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IU Briefing

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PDF file - use Acrobat ReaderWer erstreitet sich die Kontrolle über Saatgut und Lebensmittel? FAO-Konferenz über Zugang zu genetischen Ressourcen und Erhalt der biologischen Vielfalt, 23.-28. April in Spoleto, Italien

Who will gain control over seeds and foodstuffs?

The FAO conference on access to genetic resources and preservation of biodiversity in Spoleto, Italy, 23-28 April

A marathon conference of the FAO world food organisation is aiming to create a so-called “international undertaking”, or internationally binding regulations, for safeguarding the world’s food supply. This should provide unimpeded access to foods and seeds, and advancing the cultivation of plants. Genetic diversity should be ensured for plant species indispensable to the world’s food supply, such as rice, wheat, potatoes, soybeans and maize. Negotiations on the agreement have been going on since 1993 but just before being concluded the agreement is threatening to founder on demands being made by some of the industrialised countries.

Greenpeace fears it will become possible for genetic engineering corporations to acquire patents – and thus control – on everything from genes, seeds, plants and agricultural harvests to foodstuffs. This would be to largely distort or even reverse

the original intention of the agreement.

The majority of the G77 countries, the alliance of developing countries, at the moment want to prevent patents as far as possible.

The USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are furthermore refusing to agree to binding rules on paying for the preservation of biodiversity. They envisage genetic diversity being freely accessible in countries of origin but the genes and seeds taken from this belonging exclusively to corporations.

These plans disregard the interests of consumers, farmers and developing countries. Realising them would moreover jeopardise the world’s food supply.

Danger to diversity of plants

The regions of origin of most of the plants we use are in centres of biodiversity such as Asia and South America. Thousands of varieties of plants from which our high-yield varieties have been developed are to be found in countries there.

This biodiversity is crucial to the future of the world’s food supply. It contains the genetic arrangements for the resistance of plants. Their use in an emergency might prevent new plant diseases from destroying the monocultures on fields all over the world.

But agrarian diversity and its use are acutely endangered.

The international undertaking is supposed to stop this process. 150 countries signed a voluntary agreement aimed at preventing such a development as long ago as 1983. The final treaty is supposed to be established under the Convention on Biodiversity adopted at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 in order that it become binding in international law. The actual details of the agreement are now being fought over. In its present form it contains numerous passages which would enable exclusive rights to use to be enforced.

Agrarian biodiversity should be preserved by regulations on financial compensation, and access to genetic resources ensured by a ban on exclusive rights on use such as patents. Farmers and growers then retain the right to freely exchange seeds for agricultural cultivation and breeding. Given the worldwide significance of this conference, it is astonishing that it has so far remained a project for just a few experts and government representatives.

The case of Percy Schmeiser

The recent case of Percy Schmeiser, a farmer in Saskatchewan in Canada who was accused of illegally using Monsanto GE seed, shows what the consequences of extending patents to seeds and foodstuffs will be. In April 2001 a court ordered him to pay several thousand dollars to Monsanto for violating its patent rights. The scandal in this is that the court was of the opinion that it was irrelevant whether the farmer’s seed had been inadvertently contaminated by the flight of pollen or if Monsanto’s crop seed had in fact been used deliberately. Enforcing the corporation’s patent rights had in all events priority.

All-round patent

The extent to which corporations now have a monopoly on seeds and foodstuffs can be seen from a patent issued by the European Patent Office in Munich in August 2000.

Patent EP 744 888 gives the DuPont company a patent –- for the “innovation” involved – on harvests of maize plants and oils obtained from them, feedstuffs for pigs and poultry, and the use of oils in margarine, salad dressings and cooking oils. The patent goes so far as to cover the harvests of all maize plants from seeds having a certain oil content. It covers all relevant varieties regardless of whether they have been made using genetic engineering or not.

The problem: Such plants already exist, even without DuPont. The seeds of certain regional varieties have an oleic acid content of over 60 per cent. DuPont however makes claim to all varieties of maize from seeds having an oleic acid content of at least 55 per cent. The patent thus applies even to regional varieties which have been grown for a long time by farmers in countries of origin in South America. There are apparently no limits placed on the food, feedstuffs, seeds and biodiversity corporations may take into their grasp.

Open letter to conference delegates

Greenpeace and over 250 other organisations have written an open letter to delegates in order to prevent the conference taking this direction unnoticed by the media and the public. The letter demands that patents on seeds and plants and food made from them be forbidden.

Greenpeace demands:

Greenpeace e.V., 22745 Hamburg

Germany. Tel. ++49 40 306180


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