Biotechnology in the North cannot be the same as in the South

Biotechnology in the North cannot be the same as in the South

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By Isabel Delgado

The biotechnological model of the North is not replicable in the South, because it corresponds to a predatory model of maximum profit logic, which is not interested in satisfying the needs of the poorest.

"Just as the one that ends was that of mechanics, the one that begins is that of biology. In the beginning, the genetic code of the human being is decoded. The 24 transnational companies that own more than half of the planet try to patent it to charge you The rights of every human being Cracking the code makes it possible to cure genetic and viral diseases Monopolies develop new incurable ailments to force patients to buy their treatments.
After decoding the genome, an even more complicated puzzle has to be deciphered: either man or capital. He who decodes it, will be a great decoder ".
Luis Britto Garcia

The development of biotechnology is currently one of the disciplines that produces the greatest interest in scientific, philosophical, legal, artistic and political communities. The developments and multiple promises are undeniable, as well as the real and potential risks of this discipline. But the biotechnological model of the north (which has been transformed into secular dogma and supranational norms) is not replicable in the south, because it corresponds to a predatory model of maximum profit logic, which is not interested in satisfying the needs of the poorer.

We cannot, then, import the formulas that work for developed countries and techno-biological multinationals. In this sense, this article aims to ask itself some generating questions about the possible potential for our country to consider the advantages of its own biotechnological development and about the important aspects that this implies.

Does biotechnology produce substantial changes in our lives? What order? Are genetically modified products harmful to health? Can biotechnology help us to exploit our biodiversity in a sustainable way? Is it a good business to sell our vast genetic and biological resources? Are our countries used as testing grounds for northern biotechnology experiments? Are the large biotechnology companies taking over indigenous ancestral knowledge and popular culture, patenting it in their markets? Should we sign more international commitments? Should we develop a biotech program? And if so, should it be directed to the market or towards food safety and diversity? What is the cost-effect of biotechnological development for our peoples?

The technology of life has produced so many questions of an ethical nature that not a few authors already speak of a new discipline, bioethics.

Ethics is the part of philosophy that deals with morality and human obligations, it is a discipline that studies human actions insofar as they are related to the ends that determine their rectitude, their various notions regarding good and evil and of how they relate to their peers and to the diversity of life forms that surrounds them.

Bioethics is the discipline that studies the ethical character of the techniques applied to living beings. It is Van Rensselaer Potter, in his book Bioethics, Bridge to the Future, who coined the word. He conceives bioethics as an emergency discipline, defining it as "a dialogue between scientific and ethical knowledge with a view to the survival of man and planet Earth" [1].

Genetic manipulation
The immense development of biotechnology has sparked passionate ethical debates, especially in relation to the genetic manipulation of human and animal food, and the development of genetic engineering in the body of human cloning. Thus, we can consider the cloning of Dolly the sheep as a turning point in the development of bioethics. "On February 27, 1997 the scientific journal Nature, published the report on the cloning of a mammal from the nucleus of an adult cell of another individual. The presentation in society of Dolly the sheep is one of those moments in which science it spurs a plethora of emotional reactions of all kinds, awakening dreams (or nightmares) and rekindling myths and old ghosts "[2].

Many voices were raised due to the fear that the cloning technique on animals could be applied to human beings, which could alter natural, social, religious orders and even create orders of power that could become insurmountable, in addition to the consequences on the personality of the cloned human being. Bioethical developers respond with the techno-scientific rationality of single thought and authentic knowledge that reigns over any other criterion: the development of biotechnology is an unstoppable process and any opposition to it is to oppose progress.

On November 11, 1997, the community of nations gathered at UNESCO endorsed the Universal Declaration on the Genome and Human Rights, which in its first article establishes that the human genome is the patrimony of humanity. Article 11 establishes that practices that are contrary to human dignity, such as cloning for the purpose of reproduction of human beings, should not be allowed [3].

However, since it is a declaration, it is not binding, so at the end of 2001, the company Advanced Cell Technology, of Worcester, United States, announced that it obtained the first human embryo by nuclear transfer or cloning for therapeutic purposes, using which we would have the opportunity to permanently replace genes, cells, organs or tissues. The debate is then joined by the ethical and / or religious approach to the legitimacy of creating an embryo to use it as a supplementary organ for another human being. Will this fetus have the dignity of person? When is human substantivity constituted? Is it morally valid to give life to fetus-zygotes that must be destroyed after fulfilling their function? And if it were, should it be administered by public or private organizations? Will they be marketed? Who will have access to the benefits of this technology? Will the company have patent rights (monopoly for 20 years) on this human life creation technology or on the product? Where will the rights be exhausted?

