Re: NANFA-- [nia-net] New Brazilian law on genetic resources

Jeffrey Fullerton (
Tue, 08 Aug 2000 12:59:49 -0400

Mark B wrote:

> This was on another list. Thought some of you might find it interesting -
> >Posted by Leonard Hirsch, SI International Affairs
> >specialist <>
> >
> >
> >Brazil passed a new law on 29 June, Medida Provisoria 2.052
> >on Access to Genetic Resources--i.e., research, collecting
> >and export of biological materials. It is intended to deal
> >with access to and use of molecular information (there is no
> >differentiation between pharmaceutical molecular work and
> >molecular systematics).
> >
> >However, the law is written very broadly. Like with any
> >law, the devil will be in the details of the regulations and
> >procedures that get developed to implement the law. The
> >process of developing the regulations and procedures is just
> >starting. The law does set up new institutional
> >arrangements for research, collecting and export permits
> >which, while only imposing new restrictions on those doing
> >molecular work, will have some oversight on all collecting
> >and export.

What a crock!
It's one thing when someone creates a new breed of lifeform thru traditional
hybridization or genetic engineering. Or creates a new machine or writes a book
or a song. But naturally evolved "genetic resources" belong to everyone and
should be accessable to all people to employ their creativity and talents to
utilize and develop. It would be injustice for governments to claim intellectual
property rights to indigenous species and then sell them off to the highest
bidder - ie transnational mega-corporations who will create monopolies on the
products developed there from. Then the pharmacutical industries will be able to
develop all these miriacle drugs but they will be priced beyond what the many
people can afford while they reap enormous profits from natural products that
they did nothing to create.

There will be lots of problems with enforcing these laws.
First of all the US has been throwing billions of dollars at drug traffiking for
over a decade and the the problem refuses to abate. With armies of agents and
planes and drug sniffing dogs the stuff gets to the streets in obscene
quantities. So the police and DEA people find they cannot stop it because there
are too many constitutional obstacles like the 4th Amendment in the way so they
come to us and ask us to give up more of our liberties in order to make it easier
for them to do their job.
Like the sneak and peek provision hidden in a recent Metamphetamine bill going
through Congress.

Could the same happen with many other 'genetic resources' besides Cannabis and
Coacca plants and poppies if lots of other nations decide to follow Brazil's lead
in claiming government ownership of genes of native species? What a wonderful
opportunity to create a new agency - instead of the DEA - Drug Enforcement Agency
we could have the BREA - Biological Resource Enforcement Agency!
Because there is so much biological material in circulation already, BREA has a
very tough job ahead of it. Every privately owned greenhouse will have to be shut
down. All house plants and tropical fish , herps and other organisms in private
collections will have to be turned in. Then they'll be sending helicopters over
with special sensors and monitoring power usage to see who's cultivating some
illicit crop of orchids or Philodendron in the basement! There'll be severe
penalties - prison terms , property forfietures for those caught violating
intellectual property rights laws!

Still BREA will not stem the flow.
Cuttings of plants and seeds could be smuggled easily and in very small
quantities and then be reproduced by cloning in a lab at the destination. Animals
are a little more difficult but we already have smugglers talented enough to get
birds and reptiles out of Australia and other nations with strict export
restrictions. They go in luggage or in special pockets sewn into the lining of
coats or hidden in crates of legitimate exports like drugs. Then there are the
pomising possibilities of cloning and alternative reproductive technologies on
the horizon. Soon a guy who wants to get an endangered turtle out of Mexico can
just collect some slivers of tissue- from a live turtle or even a fresh roadkill
and freeze them in liquid nitrogen and carry them in a specially designed
cryogenic container disguised as a shaving cream bottle like the fat guy who
tried to steal dinosaur embryos in the movie Jurassic Park!
A lower tech alternative that would be possible right now - just smuggle a few
females and then frozen sperm or ova to start up a genetically diverse population
in the destination country.
Another way is by way of zoos and botanical gardens - many rare species are often
propagated in quantity and the surplus eventually trickles into the private
sector. Beyond a shadow of doubt this is the reason the USFWS will not let zoos
breed the very beautiful and very prolific (and federally endangered) San
Francisco Garter Snake!

I don't think - at least I hope we never get an agency like BREA to regulate
access to what is pretty much has been a natural human right - the husbandry and
utilization of plants and animals. The idea of exclusive rights to 'genetic
resources' is very problematic because many of the lifeforms that nations would
claim are already in the hands of other people and institutions outside the
country and have been used for generations. Descendants of plants and animals in
circulation that origionated via legal commerce are private property and the
owner really are entitled to use them at their own discretion in a responsible
manner. And what about heirloom crops and domestic animal breeds that have been
the product of not just one person's genius but generations of selective breeding
conducted by entire cultures.

Nations like Brazil and India are staking claims to indigenous organisms whose
natural ranges of many species often transcend political boundaries. There are
many neotropical plants that are not just found in Brazil but all over Latin
America and the West Indies and even South Florida! What if Honduras or Pakistan
decide not to go along with the agreement?

Another problem with governments granting exclusive rights to genetic resources
is highlighted by the ongoing Human Genome Project. How can someone own the right
to something that is found in all of us? And if a government can claim ownership
of organisms- what about the human organism? Couldn't it be argued that human
beings are also a genetic resource or a natural resource and therefore are the
property of the state?
Of course this would be nothing new. There have been quite a few regimes down
thru the ages that have held such belief. Nations that have even gone as far as
armed guards and laying out barbed wire and minefields to keep their more
productive citizens from running away!

I am a staunch advocate of the ideal of private enterprise and property rights
but there are some things in life that we do hold in common - like the air we
breathe and access to naturally created organisms husbanded in a sustainable
manner. Brazil will enrich its own treasury and the coffers of big corporate
dinosaurs at the expense of their own people who want to start up entriprenurial
ventures - say cloning rare orchids and rainforest plants for export - and
consumers around the world who will be forced to pay through the nose for life
saving drugs and other products that could be more affordable if the Law of
Accellarating Returns were to prevail as it does in the computer industry.

The world is moving progessivly toward a future in which markets are geared
toward gaining profit from serving a larger pool of people by giving them more
value from a growing pool of resources and for less money and less waste of
resources. As opposed to the old fashioned way of a company establishing a
monopoly on a resource and charging whatever they want. They keep the price high
by limiting production and if it's something that people need to stay alive -
like a drug to control blood pressure or something people need to meet their
heating and transportation needs like petroleum they can make their profit on
those who can afford it and too bad for those who can't. Industries with this
attitude are living fossils from the old economy. The bid to stake claims to
'genetic resources' is a last desperate bid to keep what is happening with the
digital revolution from happening in the markets of pharmacuticals and other
biotech products.

Imagine a future in which you have access to drugs that are dirt cheap and can be
custom taylored to individual genetic makeup.
Maybe that's wnat the people in the pharmacutical industries - especially the
ones currently lobbying Congress to extend patents to keep a variety of commonly
used and very expensive drugs for heart and blood pressure from becoming availble
as generics.


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