GENTECH archive 8.96-97

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IP/Biodiversity News 12-23-96



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From: IATP <iatp@igc.apc.org>
To: Recipients of conference <env.biotech@conf.igc.apc.org>
Subject: IP/Biodiversity News 12-23-96
Date: Mon, 23 Dec 1996 16:47:43 -0800 (PST)

Intellectual Property & Biodiversity News
Produced by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade 
Policy
December 23, 1996
Volume 5, Number 10
_____________________________
Headlines
- - U.S. Disclaims Hagahai Patent
- - EU Allows Genetically Altered Corn, Labelling May be 
Required
- - Rabbits Used For Pharmaceuticals
- - Process Developed For Specific Gene Placement
_____________________________
U.S. DISCLAIMS HAGAHAI PATENT 

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) filed 
paperwork on October 24, 1996 to disclaim the patent at 
the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) on the human 
cell line of a Hagahai indigenous person from Papua, 
New Guinea. The disclaimer forfeits all of the U.S. 
Governments "past and future rights in each and every 
claim of United States Patent No. 5,397,696thereby 
relinquishing all control over said patent."

"There has been no greater affront to fundamental human 
rights by Western intellectual property systems than 
the Hagahai patent," said Alejandro Argumedo of the 
Canadian-based Indigenous Peoples Biodiversity Network 
(IPBN). "The disclaimer is cause for celebration for 
indigenous peoples. At the same time it gives us all a 
chance to reflect on the immorality  of industrialized 
countries allowing the commodification of human cells, 
genes, and other tissues," he said.

There have been three U.S. patent or patent 
applications on indigenous peoples cell linesall 
opposed by the Rural Advancement Foundation 
International  (RAFI). "With Panamanian indigenous 
people from the Guaymi General Congress, we 
successfully pressured the U.S. to withdraw its first 
patent application for an indigenous persons 
cellslater, in collaboration with the Solomon Islands 
Government, RAFI suppressed another U.S. government 
patent application for the cells of a citizen of that 
country," said Pat Mooney of RAFI. Once a patent is 
granted, it is  more difficult to dispose of, which was 
the case of the Hagahai patent.

Press Release of Rural Advancement Foundation, December 
3, 1996.

EU ALLOWS GENETICALLY ALTERED CORN, LABELLING MAY BE 
REQUIRED

On December 18, the European Union (EU) ruled in favor 
of allowing imports of genetically modified U.S. corn 
into the 15-nation bloc. The approval cleared the way 
for the sale of non-genetically engineered corn 
scheduled for 1996.  The sale had been in doubt because 
genetically modified corn had not been separated from 
conventional corn. The decision avoided a potential 
trade war with the United States. On December 19, the 
Dutch government announced on December 19 that all food 
products made from genetically modified soybeans must 
be labelled "containing soya protein manufactured on 
the basis of modern biotechnology," beginning April 1, 
1997. It is the first EU country to take a unilateral 
stand on the issue.

A joint commission of the European Parliament and 
European Commission agreed to a new set of rules 
governing "novel" foods within the 15-nation bloc in 
November. The agreement must be approved by the 
Agriculture Council and the European Parliament before 
coming into force, which is expected to happen in 1997. 
The new regulations define "novel foods" as food 
products that have never been marketed in the EU 
before, or are made using new technologies. All 
products meeting these criteria have to be registered 
with the EU.  Under the new rules if a novel food is 
"equivalent," or chemically identical to a traditional 
product, no labeling is required. Where a food is not 
equivalent, a label must state that the product has 
used genetically altered ingredients. 

The new regulations will allow wholesalers and 
retailers to state on labels that the food product is 
produced using traditional methods--not a novel food 
produced using genetically altered ingredients. To 
comply with the new regulation, the EC announced its 
intention to consider revising the present EU 
legislation, Directive 90/220, which does not allow the 
imposition of labelling to indicate that a product is 
genetically modified in the absence of any link to risk 
assessment.

The strongest critic of the genetically modified maize 
is Britain. United Kingdom Labours Colin Pickthall 
said, "Consumers in my view have the absolute right to 
know what goes into their food, however problematic the 
labelling process might be. The Government and the EU 
should resist the power of giant food companies in the 
United States who are effectively dictating in this 
field what we must eat with no effective estimate given 
to their long-term effects."

Ciba-Geigy sent a letter to the Commission stating, "We 
would like to re-affirm our proposal to label the bags 
containing our seeds, indicating that the product has 
been obtained using biotechnology techniques." 

