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close this bookBiotechnology and the Future of World Agriculture (GRAIN, 1991)
close this folderControlling the profit
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAn historical appraisal
View the documentThe great reversal
View the documentTightening the grip: the push for patents on life
View the documentBox: Twelve Reasons to say no to life patents
View the documentThe implications

Box: Twelve Reasons to say no to life patents

If the patenting of life forms is accepted . . .

1. FARMERS will be obliged to pay royalties on every generation of plants and livestock they buy and reproduce for production purposes. Prices for patented genetically engineered ├║miracle' seeds and breeds will be far higher than traditional strains and it will be illegal for farmers and herders to biologically renew their stock without permission or payment. Thus, the rural community will lose its last thread of control over the first link in the food chain and become totally dependent on multinational corporations.

2. BREEDERS will no longer have free access to germplasm for developing new varieties of plants and animals. Genetic resources, including genes, cell lines, protoplasts and even characteristics (like 'high yield'), will become the exclusive property of top biotechnology firms. Licences will have to be obtained and royalties paid for, in order for breeders to be able to incorporate patented genes and characteristics into new crop and animal varieties. Most independent breeders will simply go out of business. As a result, the only innovation in the breeding sector will be found in the legal departments of large corporations where patent lawyers will dictate the direction of biological research.

3. CONSUMERS are likely to end up paying higher prices for food, medicine and other products of biotechnology. In buying patented genetically engineered products, consumers will be unwittingly subsidising industry as royalty charges will be passed on to the end product. For example, a new brand of biotechnologically produced beer could be patented first for the strain of barley used, secondly for the fermentation procedure and thirdly for its processing technique! Additionally, the type of new foods the consumer can choose from will be determined more by the patentability of its components than by its quality.

4. PUBLIC RESEARCH will be undermined and effectively privatised. The public sector is paid for by all of us, but the extension of the patent system will ensure that only private industry benefits. Universities and public research institutes will be obliged to keep secret their research results funded by the private sector, while the corporations apply for their patents. This means that the public exposure and circulation of scientific information will be restricted drastically, to the detriment of reaming and innovation.
5. MARKET STRUCTURES will undergo a dramatic wave of increased concentration. Fewer firms will be able to compete on the market place and many will be bought out by the strongest multinational corporations. Stronger monopoly structures in the agribusiness, pharmaceutical and chemical sectors will emerge, with their consequences on prices and quality, leaving us few choices in our needs for food, health and a cleaner environment.

6. GENETIC DIVERSITY will suffer tremendous erosion as monopoly control over genetic resources severely restricts their circulation and destroys their status as The Common Heritage of Mankind. Without our wealth of genetic resources, food and medicinal production systems cannot cope with constantly evolving social and ecological pressures. If those resources become the exclusive property of a few corporations, genetic uniformity will increase substantially and society will have to pay the bill.

7. FOOD SUPPLY will be threatened by monopoly control over genetic resources, farmers' harvests and the processed results. Patent holders will have more power to decide what we eat. Such excessive control over the food supply is extremely dangerous as just a few integrated firms will dominate the sector. Also, public measures to control and direct agricultural production will be jeopardised, as patent priorities take over from common sense. Life patents will move research in biotechnology further away from public institutions and thus from public influence over whether, how and for whom it should be developed.

8. THE THIRD WORLD will increasingly lose access to scientific information and technology transfer, and will see their freely donated biological resources privatised by the North. Patenting life would also mean a total denial of farmers' rights in the South to compensation for all the work they do in providing the world economy with rich and useful genetic diversity. With the current proposal, the only forms of human innovation that will not be patentable will be those of farmers and communities in the Third World. The developing countries will also have to pay higher prices for patented inventions, thus aggravating debt burdens and the marginalisation of the poor.

9. The whole concept of HUMAN RIGHTS will be undermined, as human beings and parts of their body can become the exclusive property of patent holders. That corporations can own your organs, physical traits or intimate genetic information is a total denial of the individual's right to an independent existence and to control over his/her very body. It will also exacerbate organ-trafficking and eugenic tendencies in medicine.

10. ANIMAL WELFARE will become a nostalgic notion of the past, as patenting stimulates the genetic engineering of animals to suffer as they serve industrial systems for the production of food and medicine. Patented farm animals will be victims of severe stress, their bodies designed to produce leaner meat, higher milk yield and an assortment of pharmaceutical products. The 'Harvard mouse', which was patented in the USA to produce breast cancer, is the very first of a whole range of animals that will be genetically transformed and patented for the sole purpose of suffering as models of human diseases.

11. SOCIETY'S RELATIONSHIP TO NATURE will be reduced to a commercial enterprise based on exploitation and profit. Patenting life means that some people can intellectually own the very foundations of living matter and life cycles, thereby undermining any last thread of respect for nature in our already artificialised world. Biotechnology 'inventors' do not create nature, they simply cut it into pieces and claim ownership over it. Such arrogance towards the world around us has already done tremendous damage and is a suicidal attitude towards the system that sustains us.

12. ETHICAL & RELIGIOUS VALUES based on respect for life, creation and reproduction will be thoroughly subverted. The patenting of genetic materials forces upon us a reductionistic and materialistic concept of life as a mere collection of chemical substances that happen to be able to reproduce and can be manipulated and owned.

Source: This box was adapted from '12 reasons for 12 EEC member states to say: no to patents on life', GRAIN, Barcelona, 1990.