Despite the fact that the mapping of the human genome was disclosed so that it could enter the public domain and thus be able to be used by humanity, there are cases of reports throughout the world of research carried out without authorization from indigenous communities on the study of genetic variations of the diverse aboriginal peoples of the planet. The project belongs to the Human Genome Organization (Hugo) and its purpose is to distinguish genetic traits of these populations that make them resistant or vulnerable to certain diseases. Sergio Cecchetto, member of the Argentine Association of Bioethics, in his article "Genetics, domination and cultural identity in the Argentine-Chilean south", tells us cases in which cell lines from populations originating in the South have been patented in developed countries. Panamanian scientists, in collaboration with American peers, extracted genetic material from a Ngobe (Guayami) woman, without her authorization, and later applied for a patent on this woman's cell line to be used in the investigation of a retrovirus that infects this indigenous people. , similar to that of leukemia. This project has already taken genetic samples from more than 200 native communities in the South Pacific.

In the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources has denied access to research on the genetics of indigenous communities. However, researchers enter (often as tourists), without authorization or control, and it is the indigenous communities who in communication with their national and local organizations (Consejo Nacional Indio de Venezuela, Red de Mujeres Wayúu, Organización Regional de Pueblos Indígenas del Amazonas, among others) who prevent the taking and / or exit of the samples.

Risks of GMOs
The other exciting topic is the potential ecological risks of transgenic plants and animals. For centuries, the source of genetic variation was the selection that farmers made of the best seeds from their crops, saving them to sow the following year, progressively improving the species. This scheme has changed through the introduction and removal of genes made to natural species.

Genetic modification has also been applied to animals (production of human proteins in milk, food production, manipulation of embryos to obtain organs for transplantation, etc.). Many times genetically modified organisms are released without a thorough analysis of the consequences that they could have in the human being and in the environment.

The most serious thing is that the consumer is unaware that the food they are consuming has been genetically modified, since transnational companies are literally in a panic at being forced to clearly and prominently include on the product labeling that it is a genetically modified organism , and they have successfully lobbied about it.

The European Commission has just changed its political-commercial criteria in relation to the consumption of transgenics by the population of this continent by allowing the importation of transgenic corn. This is serious for European consumers due to the fact that no long-term studies have been done. And it is serious for developing countries that have opposed these products in international lobbies, on the grounds of not losing the European market and because these products threaten to contaminate (by spreading modified seeds) our undisturbed biodiversity.

The emblematic case exposed by the weekly Quantum in its number 16, related to the lawsuit of Monsanto vs. Percy and Louise, illustrates how a jurisdictional decision can significantly increase the rights of transnational companies, which can sue farmers when they have crops with transgenic genes on their plots, even when they have been contaminated without the farmers' will. . Monsanto was credited with part of the production of Canadian farmers Parcy and Louise as payment for the crime that the birds dropped Monsanto seeds in their flight, protected under patents on their plots.

The term biosafety refers to the set of corporate, state and / or supranational legal standards and policies adopted to guarantee the safe application of biotechnology in human health and the conservation of the environment.

Biosafety was born as a necessity in countries that developed biotechnology programs, however biosafety is essential for countries that fight for development that does not compromise the survival of future generations, in this sense, developing countries have developed various legislation at the national and supranational level. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has a legal biosafety framework that has been developed both at the national level and through international conventions, within this biosafety framework there are deep contradictions between the Magna Carta and national legislation, as well as between it and supranational agreements. subscribed before the entry into force. Below we will make a brief analysis of them:

Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela of 1999: The Magna Carta of the nation has the fundamental lines for the development of a national position:

Article 11 establishes that the nation exercises full sovereignty over natural resources, expressly including genetic resources.
Chapter VIII establishes specific rights for indigenous peoples, among which is the mandate that any exploitation within the demarcation of their territories must be done without damaging the cultural, social and economic integrity and is subject to information and consultation of the peoples. Likewise, the collective intellectual property of knowledge, technologies and innovations is guaranteed and all activities related to genetic resources and the knowledge associated with them must pursue collective benefits. This section prohibits the patenting of genetic resources and ancestral knowledge.