Consumers have reacted strongly, blocking ports where 
genetically engineered foods are arriving and demanding 
a ban and/or labeling of these products.

"Political authorities--and above all those of the 
Community--find themselves caught between the 
multinational firms that dominate the worldwide trade 
in food, and the potential power of consumers, as they 
belatedly wake up to what is going on," said an unnamed 
official of the EU. "At the same time, competition for 
markets spills over into the international 
confrontations, in particular between the U.S. and the 
Community." 

An article titled "Food and Politics" in "Together in 
Europe, European Union Newsletter for Central Europe," 
states, "With higher yields from intensive farming--
(with its overdoses of fertilizer and pesticides) 
reaching its limits, the agribusiness turned its 
attention to genetic engineering...now the American 
strategy is to impose on the European market 
genetically modified crops that are the result of long 
years of costly research. This raises fundamental 
issues about the use of bio-engineering to increase 
output--and at the same time demonstrates the power of 
the U.S. food lobby."

Paul Ames, "EU Approves Modified U.S. Corn," ASSOCIATED 
PRESS WIRE SERVICE, December 18, 1996; Ian Elliott, "EU 
Discusses Biotech Trade Problems," FEEDSTUFFS, December 
2, 1996; "Consumer Group Urges EU to Ban Gene-Modified 
Maize," AGNET, December 13, 1996; Ian Elliott, "Novel 
Food Compromise Reached In Europe," FEEDSTUFFS, 
December 9, 1996; AGNET, December 19, 1996.

RABBITS USED FOR PHARMACEUTICALS

A Dutch biotech firm, Pharming, has created a line of 
transgenic female rabbits that secrete into their milk 
a potential drug containing the enzyme a-glucosidase 
for use in treating a rare human disease called Pompes 
disease. In people with this disease, the enzyme does 
not convert glycogen in their muscles to glucose. As a 
result, they suffer muscle damage and breathing 
problems. 

Pharming has spliced the gene for a-glucosidase into 
the rabbit genome, creating females that produce the 
enzyme in their milk. A company scientist said rabbits 
mature fast and produce milk quickly, which makes them 
"perfect little biofactories" for churning out regular 
doses of enzymes. The company is investing in a milking 
facility that will keep about 200 rabbits--enough to 
meet worldwide demand. 

Pompes disease is so rare that the U.S. Food and Drug 
Administration granted "orphan drug" status to a-
glucosidase, which means only Pharming will be allowed 
to sell the product in the United States for seven 
years after it comes on the market.

"Milking Bunnies," SCIENCE, December 6, 1996.

PROCESS DEVELOPED FOR SPECIFIC GENE PLACEMENT

Scientists at Purdue University in the U.S. have found 
a way to reduce the guesswork and errors  in genetic 
engineering. Plant Genetic Systems of Belgium has 
obtained the license for commercial application. This 
development could speed the process of biotech-derived 
crops, and possibly human gene therapy.

The two-step process can insert desired genes on a 
specific place on a plant chromosome, and then excise 
other unwanted genes that are already on the plants 
chromosomes. Previous methods to insert new genes were 
random, with genes landing anywhere on the chromosomes, 
possibly interrupting other gene sequences that coded 
for vital proteins.  

"If these other genes could be removed from the plant 
before government regulatory review--using procedures 
like those recently developed at Purdue by Tom Hodges 
and Leszek--it could substantially advance the 
timetable for approval of transgenic crops," said Peter 
Dunn, Director of Purdues Biotechnology Institute.

"Scientists Find Way to Eliminate Junk Genes in 
Biotechnology," Purdue University Press Release, 
December 1996.

RESOURCES

"Overcoming Illusions About Biotechnology," discusses 
the major concerns of biotechnology; "TRIPs (Trade 
Related Intellectual Property Rights) and Biodiversity, 
The Threat and Responses: A Third World View," Third 
World Network, 228 Macalister Road, 10400 Penang, 
Malaysia; fax:  6-04-364505; e-mail: twn@igc.apc.org

EVENTS

"The Commercialization of Transgenic Crops: Risk, 
Benefit and Trade Considerations," March 11-13, 1997, 
Canberra, Australia; fax: 61-6-2494437

"Biotechnology for a Better World," Asilomar Conference 
Center, Pacific Groves, CA; phone: 517-353-2290; fax: 
517-432-1982; e-mail: nortond@msu.edu

"International Conference on Medicinal Plants," 
February 16-20, 1998; Foundation for Revitalisation of 
Local Health Traditions, No. 50, 2nd Stage, MSH Layout, 
Anandnager, Bangalore - 560024, India
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