Date: Tue, 1 Sep 1998 08:30:42 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Thanks to email@example.com (jim mcnulty) for forwarding this:
LATIN AMERICA/ PATENTS, A NEW FORM OF COLONIALISM?
August 31, 1998
MONTEVIDEO - Inter Press Service via NewsEdge Corporation : Latin American
farmers now buy seeds made in labs in the North from genetic material they
donated in the 1970s, just as South American nations imported British goods
manufactured from their wool and leather in the 19th century.
That trend has not just continued. It has taken on huge proportions. For
example, more than half the known plant species in Brazil, one of the
countries with the richest biodiversity in the world, have already been
patented by large transnationals.
At the first Latin American and Caribbean Indigenous Seminar, held this
year in Mexico, participants charged that several international
laboratories have patented in Europe and the United States the medicinal
properties of 5,000 of the 13,000 plants used in traditional indigenous
medicine in the region.
It was not just that the transnational companies (TNCs) did not pay a cent
for these rights. Some of them went even further, such as one which, during
its field research, took blood samples from Mexico's Yaqui Indians to
extract and synthesize an antigen that their bodies produce naturally.
Tropical America is still a land of promise, according to experts in
genetic resources, who cites the case of Zea diplorernnis, a variety of
corn that is resistant to four out of the seven known illnesses that affect
This plant was not found growing in the forest. Scientists found it in 1997
being cultivated on a two-hectare plot in Western Mexico's Manatlan
Mountains by an indigenous family who had been producing it for
generations, and using it along with common maize as food for their animals
during the dry season.
The potential value of this corn species, from a genetic standpoint, is in
the region of billions of dollars. ...
The Green Revolution, spearheaded after World War II by the United States
and TNCs linked to agriculture, hinged on the improvement of soils and the
intensive use of industrial seeds and pesticides in most parts of the world.
It was often the same companies that provided the seeds, the fertilizers
and pesticides. This monopoly generated huge profits and enormous
accumulation of capital. ...
The new production pattern, called agriculture and sustainable development
-- the name is drawn from the environmentalist terminology now in vogue --
is based on the widespread, almost exclusive use of genetically manipulated
seeds produced in the laboratories of TNCs.
Through patenting, these companies ensure that they will have a monopoly in
global agricultural production.
Transgenetic -- genetically modified -- seeds can be immune to certain
herbicides, resistant to drastic climate change, mature more rapidly or
more slowly and produce vegetables that are bigger, smaller, or have
different nutritional values than the original ones.
In order to make the huge investments required to produce these seeds,
several major transnationals have been merging. According to Enildo
Iglesias, regional secretary for Latin America of the United Food and
Commercial Workers international union, "the big race now is between two
U.S. companies: Monsanto and DuPont, both of which aim to create an
"In the past few months, DuPont has spent $4.8 billion buying out or buying
into various big companies," he says. "At the same time, Monsanto has been
doing the same thing in another part of the market and its investment have
amounted to $5.2 billion."
In their book, "Stealing from Nature," Brazilian agronomists Sebastiao
Pinheiro and Dioclecio Luz point out that "biotechnology is going through a
moment in history in which humanity needs to reflect on its destiny."
"In no other circumstances have human beings had as much power as now, "
add the two experts, who are advisors to various Brazilian environmental
groups. "They have the power of God, not just those of a medicine man. They
can create plants, animals, small and large beings, manipulate genes until
something comes out."
Pinheiro and Luz say they wonder if it is ethical for "a few people to
dominate the production of food on the planet and to own life.
"Do they have the right to create beings that are going to serve their
interests? Can they go into a country, take over its biodiversity, extract
the raw material and register it in their names?"
According to statistics by the International Council for Plant Genetic
Resources (ICPGR), the 1974-1985 period saw the heaviest traffic in genetic
resources, with developing nations donating 91 percent of the samples
analyzed and industrialized countries 8.8 percent.
On the other hand, the industrialized countries received 42.3 percent of
the donated germ plasm through the ICPGR, while the countries of the South
received only 14.5 percent.
In an article in a book titled Biotechnology: After the Green Revolution,
Canadian author Pat Mooney argues that by 1982 the Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) would report that developing
countries contributed some $500 million each year to the value of the U.S.
According to Mooney, this means the real contribution made by developing
countries is greatly undervalued. If all the important harvests in North
America were included in the calculation, the contribution would be in the
region of billions of dollars each year. Developing countries also make
such contributions to Europe and Australia.
Their contribution is in the form of germ plasm, the genetic
characteristics added to new crop varieties throughout the world. The North
may be rich in grains, but the South is rich in genes, the expert says.
Mooney concludes that the South donated this genetic material believing
that its botanical treasures would become part of the common inheritance of
humanity, but the North has patented the products of this legacy and now
sells its seeds throughout the world, making enormous profits.
[Copyright 1998, Inter Press Service]
Richard Wolfson, PhD
Consumer Right to Know Campaign,
for Mandatory Labelling and Long-term
Testing of all Genetically Engineered Foods,
500 Wilbrod Street
Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2
tel. 613-565-8517 fax. 613-565-1596
Our website, http://www.natural-law.ca/genetic/geindex.html
contains more information on genetic engineering as well as
previous genetic engineering news items
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