March 23, 2006

And the Winners Are...Captain Hook and Cog Awards announced in Curitiba

The winners of the Captain Hook Awards for Biopiracyare an eclectic group that includes old favorites and new up-and-comers; Community-based biodiversity efforts win Cog Awards for defending food sovereignty

Google "Crashed" today (March 2006) at the Captain Hook Awards ceremony during the meeting of the Eighth Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). No, this doesn't mean that Internet service was interrupted in Curitiba's ExpoTrade Convention and Exhibition Centre where the CBD meeting is being held through March 31. It means that Google walked away with an unexpected big win - just as the movie "Crash" did a few weeks ago at Hollywood's Academy Awards. In all, eleven Captain Hooks received prizes in ten categories related to biopiracy. There were seven Cog Award winners in six categories related to biopiracy resistance and community-based biodiversity strengthening.

Google took the prize for the "Biggest Threat to Genetic Privacy" for its collaboration with J. Craig Venter - another of today's winners in a solo effort as "Greediest Biopirate" - to create a searchable online database of all the genes on the planet. The goal of "googling our genes" is expected to be reached within a decade. How Google will get our genes and who will have access to them are just two unanswered questions. In fact, Google has been mum on details since the project was revealed in the 2005 book by Mark Malseed and David A. Vise, The Google Story.

ETC Group's Jim Thomas, who presided over today's ceremony in the guise of Captain Hook himself, notes that the 2006 winners span biopiracy's past, present and future. Thomas says, "Ahoy! - Oh, sorry about that - Google's genomics foray points to the future of biopiracy where the push toward personalized medicine and so-called human enhancements is driving ubiquitous gene sequencing. The National Geographic Society's Human Genographic Project is part of that trend as well."

The Human Genographic Project won a Captain Hook Award today in the category of Worst Deja-Vu as the third incarnation of a project that Thomas and others had hoped was part of biopiracy's past. Thomas explains, "Argghh! Oh - sorry, let me start again: Two years ago, another project involving large-scale DNA-collection from indigenous groups called the HapMap project - itself a redux Human Genome Diversity Project, an earlier effort shut down amid controversy in the 1990s - won a Captain Hook award. The same ethical issues are at play with the current Genographic Project: the potential for genetic discrimination, the threat to privacy and to the rights of Indigenous People and uncertainties surrounding informed consent and intellectual property," says Thomas.

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