The Guardian July 26, 2000


Should genetic information be privately owned?

by Peter Mac

Genetic science and technology has great potential for the liberation of 
humankind from many major diseases and other problems. However, those who 
believe that privately-owned human genetic information will be used for the 
benefit of people should think again.

A statement by African delegates to the UN Food and Agriculture's 
Commission on Genetic Resources claims that the use of genetic information 
by agribusiness companies will actually decrease the ability of third world 
countries to feed their people, and will destroy plant diversity, local 
farming knowledge and traditional sustainable agriculture systems.

Most Australians have deep misgivings about issues such as genetically 
modified food and are demanding that GM food be identified as such by 
labelling.

The British organisation Genetic Food Alert has pointed out that there have 
been no tests of the effects of genetically modified food on humans and no 
long-term tests on animals.

The results of a ten-week research program carried out by the agribusiness 
company Monsanto on the effects of GM food on fish have not been released.

This has prompted suspicions that adverse effects were detected, as was the 
case in post-war research carried out by tobacco companies into cigarette 
smoking, the results of which were suppressed by the companies.

Monsanto is a good example of what to expect under a privately-owned 
genetic information regime.

In the last two years the company spent US$600 million taking over seed and 
biotechnology companies.

It has also spent US$1800 million buying a company that owned the patent on 
the "Terminator" technology.

This technology produces seed that can be planted only once and dies in the 
next generation, so that farmers using the product are forced to buy new 
seed from the company for the subsequent crop.

Monsanto even seeks to restrict reuse of traditional seed varieties, and 
has prosecuted US farmers for saving Monsanto soybean seed for their next 
crop.

The African UN delegates' statement concluded that "Western science ... 
should address the real needs of our people, rather than serving only to 
swell the pockets and control of giant industrial corporations."

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