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Government urges the EU to tackle biopiracy

By Michelle Yeomans , 01-Feb-2013

According to members of Parliament, Europe still needs to tackle ‘biopiracy’ in terms of multinationals exploiting plants from developing countries without sharing the benefits with indigenous peoples.

At a recent plenary meeting, MEPs put together a non-legislative resolution whereby it states that Europe needs to apply fair patent rules and make sure that these are based on the principle of prior informed consent from the countries of origin of the plants and traditional know-how used by industry.

"Our rules for using natural resources and traditional knowledge are very ill-defined and companies exploit this legal uncertainty to use traditional know-how, we must help to ensure that benefits are shared fairly, in line with its commitment to combat poverty," says MEP Catherine Grèze, on the compiling of the resolution.

Biopiracy is the practice of patenting and marketing the traditional know-how and genetic resources of indigenous peoples without authorisation from the source countries. It can ultimately hinder economic progress by developing countries and runs counter to EU development policy aims.

Biodiversity remains a growing concern for cosmetic and personal care companies sourcing naturally-derived ingredients abroad, as the pressure to behave ethically and in a way that benefits the local community remains constant. If a cosmetics company is suspected to be operating in ways that are unethical or do not respect the environment, it stands to lose respect and sales.

Tackling the issue

Currently, international agreements exist to protect indigenous peoples’ rights to their genetic resources, but there are no mechanisms to enforce them, so MEPs are suggesting that the grant of a patent be made conditional on the requirements to disclose the origin of genetic resources and traditional know-how used in inventions.

In spite of attempts by the ever more conservative European right to weaken this text, MEPs asserted their determination to combat this new colonialism, this ‘green gold rush’,” adds Grèze.

The politicans are also arguing for early implementation of the protocol signed in Nagoya in 2010 on access to genetic resources and fair sharing of benefits arising from their use (ABS Protocol).

The EU should not encourage LDCs to conclude trade agreements that contain extensive intellectual property rights since these do not currently meet the needs of traditional knowledge holders. It should, however, help developing countries design legal and institutional mechanisms and understand patent application systems.”

Finally, the resolution highlights the need to develop a new more coherent global governance system, without giving in to the WTO, and stresses the urgency of ratifying and implementing the Nagoya Protocol.

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