Widespread biopiracy in Africa

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Author: GRAIN
Date: 31 January 2006
Short URL: /e/2190

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GRAIN | 31 January 2006 | BIO-IPR (1997-2009)


TITLE: Report points to widespread biopiracy in Africa AUTHORS: Edmonds Institute (USA) and African Centre for Biosafety (South Africa) PUBLICATION: Press release DATE: 30 January 2006 NOTE: The full report, "Out of Africa: Mysteries of access and benefit sharing", is available online: http://www.edmonds-institute.org/outofafrica.pdf


Edmonds Institute (USA) and African Centre for Biosafety (South Africa)

PRESS RELEASE:
REPORT POINTS TO WIDESPREAD BIOPIRACY IN AFRICA

Monday, January 30, 2006 -- A shocking report on Africa-wide biopiracy debuted today as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) resumed international negotiations on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) in relation to genetic resources. The report, entitled "Out of Africa: Mysteries of Access and Benefit Sharing", was released by the Edmonds Institute and the African Centre for Biosafety, public interest, non-profit groups in the United States and South Africa, respectively.

Edmonds Institute president/director Beth Burrows described the 42-page document as "a littany of cases of suspicious biodiversity acquisition," but report author Jay McGown contended that, "It's not about suspicious acquisition. It's about cases of biopiracy, or, to use the more old-fashioned term, 'theft'."

"It's a free-for-all out there," McGown added, "and until the CBD solves the problems of access and benefit sharing, the robbery will continue."

"Biopiracy", according to Burrows, is a term that refers to "the acquisition of biodiversity, i.e., biological material (plants, animals, microorganism, and their parts), or of traditional knowledge related to that biodiversity, without the prior informed consent of those whose biodiversity or traditional knowledge has been taken."

One of the best known and most recent cases of biopiracy had to do with Hoodia, an appetite suppressant that capitalized on the traditional knowledge of the San people. Developed and patented by the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), exclusive rights were sold to a British company. It was only after worldwide outcry that a percentage of the royalties -- a miniscule percentage -- came to the San in the form of a trust. The Hoodia case is still cited as a prime example of inadequate benefit sharing and questionable prior informed consent.

Executive Director of the African Centre for Biosafety, Mariam Mayet, said, "When you look at what has been taken in the recent past from Egypt to South Africa, it runs the gamut from biodiversity used for medicine to biodiversity used for agriculture, horticulture, cosmetics, and industrial purposes. It's unbelievable how much has been taken without a public accounting and probably without any permission from the communities and peoples involved."

"There's a huge amount to be accounted for," Burrows noted. "It's not easy to prove biopiracy. Where contracts are not published and national rules of access and benefit sharing may not exist or are not attended to by bioprospectors, or the companies and institutions they represent, it is difficult to verify claims of theft, even when you catch the thieves with the booty in hand...or in their patent portfolios."

Mayet added that, "For ABS according to the vision of the CBD, one should be able to verify that in each instance of use, particularly where biodiversity and/or its derivatives have been patented, the whole process began in prior informed consent and a benefit sharing agreement from the people whose biodiversity has been accessed."

Although the CBD addressed the terms and conditions for access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing in the original treaty that came into force in 1993, it was not until 1999 that efforts were made to operationalize the treaty's provisions. The process was taken forward in negotiations at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg, and continues at the Fourth Meeting of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group on Access and Benefit Sharing, being held in Granada, Spain this week.

"Out of Africa: Mysteries of Access and Benefit Sharing" is available on the Edmonds Institute website: http://www.edmonds-institute.org

For more information contact:

Beth Burrows - Edmonds Institute, in the U.S.
Tel.: +1-425-775-5383, email: beb(at)igc.org, website: http://www.edmonds-institute.org

Mariam Mayet - African Centre for Biosafety
Until 7 February, Tel: +34 958 817 401 in Granada, Spain.
After 7 February, in South Africa at +27 11 646 0699, e-mail: mariammayet(at)mweb.co.za, website: http://www.biosafetyafrica.net

Melody Emmett in South Africa for the African Centre for Biosafety
Tel.: +27 -082-868-6581, email: memmett(at)iafrica.com

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