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[casi] Dan Amstutz and the Looting of Iraqi Agriculture

July 4, 2003

The Rat in the Grain
Dan Amstutz and the Looting of Iraqi Agriculture


The war on Iraq couldn't have come at a more dire time for Iraq's
beleaguered farmers. Spring is harvest time in the barley and wheat fields
of the Tigris River valley and planting time in the vast vegetable
plantations of southern Iraq.

The war is over, but the situation in the fields of Iraq continues to
rapidly deteriorate. The banks, which provide credit and cash, have been
looted, irrigation systems destroyed, road travel restricted, markets
closed, warehouses and grain silos pillaged.

To harvest the grain before it rots in the fields Iraqi farmers need more
than eight million gallons of diesel fuel to power Iraq's corroding armada
of combines and harvesters. But most of the fuel depots were incinerated by
US bombing strikes. There's no easy way to get the fuel that remains to the
farmers who need it most and no desire to do so by the US forces of

Even if the crops can be harvested, there's no clear way for the grain to
get stored, marketed, sold and distributed to hungry Iraqi families. Under
the Hussein regime, the crops were bought by the Baghdad government at a
fixed priced and then distributed through a rationing system. This system,
inefficient as it was, is gone. But nothing has taken its place.

Iraqi farmers are still owed $75 million for this year's crop, with little
sign that the money will ever arrive. There's speculation throughout the
country that one intent of the current policy is to force many farmers off
their farms and into the cities so that their lands can be taken over by
favorites of Ahmed Chalabi and his US protectors. The post-Saddam Iraq will
almost certainly witness a land redistribution program: more farmland going
into fewer and fewer hands.

Grain farmers aren't alone. As in the first Gulf War, US bombing raids
targeted cattle feed lots, poultry farms, fertilizer warehouses, pumping
stations, irrigation systems and pesticide factories (the closest thing the
US has come to finding Weapons of Mass Destruction in the country)-the very
infrastructure of Iraqi agriculture. It will take years to restore these

Many fields in southern Iraq lie fallow, as vegetable farmers have been
unable to secure seeds for this summer's crops of melons, tomatoes, onions,
cucumbers and beans-all mainstays of the Iraqi diet.

"We expect failures," said Abdul Aziz Nejefi, a barley farmer from Mosul, in
a dispatch from the Guardian. "We never had this situation before. There is
no government."

Meanwhile, millions of Iraqis face starvation this summer. A UN staff report
from late May paints a bleak portrait. It notes that Iraq's poultry industry
has effectively been decimated. Millions of chickens perished during the
war. Millions of others face starvation, since nearly of the chicken feed
stored in government warehouses has been looted. Chicken and eggs are
staples of the Iraqi, amounting for more than half of the animal protein
consumed by the population.

Many other farm animals, including sheep and goats, could be ravaged by
disease, since the nation's stockpiles of veterinary medicines and vaccines
have been almost totally destroyed or looted.

Some 60% of Iraq's 24 million people depend totally for their food on the
food ration system that was established after the Gulf War. Each week, these
Iraqis could count on a "food basket" consisting of wheat flour, rice,
vegetable oil, lentils beans, milk, sugar and salt. That system is now in
shambles and is scorned at by US policymakers. And promised grain imports
have yet to materialize.

"Before there is unwarranted military technological triumphalism, let those
setting out to manage the peace think mouths," says Tim Land, professor food
policy at City University in London. "Grumbling stomachs are bad politics as
well as disastrous for the public health. There has to be a food democracy
after decades of food totalitarianism."

Into this dire circumstance strides Daniel Amstutz, the Bush
administration's choice to oversee the reconstruction of Iraq's agricultural
system. Now an international trade lobbyist in DC with a fat roster of big
ag clients, Amstutz once served as a top executive at Cargill, the food
giant which controls much of the world trade in grain. During Amstutz's
tenure at Cargill, the grain company went on a torrid expansion campaign. It
is now the largest privately held corporation in the US and controls about
94 percent of the soybean market and more than 50 percent of the corn market
in the Upper Midwest. It also has it's hands on the export market
controlling 40 percent of all US corn exports, a third of all soybean
exports and at least 20 percent of wheat exports.

Al Krebs, who edits the Agribusiness Examiner, a vital publication on US
farm policy, unearthed a 1982 questionnaire on food, politics and morality
that vividly illustrates the Cargill philosophy. The Joseph Project a public
policy research group sponsored by the Senate of Catholic Priests of the
Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St.Paul, asked Cargill executives to explain the
company's attitude toward hunger and famine issues. The executives responded
as follows:

"The assumption that there are moral priorities that are offended in serving
world or domestic markets as economically and efficiently as possible rests
on a confusion about economic facts. It is also a highly objectionable
characterization of business's role. Before one makes moral judgments and
advocates economic actions, one should understand the economic issues that
are involved.

