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Biopiracy and GMOs: The Fate of Iraq's Agriculture

Biopiracy and GMOs: The Fate of Iraq's Agriculture
by Ghali Hassan
December 12, 2005
Centre for Research on Globalisation (

While the Iraqi people are struggling to end the U.S. military Occupation
and its associated violence, the fate of their food sources and agricultural
heritage is being looted behind closed doors. Unless the colonisation of
Iraq ends, the U.S. Occupation of Iraq will continue to have lasting and
disastrous effects on Iraq's economy and Iraq's ability to feed its people.

Iraq is home to the oldest agricultural traditions in the world. Historical,
genetic and archaeological evidence, including radiocarbon dating of
carbon-containing materials at the site, show that the Fertile Crescent,
including modern Iraq, was the centre of domestication for a remarkable
array of today's primary agricultural crops and livestock animals. Wheat,
barley, rye, lentils, sheep, goats, and pigs were all originally brought
under human control around 8000 BCE. Iraq is where wild wheat was once
originated and many of its cereal varieties have been exported and adapted
worldwide. [1] The beginning of agriculture led inexorably to the
development of human civilization. [2]

Since then, the inhabitants of Mesopotamia have used informal seed supply
systems to plant crops, suited to their particular environment. 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. While much has changed in the ensuing millennia,
agriculture remains an essential part of Iraq's heritage. Despite extreme
aridity, characterised by low rainfalls and soil salinity, Iraq had a world
standard agricultural sector producing good quality food for generations.

According to the Rome-based UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), 97
percent of Iraqi farmers in 2002 still used saved seed from their own stocks
from last year's harvest, or purchased from local markets. This despite the
criminal sanctions -- maintained by the U.S. and Britain for dubious reasons
-- which destroyed Iraq's agricultural sector. The 1997 FAO report found
that "Crop yields . . . remain low due to poor land preparation as a result
of lack of machinery, low use of inputs, deteriorating soil quality and
irrigation facilities' and the animal population has declined steeply due to
severe shortages of feed and vaccines during the embargo years."

Unlike other Middle Eastern countries, Iraq has both water and oil. In
addition, Iraq has one of the most educated societies in the region. Iraq
was once self-sufficient in agriculture and was also the world's number one
exporter of dates. About 27 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. Prior
to the U.S. war on Iraq, average annual harvests were 1.4 million tonnes for
cereals, 400,000 tonnes for roots and tubers, and 38,000 tonnes for pulses.
[3] The U.S. war and the US-Britain sponsored sanctions have devastated
Iraq's agricultural sector. Only half of the irrigable area is now properly
utilised. Food shortages and malnutrition were less of problem before the
war and the criminal sanctions.

After the 1991 U.S. war, Iraq was denied its right to rebuild its
war-shattered economy and infrastructure. U.S.-Britain used the criminal
sanctions to destroy what was left of Iraq and kill its children. In plain
language, the sanctions were used as a vehicle to terrorise Iraqi civilians.

"I went to Iraq in September 1997 to oversee the UN 'oil for food program'.
I quickly realized that this humanitarian program was a Band-Aid for a UN
sanctions regime that was quite literally killing people. Feeling the moral
credibility of the UN was being undermined, and not wishing to be complicit
in what I felt was a criminal violation of human rights, I resigned after
thirteen months," Denis Halliday, former humanitarian aid coordinator for
Iraq, told an audience at Harvard University on 5 November 1998. Mr.
Halliday called the sanctions "genocidal," because of the number of Iraqi
children killed.

Following the illegal Occupation of Iraq, the suffering of the Iraqi people
has increased. </SPAN>A recent report by the United Nations World Food
Programme (WFP), which monitors the distribution of rations, found the
majority of the Iraqi population lack the required daily calories to survive
and remain healthy. The new WFP Emergency report revealed that "there are
significant country-wide shortfalls in rice, sugar and milk and infant
formula." It added; "Some governorates continue to report serious shortfalls
of nearly every commodity." Another report prepared by UN Human Rights
rapporteur, the reputed Swiss professor of Sociology, Mr. Jean Ziegler,
reveals that acute malnutrition among Iraqi children between the ages of six
months and 5 years has increased from 4% before the invasion to 7.7% since
the US invasion of Iraq. And more than a quarter of Iraqi children do not
get enough food to eat. Indeed, Mr. Ziegler accused the U.S. and British
forces of using food and water as weapons of war in besieged Iraqi cities.