Chapter IX. It is dedicated to environmental rights where a participatory sustainable development model is enshrined where the State must protect biological diversity and genetic resources. Article 127 prohibits the patenting of the genome of living beings in any of its forms, that is, life cannot be patented even when improvements have been made on it. In addition, this article establishes that in any contract, with natural or legal persons, national or foreign, or in the permits that are granted in those that affect the natural resources made by the nation, it will be considered included, although not expressly, allowing access and technology transfer. Finally, the Constitution refers us to the promulgation of a law on bioethics.

Organic Law of the Environment (June 16, 1976). "It establishes in its article 3 the prohibition of degrading activities to the environment and the control, reduction or elimination of factors, processes or components that are or may cause damage to the life of man or other beings" [4]

Criminal Law of the Environment (January 3, 1992). The damage on illicit propagation of species, can be applied to the case of propagation of genetically modified organisms: "Anyone who, without permission from the competent authority or violating the rules on the matter, introduces, encourages or propagates plant species, animals or biological agents or biochemicals capable of significantly altering animal or plant populations or endangering their existence, will be punished with a prison term of three months to one year and a fine of 300 to 1,000 days' wages [4].

Law on Plant and Animal Sanitary Defenses (August 15, 1941). This law establishes the sanitary powers of the State over animal and plant species, in the organ of the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands: "a) To dictate prohibitive or restrictive measures and to regulate the import, export and transfer of plants, animals and their respective products. b) Order the treatment, quarantine or destruction of plants, animals and their products, whatever the place where they are, always after checking that said plants, animals or products are attacked by infectious diseases, pests or other morbid agents " [4].

Law on Compost and other agents capable of operating a Beneficial Action in Plants, Soils or waters (July 23, 1964) It grants the State powers to intervene in the use of agents and if they preserve public health and the life of animals and plants useful, as well as the state of the land and waters exposed to inappropriate use.

Biological Diversity Law: Establishes a fine in our consideration quite low (up to 300 tax units) in consideration of the multimillion-dollar figures of this business, to anyone who manipulates genetic material without authorization from the State, the fine will be doubled if the genetic manipulation without authorization and only establishes a small prison sentence, from four to six years (which would be subject to the benefits of the Organic Code of Criminal Procedure), when the release of genetic manipulation harms human health.

Biosafety Regulation: "The purpose of the regulation is to regulate the management of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), their derivatives and products that contain them, in order to minimize risks and prevent impacts on their health, the environment and the socioeconomic. The activities that the decree regulates are the introduction, manipulation, release to the environment, production, distribution, sale, application, mobilization, storage, commercialization and uses of GMOs, their derivatives and products that contain them "[4].

Law of Seeds, Material for Animal Reproduction and Biological Inputs. (October 18, 2.002) With a rather inconsistent body, it aims to regulate the material for animal and plant reproduction with the same criteria, the most serious being containing a Chapter II "On GMOs or Genetically Modified Organisms", it creates an organism that will have the power to authorize the research, release, production, commercialization of transgenic or genetically modified organisms or that come from this type of organisms. It grants it the power as a national authority to apply the Common Regime for the Protection of the Rights of Breeders of Plant Varieties of the Andean Community, of which Venezuela is a part, with the character of competent national authority, giving it the omnipotent powers without obligation to any consultation with a single State agency in the design of the policy including import, export and granting of the mini biological patents that are the breeder certificates of plant varieties. Fortunately for the nation, the law has a legal loophole, which is that it does not establish who is the Ministry responsible for the creation of this body, so it has been impossible to implement the law.

International agreement:
Convention on Biological Diversity (September 12, 1994). The General objectives of the Convention are the conservation of biological diversity, the use of genetic resources and the equitable sharing of benefits. This agreement seeks to reconcile free trade with fair compensation from the germplasm donor countries. Part of the idea that a single path of development is the commercialization of biodiversity. It is a binding agreement on access to biological resources and non-binding on technology transfer since no mechanisms are established for it to materialize. This agreement establishes strict conditions for the release of genetically modified organisms and expressly prohibits any manipulation with cells, organs and any other biological component of the human being ". [4]

Decision 345 or Common Regime for the Protection of the Rights of Plant Variety Breeders of the Andean Community (October 21, 1993). This regulation recognizes and guarantees a protection to breeders (who have carried out "scientific" innovation on plant varieties) that grants these breeders exclusive rights (monopolies) on the variety, creating a privileged situation for its industrialization and commercialization. This Andean agreement does not recognize any right of farmers to the progressive improvement of the species. This "breeder of plant variety" right has the philosophical trunk of the patent, the concession of a monopoly, with other characteristics necessary for the concession, but with the same consequences: exclusive right for industrialization and trade, which is why some consider it a micro patent. It would be worthwhile to establish what was the will of the legislator when he prohibited the patenting of life.

