• 66°

Save your seeds, Jan. 29, 2006

There’s plenty about the war in Iraq to be upset about – pre-war bogus intelligence, our failure to secure the country after the regime was toppled, failure to foresee the insurgency, failure to take action once it was clear there was an insurgency,, no bid contracts to administration cronies, over billing on the part of contractors, not to mention the deaths of a couple thousand U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

But we know about all that stuff and apparently most Americans are OK with it.

But this latest thing is just too much, for me at least.

Last week I received a copy of a catalog in the mail from an heirloom seed company. It looked somewhat interesting, so I began flipping through it. For some reason, I read the editor’s page at the front.

He wrote that in Iraq, which has a long, proud tradition of agriculture dating back to, well, the dawn of agriculture I suppose, that Iraqi farmers are no longer permitted to save or trade seeds, a practice that has gone on since man began cultivating the soil. As a result, humankind is in danger of losing forever seed varieties that go back 5,000 to 10,000 years.

I found this odd and did a little Internet research, always a dangerous thing.

According to a couple environmentalist Web sites, one of the last actions of the Coalition Provisional Authority was the implementation of Order No. 81. This is the order which forbids Iraqi farmers from planting anything other than genetically altered seeds provided to them – for a modest fee of course – by giant U.S. agricultural interests.

This is disturbing on a number of levels. The order was obviously put in place simply to enrich U.S. agricultural interests who no doubt gave generously to various political campaigns. But corruption and cronyism aside – those appear to be a given with just about anything having to do with the reconstruction of Iraq – this is just an outrage. It’s like forbidding people from owning artwork by DaVinci or Rembrandt and forcing them to instead by mass-produced posters.

If our goal is to spread democracy and freedom in Iraq and the Middle East, perhaps refraining from dictating to farmers what seeds they have to buy would be a good palce to start.