May 03, 2001

Seeds Saved in Spoleto

Nobody's going to become a millionaire...

International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources:

Seeds Saved in Spoleto

Nobody's going to become a millionaire but 'San Fernando di Spoleto' and his Survivors have cast out The Weakest Links

A rare tiff with the seed and biotech industries over intellectual property will leave the USA and Australia outside looking in on a new agricultural genetic resources treaty. Next steps: the FAO Commission in June and the World Food Summit in November?

Umbridge in Umbria: Following six days of bitter negotiations, governments are close to agreement on a binding treaty to conserve and share the genetic resources of the world's major food crops. Under the deal, which may be adopted by Heads of State at the World Food Summit in Rome November 9-15, governments will 'facilitate access' to millions of scientifically important seed accessions stored in national and international gene banks. Central to the South's acceptance of the deal (which has pitted South against North for more than six years) is an industry offer to accept mandatory taxation of its global seed royalties for the crops to be 'facilitated'. The tax is to be ploughed back into agricultural development. The USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand adamantly oppose the tax scheme. Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Japan support the treaty.

The negotiations were hosted by the Italian Government in the ancient Umbrian city of Spoleto, better known for its truffles than its seeds. Forty-one governments, industry, and civil society organizations attended as part of a UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) contact group to prepare the treaty for the 160 countries that are in the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA); The Commission convenes in Rome June 24-30 en route to the World Food Summit in November.


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