Genetically Modified Seeds not Used in Iraq

A US observer with experience on the ground in Iraq writes with regard my link on Sunday to a piece about Monsanto and hooking Iraqi farmers on genetically modified seeds:

The small report about Bremer dictating that Iraqi farmers cannot use their seed from year to year is utter nonsense. It is not true. Iraqi farmers save seed for planting in the next year as they have done for many millenia and as farmers in other countries do.

This is a stupid rumor that has been circulating for about five years, nearly since the invasion. There are few if any GMOs [Genetically Modified Organisms] in Iraq, and [US officials] deliberately avoided bringing GMOs to Iraq because the GOI does not have a regulatory system to govern their use.

I have written to numerous organizations over the years to rebut this rumor. Defending Bremer, CPA and the US Government about their behavior in Iraq is not something I normally do, in fact I find little that they did right in Iraq. But the conspiracy to botch everything did not extend to the case of seeds. . .

The India story is believable especially in so far as village level agricultural authorities in India, those most likely to give advice to small scale farmers, are at best under-educated about the advantages and disadvantages of GMOs. It is thus easy to imagine that . . . predatory marketing practices could cause some real hardship.

The good news in Iraq is that the ag authorities are much more engaged with farmers and are more likely to tamp down Monsanto’s or any other agribusiness’ aggressive tactics. There is nothing wrong with using a patented seed provided the user is completely aware of what s/he is getting into. The other good news is that the crops most common in Iraq, wheat, barley, and rice are open pollinated crops and not subject to patent protection. These are saved from year to year, though it is customary to purchase new seed every five years or so. Hybrid maize is common in Iraq. The seed of hybrid maize cannot be grown in the following season, and all farmers are aware of that. And if an Iraqi farmer wants open pollinated maize, no problem, it is easy to find.

Order 81 was a mere rewrite and update of the existing Iraqi seed law. The editor was a guy named Paul Savello, a Food Scientist and lawyer, who worked for CPA and IRMO in “support” of the Ministries of Science and Technology and Agriculture. It provides patent protection, or what is known as “breeder’s rights” to the scientists or companies that develop hybrids or GMOs. It is nothing special, and is common throughout the world. Egypt has a similar seed law, as does Jordan and other Middle Eastern countries. . .

The use of GMOs is governed by the Cartgena Protocol, which is separate from a normal seed law. The Cartegena Protocol establishes the regulations to prevent contamination of the food supply and protect the environment and human health. Iraq is not a signatory to this protocol, one of the reasons people are reluctant to introduce GMOs in that country.

On a related matter: All this talk about security improvements in Iraq distracts eveybody from the real and continuing dangers of living there. Friends of mine are still being killed, wounded and kidnapped, and living in fear remains the norm. Before the surge the violence was unimaginable, not it is only horrible. How we (and especially the media) can let McCain and Lieberman obfuscate and declare victory is shameful.