Problem

Corporate control of genetic material

Other Names:
Monopolistic control of new animal forms
Irresponsible patenting of genetically transformed animals
Commercial control of new life forms
Irresponsible patenting of organisms
Unethical patenting of transgenic animals
Nature:

Because biotechnology has become increasingly controlled by large pharmaceutical, chemical and food corporations, whose ability to research and obtain patents dominates the industrialized world, many small organizations and individuals may lose a great amount of money through royalty payments. Patents on genetically manipulated plants and animals may first affect farmers, as they may be required to pay royalties to patent holding companies and may be barred from owning offspring of genetically manipulated livestock. Such expense for farmers will undoubtedly be inherited by consumers.

The majority of genetic raw material used in western laboratories is obtained from crops and wild plants in undeveloped countries, whose farmers typically reap no reward from the financial gains made by western corporations in their genetic patents.

Background:

In the early 1970s foreign DNA was first successfully implanted into a host microorganism. This achievement was a primary step towards the knowledge that life could be genetically "created" by human beings. In 1988, Victor, a dormouse implanted with a human cancer-producing gene which made him more valuable for medical research, was the subject of a patent granted to European and North American researchers by the USA Supreme Court. Victor was the world's first patented animal. By 1991, a group of US scientists awaited approval of their request for the patenting of the nematode worm, an agriculturally vital species in the elimination of crop parasites. The nematode worm, unlike Victor the dormouse and his offspring, exists in nature without genetic manipulation by man. Those opposed to the pending patent of the nematode worm suggest immorality in human claim to nature.

Incidence:

A 1991 study estimates royalty payments on patented plants and animals may near $50 million in the UK, and even more in southern Europe if legislation proves increasingly lenient in the granting of such patents.

Indigenous knowledge of plants and their patterns of use assisted colonial botanists in South Africa to identify species of commercial potential, the benefits of which were reaped solely by foreign companies. There is currently substantial interest from foreign companies in the genetic resources of South Africa, and firm evidence that sampling guided by traditional knowledge substantially increases the efficiency of screening plants for medicinal treatments. However, there is no legal protection in South Africa for traditional knowledge, which is often not confined to a single community or person. Furthermore, conventional intellectual property right regimes do not correspond well to the innovations of traditional cultures.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 15: Life on Land
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
09.07.2019 – 19:06 CEST