"The business of making moral judgments is both hazardous and potentially
irresponsible unless one is fully satisfied that all the facts and causal
relationships have been explored . . . We are not in a position --- given
time and other constraints --- to provide all the relevant background. Nor
are we anxious to make moral judgments --- or moral defenses --- of our

In 2000, the biggest food companies in the world, Cargill, Archer Daniels
Midland, Cenex Harvest States Co-op, DuPont and Louis Dreyfus, got together
to form Pradium Inc., a kind of secret, internal grain market that offered
real-time, cash commodity exchanges for grains, oilseeds and agricultural
by-products as well as global information services. It also offered ways to
fix price grain prices on a global scale. Amstutz served as Pradium's

Amstutz is no stranger to government, either. During the first Bush
administration he served as Undersecretary of Agriculture for International
Affairs and Commodity programs. He was also the chief US negotiator on
agricultural issues for the Uruguay Round of GATT talks, which led to the

"Daniel Amstutz, an ex-Cargill executive, is there to push the agribusiness
agenda, not a democratic agenda," says George Naylor, president of the
National Family Farm Coalition. "He will excel in telling the world that his
policy is good for farmers, consumers and the environment when just the
opposite is true."

The small farmers of the grain belt of the Midwest have a particular
loathing for Amstutz. During his stint in the first Bush administration,
Amstutz devised the notorious Freedom to Farm Bill, which eliminated tariffs
and slashed federal farm price supports-all in an effort to lower grain
prices for the benefit of Amstutz's cronies in the big agricultural
conglomerates. As a result, thousands of American farmers lost their farms
and monopolists like Cargill reaped the benefits.

The contours of Amstutz's plan for Iraq are familiar: a combination of
free-market shock therapy and predation by multinational corporations.
Gliding over a decade of UN sanctions that have starved the nation and a war
that ravaged the nation's infrastructure, Amstutz announced that the real
problem facing Iraqi agriculture is, naturally, government subsidies. "Iraqi
farmers have had little incentive to increase production because of price
controls that have kept food very inexpensive," Amstutz announced. "With a
transition to a market economy, we can see health returning to agriculture
and incentives to employ good farming practices and modern techniques."

The more likely scenario is that Amstutz will use destitute condition of
Iraq's farmlands as a lucrative opportunity to dump cheap grain from
American companies like Cargill, all of it paid for by Iraqi oil. If this
scenario plays out, it will spell disaster for Iraq's struggling farmers.

Prior to the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq imported more than one million metric ton
per year of American wheat. Since then, however, no direct sales of American
agricultural products have occurred. Amstutz is anxious to begin flooding
Iraq with Cargill grain.

Moreover, Iraq owes the US Department of Agriculture's Commodity Credit
Corp. $2 billion on loans that facilitated pre-1991 ag sales and nearly $2
billion in interest on the loans. Amstutz will certainly demand that those
loans be recouped through oil sales.

"Someone needs to warn the Iraqi people that other third world countries can
already attest that the dependence Amstutz will create surely means that
Iraq's sovereignty will be greatly compromised," says Naylor.

And Naylor argues that cash-strapped American farmers won't see any
benefits, either. "Even if there will be more exports to Iraq, this little
drop in the "Amstutz perpetuates the more exports lie because his
agribusiness cronies are encouraging overproduction all over the world, thus
being able to sell more genetically-modified seeds and chemicals and buying
ever cheaper farm commodities."

Even as millions of Iraqi's face starvation under the stern hand of their
food pro consul, Amstutz's appointment has excited little commentary in the
US. His most virulent critic has been Kevin Wilkins, Oxfam's policy director
in London. Watkins warns that Amstutz is little more than a carpetbagger
seeking to advance the interests of the same food titans that his lobbying
outfit in DC represents, Cargill, DuPont, Cenex and Archer Daniels Midland.

"This guy is uniquely well-placed to advance the commercial interests of
American grain companies and bust open the Iraqi market, but singularly
ill-equipped to lead a reconstruction effort in a war torn country," Watkins
warns. "Putting Dan Amstutz in charge of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq
is like putting Saddam Hussein in the chair of a human rights commission."

Amstutz was recently spotted in Iowa, pitching his agricultural
reconstruction plan to Iowa feedlot owners. He told the farmers that they
stood to profit handsomely from his plan to bring modern feedlots to Iraq,
those foul-smelling operations that pack thousands of cattle and hogs into
tightly confined pens. "They are meat eaters," he brayed. "Iraq is not a
vegetarian society."

Iowa doesn't have many cattle or sheep operation. Most of the people in his
audience raised hogs. And unless Amstutz has joined in a partnership with
Franklin Graham to Christianize Iraq, there won't be a big market for pork
products in Baghdad.

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