Monday, March 31, 2008

Bioprospecting or Biopiracy?

While studying our two weeks of biotechnology, in which we have discussed the positive possibilities of genetic modifications, I have been participating showing independent food films at the Briar Patch, which gives another  view than that espoused in our text.

In 1930 the United States passed the Plant Patent Act, which provided a 20-year patent restricting asexual production on protected varieties.  It differs from a regular patent in that it does not involve manufacturing or "making" the plant.  This gave limited patent rights to varietal developers and plant breeders, but didn't give them ownership of the lifeforms they developed.

That changed in 1980 when the Supreme Court awarded an appeal to patent an oil-eating microbe in the case Diamond v. Chakrabarty, which allowed the patenting of a life form.  This in turned was the basis for a 1987 decision by the PTO to extend patenting to all altered or engineered animals.  Now "bioprospecting" or as some call it, "biopiracy" is rampant.  

Our recent reading has lead us to believe that using biotech as a form of natural selection does not seem to play out when reviewing new varietals and proposed patents.  Universities, pharmaceutical and big-ag companies are trying to capitalize on all sorts of life forms, not all of it microbial in nature.  Monsanto is one of the worst offenders, and they're doing it hand-in-hand with our government.  Most of Monsanto's board of members are current holders of key government positions.

Want to learn more?  Here's some movies I've watched lately:  Future of Food, Ripe for Change, King Corn, and Fridays at the Farm.  Most of these movies have excellent websites with related links and suggested readings for more information. 

1 comment:

Monica Moran said...

Hey -- thanks so much for blogging about "Fridays at the Farm". I work for the filmmaker, Rich Hoffmann, and it's a real honor to promote a great film like Fridays. I just wanted to let you know that "Fridays at the Farm" is about to screen at the Slow Food Film Festival in Bologna Italy this week, where it has been nominated for Best Short Film. Also, we have a couple upcoming screenings on Sundance: Monday June 9 at 8:35PM and Thursday June 12 at 3:35AM (crappy time slot, that one, but your VCR or TiVo can tape it!)

The thing that I find really interesting is that the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement is growing rapidly as more folks see the benefits of supporting local farmers. Benefits like fresher, tastier food grown by organic farming practices are easy to appreciate, but the larger ecological and social advantages of buying locally are equally vital. In cutting transportation and packaging costs, participants significantly lessen their own carbon footprint; in supporting a living wage for working farmers, they help ease suburban sprawl thus protecting native plants and animals; and in purchasing organically grown and GMO free products, CSA supporters are sending a message to agribusiness the American public is looking for a better way to eat. As supermarket prices soar, and as more people become aware of the dangers of pesticide use and genetically modified foods, joining a farm is making more and more sense both intellectually and financially.

I never even knew I could join a farm until I saw "Fridays at the Farm". But I checked out great sites like, and, and I have seen the light! This year my husband and I have joined a farm, and so have my parents, my sister's family, and many of my friends. It's great the "Fridays" has had a viral effect on my own life!!!

Anyway, thanks again for your interest in "Fridays at the Farm". I encourage people to check it out -- it's beautiful and poetic, but also provacative and eye-opening. At least, it has been for me.

Folks are welcome to visit our website, for more information about "Fridays at the Farm" and about Coyopa Productions.

Monica Moran