Just before announcing his departure from Iraq and handing "power" to the
U.S.-installed band of discredited quislings (the so-called "transfer of
[fake] sovereignty"), U.S. proconsul and head of the Coalition Provisional
Authority (CPA), Paul Bremer issued "100 Orders" to transfer Iraq's economy
and legal ownership of Iraqi resources into the private hands of U.S.
corporations. Then, to encourage the looting of Iraq's wealth and increase
the suffering of the Iraqi people, the Bush administration issued an
"executive order" to indemnify not only the corporate looters from
prosecution, but also provides protection to soldiers and private security
guards committing crimes against Iraqis. A closer examination of these "100
Orders" and U.S. policy in Iraq shows that the war on Iraq had nothing to do
with WMD, terrorism, "democracy" and "liberation," but to colonise Iraq and
enrich U.S. corporations at the expense of the Iraqi people.

Order 81 deals specifically with Plant Variety Protection (PVP) because it
is designed to protect the commercial interests of corporate seed companies.
Its aim is to force Iraqi farmers to plant so-called "protected" crop
varieties 'defined as new, distinct uniform and stable', and most likely
genetically modified. This means Iraqi farmers will have one choice; to buy
PVP registered seeds. Order 81 opens the way for patenting (ownership) of
plant forms, and facilitates the introduction of genetically modified crops
or organisms (GMOs) to Iraq. U.S. agricultural biotechnology corporations,
such as Monsanto and Syngenta will be the beneficiaries. [4] Iraqi farmers
will be forced to buy their seeds from these corporations. GMOs will replace
the old tradition of breeding closely related plants, and replace them with
organisms composed of DNA from an altogether different species, e.g.,
bacterium genes into corn. In the long run, there won't be a big enough gene
pool for genetic viability.

>Upon purchasing the patented seeds, farmers must sign the company's technology
agreement (Technology User Agreements). This agreement allows the company to
control farmers' practices and conduct property investigation. The farmer
becomes the slave of the company. Like U.S. farmers, Iraqi farmers will be
"harassed for doing what they have always done." For example, Iraqi farmers can
be sued by Monsanto, if their non-GMO crops are polluted by GMO crops planted in
their vicinity. [5] The health and environmental consequences of GMO crops are
still unknown. GMO-based agriculture definitely encourages monoculture and
genetic pollution. Moreover, this will further increase the already polluted
Iraqi environment as a result of tens of thousands of tons of 'depleted' uranium
dust, napalm, chemical weapons, and phosphorous bombs.

Farmers will also be required to buy fertilisers, herbicides and
insecticides, against plants disease. Iraqi farmers will be required to pay
royalties for the new seeds and they will be forbidden from saving seeds. In
other words, Iraqi farmers will become agricultural producers for export, a
recipe for the introduction of hunger in Iraq, not unknown in many
developing countries. Unless an independent sovereign Iraqi government
repeals these edicts, they will override Iraq's original patent law of 1970,
which, in accordance with the Iraqi constitution, prohibited private
ownership of biological resources.

Furthermore, Order 81 ignores Iraqi farmers' old traditions of saving seeds,
and using their knowledge to breed and plant their crops. It also 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 in Iraq.

Iraqi traditional plant varieties, which were kept in Iraq's gene bank at
the town of Abu Ghraib -- the town where the Bush administration used the
prison to abuse, torture and murder Iraqi prisoners and detainees --may have
been looted and lost during the invasion. There is hope that the Syria-based
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and the
affiliated International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas
(ICARDA) still holds accessions of several Iraqi varieties in the form of
germplasm. Evidence shows that Western "bio-prospectors" have been using
indigenous genetic material taken from their traditional owners. [6] It is
this kind of looting or "biopiracy" that is contributing to the destruction
of farmers in the developing world, because they have lost control of what
they sow, grow, reap and eat.

