the families who bred them, even though nobody has
described or characterized them in terms of their genetic makeup. If anything,
the new law -- in allowing old varieties to be genetically manipulated or otherwise
modified and then "registered" -- involves the theft of inherited intellectual
property, the loss of farmers' freedoms, and the destruction of food sovereignty
HELD IN TRUST?
In recognition of the unique "seed heritage" of
Iraq, traditional varieties were saved as from the 1970s in the country's national
gene bank in Abu Ghraib (sounds familiar?) outside Baghdad. There is genuine concern
that most of these have been lost during the latter years of Saddam Hussein and
in the recent conflict. However, the Syria-based Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research (CGIAR) centre and the affiliated International Centre for
Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) still holds accessions of several
Iraqi varieties in the form of germplasm. These collections, providing tangible
evidence of the Iraqi farmers' historic plant breeding skills, are supposed to
be held in trust by the centre. In a sense, they comprise the agricultural heritage
of Iraq and they should now be repatriated. However, CGIAR is reluctant to give
assurances on this (8). Ominously, there have been situations before where germplasm
held by an international agricultural research centre has been "leaked out"
for research and development to Northern scientists (1). "Biopiracy"
such as this, apart from involving a betrayal of trust, is fuelled by an IPR regime
that ignores the prior art of the farmer and grants rights to a breeder who claims
to have created something new from the material property and "intellectual
rights" of other people.
It has been pointed out by Iraqis and by the "liberal"
press that having finished its military conquest, the US has now declared a new
war against the Iraqi farmer. Order 81 also goes against the United Nations Millennium
Forum Declaration (9) which aspires to "move towards economic reforms aimed
at equity, in particular to construct macroeconomic policies that combine growth
with the goal of human development and social justice; to prevent the impoverishment
of groups that have emerged from poverty but are still vulnerable to social risks
and exclusion; to improve legislation on labour standards, including the provision
of a minimum legal wage and an effective social system; and to restore people's
control over primary productive resources as a key strategy for poverty eradication."
The signatories to the Declaration also seek "to promote the use of indigenous
crops and traditional production skills to produce goods and services; to exempt
developing countries from implementing the WTO Trade-Related Intellectual Property
Rights Agreement and to take these rights out of any new rounds of negotiations,
ensuring that no such new issues are introduced; and to examine and regulate transnational
corporations and the increasingly negative influence of their trade on the environment.
The attempt by companies to patent life is ethically unacceptable."
81 is also in clear contravention of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
in that it will increase chemical use, reduce the number of planted crop varieties,
accelerate the trend towards monoculture, extend GM contamination, and decrease
biodiversity (10). Biosecurity will also be negatively affected, and the negative
social effects will include population displacement, rural decline and an extension
of urban slum dwelling. As to the Biosafety (Cartagena) Protocol dealing with
GMOs and their transboundary movement, the Order is apparently designed to flout
its aims and objectives, since there is no mention of any regulation of GM crop
shipments, plantings, harvesting or export. It is no coincidence that neither
the U.S. nor Iraq has signed the CBD and the Cartegna Protocol.
Food Aid Convention (cf Articles iii, viii and xiii) states that GM food aid should
only be offered and accepted after recipient countries have discarded "conventional"
alternatives and non-GM food aid as non-options (11). The United States is a signatory
to this Convention, but it has been widely accused of violating it whenever it
suits its own interests to do so.
The Rio Declaration (1992) includes many
progressive principles, including the polluter-pays-principle (the polluter bears
the costs of pollution) or the precautionary principle (carry out environmental
assessments to identify adverse impacts and eliminate any potential harms from
a project before it is started). It advocates that today's development shall not
undermine the resource base of future generations and that developed countries
bear a special responsibility due to the pressure their societies place on the
global environment and the technologies and financial resources they command (12).
These principles are all flouted in Order 81.
2001 International Treaty on Plant Genetic resources for Food and Agriculture
(supported by the FAO and the Convention on Biological Diversity) acknowledges
that plant genetic resources for food and agriculture are the raw material indispensable
for crop genetic improvement, whether by means of farmers' selection, classical
plant breeding or modern biotechnologies, and are essential in adapting to unpredictable
environmental changes and future human needs; that the past, present and future
contributions of farmers in all regions of the world, particularly those in centres
of origin and diversity, in conserving, improving and making available these resources,
is the basis of Farmers' Rights; and that the rights recognized in this Treaty
to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed and other propagating material,
and to participate in decision-making regarding, and in the fair and equitable
sharing of the benefits arising from, the use of plant genetic resources for food
and agriculture, are fundamental to the realization of Farmers' Rights, as well
as the promotion of Farmers' Rights at national and international levels. Order
81 is in clear violation of these principles.
