by Carmelo Ruiz Marrero

Oil is not the only interest that the US is seeking to control in Iraq. Agriculture is also emerging as a factor. Critical observers in various countries around the world contend that Washington is seeking to convert the country into a captive market for US agricultural surplus, as well as for genetically-altered foods and seeds that nobody else wants.

When L. Paul Bremer, provisional president of Iraq, stepped down from his post in the supposed transition to sovereignty at the end of June, he left in effect some 100 orders that continue have force of law today. One of these, number 81, prohibits Iraqi farmers from saving seeds. This means they cannot use the seeds from one harvest to plant the following season; they have to buy seeds each year from the agribusiness transnationals. In fact, the world commerce in seeds is actually dominated by five firms: Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow Chemical.

Order 81 caused a furor among defenders of farmers’ rights and agricultural biodiversity. The international groups GRAIN and Focus on the Global South, respectively based in Barcelona and Thailand, published a joint statement affirming that Iraq is one of various important scenarios in an effort by transnational corporations to impose global monopolies over seeds and thereby control human food and agriculture on a global level.

From time immemorial, Iraqi farmers–like those throughout the word–have saved, exchanged and shared their seeds freely, without interference from the state or powerful economic interests. But this is now changing thanks to the concept of intellectual property rights (IPR), one of the most important elements of neoliberal globalization. Intellectual properties are intangible possessions that are the product of human ingenuity, such as books, songs, movies, medicines, software programs and agricultural seeds. In the post-Cold War world, the tendency has been to extend IPRs to products of nature, allowing the patenting and privatization of medicinal plants, proteins, genes y even human cells.

The agro-industrial corporations are seeking to use IPRs to take over global seed stock so that nobody on earth can plant a seed without paying royalties to its corporate “owner.” Anyone who doesn’t pay is considered a pirate who is illegally copying a patented product, and can be sanctioned under the law–just as the authorities are doing with people who copy movies on DVD, music CDs or Microsoft programs, or those who download songs from the Internet.

The traditional way, which farmers have practiced since the dawn of agriculture, is now a crime in Iraq. Ironically, Iraq is considered a cradle of agriculture, since the ancient Mesopotamian kingdom was found there. And agriculture began precisely when people began saving and selecting seeds.

While it is clear the privatization of seed is occurring all over the world, Iraq is a special case, according to GRAIN and Focus on the Global South. Order 81 was not the product of bilateral or multilateral trade negotiations, as is usually the case with IPR laws. It was not approved by the legislature of a sovereign country; much less was it the result of a democratic consultation with the affected farmers. It was imposed by a foreign government–the United States–which exercised sovereignty over Iraq following a military invasion.

Global Repudiation

Various organizations have also accused the United States and the agribusiness transnationals of using Iraq as a captive market for genetically modified foods–transgenics–which have been rejected by the European Union, and even by the poorest countries in southern Africa.

Argentina’s Rural Reflection Group (GRR) maintains that the conflict between the United States and the European Union over transgenics is part of a world struggle for access to oversea markets, and is related to the invasion of Iraq. “Biotechnology is fundamental to the interests of empire, and the transnationals of the genetic-industrial complex support the war effort in the context of the world food market,” declared the GRR en a February 2003 statement.

“After the war, amidst devastation and hunger, food aid can be sent consisting of trasngenic grains, not only to subsidize North American producers but to demonstrate the public assertion, repeated in ape-like fashion by academics and journalists, that genetic engineering is the solution to global hunger.”

The group UBINIG, which promotes ecological agriculture and community development in Bangladesh, also sounds an alarm about the use of Iraq as a market for transgenics. “We urge upon the World Food Programme and other UN humanitarian bodies not to use any Genetically Modified food (GM) as food aid to the war-affected people in Iraq,” the group says in a recent statement.

UBINIG writes that “the beleaguered GM food industry [is] trying to move in to distribute the untested and unwanted genetically-modified food as part of the ‘humanitarian aid'” to Iraq. “America is getting ready to solve so many of its economic problems over the dead and the injured in Iraq. They have already tried to use their ‘junk’ GM food to feed the famine affected people in Africa.”

Peter Rosset, co-director of the California-based Food First, also links the war against Iraq with neoliberal policies he says are disastrous for agriculture. “With the war against Iraq, and with the new military bases throughout the South, the US is seeking an opening against its competitors in the new war for colonization of the Third World,” he declared in an economic analysis of the war.

Rosset wrote in 2003 that this is “a military war for free trade… ‘Free’ trade has already nearly eliminated family agriculture from the North American countryside, has generated unemployment and social desperation in the US. With cuts in social spending that will be needed to cover the immediate costs of the war against Iraq, these problems will intensify.”

Rosset concludes: “Because of all this, at this historic moment it is essential to link the movements against the war in the North and the South with each other, and with the global movement against neoliberal globalization that the free trade agreements represent. ‘Free trade’ is nothing more than war by other means, war against all the peoples of both the North and the South.”

This story originally appeared in the Puerto Rican weekly Claridad, Nov. 25

Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is director of the Proyecto de Bioseguridad Puerto Rico, a research associate at the Institute for Social Ecology and a senior fellow at the Environmental Leadership Program. His blog is on-line at: http://carmeloruiz.blogspot.com


Reprinted and translated by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Dec. 10, 2004
Reprinting permissible with attribution