The man who is in charge of dismantling Iraq's agriculture is Daniel
Amstutz, formerly an executive of the Cargill Corporation. Cargill is well
known for having the reputation of being one the worst violators of the
rights and independence of family farmers throughout the world. Amstutz
appointment is designed to undermine Iraqi farmers and destroy Iraq's
ability to produce food to feed its people. His service has been to advance
U.S. agribusiness corporations. [8] For his task, Amstutz will be assisted
by no others than Cargill, Monsanto, Dow and Texas A & M's Agriculture
Program and its subsidiary the Arizona-based agriculture research firm,
World Wide Wheat Company. All are known to have innately unjust records
doing business in developing countries and enslaving farmers there.

According to Focus on the Global South and GRAIN report: "Iraq has the
potential to feed its people. But instead of developing this capacity,
Washington is shaping the future of Iraq's food and farming to serve the
interests of U.S. corporations." <SPAN>[7] The aim of the U.S. is to
undermine Iraq's food security, and remove all the contributions Iraqi
farmers have made to development of agriculture and important crops like
wheat, and barley. [9] Iraq's agriculture will be re-engineered to produce
high yields agricultural products for export, and force Iraq to depend on
importing food, and on Western "aid."

If Iraq's new administration truly wanted to re-establish Iraqi agriculture
for the benefit of the Iraqi people it would seek out the fruits of their
knowledge. It could scour the country for successful farms, and if it
miraculously found none could bring over the seeds from ICARDA and use those
as the basis of a programme designed to give Iraq back the agriculture it
once gave [to] the world," writes Jeremy Smith. [6]

Consistent with agricultural research, what Iraqi farmers need urgently is
not GMOs and chemicals, but the opposite. Iraq needs ways to better control
pathogens and pests by greater use of natural enemies and crop diversity. As
accurately described by Vandana Shiva, "The miracle varieties displaced the
diversity of traditionally grown crops, and through the erosion of diversity
the new seeds became a mechanism for introducing and fostering pests." Shiva
added; "Indigenous varieties are resistant to local pests and diseases. Even
if certain diseases occur, some of the strains may be susceptible, but
others will have resistance to survive." [10] Diversity of seeds is the best
natural defence. Without diversity, plants are very susceptible to disease.

>Finally, the U.S. and its allies, including the UN are illegally transforming
Iraq's law and the Iraqi economy. The US action in Iraq is in breach of The
Hague Regulations of 1907, the 1949 Geneva Conventions -- both ratified by the
United States -- as well as the U.S. Army's own code of war ’ as stated in the
Army field manual, The Law of Land Warfare. Article 43 of The Hague Regulations
requires that an occupying power "re-establish and insure, as far as possible,
public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws
in force in the country." Resolution 1483 of the UN Security Council issued in
May 2003, specifically instructs the occupying powers to follow The Hague
Regulations and the Geneva Conventions in Iraq. In fact, the British attorney
general, Lord Goldsmith, was very clear about the illegality of the Iraq's
invasion and rightly warned Tony Blair that "the imposition of major structural
economic reforms would not be authorized by international law." [11]

Any new Iraqi government is obliged to repeal the illegally enacted Bremer's
100 Orders, including Order 81 and demand that the US pays compensation for
the criminal damages that resulted from the Occupation. Iraq will never be
sovereign and independent, unless its wealth and resources are protected and
the sole property of the Iraqi people. The end of U.S. Occupation and
colonisation of Iraq must be total and immediate.


[1] GM Free Cymru, Iraq's Crop Patent Law: A threat to food Security, (03 March 2005).

[2] Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies,
Norton, 1997.

[3] U.S. Department of Commerce, Overview of Key Industry Sectors in Iraq
(July 2004).

[4] CPA, Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated
Circuits and Plant Variety Law, Order 81 (26 April 2004)

[5] Centre for Food Safety, Monsanto vs. U.S. farmers,

[6] Jeremy Smith, Order 81, The Ecologist 35(1) (2005). Article available on

[7] Focus on the Global South and GRAIN, Iraq's New Patent Law: A
declaration of War against Farmers (November 2000).

[8] Heather Gray, Home Grown Axis of Evil, (22 July 2005).

[9] Ghali Hassan, Undermining Iraq's food Security,, (23
February 2005).

[10] Vandana Shiva, Biopiracy ­ the plunder of nature and knowledge, Between
the Lines, 1997.

