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.
Recent Content Related to Patents & Biopiracy
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.
Canada is holding the line on life patenting. Bucking patent trends in the USA and Europe, Canada's Federal Court ruled last week that Harvard's "oncomouse" is not patentable under Canadian law.
On August 4, 1995 Canada's Commissioner of Patents ruled that Harvard University's genetically altered mice were not patentable in Canada. The President and Fellows of Harvard appealed that decision to Canada's Federal Court. On April 21, 1998, the Federal Court ruled against Harvard, and dismissed the appeal
After a week of silence on the subject, the USA (a country that is not a Party to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity) is lobbying hard to re-write the Friends of the Chair' report on the Terminator - a technology widely condemned by numerous CBD members. Why the sudden spurt of behind the scenes activity? On May 11th, the giant Monsanto Corporation - a company with close White House connections and major multinational muscle - bought control of the Terminator patent. For Governments fighting to protect agricultural biodiversity in the Convention, its now or never.
Monsanto, the world's second largest pesticides corporation, has vaulted from nowhere to become the world's fourth largest seed company. Between mid-1996 and the end of 1997, Monsanto spent roughly US $2 billion in seed-related acquisitions. Its May 11th announcement that the corporation will take over Dekalb and Delta and Pine Land seed companies adds a staggering US $4.3 billion to its merger bill. By way of comparison, if Monsanto's Monday splurge were spent on public sector research, it would fully fund the entire CGIAR system at 1998 levels for over 12 years. But it is not who Monsanto is buying - but what patents it is acquiring - that has observers alarmed. Monsanto now has the Terminator - and maybe much more.
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.
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."
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 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 final, 107-page report prepared by the US National Bioethics Advisory Commission on human cloning, accepted by President Clinton on 9 June, sends a clear signal to the biotech industry that it can move full speed ahead to commercialize the cloning of animals, including human beings," says Pat Mooney, Executive Director of RAFI. "The Commission seems to have sidestepped all the tough ethical issues," Mooney continues, "and has reduced the broad moral debate solely to a question of safety for mother and embryo."
Bolivia's National Association of Quinoa Producers (ANAPQUI) is asking two professors at Colorado State University to abandon their controversial patent on one of the country's most important food crops - quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) - a crop that feeds millions throughout the Andes, including many Aymara and Quechua Indigenous People.
Commercial development of sweet proteins derived from African plants could be worth millions if new, natural sweeteners can bite into the (US) $2 billion low-calorie sweetener market.(1)
Research on intensely sweet proteins is not new, but recent breakthroughs may improve prospects for commercial development.