Order 81 revisited - what it really means for farmers (8/9/2005)

Untitled article on what Iraq's order 81 really means for farmers
From Private Eye no 1140
2 Sept - 15 Sept 2005

"FARMERS shall be prohibited from reusing seeds of protected varieties" - so reads article 15 of Iraq's order 81, aka the patents, industrial design, undisclosed information, integrated circuits and plant variety law, one of 100 "orders" brought in by the US-run coalition provisional authority which ruled Iraq prior to handing over to Iraqis - and which have stayed in place ever since.

Opponents have leapt on Order 81, saying it means farmers can keep no seeds at all. Last month former environment minister Michael Meacher wrote in a Times opinion piece 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."

Such claims give the big seed firms angling to grab a share of the Iraqi market..., particularly Monsanto's pro-active PR team, an opening to insist that the order does no such thing. Campaign groups Grain and Focus on the Global South have even had to add a Monsanto-approved clarification to their critical report from October 2004, saying: "The law does not prohibit Iraqi farmers from using or saving 'traditional' seeds. It prohibits them from re-using seeds of 'new' plant varieties registered under the law."

So that's all right then? Well, no. There are, in fact, next to no 'traditional' seeds left in Iraq. Much of the public sector-controlled local seed industry was destroyed in fighting and looting and the UN has just warned that seed shortages now threaten the country's food security, saying Iraq can meet just 4 percent of its demand for quality seeds from its own resources.

And who is ready to step in with their patented, no re-use, cheap-this-time, pay a fortune when all the traditional, re-usable seeds are gone, seeds? Er, the US agri-business giants of course.

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