Patenting life forms

Europe approves the legislation for patenting organisms

Published: Monday 15 June 1998

after months of debate, the European Parliament (ep) has finally allowed the patenting of genetically engineered organisms. While EuropaBio, the European Association of BioIndustries, Brussels, has welcomed the legislation, several environmental organisations, like Greenpeace, Gaia Foundation and European Campaign for Biotechnology Patents (ecobp), are up in arms. According to a spokesperson of the Gaia Foundation, London, "The legislation will accelerate corporate monopoly ownership not only of genes but entire species." Doris Ponzoni, manager of regulatory affairs at EuropaBio said: "This is a positive step. The present state of national laws make Europe a difficult place for industrial biotech research".

In 1995, the ep rejected a virtually identical text because they deemed it unethical.Now, after the largest lobby-campaign of the multinational biotech industries, they have swayed around and have adopted this legislation without any amendments in spite of the fact that there were several amendments put forward, but none of them gained the absolute majority needed for approval.

Called as the 'Biotech Patents Directive or Life Patents Directive,' because it will allow patent-rights on living organisms, the ep has ignored all those numerous voices that have warned against this legislation. These come from various medical associations like the World Medical Association, the World Health Organisation, from many patient groups, from plant and animal breeders, from religious leaders, from developing countries who fear 'biopiracy', from environmental campaigners and animal welfare organisations.

"The ep has adopted a bad piece of legislation that is inconsistent in itself, runs counter the European Patent Convention, defies the Convention on Biodiversity and will most probably end up in the European Court of Justice," says Thomas Schweiger, secretary general of ecobp.

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