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

Jeffrey Fullerton (
Tue, 08 Aug 2000 18:00:25 -0400

Bruce Stallsmith wrote:

> Affluent Americans will most likely think this a crock, because "you can't
> do that here". The Brazilians have a very different view of biological
> prospecting based on history. They feel, rightly or wrongly, that they've
> been ripped off in the past and they don't want to facilitate future
> ripoffs. The major sore spot with them was rubber trees, native to Amazonia.
> Brazil tried to keep them as an exclusive resource through nasty laws,

Monopolies be they private or government are destined to be broken. Just as
"Ultimate weapons" eventually spawn countermeasures. The Chinese once tried to do
the same with the secret of silk- threatening death to whoever would try to
smuggle out silkworms - yet someone eventually succeeded. Today silkworms are
even being cultured of all things ; as a food for reptiles- they even have a
synthetic substitute for mulberry leaves to raise them!

> Brazil is going
> about this with a sledgehammer for a tool, interfering with the export of
> ALL biological tissues. It's a protectionist operation that will ultimately
> fail, by holding research hostage to economics and national pride.

And they're also holding hostage the fortunes of their own enterprising citizens
- who cultivate native plants and such for export. As a matter of fact a good
number of well known house plants come from tropical forests. There are alot more
that plant enthusisats and interior decorators would love to use if they could
get them. With access to global information networks , citizens of developing
countries could have the power to sell what they produce directly to consumers in
more developed countries and reap the profits they deserve which usually go to
the middle men and the transnational firms.

Oh well, even if they do succeed in enforcing such laws, these countries will
just provide incentives to develop alternatives to biologically derived
pharmacuticals. If the drug that cures cancer remains too difficult to obtain
because access to the plant that produces it is limited by monopolies- then
someone will come up with a self replicating nanomachine that disassembles tumors
one molecule at a time until they are gone! Such technologies will also one day
benefit those who suffer from cardiovascular disease.
And as far as keeping something like that off the market:
The senior citizen's groups will eat anyone for breakfast who tries!

> Maybe a silver lining in this cloud is that it places a tangible valuation
> on biodiversity that can be more directly addressed.

Back in the early 90s I had high hopes when environmentalists started talking
about financial incentives for conservation. That in my mind meant Brazillian
homesteaders and tribal villiages utilizing the rainforest on a sustainable
basis- harvesting its natural products as opposed to cutting it all down and
grazing cattle on it until it became desert. But now governments and large
corporations are looking to cut the little people out and reap all the returns
for themselves.

That's where these kind of laws ultimately lead.

Hopefully before Brazil sabatages the dreams of it's own citizens ; it will be
realized that individual people are where the real source of inovation. These are
the people who ultimately get ripped off if their government claims ownership of
genetic resources and proceeds to sell them off to the highest bidder.


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