Decision 391 or Common Regime on Access to Genetic Resources of the Andean Community (July 2, 1996). Its fundamental principle is that the countries of the Andean area have sovereignty over their genetic resources and their derived products (as established by the CBD and the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela) and through this treaty the conditions for access to them are determined. . An express recognition is made regarding the rights and powers of indigenous, Afro-American and local communities over their knowledge, innovations and traditional practices associated with genetic resources and their derived products, however, the mechanisms on:

How to establish the Prior Informed Consent, who is aware and how aware; Fair and equitable distribution of benefits: Who is the beneficiary, how much can be considered fair and equitable. In any case, before creating defense mechanisms for collective knowledge, the mechanisms for access to genetic resources are established. This regulation responds to a conception of life that certainly does not correspond to our model of sustainable endogenous development.

Decision 486 or Common Regime on Industrial Property of the Andean Community (December 1, 2000) In its article three (3) it establishes that the member countries will ensure that the protection conferred to the elements of industrial property will be granted by safeguarding and respecting their heritage biological and genetic, as well as the traditional knowledge of their indigenous, African American and local communities. It conditions the granting of patents on life that the biological and genetic material has been acquired in accordance with the national and international legal system. In evident contradiction to the express prohibition of the Bolivarian Constitution of patenting life in any of its forms, in the Common Regime of Industrial Property, all or part of living beings or biological processes can be patented, if they have been created by man.

Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS or TRIPs in English). 1994. Treaty of the World Trade Organization that led to an extension of the rights of patent holders (mostly northern companies), restricting the rights of farmers and traditional breeders who lose the right to the species that have cultivated, improved and conserved, threatening the food security of the poorest countries.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety: "Governments must inform whether or not they accept the importation of agricultural articles that contain GMOs and must clearly label shipments that contain them. Exporting countries must clearly inform exporting countries."

FAO International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources. (Law approving the National Assembly in two discussions approved at the end of March 2004, pending the presidential execution). This Treaty establishes that seeds and other genetic materials can be patented as long as they are modified in some way, in open contradiction to the express constitutional prohibition to patent life in any of its forms. This treaty is highly dangerous for the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela since it establishes a multilateral system of access to plant genetic resources, through which resources for research and genetic improvement can be obtained without any payment to the nation, if they obtain a commercial product. The Treaty provides for the payment of an equitable part of the profits, however it does not establish any mechanism for this.

Institutional political guidelines:
Decision Agenda 21: Establishes as a priority issue of the State the ecologically sound management of biotechnology that allows promoting environmental conservation and development / health, food security, sustainable agriculture, drinking water, etc.).

Bioethics and biosafety code of the Ministry of Science and Technology: The creation of a space for the application of biosafety principles, guidelines and standards is assumed as State policy.

Biotechnology and Intellectual Property
Biotechnological products are fundamentally derived from natural inputs that have often been improved over generations by farmers or by the ancestral knowledge of indigenous communities on the use and conservation of the biodiversity that surrounds them. The biotechnology industry uses Intellectual property so that this collective knowledge becomes the property of multinationals (isolating it from the natural environment or reproducing biological matter gives it the inventive character necessary for the granting of the patent). International intellectual property regulations were and are currently reformulated to adapt their mechanisms in favor of the large biotechnology industry, to the detriment of the peoples of both the south and the peoples of the north.

Isabel Bermejo in her article "The WTO at the service of Transnationals" illustrates the voracity of appropriation of goods that we never thought could be owned by someone: "Today we could hardly choose a menu without coming across a multitude of food products whose characters They are protected by biotechnological patents. If we first want to eat a paella, we would find that 152 patents have been registered covering 584 genetic sequences of rice. A humble bowl of lentils arouses less interest for the industry, but it is also covered by the less with 5 patents. If we secondly opt for a meat dish, there are more than 500 patents on chicken genetic sequences; and also several dozen on pork. If we fancy fish, salmon genetic sequences have also been patented, of tuna and cod. If we want to chop a little salad, we would find that there are 774 patents on the take, 52 on the z anahorias and 41 on cucumber. And if we want a bit of fruit for dessert, there are at least 21 patents on Persian and as many on grapes, 6 on kiwi, 11 on oranges and 9 on apples. And Nestlé and the University of Hawaii (collaborating with Monsanto) have patents on genetic sequences in coffee. Logically, the foods of greatest interest to the biotechnology industry, and therefore, those that are covered by a greater number of patents, sometimes very extensive, are the basic foods of humanity and therefore of greater economic interest, such as soybeans. , cereals and potatoes "[5].

