September 15, 1998

Plant Breeders Wrongs

147 Reasons to Cancel the WTO's Requirement for Intellectual Property on Plant Varieties The Biopiracy and Plant Patent Scandal of the Century

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?"

Action Demanded: The WTO is being called upon to cancel its provision obliging governments to have intellectual property legislation covering plants. In an open letter to the WTO Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPs), RAFI is citing 147 examples of possible biopiracy involving the misappropriation of 124 farmers' varieties from 43 countries. The 147 cases of possible biopiracy are included in a report released today by RAFI (Winnipeg, Canada) and HSCA (Bairnsdale, Australia). The report describes, with graphic examples, the biggest scandal in seven decades of intellectual property "protection" of plant varieties.

In a second letter to the Agriculture Ministers of the 43 "pirated" countries, RAFI is asking governments to review the patent and patent-like plant breeders rights claims. RAFI charges that the patent offices of six industrialized countries are encouraging biopiracy through the granting improper monopolies. Most of the 147 claims have been made by public sector breeding institutes and most of the abuses have taken place in Australia, however, the US, New Zealand, Spain, Israel, and Italy have also accepted wrongful claims. The letter asks Ministers to take their concerns to the World Trade Organization and to the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO, Geneva) to demand an inquiry into the regulatory shortcomings. RAFI's letters further propose an investigation of WIPO's subsidiary convention, the Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), which will convene its intergovernmental meeting in Geneva on October 28th.

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