Food Sovereignty

Order 81 and the Destruction of Iraqi Food Sovereignty

The Fertile Crescent is a region of the Middle East often called the cradle of civilization. It’s an area which comprises present day Palestine, Israel, Syria and Iraq; it’s here that nomadic herders are believed to have settled and become the world’s first farmers.  The crop varieties found in Iraq today are the result of 10,000 years of agricultural tradition during which time seeds have been saved and shared; replanting and cross-pollinating varieties has resulted in increased yields and better pest resistance.  In the New Scientist in 2005, Fred Pierce spoke of a ‘genetic holy grail’ and the ‘ark of the lost seeds’ in reference to Iraq’s biodiversity and its importance for future food security.

Clare O’Grady Walshe, former CEO of Greenpeace and current director of the Irish Seed Savers Association has just published a booklet documenting what Denis Haliday, (former UN assistant secretary general who resigned from his post of Head of the UN Humanitarian/Oil-For-Food Program in Iraq in 1998 protesting against the genocidal nature of the sanctions) has termed the ‘rape and pillage of food sovereignty’ by transnational corporations in Iraq.  What she reveals is a story which may constitute the most insidious attack yet on the future welfare of the beleaguered Iraqi people.

Listen to Claire O’Grady Walshe ‘Food Sovereignty’ interview (Oct 22nd) on Pat Kenny here

What is Order 81?

Just before handing power over to the Iraqis in 2004, the US Proconsul L. Paul Bremer III,   passed ‘100 Orders’ which made up the legal and institutional reforms ‘required’ to for Iraq’s transition to a free market economy.

Order 81 ‘Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, integrated circuits and plant variety’ amended Iraq’s existing patent law of 1970 under which it was illegal to patent seeds.

Under the new law it will be illegal for farmers to reuse seeds harvested from new varieties registered under the law.  For corporations to be able to claim patent protection, all that is required is that they be the first to ‘describe’ or ‘characterise’ new plants.  So private interests can now claim to be the first to characterise traditional seeds and any modification to the seeds will make them the private property of the company that patented them.

Where ownership of a crop is claimed seed saving will be banned and royalties will have to be paid to the registered ‘owner’.  Farmers will be required to sign technology user agreements and where GM crops are involved will be required to sign contracts for the purchase of herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers.

WHO? The US Department of Agriculture assisted Bremer in drawing up Order 81.  Many ex-managers of agribusiness work in the department such as Ann Veneman of Monsanto and Daniel Amstutz, a former Gargill executive, appointed to organise Iraq’s ‘agricultural reconstruction’.   

The transformation of an occupied country’s fundamental laws is illegal in international law.  It breaches the Hague Regulations of 1907 and 1949 Geneva Convention as well as the US army’s Law of Land Warfare.


The Holy Grail may not be lost yet however, thanks to the foresight of a group of Iraqi scientists.  In 1996 fearing for the future of their country, they moved their seed bank of over 1000 rare seed varieties out of Iraq; the bank includes ancient heritage wheat varieties and seeds with in built resistance to drought, heat and salinity which will be of great importance to plant building programs as we face climate change. 

Although the rich genetic heritage of Iraq has been preserved, the future for Iraqi farmers will be bleak unless the national government stands up to US agribusiness and revokes Order 81.

O’Grady Walshe was speaking at the recent AFRI Hedge School in Dublin.  The topic for the hedge school was Food Sovereignty and and other examples were given during the day of similar activities on the part of multinational food and pharamaceutical companies in other parts of the world.  In India, examples were given of company representatives endearing themselves to tribal peoples to gain access to medicinal or food plant varieties which they would then rush off to patent.

In Trade Agreement negotiantions between the EU and Latin American countries, intellectual property rights have been a huge bone of contention which many civil society groups in the region see as being a direct attack on regional food sovereignty.  Indeed, the concept of food sovereignty as opposed to food security has eveolved out of an understanding that people’s control over food producing resources like seeds, water and land and a socially responsible trading system are the real keys to genuine food security.


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