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organisations oppose patents on life forms
called for developing countries and least developed countries (LDCs) to
reject patents on life forms when meeting their obligations under Section
27(3)(b) of the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
(TRIPS) Agreement. The call was made by Action Aid Bangladesh, Consumers
International (CI) and SAWTEE.
Article 27 (3) (b) of the TRIPS Agreement requires member countries to
legislate for the protection of new plant varieties. It requires Mandatory
patent protection for micro-organisms, non-biological and microbiological
processes. However, it allows member countries to exempt from patenting
plants and animals, as well as "essentially biological processes
for the production of plants and animals". Where patent protection
is not mandatory for plant varieties, some other effective sui generis
(one of a kind or specific) system of intellectual property rights protection
or a combination of patent and sui generis system must be provided. Under
the current text, developing countries and LDCs have an option to enact
sui generis legislation for the protection of new plant varieties but
they have no option but to provide for patent protection for micro-organisms,
non-biological and microbiological processes.
Such patents protection for life forms includes seeds, plant tissues,
plant genes, plant genetic sequences, and so on. Patents allow holders
the exclusive right to exploit their inventions for up to 20 years. In
the area of plant genetic resources, this is extremely critical as it
allows corporations, which hold these patent rights monopoly control over
the seeds of new varieties. Already, seventy four percent (74%) of biotechnology
patents are held by six TNCs Monsanto, Dupont, Syngenta, Dow, Aventis
and Grupo Pulsar. Between them, these six corporations hold 1011 patents
on food crops, including important staples such as maize, rice, sorghum
Patenting represents another step towards the corporatisation of the food
chain, forcing farmers to purchase both seeds and chemical inputs, and
will accelerate the trend towards monoculture, reduce genetic diversity,
expand the spread of genetically engineered foods and crops, and strain
local ecosystems. Commercial seed accounts for a third of the total value
of the seed industry. The other two-thirds are equally shared between
farm-saved seed and seed from public institutions. Although more than
a third of the value of the seed trade is earned from the OECD countries,
African and Asian demand for seed has also been rising.
Transnational seed companies have been consolidating and acquiring seed
companies in developing and least developed countries to increase their
market share. Governments in developing countries and LDCs must ensure
that the farmers and public sector researchers continue to have access
to plant genetic resources for breeding and the success of their efforts
remain in the public domain. Privatisation of this knowledge through intellectual
property laws will cut off access to further research and development
and inhibit the free exchange of seed varieties amongst farmers, disrupting
traditional practices that form the basis of on-farm diversity and thus
food security for the majority of the world's farmers.
Threat to the
Action Aid believes that patents on seeds and crops are a threat to the
food security and livelihoods of small farmers. According to Action Aid,
farming is the main livelihood for seventy-five per cent (75%) of the
world's population living in rural areas and 1.4 billion farmers save
seed from year to year around the world. "We want a more responsive
and balanced international trade regime that adequately addresses the
food rights of poor people in developing and least developed countries
at national and household levels. There should be no patents on seed,
food and crops. The three organisations also call on governments of developing
and least developed countries to reject the plant breeders' rights model
advocated by the International Union for the Protection of New Plant Varieties
UPOV seeks to grant patent type protection for plant varieties. Established
by the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of
Plants, the convention was adopted in Paris in 1961 and was revised in
1972, 1978 and 1991.
Fifty-one countries are members of UPOV. Most are European and American
countries; the only Asian members are China, Japan and South Korea. In
Africa, only Kenya and South Africa are members. UPOV is more appropriately
designed for large-scale industrialised agriculture, where farmers are
a small percentage of the population, farming is commercial, seeds are
bought from corporate suppliers and products are sold through commodity
markets. In developing countries, millions depend on farming for food,
employment and economic security. Consumer International (CI) cautioned
governments of developing countries from adopting the UPOV model of sui
generis plant variety laws and urged them to resist bi-lateral pressure
to do so. "The UPOV model restricts the rights of farmers to save,
use, sell, and exchange seeds, thereby inhibiting new seed development.
Adopting the UPOV model will increase costs to farmers, create a dependency
where previously there was none, and force farmers to pay for what was
previously free. Eventually consumers will pay the price of higher food
bills and reduced choice", said Dr. Sothi Rachagan, Regional Director
of CI's Asia Pacific Office.
Developing countries and LDCs, including Bangladesh, are being pressured
to enact UPOV style sui generis legislation and many are caving into the
UPOV as well as domestic industry lobby. The EU-Bangladesh Trade and Aid
Agreement of 1999 requires Bangladesh to "make every effort"
to join UPOV. In addition, bilateral pressure has been applied to achieve
TRIPS 'plus' commitments (i.e. beyond what is required under TRIPS) in
plant variety protection (PVP) legislation. As a least- developed country
(LDC), Bangladesh is not required to implement TRIPS until 2006. Bangladesh
is not the only country under pressure to enact UPOV style legislation.
The US-Vietnam trade agreement obliges Vietnam to be a member of UPOV.
A similar US Trade Agreement with Cambodia obliges it to accede to UPOV.
There are at least 23 cases of bilateral or regional treaties between
developed and developing countries that are TRIPS plus, affecting 150
countries in the South. SAWTEE rejects patents on life forms and emphasises
that legislation recognising farmers' rights must be enacted at local,
provincial and federal levels, paying due attention to the vulnerability
and threat of marginalisation faced by mountain farmers.
Call for harmonisation
Countries at low levels of human and technological capacity cannot benefit
significantly from TRIPS. The experience of developed countries shows
that strong patents follow industrial development, not lead it. All three
organisations recommended that governments of developing countries and
LDCs conduct studies on the local implications of intellectual property
protection on plants and other life forms before commencing to enact legislation.
A broad-based consultative process must follow before legislation is eventually
enacted. Governments must actively sponsor public sector research and
development, including collaboration between scientists and farmers to
ensure that local plant genetic resources are identified, conserved and
improved. Governments must achieve a balance between providing incentives
for the development of new plant varieties and the rights of farmers to
save, use, exchange and sell seeds through an appropriate sui generis
system. Action Aid Bangladesh, Consumers International and SAWTEE also
called for harmonisation of Section 27(3)(b) of TRIPS with global agreements
to protect biodiversity i.e. the Convention on Biological Diversity and
the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
The three organisations called on governments of developing and least
developed countries to: Adopt a sui generis PVP law to protect farmers
and community rights; Reject patents on life forms; Call for the review
of Section 27(3)(b) of TRIPS to adopt this position; oppose the UPOV model
of PVP law; refrain from becoming a member of UPOV; and ratify the Convention
on Biological Diversity and International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources
for Food and Agriculture.
Consumer International, Malaysia.