If you read it on the internet it must be true, right? I’ve had some questions about a recent post that relayed some information on farmers in Iraq being prohibited from saving seeds. After doing more detailed research it looks like some of the exact facts need to be scrutinized a little more critically. But your conclusions on the situation may not change much.
All the bluster revolves around Order 81, a directive on plant variety protection that Paul Bremer, the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority administrator, pushed pushed into effect (at the behest of Monsanto, according to a 2008 interview with F. William Engdahl). The press release from Focus on the Global South and GRAIN that got the firestorm of opinion going declares that, “while historically the Iraqi constitution prohibited private ownership of biological resources, the new US-imposed patent law introduces a system of monopoly rights over seeds.” If you look at the current version of the release you’ll see that it’s all marked up with corrections and clarifications, with a piece of emphatic clarification at the beginning of the release:
The law does not prohibit Iraqi farmers from using or saving “traditional” seeds. It prohibits them from reusing seeds of “new” plant varieties registered under the law. In practical terms, this means they cannot save those seeds for re-use either.
So is Focus on the Global South and GRAIN thinking the law is benign and just? Their press release may be contrite about the confusion they might have caused, but in the current rewritten version still goes on to decry the order as a slap in the face against food sovereignty at the same time it drives big agribusiness into the traditional ways of traditional peoples.
It’s all fascinating reading that gives more nuance and background to the conclusions that people were coming to. In the end it’s not only a case about people’s ways of life being destroyed, nor is it a simple case of protecting intellectual property. Here are a few samples of what’s out there:
Iraq’s new patent law: A declaration of war against farmers (the original press release, 2004-5)
Iraq and Washington’s ‘seeds of democracy’ by William F. Engdahl (2005)
Why Iraqi Farmers Might Prefer Death to Paul Bremer’s Order 81 by Nancy Scola (2007)
And if you’re brave, here’s the order itself, 2004, with Paul Bremmer’s signature: COALITION PROVISIONAL AUTHORITY ORDER NUMBER 81: PATENT, INDUSTRIAL DESIGN, UNDISCLOSED INFORMATION, INTEGRATED CIRCUITS AND PLANT VARIETY LAW
I really would like to see a contemporary analysis of the situation. Was all this bluster? Or has the situation played out as many feared? Based on stories of the social and environmental costs of reliance on Monsanto crops has created in some parts of India, for instance, I suspect things can’t be going well in Iraq.