In a presentation by Edgardo Lander, professor at the School of Sociology of the Central University of Venezuela, delivered at an event promoted by the Autonomous Service of Intellectual Property, indigenous organizations and the Ministry of Science and Technology in the Tobogán e la Selva In the Venezuelan Amazon, he explains to us that we are experiencing a cultural war between a model of commodification of life, pushed by transnationals through multilateral organizations and a multiplicity of forms of culture and life that do not want to be subjected. "Both world views are incompatible," he insists, "because the World Trade Organization understands intellectual property as what has industrial application and corresponds to the knowledge model of Western civilization, and sees other things as freely appropriable. Now anyone discovery is patentable, and life forms become patentable. " This shock is not outside the Free Trade Area of ​​the Americas, defined by Lander as a commitment to transform life in which each of its dimensions (for example, nature and knowledge) is decided with commercial criteria and market.

To aggravate the situation, the positions of the State on the issue are not necessarily the same. "We have a precarious state structure, with a diversity of criteria and division of responsibilities without places of coordination where policies are defined."

The current intellectual property system is structured on the western concept of individual private property, the knowledge of the communities does not have an author or subject of innovation since they are collective creations made by one or more peoples, also in one or more times, already that many of these creations are transgenerational, so future generations enjoy the natural right to be subjects of succession of this knowledge.EnriqueIañezParejo, from the Institute of Biotechnology of the University of Granada, in Spain alerts us: "Unless the community international make a serious effort, we could be doomed in the medium term to a severe limitation in food production capacity in the most needy areas. " [6]

"The FTAA will increase the use of genetically modified foods. US business executives are trying to force other countries to accept genetically modified organisms (GMOs). While environmental groups warn that these technologies have not been adequately tested and food safety experts say that GMOs, on the other hand, can increase hunger in poor nations as it threatens farmers, who year after year have improved their seeds and which are patented by transnational companies by introducing genetic modifications, making them sterile for the next plantings. farmers are forced to pay for the new seeds, pushing them towards absolute dependence on these and their derivatives as genetically modified herbicides and fertilizers. " [7].

Certainly, for a country like Venezuela, which has high biodiversity reserves, the development of a project that provides added value to this comparative advantage looks extremely attractive.

Sin embargo, debemos diseñarlo encentrados en nuestro modelo de desarrollo sustentable, de modo que no amenace a la supervivencia de futuras generaciones, rica en diversidad biológica, social y cultural, con información general adecuada y accesible a la ciudadanía, de forma armonizada con los derechos humanos y con la identidad del individuo. Diseñarlo con el estimulo de la investigación pública comprometida, con normativas coherentes, luchando en el ámbito internacional para construir instrumentos internacionales sin ambigüedades que detenga el frenesí privatizador de recursos genéticos y conocimientos colectivos, salvaguarde los cultivos alimenticios, cree mecanismos vinculantes y eficientes de transferencia tecnológica, reoriente los mecanismos de la propiedad intelectual y que sirvan como instrumento de defensa de los saberes ancestrales indígenas, de la cultura popular y de los derechos de los agricultores.

En este compromiso nos jugamos la soberanía nacional.

* Abogada, cineasta. Investigadora de propiedad intelectual y pueblos indígenas

[1] Potter Van Rensselaer. Bioethics, Bridge to the Future.
[2] Iañez Pareja Enrique. Artículo de opinión de la Revista Diálogo Iberoamericano. Consejo de Universidades de España e Ibero América.
[3] Declaración Universal de la UNESCO sobre el Genoma y los Derechos Humanos. 11 de noviembre de 1997.
[4] Sistema de Información sobre Bioseguridad en Venezuela.http//
[5] Bermejo, Isabel. Patentes Biotecnológicas. La OMC al servicio de las transnacionales.http//www. Biodiversidad en América latina.
[6] Iañez Pareja Enrique. Biotecnología Agrícola y Tercer MundoInstituto de Biotecnología. Universidad de Granada. España.
[7] 10 razones para oponerse al ALCA (El Área de Libre Comercio de las Américas) Pronunciamiento de la ONG Global Exchange.

Tomado de la Red Voltaire

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