Plant patent" offices in several industrialized countries are knowingly granting plant variety monopolies to plant breeders for cultivars actually bred by farmers in at least 43 Third World countries. RAFI and Heritage Seed Curators Australia (HSCA) today are presenting a roster of 147 "dubious" plant variety claims to challenge the World Trade Organization's edict that countries must grant intellectual property "protection" over living plant varieties. The WTO is meeting in Geneva September 17-18 to discuss procedures for reviewing the controversial clause in 1999. Now, the question shouldn't be "What the WTO is going to do about plant breeders rights?" rather, it is "What are the WTO and the various intergovernmental 'patent' conventions going to do about plant breeders wrongs?"
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Europe's answer to the American Home Monster" Terminator Technology is the Verminator, a new chemically activated seed killer. The Verminator kills seeds - in one of the invention's claims - by switching on rodent fat genes that have been bioengineered into crops. Zeneca BioSciences (UK) is vying with the "Monster" (Monsanto) to become Top Cat in the global seed industry even if it means playing cat and mouse with farmers and destroying their age-old practice of saving and breeding crop varieties.
Grameen Rejects Mean The American Home "Monster" is held at bay in Bangladesh - but who is going to monitor the micro-creditors? Since when is "empowerment through indebtedness" a solution for poor farming communities?
On 27 July 1998 Muhammad Yunus, managing director of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh was reported by the BBC to have cancelled the Bank's planned relationship with Monsanto Corporation (often referred to as the American Home Monster" following its announced merger with American Home Products earlier this year). The abandoned arrangement would have given the micro-credit bank U.S.$250,000 to provide loans to poor farmers to buy Monsanto's agro-chemical and biotechnology products. Grameen's capitulation follows a month of intense international pressure that began June 25th when Yunus announced the Monsanto grant together with the Corporation's CSO, Robert Shapiro.
Negotiations for a new International Undertaking took place on two fronts. The Commission Chair took a small regionally-representative group aside to discuss access and benefit-sharing in the Lebanon room while the Vice-Chair took on Farmers' Rights with the remainder of the delegation in the Green room. Both negotiating processes broke down when the North found itself without running room and the South presented "bottom line" positions in both arenas. Here's an overview of the dividing issues, what happened, and where diplomats can go from here.
The Iceland government has been forced to postpone a bill to give genomics company, deCODE an exclusive license to collect current and retrospective medical information about all Icelanders into a central database and the sole right to commercial exploitation. A number of major concerns were cited in the announcement to postpone the initiative.
As a result of solid NGO pressure, the ominous Terminator Technology" became a topic of substantive discussion and debate at the recent meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP IV) in Bratislava, Slovakia, 4-15 May.
By the year 2000 - after a 12,000-year history of farming - farmers may no longer be able to save seed or breed improved varieties. The problem is not the Millennium Bug but the Millennium Seed."
Andean farmers forced Colorado State University to surrender its US patent on 'Apelawa" quinoa. The anti-patent campaign that began 14 months ago (1997) ended on May 1st 1998 when on eof the quinoa 'inventors' admitted that the patent had been abandoned.
Advocates for the newly patented terminator technology" developed jointly by the US Department of Agriculture and Mississippi-based Delta and Pine Land seed company claim that it will not only be an incentive to plant breeding investment but also a boon to food production in the South. This is "nonsense" according to RAFI Research Director, Hope Shand.
A public row over the notorious US patent on the medicinal plant ayahuasca has broken out between COICA, the Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples' Organizations of the Amazon Basin, and the US government's Inter-American Foundation (IAF). In correspondence made public on the internet by COICA on March 4th, IAF has demanded COICA disavow a 1996 resolution approved by Amazonian indigenous peoples' organizations from 9 countries, that condemns the US plant patent (#PP5751) held by the International Plant Medicine Corporation (IPMC). IAF has further threatened to withdraw funding from groups that don't heed its command.
