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Patents on Living Organisms – the Silent Looting of Our Common Heritage
We are currently involved in a war that we risk losing even before realizing that it started. It is the war for patents on living Organisms, which aims at privatizing for business purposes what has always been the most important heritage for humankind, i.e. plants, animals and even parts of the human body (such as genes and embryos, for example).
Patents granted on living organisms are slowly handing over to a group of multinational companies the control on everything that is alive on our planet.
Starting from the end of last century, using genetic modification as a pretext, new patent laws have been disrupting a legal system that used to protect ‘common goods’ in every field. Such a change has been made possible also thanks to some methods used to promote genetically modified organisms (GMOs) which, in many cases, were actually illegal and anti-democratic. That is especially true in agriculture, where genetically modified plants differ from traditional ones just because they are private properties and enable the patent owner to collect rights for every reproduction cycle.
On 23rd May, 2011, EQUIVITA Scientific Commission (formerly, CSA - Comitato Scientifico Antivivisezionista, Anti-vivisection Scientific Committee), a leader player within the European movement against the privatization of living organisms, re-launched an appeal on behalf of the “No patents on seeds” coalition, that the Commission has joined.
Through the appeal in question, the Commission asked all its supporters to sign a letter addressed to the Members of the European Parliament and of the European Commission, reporting the recent EPO’s custom to grant patents even for plants and animals obtained through conventional reproductive methods. In fact, it should be pointed out that such patents infringe the provisions of Art. 53b of the European Patent Convention (EPC), since they are granted for plants which are obtained from “essentially biological processes”. Moreover, the above letter contained a request to review the European Directive 98/44, also known as “Directive on living organism patents”.
The hope for a revision of the Directive was also nurtured by a ruling of the US Federal Judge Robert Sweet issued in March 2010. By confirming the reverse trend in US patenting law, Judge Robert Sweet ordered two patents that had been granted on human genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2, associated with breast cancer) to be invalidated, on the grounds that genes are ‘products of nature’. However, last July’s ruling of the US Court of Appeal reinstated such patents as valid, restoring the old trend and shattering the hopes of many among us. In fact, such a principle denies the intrinsic value of life (with living beings considered just like machines) and, at the same time, restraints the free development of scientific research through privatizing and monopolizing knowledge.
Moreover, the EPO (European Patent Office), that has been expected for a long time to issue its decision on the ‘legal cases’ of broccoli and tomatoes (in order to formally state whether plants obtained through conventional procedures may be patented or not), has been applying its usual method of silence and ambiguity. In fact, by delaying its decision, the EPO has been violating the European Convention and has been granting new patents on plants obtained through ‘basically organic processes’ (that is the case, for example, of Patent EP1587933 for a melon with a new lemon taste).
In addition to that, the attack continues on the food sovereignty that some countries enact through GMOs, which are promoted and imposed in thousands of ways by biotech multinational companies and condescending government agencies, in spite of citizens’ dissent (see the news on this secret strategy disclosed by Wikileaks). Amongst the many rulings that don’t seem to keep scientific data into consideration, we just wish to mention the one issued by the European Court against France’s ban on Mon810 corn cultivation, based on the ‘safeguard clause’.
As a matter of fact, evidence of the health damages caused is provided by a number of scientific studies that mainly concern the extraordinary increase in the use of pesticides. The findings in question concern the pesticides used for genetically modified plants and those sprayed on crops to prevent the growth of infesting weeds. The rising pesticide resistance found in plants and insects has led to a steady rise in the use of such chemical substances.
As highlighted by a recent study carried out in Argentina, their impact on human health is devastating, and that is also confirmed by a surge in the incidence of cancer, miscarriage, birth defects passed on to descendants, degenerative diseases, and so on. About this matter, Argentinean physicians and citizens have launched a public petition to request a reclassification of pesticides where their hazard levels should be specified, starting from the data obtained on humans (as toxic values for humans differ enormously from those used by the WHO - which are actually based on animal studies and have already caused serious health damages).
Today, many local communities fiercely oppose the use of GMOs, being the very first victims of a way of managing agriculture which is more focused on the protection of a few people’s profit rather than on the safeguard of everybody’s health. In addition to the Argentinean coalition, an example of such a trend is also provided by the Navdanya movement, headed by Vandana Shiva, that is committed to solve the social problems caused by the privatization of seeds. The aims of this movement are to give food sovereignty back to those populations starved by biotech multinationals (that own seed patents), as well as to restore a more sustainable and supportive kind of agriculture.
For all the above reasons, and for other motives too (it should be kept in mind that GMOs damage and modify the environment’s natural balance), we are going to join the public rally due to take place on 26th October, 2011 in Munich, organized by “No patents on seeds” to report, once again, the issue of life privatization, and to urge the EPO to take a firm stand, instead of allowing the silent looting of our common heritage.
For further information:
EQUIVITA Scientific Commission
Via P.A. Micheli, 62 – 00197, ROME - ITALY
+ 39.06.3220720, + 39.335.8444949
Website: www.equivita.org <http://www.equivita.org>
(Translated from Italian by Emilia Mancini – Translators against vivisection)