[11] Antonia Juhasz, The Economic Colonization of Iraq: Illegal and Immoral,
(8 May 2004); Global Policy Forum,
(International Law Aspects of the Iraq War and Occupation (2003-2005). The
Forum includes several reports related to U.S. war crimes committed against
the Iraqi people.

Global Research Contributing Editor, Ghali Hassan lives in Perth, Western
2.Critics decry GM rule in Iraq
They argue policy allowing transgenic wheat could wipe out natural varieties
in the place where wheat was born
By Anne Harding
The Scientist, Nov 30 2005

Recent rule changes allowing farmers to use transgenic wheat species in Iraq
to help rebuild the region's agriculture have some critics concerned that
the new policy could help wipe out the natural hotbed of diversity in Iraq,
where wheat originated

"Introducing transgenic wheat means replacing this diversity and leaving it
to extinction," warned Nagib Nassar, a professor of genetics at the
Universidade de Brasilia. "It will be replaced by a monoculture with a very
narrow genetic base. This is a problem. This will be a catastrophe."

What's gotten people worried is Order 81, one of 100 orders enacted by
Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Administrator L. Paul Bremer. Issued
in 2004, Order 81 authorizes the introduction of GM crops as part of an
effort to restore the nation's agricultural base, and gives intellectual
property rights to the developers of new seed varieties.

This isn't the first time Iraqi farmers have been exposed to genetic
modification [!!!]. For thousands of years, Iraqi farmers have saved seed
from each year's crops, replanting and cross-pollinating varieties for
higher yields, better pest resistance, and other beneficial traits. But
Order 81 makes it illegal for Iraqi farmers to reuse seeds from any crops
planted using a patented seed variety. Farmers who chose to use patented
varieties would have to buy new seed every year.

Critics such as the non-governmental organizations GRAIN and Focus on the
Global South say US agribusiness pushed for Order 81 in hopes of turning
Iraqi farmers into cash crop producers. They fear a Green Revolution-style
overhaul of Iraq's ancient agricultural practices, with trademarked crop
varieties requiring plenty of fertilizer and pesticide muscling out
lower-yielding, but more dependable, traditional varieties.

But officials on the ground in Iraq say such worries are overblown. "I don't
think there is any substantial information behind it," Tekeste Tekie,
officer in charge in Iraq for the United Nations' Food and Agriculture
Organization, told The Scientist. "I don't think there is anybody trying to
push genetically modified crops onto Iraqis."

The FAO recently secured funding for a $5.4 million project to help restore
Iraq's seed industry, nearly destroyed by the war. The project, developed
jointly by Iraqi scientists and the FAO, will include training of scientists
and farmers, as well as restoration of seed laboratories and seed
multiplication centers. It is slated to begin in 2006. Despite ongoing
violence in parts of the country, Tekie noted, 14 of 18 Iraqi governates are

Iraq remains in dire need of assistance to rebuild its agricultural
capacity. While 5 million acres of wheat were under cultivation in Iraq in
2003 before the US invasion, only 1 million are being grown today, Sanjaya
Rajaram, director of integrated gene management at the International Center
for Agricultural Resources (ICARDA) in Aleppo, Syria, told The Scientist.
And during that time, yields have dwindled from two tons per hectare to a
half-ton. Iraqi farmers are currently only able to cover 4% of the country's
demand for high quality seed.

Given the current state of Iraq's agricultural system, however, some experts
say the country is just not ready for GM crops. Any introduction of
genetically modified wheat into the region would have to be done with
extreme caution, after careful study, and Iraq simply does not have the
necessary infrastructure to make this possible, Michael Larindi, a seed
production officer at FAO, told The Scientist.

More immediate threats to Iraq's wheat heritage include the danger that
Iraqi farmers will toss out their old seed in favor of new varieties, or
that areas where wild wheat grows will be paved over or otherwise developed,
said Marilyn Warburton, a molecular biologist at the International Maize and
Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico City, better known by its Spanish acronym

The solution, Warburton said, is to set aside protected land where the wild
varieties can grow, and to ensure seeds of old varieties are safely banked.
While Iraq's ancient seed stores have been decimated, the Consultative Group
on International Agricultural Research is holding some Iraqi seeds in gene
banks in Syria and Mexico City.

For referenced version:

This GMO news service is underwritten by a generous grant from the Newman's
Own Foundation, edited by Thomas Wittman and is a production of the
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