lunes, marzo 20, 2006

Biopiracy in Brazil

EMBARGOED until Monday, March 20, 2006

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Sunday, March 19. On the eve of the Eighth Conference of the Parties (COP 8) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Edmonds Institute, a US-based public interest, non-profit organization, released a report entitled, "Out of Brazil: A Peanut Worth Billions (to the US)" . Described by Institute director Beth Burrows as "a case of old-fashioned, but highly lucrative biopiracy," the report exposes how a peanut collected at a market in Porto Alegre, Brazil, came to earn billions for the farmers of the United States. According to Burrows, "It provides another example of how, in the absence of effective access and benefit sharing (ABS) laws, genetic acquisition can profit the collector but gain little or nothing for those from whom the germplasm was taken."

"We released "Out of Brazil" on the eve of COP 8, " Burrows said, "because this CBD meeting is one of the keys to equitable benefit sharing and the end of biopiracy." The CBD came into force in 1993, but it was not until 1999 that efforts were made to operationalize the treaty's ABS provisions. The process was taken forward in negotiations at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg, South Africa, and continues March 20-31 in Curitiba, Brazil.

"We hope," said Burrows, "that this report will emphasize the importance of what the Secretariat of the CBD has already called 'a new impetus to the negotiation'."

"Without some legal clarity on where genetic material is coming from and the circumstances under which it was acquired, " Burrows claimed, "we will continue to have the kind of biopiracy that has existed for decades -- where the people whose germplasm and traditional knowledge is being taken receive little or no benefit from the taking, if they have any say in the matter at all."

"We came across the Brazilian case, " she noted, "in the midst of research for a report we released last month with the African Centre for Biosafety. We 'saved' the Brazilian case for the Curitiba meeting for obvious reasons."

Earlier this month, Marina Silva, the Minister of the Environment of the host country for the CBD meeting, acknowledged that one of Brazil's top priorities was to achieve an international ABS regime. In an interview with Interpress Service, Silva pointed out that the regime Brazil had in mind was "not to be understood as a tool to facilitate access but to ensure protection and sustainable use and the distribution of benefits" arising from use of genetic resources."

"A peanut taken out of Brazil, " Burrows explained, " was essential to the fight against a virus later to plague US peanut crops. It meant a huge savings to US farmers, but little or nothing was returned to Brazil in exchange for the great service performed by its peanut germplasm. Technically, no laws were transgressed. There were no access and benefit sharing rules and regulations in place at the time. And yet, in hindsight, there was an injustice, a sort of pre-CBD biopiracy. There was acquisition in the absence of prior informed consent and there was gain in the absence of any agreement about benefit sharing."

Quoting from the "Out of Brazil" report's conclusion, Burrows added, "The case of the Brazilian peanut is not unique, but it is instructive. The value of germplasm may take decades and an unusual biological event to become apparent. The value may be entirely unknown to the initial collector and yet may turn out to be immense for subsequent generations in the country or company of the collector. Without effective ABS laws in place, the lopsided scenario of the Brazilian peanut is likely to be repeated in other places, by other collectors, gathering other germplasm." "Out of Brazil: A Peanut Worth Billions (to the US)" can be read and downloaded at the Institute's website: . The earlier report, "Out of Africa: Mysteries of Access and Benefit Sharing" is also available on that site.

For more information contact:
Beth Burrows
The Edmonds Institute
20319-92nd Avenue West Edmonds, Washington
98020 USA
phone:( 001) 425-775-5383


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