Order 81 was supposedly drafted by the Coalition, and it purports to represent
the consensus view of the Coalition partners, including the UK and various other
members of the EU. The Order effectively extends the American agenda of patenting
life forms into the area of crops and agriculture, in spite of a massive ethical
debate about this within Europe. The PVP afforded by Order 81 is almost the same
as patent protection, and leaves open the door for the future patenting of registered
plant varieties used in Iraq. The Order is also quite cynical (and provocative!)
in that it treats GM varieties as if they are no different from new "conventional"
varieties, in clear contravention of EU policy (13). One is justified in asking
why precautionary measures designed to protect the public and the environment
in Europe were not deemed to be relevant in Iraq. That in itself demonstrates
the feebleness of the British input into the drafting process for Order 81, and
it also constitutes a major insult to the Iraqi people. Those who drafted the
Order were clearly happy to see the farmers of that blighted country blighted
further by a "green light" for GM contamination of the food supply and
by commercial enslavement.
we should remind ourselves, and the rest of the world, that the American administration
which is supervising the rape of Iraq is supposedly driven by Christian ethics
and guided by the Holy Spirit. It seems to us extraordinary that President Bush's
personal Christian faith, based upon Biblical teachings, appears to be incapable
of translation into American foreign policy. How many of the Ten Commandments,
we wonder, have been broken in the pursuit of American objectives in Iraq? Within
Europe, Monsanto and the US Embassy to the Holy See have promoted "Feeding
a Hungry World: The Moral Imperative of Biotechnology" as a theme to be adopted
by the Roman Catholic Church. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences has connived
in this enterprise, and has promoted the merits of GM technology to the developing
world. This has caused great distress to aid agencies, and has led to a vigorous
debate among churchmen and outside observers (14). The Roman Catholic Church is
widely perceived as having betrayed countless thousands of poor farmers, having
lost the trust of aid agencies and NGOs, and having forfeited its moral authority
on this issue (15). Other Christian churches, and many other faith communities,
have taken a much more cautious approach on GM crops and famine (16), and believe
that the genetic modification and commercial ownership of traditional food crops
goes counter to long-held beliefs relating to stewardship, sustainability and
one looks beyond the convoluted language in the paragraphs and articles of Order
81 one sees a classic win / win scenario. The American Government wins by extending
its economic colonialism into a country still reeling from the rule of a tyrant
and the horrors of war. And American business wins by forcing the farmers and
food merchants of Iraq into a regulatory regime which will bring them multi-million
dollar contracts, paid for mostly with Iraqi oil revenues (17). Many of those
contracts will be buried within aid programmes or disguised as philanthropic enterprises.
Not many people will be fooled, for the Americans have done this before and they
will do it again. All of the other parties in this miserable affair will be losers,
and that is why we ask for a concerted campaign from people of goodwill across
the world to plead with the new Iraqi government to see the evil that lurks within
Order 81, and to revoke it at the earliest opportunity.
(1) See this summary:
Report is entitled "Iraq's new patent law: a declaration of war against farmers".
Against the Grain is a series of short opinion pieces on recent trends and developments
in the issues that GRAIN works on. This one has been produced collaboratively
with Focus on the Global South.
Also Jeremy Smith,"Order 81" in The
Ecologist, Jan 21st 2005:
Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant
Variety Law of 2004, CPA Order No. 81, 26 April 2004,
(3) House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.
in Iraq: THE ORGANIC WAY by Marya Skrypiczajko
See also: Silent Battallions
of "Democracy" by Herbert Docena, Middle East Report 232 Fall 2004 (Focus
on the Global South)
See also: Iraqi Order 81: Saving heirloom seeds from one
year to the next is now illegal in Iraq --
The common worldwide practice of
saving heirloom seeds from one year to the next is now illegal in Iraq, by Rosemarie
http://www.indybay.org/news/2005/02/1721859.php Print comments.
The US boasts that "The principal beneficiary of America's foreign assistance
programs has always been the United States." http://ngin.tripod.com/forcefeed.htm
Business Guide for Iraq (U.S. Department of Commerce) Revised January 28,
"U.S. Government-funded contracts continue to be the leading business
opportunities in Iraq. Opportunities for U.S. firms to participate in the reconstruction
of Iraq are mostly associated with rehabilitating the country's infrastructure.
A convenient list of all recent contracts and their known subcontractors, along
with links to their website can be found at http://www.export.gov/iraq/market_ops/contracts.html.
"FAO declares war on farmers, not hunger", New from Grain, 16 June 2004,
(6) Overview of Key Industry Sectors in Iraq,
June 4, 2004
"Essential factor to victory for democracy: Avoiding the appearance of impropriety
and gaining trust based on fairness not profit" by D. Lindley Young, The
Modern Tribune - April 29, 2004
(8) Exchange of Email messages between the
author and staff of CGIAR.
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, now ratified
by 113 countries
on Biological Diversity
See Directive 2001/18/EC
(14) GE Food: Feeding the Hungry or Corporate Profits?
Sean McDonagh, SSC
'Genetically Modified Organisms', Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory
'Making our Genes
Fit: Christian Perspectives on the New Genetics', Methodist Church, 1999.
Creation? GM Crops and Foods: A Christian Perspective', Evangelical Alliance,
(17) "Iraqi farmers have been made vassals
to American corporations............ In short, what America has done is not restructure
Iraq's agriculture, but dismantle it. The people whose forefathers first mastered
the domestication of wheat will now have to pay for the privilege of growing it
for someone else. And with that the world's oldest farming heritage will become
just another subsidiary link in the vast American supply chain." Jeremy Smith,
The Ecologist, 21st January 2005.