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Iraq's Crop Patent Law
A Threat To Food Security

By GM Free Cymru

03 March 2005

Aid 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.

The 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 April 2004.

The 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."

It 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.


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 convenient Orders.


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.

Strictly, 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.


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 follow.

About 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.

In 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 in Iraq.


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."

Order 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.

The 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.

The 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.

Again, 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.

Finally, 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 human dignity.


If 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:
The 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:

(2) Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety Law of 2004, CPA Order No. 81, 26 April 2004,
/20040426_CPAORD_81_Patents _Law.pdf

(3) House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.

Agricultural dictatorship 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 Jackowski Print comments.

(5) The US boasts that "The principal beneficiary of America's foreign assistance programs has always been the United States."
Business Guide for Iraq (U.S. Department of Commerce) Revised January 28, 2005
"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
GRAIN, "FAO declares war on farmers, not hunger", New from Grain, 16 June 2004,

(6) Overview of Key Industry Sectors in Iraq, June 4, 2004

(7) "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
Convention on Biological Diversity

See also


(13) See Directive 2001/18/EC

(14) GE Food: Feeding the Hungry or Corporate Profits?
Father Sean McDonagh, SSC


(16) 'Genetically Modified Organisms', Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group, 2000
'Making our Genes Fit: Christian Perspectives on the New Genetics', Methodist Church, 1999.
'Modifying Creation? GM Crops and Foods: A Christian Perspective', Evangelical Alliance, 2001.

(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.











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