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6-Genetech §§: Two Brazilian States enacted "biopiracy" laws



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TITLE:  Amazon Cash Crop
        Brazil Seeks 'Bioroyalties' From Western Drug Firms
SOURCE: Washington Post Foreign Service, by Anthony Faiola
DATE:   July 9, 1999

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Two Brazilian states in the Amazon region recently enacted laws
forcing international researchers to pay "bio-royalties" on any
income they derive from local plants, and the Brazilian Congress
is close to approving a national version, the Washington Post
reports. The legislative drive is part of a movement among
tropical countries to prevent what they call "bio-piracy" by the
West. The countries are pushing governments to ratify the UN
Convention on Biological Diversity, one of the products of the
1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

"We want recognition that the raw biomaterials and the knowledge
of how to use them from our indigenous communities is worth as
much as the research money spent on developing new products
abroad," explained Mary Allegretti, Brazil's secretary of the
Amazon region. Pharmaceutical companies and institutes from the
United States, Japan and Europe routinely collect samples from
plants and animals in the Amazon, assess their biological
properties, and patent their uses for financial gain, while
Brazil gets little or no compensation. The advocates of tougher
laws insist they don't want to close the Amazon to foreigners,
and they acknowledge a need for research and development that
only Western institutions can afford. But they also argue that
tougher laws will help preserve the Amazon, which has been
devastated by slash-and-burn agriculture and intensive logging,
"by making the land worth more with its plants and animals than
without them"

(Introduction by UN Wire, a free service sponsored by the United
Nations Foundation and its sister organization, the Better World
Fund, which are dedicated to supporting United Nations efforts on
behalf of the environment, population stabilization and
children's health. http://www.unfoundation.org.)

+++++     +++++

Amazon Cash Crop
Brazil Seeks 'Bioroyalties' From Western Drug Firms

MANAUS, Brazil - In the marketplace of this sweltering Amazon
city, where cans of giant fish tongues compete for space with
jars of pickled tree bark, Judith Formoso, 62, promises cures of
every sort. Treat diabetics without insulin, she advises, by
using the leaves of the Cow's Hoof plant. Got asthma? Stop that
troublesome wheezing with a paste made from the fat of pink river
dolphins. "This," she says conspiratorially, clutching a bunch of
dried cat's nail leaves, "is the cure for cancer."

"And they want our secrets," whispers Formoso, who has sold
traditional indigenous cures here for 40 years. "Foreigners come
around asking me all sorts of questions. You can tell they're not
tourists--they're scientists!

It's not just the sun getting to her. Somewhere among the snake
oils of the Amazon--the world's largest rain forest and home to
one-tenth of Earth's plant and animal life--scientists believe
they may find secrets to curing everything from migraine
headaches to noxious modern plagues. For instance, several
international drug manufacturers are analyzing the mysterious
cat's nail, a dark green leaf with a rich, herbal odor, to
understand its fascinating ability to fight prostate tumors. But
as pharmaceutical firms and foreign institutions conduct research
on promising extracts found in this and other tropical regions, a
global controversy has ignited over who gets the profits.

Brazil is among an increasing number of tropical nations trying
to prevent what they call "biopiracy" by the West. These
countries are pushing governments to ratify the Convention on
Biological Diversity adopted by participants in 1992's United
Nations Conference on Environment and Development. When nations
ratify the convention, it becomes a legal means to economic
benefits when the biomaterials of countries such as Brazil are
used abroad. In the United States, ratification of the treaty has
been stalled in Congress, however, partially because of
opposition by Washington's pharmaceutical lobby.

So this continent-size nation of 168 million people is trying
another route. Two Brazilian states in the Amazon recently passed
laws forcing foreign researchers here to sign contracts requiring
them to pay "bioroyalties" on any income they derive from local
plants. The Brazilian Congress is close to approving a national
version of the law--including a provision that would forbid
foreigners from conducting research without a local partner, a
law already on the books in neighboring Colombia.

Experts say the movement in the Amazon could have implications in
the effort to distinguish ownership of biomaterials from that of
raw materials. What developing tropical nations are saying is
that if the West cries foul over piracy of intellectual property,
say, or computer software, then "biopiracy" in Western labs of
jungle extracts should also be considered a high economic crime.

"We want to turn biopiracy into bioprospecting," said Mary
Allegretti, Brazil's secretary of the Amazon region. "We want to
be partners, not victims. We want recognition that the raw
biomaterials and the knowledge of how to use them from our
indigenous communities is worth as much as the research money
spent on developing new products abroad."

If any place hates biopiracy, it's Brazil and, more specifically,
Manaus--a city of 1.5 million people in the middle of Amazon.
Henry Wickham, a 19th-century British explorer, filched rubber
plant seeds from the Amazon, nipping in the bud the lavish
lifestyles of Brazil's famous rubber barons. (They were so rich
they sent their laundry to be washed in Lisbon and built an opera
house in the middle of the rain forest.) Their monopoly snapped,
Manaus went bust and Wickham became the first of many
"biopirates" to rob Brazil of its organic treasures.

"Even now, it's happening every day," said Frederico Arruda, a
regional chief for Brazil's environmental enforcement agency.
Arruda pointed to a letter from scientists at the Institute of
Pharmacological Medicine at the University of Rome, who asked him
to ship the skins of several Amazonian frogs for research on the
use of their mucus as a pain killer.

There are many cases of biomaterial theft in Brazil. In one,
researchers disguised as a film crew drew blood from Indians on
the Rio Negro and then offered the genetic samples for sale.
However, many cases the Brazilians have claimed to be biopiracy
are legal under international patent law. Routinely, companies
and institutes from the United States, Japan and Europe collect
samples here, decipher their properties and then patent their
uses abroad for financial gain. Since the discoveries are made in
foreign labs, Brazil gets little or no compensation.

The University of Cincinnati, for example, has the U.S. patent
for an extract of the bright reddish-orange guarana seeds of the
Amazon for use against blood clots and is shopping the patent to
pharmaceutical companies. A Japanese firm has patented and is
marketing a byproduct of an Amazonian plant as a component of an
anti-inflammatory drug, Brazilian authorities say.

Advocates of tougher laws insist they do not want to close the
Amazon to foreigners, and acknowledge the need for expensive
research and development that only Western institutions can
afford. The federal government has even created an environmental
economic initiative called Probem to recruit foreign companies as
partners at a biotechnology lab to be built in Manaus beginning
this year.

Proponents of tougher laws also argue that they would aid
preservation of the Amazon--which is being devastated by slash
and-burn agriculture and intensive logging--by making the land
worth more with its plants and animals than without them.

Some corporations have shown a willingness to cooperate with such
demands elsewhere. Merck & Co. has launched a cooperative
research program in Costa Rica, promising to share profits should
it uncover an economically viable drug.

But skepticism remains, especially in the United States, about
such agreements. They argue that Brazilians too often
misinterpret international patent law as biopiracy, scoffing at
the notion that the inventors of the tire would have had to pay
royalties to Brazil because that is where rubber came from. They
further argue that it would be nearly impossible to decide who
would receive bioroyalties, especially since several varieties of
Amazonian plants occur in more than one nation in the region, as
well as in tropical countries in other parts of the world.

"I think this could definitely have a backlash," said Norman M.
Pollack, director of intellectual property at the University of
Cincinnati. "These [extracts] are not easy to research, and if
you have to pay some long-term fee on new uses you discovered in
your own lab, it immediately cuts down on the economic viability
of research."



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