When demonstrators lay down the unwelcome mat for George W. Bush next week in Ottawa, they might scrawl some Hands Off Our Food, Dude slogans alongside the usual offerings on the U.S. oil grab in Iraq.
How strange that Bush fundamentalists who believe the world was made in seven days think nothing of tinkering with the genetic mysteries of life that evolved over 4 billion years. It's not just the crude, dude, say those who see the occupation of Iraq as a product of an agribusiness drive to patent and monopolize the means of life itself.
Info just brought to light by a respected but little-known Bangkok-based think tank, Focus on the Global South, highlights the quiet but decisive behind-the-scenes power exercised by the genetic engineering industry in the U.S. administration of Iraq.
Focus on the Global South has highlighted the fine print in the 27-page Order 81, one among a hundred orders signed into Iraqi law last spring by then-U.S. chief administrator Paul Bremer. Order 81 covers Patent, Industrial Design, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety Law, a run-on phrase that tips us off that biology and plant life in the new Iraq are to be governed and owned as if they were industrial widgets.
The intro to the order says such patent protection is needed if Iraq is to become a member of the World Trade Organization, consistent with its "transition from a non-transparent centrally planned economy to a free market economy." The specifics of the order read as if they were inspired by an obsession to leave no biotech patent behind. Among other details, the order prohibits farmers' age-old practice of saving seeds of any plant variety registered by a corporation.
The order is remarkable for its comprehensive treatment of what might seem minor details of patent law, given conditions of violent civil war that you'd think would preoccupy U.S. administrators. The precision given to legal wordings seems completely at odds with the U.S. administration's chaotic lack of planning around such mainstays of everyday Iraqi life as electrical power, water provision and hospital equipment.
Following the trail back to Washington gives some background to this apparently obsessive concern for patents. The U.S. investigative journalist Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, has recently discovered a 101-page U.S. State Department document on the need to transform Iraq's economy.
The document was produced in February 2003, just prior to the U.S. invasion, but due to the slowness with which secret government documents are leaked in the information age, was only brought to public attention a few weeks ago. It seems that Bremer's Order 81 was in the legislative pipeline for at least a year.
"This is likely history's first military assault plan appended to a program for toughening the target nation's copyright laws," Palast writes of the U.S. State Department report.
The U.S. occupation brings GE seeds and food to an area of the world that in biblical times was known as the Fertile Crescent, where wheat and barley were first domesticated. Wild seeds of these crops' ancestors growing in the region contain all the original germs that may become essential in an emergency when wheat or barley need to be reconstructed to face some new disease.
Exposing Iraq's original seeds to GE contamination is like bringing GE corn to Mexico, the birthplace of domesticated corn - a threat to world food security that has a high profile among ecologists and has been criticized by the environmental commission of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The report on corn was prepared last spring but only released after the U.S. election. Under cover of war, GE has been brought to Iraq, but the alarm has yet to go off.
Consider also the personnel. The then-U.S. department of agriculture head, Ann Veneman, was a former director of Calgene, inventors of the GE Flavr Savr tomato, a Peter Pan species that never got old or stale. The company's stock was bought up by Monsanto.
In May 2003, she appointed Dan Amstutz as her point man in Iraq, to liaise with the military and arrange for the feeding of Iraqis and the reconstruction of its agriculture and food industries.
Oxfam's Kevin Williams immediately charged that "putting Dan Amstutz in charge of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq is like putting Saddam Hussein in the chair of a human rights commission."
Amstutz previously worked as a senior executive with Cargill, the global grain trader, as president of the North American Grain Export Association, and as a senior agricultural diplomat during the Reagan era, responsible for negotiating the 1992 Uruguay Round of tariff changes associated with the founding of the World Trade Organization. In that round, developing countries were forced to stop protecting their own farmers against highly subsidized U.S. and European food imports.
In the media conference announcing his appointment, Amstutz spoke of the urgency of reconstructing Iraq as a market economy without Saddam's alleged zeal for "collective agriculture" and price controls on food. He specified that feedlot-fed sheep, cows and chickens would be important pillars of a free and democratic market economy.
Lest that be dismissed as a poultry cause for war, consider that sheep, cow and chicken feed is grain, soy and corn, all set for export from the American Midwest and Southern feed belt, where GE is ascendant. Going low-carb for humans means lots of carbs for all those animals delivering protein and fat, which is why people in the wheat and corn belt like meat-based diets.
An army marches on its stomach, the brilliant French general Napoleon once said, a nice insight into the central role of food in a militarized society. But Napoleon never foresaw that the march to war might be based on an economy that worshipped its stomach.