Patents & corporate control, ownership of living organismsFor the first time living organisms can be patented, thus become controlled, owned and a tradable commodity.
- Patents on life have been recognised in the USA but not in Europe. This is accepted practice in the USA but not in Europe. The TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement of the WTO creates an international mechanism to allow for intellectual property rights and thus ownership over biodiversity. It encourages the patenting of life forms and intensifies the threat to farm saved seeds and the autonomy of farmers. South Africa must not allow TRIPS to alienate our biological resources, the biological commons. South Africa is out of step with wider African groupings in the Convention on Biological Diversity, the African Position and elsewhere that have repeatedly affirmed their rejection of the patenting of life. Africa continues to lobby the WTO to allow member states the right to maintain systems of their own choice to ensure national food security, livelihoods, healthcare, and the development of sustainable agriculture.
- Patenting and biopiracy issues are especially relevant to us, given our unique biodiversity and the fact that biodiversity is the capital of biological commercialism. For instance, plants are frequently used as the basis for drug development. This is in effect stealing millennia of cultural knowledge and ignores the collective ownership of the resource. These plants have not been genetically altered but are merely appropriated. We have to retain our biological capital in bio-diverse rich nations; it will be crucial to our success in the coming genetic revolution.
- Patents and genetic engineering mutually reinforce each other. Patents provide an instrument to control markets and maximise profits. Without patents there would be little GE in food and farming. Patents and GE commodify plants, which in turn allows control by private corporations. The religious, moral, social and ethical aspects of the ownership of life are relevant and complex. GE crops have been introduced for commercial gain with public consultation having been ignored or over-ridden.
- A five-year freeze will allow for a public consultation and a more complete assessment of the implications of patenting and will allow time to more broadly and meaningfully assess legislation and will allow more input and research around the issues of genetic resources, agricultural and biological diversity and livelihoods.