Agricultural biotechnologies have the potential to make people’s lives better. Crops can be genetically modified to enhance yield or drought-resistance or even nutritional value. But there’s enormous controversy over the economic, environmental, ethical, legal and social issues triggered by these technologies. How, if at all, should they be regulated? Our focus in this lesson will be on agbiotech patents. What rights do transgenic plant patent owners have, and what is the impact of plant patents on farmers’ rights and the future of subsistence agriculture? These are important questions of social justice that we as a class will explore.
A fantastic book on this topic was published in 2008: Geoff Tansey & Tasmin Rajotte, eds., The Future Control of Food: A Guide to International Negotiations and Rules on Intellectual Property, Biodivserity and Food Security (Ottawa: QIAP-IDRC-Earthscan, 2008). The whole thing is openly accessible online, and I wish I could ask to you to read it all. Though that’s obviously unrealistic, we can get a glimpse into this area of global IP policy by reading 2 short chapters from the book (if pressed for time, focus more on the second than the first):
Geoff Tansey, “Farming, Food and Global Rules,” in Geoff Tansey & Tasmin Rajotte eds., The Future Control of Food: A Guide to International Negotiations and Rules on Intellectual Property, (Earthscan Publications Ltd., 2008) 3-23; and
Tasmin Rajotte, “The Negotiations Web: Complex Connections,” in Geoff Tansey & Tasmin Rajotte eds., ibid, 141-167.
We’ve begun to look at some of this web, including WIPO, TRIPs and the CBD. This week I want to throw two more things in the mix:
- The FAO’s “International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture,” abbreviated awkwardly as the ITPGRFA, but often just called the “Plant Treaty.”
- The “International Union for the Protection of New Plant Varities,” aka UPOV.
Please start to take a look at both.
Realizing as we go through the course that you’ve got plenty to read already, I’m striking out the following for this year: A good introduction to the international regime complex for plant genetic resources can be found in this aptly-named article, which you might also want to read parts of. If you’ve got time, check out pages 277-295 in particular:
Kal Raustiala and David G. Victor,“The Regime Complex for Plant Genetic Resources,(2004) 58 International Organization 277-309 at pp. 277-295.
As good as Rausiala and Victor’s article is, I think they’re missing a piece of the puzzle. Some of my own early research showed how “classic” property rights in tangible objects, like seeds, can be used to bolster farmers’ rights claims against IP owners. The following is also optional reading:
Jeremy de Beer, “Reconciling Property Rights in Plants,” (2005) 8:1 Journal of World Intellectual Property 5-31.
But no discussion of this topic would be complete without reference to genetic use restriction technologies, the biological equivalent to technological protection measures discussed during our lesson on copyright and education. For a general introduction to the issues, please do read:
Jeffrey Kluger et al, “The Suicide Seeds,” (1 February, 1999) TIME 44-45.
I’d like you to follow up on that article by glancing at these short commentaries from a variety of different perspectives, including a NGO,Monsanto, the Canadian government and an international organization. There’s lots of policy and scholarly literature on this subject as well, which – if you’re interested – some simple searching will turn up.
As usual, we’ve got a great guest speaker to join us for this lesson. Tasmin Rajotte, author and editor of the materials I’m asking you to read, will speak specifically about the QUNO/QAIP model for facilitating social justice in this area of law and policy. We have great timing, because right after she joins our class, she’s off to attend the 9th meeting of the ABS working group in Columbia. She’ll be talking about, among other things, the key issues on the negotiating table at this meeting. Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to read the 60 pages of square-bracketed text. But you might benefit from a summary overview prepped following the last meeting in Montreal by theInternational Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).