Five years of occupation, more than $558 billion spent, 4,182 U.S. soldiers and 655,000 Iraqi civilians dead, and it now looks like Monsanto (NYSE.MON – $71.95) is going to be the real victor in Iraq thanks to a postwar document known as Order 81.
Part of the infamous 100 Orders, Order 81 mandates that Iraq’s commercial-scale farmers must now purchase "registered” seeds. These are available through agribusiness giants like Monsanto, Cargill Corporation (a private company) and the World Wide Wheat Company (also private), but Monsanto is far and away the most significant player in the registered seed market.
Monsanto’s seeds are “terminator” seeds. This means they are inherently sterile, and any seed they produce does not give birth to more plants.
The technology behind registered seed is called genetic modification, and genetically modified (GM) seeds supposedly can’t reproduce, though “drift,” via wind currents and bird consumption, has resulted in a great many instances where GM crops ended up in fields where they were not planted.
A classic example is Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, whose canola fields inexplicably sprouted GM varieties from Monsanto. Monsanto promptly sued Schmeiser for patent infringement.
Originally developed to avert world hunger (at least according to Monsanto), these GM crops not only do not produce more than their non-modified cousins, but the herbicide Roundup, developed in tandem by Monsanto to treat GM fields, is becoming increasingly ineffective. This has led to more herbicide purchases among farmers, greater profits for Monsanto, increasingly smaller yields, and greater environmental pollution overall.
Roundup, a glyphosate, is the direct descendant of Agent Orange (also produced by Monsanto), and is especially toxic to marine animals. Glyphosates, known as endocrine disruptors, are being increasingly implicated in neurological disorders, DNA damage and even death. However, as often (and mistakenly) reported, Roundup does not contain pesticide. Pest control is part of the genetic modification of seeds.
In the U.S., these GM varieties of corn, soy and rapeseed may have cost the U.S. economy $12 billion since 1999 in rising farm subsidies, lower crop prices, loss of major export orders and product recalls, according to Britain’s premiere organic food association, the Soil Association.
Contrary to popular belief, farm subsides do not protect small American farmers. They do drive down the profit on crops. In the US, 10 percent of farms receive 75 percent of subsidies, and all these farms are run by agribusiness giants like Monsanto. Exporting GM crops is hampered by the fact that many countries refuse to buy genetically modified crops, including Australia, the EU (except Spain), and Japan. Product recalls, involving the use of GM crops in food products sold to countries where GM food is forbidden, is not only costly but represents an ongoing bone of contention on the world market which hampers international trade relations.
In India, where regional governmental studies show Monsanto’s GM cotton producing seven times less than an indigenous variety of cotton, farmers are drinking the toxic chemicals they formerly used to treat their fields in an effort to escape rising debt and poverty. This so-called “suicide by pesticide” is the final solution for farmers locked into Monsanto contracts that benefit no one but Monsanto.
In Columbia, where Monsanto’s RoundUp Ultra has been deployed in the war against drugs (under the name Plan Columbia), local communities and human right’s organizations are charging that Ultra is destroying indigenous food crops, water sources and indeed entire protected ecologies in the Andes. Ironically, cocaine production has jumped almost 10 percent since the plan’s inception, moving higher into the mountains and decimating even more remote ecologies.
Monsanto’s share of this American taxpayer-funded drug eradication enterprise ($1.3 billion) is more than $25 million. Ultra, a concentrated version of Roundup with added surfactants to increase its toxicity, has been implicated in the deaths of a number of children. DynCorp International (NYSE.DCP – $10.83), the company doing the spraying, is under contract to the U.S. government.
Order 81, by first forcing Iraq’s farmers to use GM seeds, and then by declaring natural seeds an infringement on Monsanto technology, will result in the sorts of tragedies seen elsewhere in the developing world, reducing Iraq’s farmers to drinking field-grade herbicides to escape financial catastrophe.
Nor will the Iraqi people benefit in terms of more food. Order 81, mandated under the dystopian title "Plant Variety Protection,” turns the agricultural world on its head by defining indigenous crops as invasive and GM crops as uniform and stable. Moreover, the six varieties of wheat developed for Iraq are primarily used in pasta. Since the Iraqis don’t eat pasta, one can only assume these food crops are destined for Western nations, leaving the average Iraqi that much closer to starvation.
Order 81, carefully crafted to look like humanitarian legislation aimed at rescuing a country decimated by half a decade of war, is in fact a Monsanto power play under U.S. government sponsorship. Farmers who do not comply will have seeds, farm implements and even land seized.
The infamous 100 Orders, of which 81 is only an instance, are clearly a ploy to allow multinationals like Monsanto to take over an entire nation. As Iraqi resentment over this privatization grows, expect continued resistance, more deaths, and ultimately a failure of democracy.
And that is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all.
Disclosure: I don’t own stock in any company mentioned.