RAFI's first publication alerting the world to Terminator technology - published just weeks after RAFI discovered the patent. On March 3, 1998 the US Department of Agriculture and an American cotton seed company, Delta & Pine Land Co., received a US patent on a technique that genetically alters seed so that it will not germinate if re-planted a second time. It is a global threat the farmers, biodiversity and food security.
A U.S. rice patent has the potential to make Europe's Hans-Adam II "heir apparent" to South Asia's Basmati rice and its famous name. The Liechtenstein Prince's dreams of empire may be decided in a Texas law court.
Delta and Pine Land Co. (Mississippi, USA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that they received US Patent No. 5,723,765 on a new genetic technology designed to prevent unauthorized seed saving by farmers. The patented technology, Control of plant gene expression" would allow seed companies to control the viability of progeny seed without harming the crop. In other words, the new technology genetically alters the seed so that it will not germinate if re-planted a second time.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) are moving quickly, and in concert to address abuses of their trust agreements covering several hundred thousand invaluable crop seed accessions, according to the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI).
The agricultural departments of at least four Australian state governments, as well as a bevy of other national public and private research institutes, are routinely pirating the indigenous knowledge of farming communities and international research institutes around the world, according to the Canada-based Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) - a rural advocacy organization with twenty years experience in the field. Accusing the Aussie agencies of making cowboy claims' on farmer-bred plant varieties from Brazil to India, RAFI's Executive Director, Pat Roy Mooney, says that several dozen plant 'patent' claims listed by Canberra's Plant Breeder's Rights Office are 'a clear rip-off of the genius of others. In most of these cases, the Australians appear to have done nothing more than select and multiply somebody else's seed and then slap a PBR (plant patent) monopoly on them,' Mooney insists.
The Syrian-based International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) has fundamentally misinterpreted its authority" with respect to crop germplasm it holds in trust on behalf of the United Nations, according to the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI). In a letter sent to RAFI's Executive Director, Pat Mooney, on January 26th, ICARDA's Director-General, Prof. Dr Adel El-Beltagy, admitted that the Centre had willingly allowed a number of Australian institutes to apply for Plant Breeder's Rights (a form of plant patent) on varieties the Centre holds under a trusteeship agreement with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome.
Australian crop development agencies have been forced to abandon their claims on two chickpea varieties they admit were obtained from an international public research institute based in India (see RAFI's release of 6 January). In a blunt message sent January 8th, the institute, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) - acting on information from RAFI - demanded that the claims for Australian Plant Breeders' Rights (a patent-like intellectual property regime for crop varieties) be dropped. On January 16th, the two Australian institutes - Agriculture WA and CLIMA - said that the claims had been abandoned.
The Australian seed industry has applied for plant breeder's rights (PBR) on two chickpea varieties taken from ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics) - an internationally-funded public research centre based in Hyderabad, India. If granted, the Australians will give themselves a 20 year monopoly on the Asian chickpeas, which they propose to market in South Asia and the Middle East. Neither variety, however, is new to farmers. In fact, both are ICRISAT accessions originating in farmer's fields in Iran and India. It's blatant biopiracy," explains Farhad Mazhar of Bangladeshi organization UBINIG and the South Asian Network on Food, Ecology, and Culture, "Australia is privatizing seeds that belong to our farmers, and they plan to sell them back to us with their own self-authorized plant monopoly."
NSF Sidesteps Own Report to Fund Controversial Project to Collect the Blood of Indigenous Peoples Around the World. International Controls Needed.
According to an article in the October 24th edition of Science magazine, In a new gold rush, genetics researchers are scouring odd corners of the world for families whose DNA is likely to carry interesting genes. They won't be freely sharing what they find, because their backing comes from companies like Sequana Therapeutics Inc. of La Jolla, California; Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts; and Genset S.A. of Paris."
The reason why they won't share: The companies are looking to patent and profit from the DNA of remote populations. Just over a week after the Science report, on November 3, Arris Pharmaceuticals of California announced it would pay US $166 million in stock to take over Sequana, one of the highest profile human DNA prospecting companies. The merged company resulting from the Arris takeover will be called Axys Pharmaceuticals.1