by Brian Shilhavy
Health Impact News Editor

Lost in the current debate regarding U.S. foreign policy in this current election cycle, is the question of how our military involvement in the Middle East has affected the local populations, particularly their native agriculture. Unfortunately, this is a story that is largely ignored by the mainstream media.


In Iraq, for example, the U.S. basically wiped out local native agriculture, which was primarily sustainable, and replaced it with the same Big Ag policies and practices that now dominate U.S. agriculture. Instead of native heirloom crops, genetically modified seeds were imported and used to replace crops that have been grown for centuries in what was once the “fertile crescent.” Watch this short video and see how for the first time in history, the people of Iraq are not able to feed themselves:

Daniel Stone wrote some interesting comments on the U.S. take-over of Iraqi agriculture back in 2006:

Wars are invariably a pretext for economic expansion and opportunities for corporate greed. What better target for U.S. agribusiness than a U.S.-occupied country such as Iraq? Such a country would be powerless to oppose the re-writing of its laws… No better evidence of this was the installation in April 2003 of Daniel Amstutz, former Cargill Corporation executive, to oversee the “rehabilitization” of agriculture in Iraq. Cargill, a violator of the rights and independence of family farmers throughout the world, is notorious for using massive subsidies from the U.S. government to dump vast amounts of grains in poorer countries. This action “undermines small farmers, helps to destroy the local food production systems, and forces dependence of small farmers and local rural economies on corporate agribusiness.”

After the so-called “transfer of sovereignty” in June 2004, when former Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator L. Paul Bremer III left Baghdad, he left behind the 100 orders he enacted as head of the occupation authority in Iraq. Of Bremer’s 100 Orders, Order 81 contains the edicts (paragraphs 51 – 79) pertinent to agriculture. Order 81, while claiming otherwise, will actually reduce biodiversity and thus lead to a monoculture susceptible to disease, increase chemical use, and pave the way for Genetically Modified Organisms (“GMOs”) to dominate food production in Iraq. (See: The collapse of native Iraqi agriculture, and the prosper of US Biotech and GMOs in Iraq)

Earlier this year Peter Van Buren, a 23-year Foreign Service officer with the U.S Department of State, published a book entitled: We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Iraqi People. Mr. Van Buren spent one year in Iraq in a “reconstruction” capacity and saw firsthand how $58 billion was wasted trying to show Iraqis how to do things the “American way.” Here is a short video clip describing his experiences:

I purchased the Kindle copy of Mr. Van Buren’s book. One chapter that caught my attention right away was the chapter “Milking the US Government.”

As the book explains, the idea was to develop a milk industry that would provide jobs and an industry that would lure young men out of the ranks of al Qeda and terrorism. Millions of dollars were spent on this project, apparently with no regard as to how the Big Dairy industry was failing miserably in the U.S. for many years now. As Mr. Van Buren explains:

We were going to change the way farmers sold milk. From year zero, Iraqi farmers in our area had raised a cow or two each. The farmers kept some of the milk for themselves, selling the excess to their neighbors. Lacking refrigeration, transportation, and an organized distribution system, each area instead sought a delicate balance between the number of cows, the number of people, and the need for milk. It worked well enough for everyone but us. Without checking with the farmers, we decided to modernize the whole milk chain to create jobs. Farmers would sell their milk to our newly built centralized collection centers equipped with refrigerated tanks, and the centers would then sell the bulk milk to dairy-processing plants, also built by us. The processing plants were expected to sell to the farmers’ neighbors, who would surely be waiting around wondering what happened to the friendly farmer who used to bring fresh milk around daily. (Van Buren, Peter 2011. We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (American Empire Project) (p. 81). Metropolitan Books. Kindle Edition.)

Sound familiar? Replace the local “milkman” with a highly processed and industrialized system. Fortunately for the Iraqis, the whole project failed. Unfortunately for the American taxpayers, we paid for that failure.


In June this year Patricia McArdle wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times: Afghanistan’s Last Locavores. Ms. McArdle spent one year in Afghanistan as a State Department political adviser:

Many urban Americans idealize “green living” and “slow food.” But few realize that one of the most promising models for sustainable living is not to be found on organic farms in the United States, but in Afghanistan. A majority of its 30 million citizens still grow and process most of the food they consume. They are the ultimate locavores.

During the 12 months I spent as a State Department political adviser in northern Afghanistan, I was dismayed to see that instead of building on Afghanistan’s traditional, labor-intensive agricultural and construction practices, the United States is using many of its aid dollars to transform this fragile agrarian society into a consumer-oriented, mechanized, fossil-fuel-based economy. (Full article here.)

Is the American Biotech Industry’s Desire to Control the World through GMO Seeds Fueling Some of our Foreign Policy?

There was much written in 2011 about information revealed in the now infamous “Wikileaks” detailing just how much pressure the U.S. government has applied all around the world to get countries to adopt U.S. genetically modified seeds. For example:

In one cable, an unnamed State Department official tells a Pakistan finance minister, who notes that drought and water issues remain a primary barrier to increasing the country’s agricultural capacity, that “the integration of genetically modified seeds is critical to increasing agricultural productivity.” The official then requested “enhanced U.S.–Pakistan collaboration” on biotechnology research. (Full article here)

See also: Why is the State Department using our money to help force genetically modified crops on other countries?

Is Iran Next?

Much of the rhetoric regarding U.S. foreign policy in the recent presidential debates has centered around Iran, and their supposed threat to obtaining a nuclear weapon. They are often cited as a threat to other countries due to their “Jihadist” theology. Currently, Iran is isolated from U.S. businesses for the most part.

What is the current state of their agriculture? The English News Iran Daily reported earlier this year that the country’s current five year economic plan (2010 through 2015) had a goal of having at least 25% of their agriculture being produced by organic standards:

It is predicted that 143 million tons of agro products will be produced by the end of Fifth Plan, of which 30 million tons would be organic crops, Esmaeel Negaresh stated, wrote.

Organic farming is a form of agriculture that relies on techniques such as crop rotation, green manure, compost and biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and control pests on a farm.

Organic farming excludes or strictly limits the use of manufactured fertilizers, pesticides (which include herbicides, insecticides and fungicides), plant growth regulators such as hormones, livestock antibiotics, food additives, and genetically modified organisms.

Pointing to the responsibilities of Agricultural Jihad Ministry in this respect, Negaresh said standards for production of healthy crops have been compiled, adding the maximum residue level (MRL) database for over 2,000 crops has been prepared and notified to provinces.

Total area under cultivation in Iran is 11-13 million hectares most of which are under traditional farming systems with smallholder farmers involved in subsistence agriculture.

Since many farmers in their small farms and gardens never use agrochemicals and employ sustainable approaches for crop production during land preparation, crop nutrition, soil fertility as well as pest, disease and weed management, their agroecosystems are potentially organic or can be easily converted to organic. (Full Article Here.)

If the U.S. decides to start another war, targeting Iran this time, what do you think will happen to this traditional agricultural system? History would seem to indicate that the same thing would happen that happened in Afghanistan and Iraq.

See also:

The Real Cause of Revolution in the Middle East? Food Subsidies can no longer Provide Cheap Bread