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The event, where Friends of the Earth International participated, was organized by the Coalition Against Biopiracy (CAB) on December 9th during the 13th Conference of the Parties (COP13) of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), in Cancun, México.
The CBD is the only UN Convention that tackles biopiracy. In particular, it deals with The Nagoya Protocol on the “Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization”, aimed at setting out rules of access and benefit sharing (ABS) of genetic resources in order to prevent biopiracy.
The threat posed by digital piracy
The Captain Hook Awards aim to raise awareness on the fact that many private companies and governments are responsible for the privatization of genetic resources from Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, violating their rights to free, prior and informed consent, their intellectual property rights and the ABS rules.
The development of synthetic biology causes increasing concern among civil society organizations. A new type of biopiracy has emerged: digital piracy. Technologies such as digital sequencing make it possible for genetic resources like DNA sequencing to be transferred digitally and synthesized into living matter without physical exchange of biological material. This "poses major challenges to the many ABS systems that assume and utilize material transfer agreements”, according to the Civil Society Working Group on Synthetic Biology, which is calling on the COP for more regulation.
And the winners are…
DivSeek won the Digital Biopiracy award. DivSeek is a large international digital gene banking project which aims to develop “a unified, coordinated and cohesive information management platform to provide easy access to genotypic and phenotypic data associated with genebank germplasm, which can be utilized to enhance the productivity, sustainability and resilience of crops and agricultural systems.” The database will host genomes of hundreds of thousands crop seeds and information about each of them. Such a project needs to be regulated to protect farmers from the violation ABS rules and the privatization of crop seeds. To this date, DivSeek has avoided discussions at the UN level.
The Canadian Delegation at COP 13 won the Worst Government Behavior Award
“Canada deserves this award for attempting to erase any reference to digital sequences in the text at negotiated at the COP 13,” said Captain Hook, aka Jim Thomas from ETC Group, during the ceremony.
Blairo Maggi, the Brazilian Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply, won the Two Faces Award for changing his rhetoric when he is speaking to the COP and outside the negotiations. “Maggi’s ministry has adopted measures in Brazil that limit the Brazilian commitments in the CBD; for example, instead of ratifying the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing, it supports the creation of the Legal Framework of Biodiversity which legalizes biopiracy in Brazil.”, according to the ETC Group.
Coca Cola and Clarins both win the Greediest Biopirate award
Coca Cola, the American soft drinks and bottled water company, has made huge profits from stevia, a substitute to sugar used in the “Coca Cola Life” soft drink. The company refuses to share the benefits of this plant with the Guarani people of Paraguay and Brazil, where the plant is produced. This violates the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights to fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of a genetic resource in their territory. It was the Indigenous Peoples themeslves who first discovered the sweetening properties of stevia. Coca Cola has refused to make amends despite a report exposing the company, issued by several NGOs, and a petition demanding a change in its behaviour.
Clarins, the French luxurious cosmetics company, generates massive benefits from Harungana, a small tree native to Madagascar, used in its “Super Restorative” skin care products. The leaves have antiseptic and healing properties and encourage collagen synthesis. The Malagasy people first discovered these properties and have used the leaves for medical purposes for decades. Clarins, however, claims to have made the discovery. To add insult to injury, Clarins only pays around 2 dollars per kilogram of leaves to the Malagasy workers, while the cream is sold for around 135 dollars a pot.
“There is no evidence of a benefit-sharing agreement between Clarins and the peoples and countries where harungana and medicinal knowledge about it come from. The Third World Network reported in October that published data on Clarins’ trade with Malagasy harungana producers reveals extremely inequitable sharing of benefits from this African biodiversity”.
On a more positive note “Cog Awards 2016” were given to the best defenders of biodiversity.
The Most Creative Legal Defense Award was granted to rural organizations based in Bacalar, Quintana Roo, Mexico (not far from Cancun): the Mayan Indigenous Regional Council of Bacalar, the Honey Producers “Kabi Habin”, the Agroecology School Educe (Educe A.C.) and the Native Seeds Collective “Much’ Kanan I’inaj”. They have filed an action against an extensive Monsanto GMO soy project in their territory, which would have impacts on the environment and honey production. The group brought the case to the Supreme Court of Mexico, which has yet to rule in favor of canceling the project. The group insists that they have not been consulted on the project, since in Mexico, supposedly free, prior and informed consult often turns out to be nothing but an administrative formality for a corporation before effectively forcing a project on local communities and territories.
The Best People’s Defense Award was granted to the People’s Permanent Tribunal (TPP in Spanish) – Mexico Chapter. In November 2014, this ethics court integrated by civil society representatives urged the Mexican government to protect biodiversity and ban growing GM corn in the country. A statement was made in support of the Collective Demand against Transgenic Corn (Demanda Colectiva contra el Maiz Transgénico), a Mexican movement that struggles to control the illegal production of GM corn crops. The ban is still in force, but the possibility of a lawsuit filed by companies to allow production looms large.
Members of the Coalition against Biopiracy:
Third World Network
Friends of the Earth US
African Center for Biosafety
Heinrich Boell Foundation
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