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.
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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.
RAFI's study of 118 Plant Breeders' Rights claims exposes a predatory pattern of biopiracy supported by UPOV and by national legislation in several OECD countries, especially Australia.
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."
ETC group provides an in-depth review and analysis of plant genetic resources, livestock diversity, forest biodiversity, fish and aquatic life, soil and microbial biodiversity. The book emphasizes the need for farm-based food security and summarizes the emerging policy agenda for agricultural biodiversity. 90 pages.
CGRFA '97 Has More Work To Do Than It Thinks!
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
A US National Research Council (NRC) report released October 21 has unambiguously rebuffed the controversy-plagued Human Genome Diversity Project (HGDP), a project that proposed to collect DNA samples from over 700 groups of people - mostly indigenous communities - from around the world.
The life industry and US government are using bilateral bioprospecting agreements as their tool of choice to cheaply access genetic resources and undervalue farmers' resources and knowledge. These bilaterial agreements actually encourage inequities through patents, secrecy, and imbalanced negotiations that favour companies, not the true innovators and sustainable users of diversity, farmers and indigenous people.
The world's largest and most influential international agricultural research network, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), is conducting its first full systemwide review in 17 years. In May, 1998 in Brayil, a prestigious review panel led by Maurice Strong will table its recommendations for the future of the network, which launched the Green Revolution.
The hesitancy with which the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) began granting animal patents in 1988 has all but disappeared, and today the practice is accelerating dramatically (see chart). The recent trend is fueled by a backlog of patent applications, rapid advances in biotechnologies and the promise of commercial markets for transgenic animals and the therapeutic proteins they produce. Based on the US trend, the European Union can expect hundreds of backlogged animal patents to begin issuing if the European Patent Directive is adopted - as expected - by the European Parliament's Council of Ministers later this year.
The CGRFA held its 7th regular session in Rome from 15-23 May, 1997. the commission's 154 member countries had 2 tasks: to continue negotiations leading to a legally-binding International Undertaking covering plant genetic resources that could become an agricultural protocol to the Biodiversity Convention, and, to maintain the momentum achieved through last year's Leipzig Conference on Plant Genetic Resources. Most commission members exceeded their own expectations regarding the International Undertaking - but they fell short of the acceptable minimum on the second objectve.
Will governments opt for a multilateral system of crop germplasm exchange or will they determine to pursue bilateral agreements between countries and companies? RAFI examines Africa's bargaining position, and concludes that bilateral negotiations over crop germplasm will benefit the North, at the expense of food security in the South.
RAFI's analysis of overlapping agendas for biodiversity, food security and genetic resources in the multilateral arena. The year 1996 was critical for food security, agricultural development, and biodiversity. The fights and fora include: FAO World Food Summit, the Leipzig Conference on Plant Genetic Resources, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). A 12 page document.
A Colombian genetics institute has offered to return its collection of thousands of samples of human tissue collected in dozens of Colombian indigenous peoples' communities. Indigenous peoples' representatives, including Colombian Senator Lorenzo Muelas and the OrganizaciÛn Nacional IndÌgena de Colombia (ONIC - National Indigenous Peoples' Organisation of Colombia), are currently negotiating the formal return of control and ownership of the samples, which are housed in a Bogot· human tissue bank.
An introduction to intellectual property monopolies. The 70 page booklet produced by IDRC in 1996 is designed as an information and advocacy tool for civil society and policymakers in response to two new, legally binding international agreements: the Convention on Biological Diversity and the World Trade Organization's Trade Related Intellectual Property Agreement (WTO/TRIPs).
Protocol on Gene Access Could MUSEum Farmers' Rights & Sanction North's MonoUSE
The Parts of Life Agricultural Biodiversity, Indigenous Knowledge, and the Role of the Third System By Pat Roy Mooney
Development Dialogue is published by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation.