While ecotourism has been offered as a means to protect biodiversity and to provide for sustainable utilization of biological resources, the alarming reports about the dangers of tourism-related bio-plundering can no longer be denied. The following case studies from three continents - the Brazilian Amazon region in South America, the Philippines in Asia, and Zimabwe in Africa - demonstrate how easy it is for biopirates to sidestep existing regulations and laws in Southern countries by just travelling there as “tourists” to illegally collect genetic resources, plants and wildlife as well as associated indigenous knowledge with commercial value for the biotechnology industry.

In fact, ecotourism and bioprospecting complement each other and are increasingly promoted as a package, which may facilitate biopiracy. For instance, the proposal for a huge “Mesoamerican Biological Corridor” programme, supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the World Bank, the United Nations Development Progamme (UNDP) and the German government, encourages both ecotourism and pharmaceutical prospecting as areas of activity and investment. In relation to the ‘International Year of Ecotourism’ (IYE), the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Biodiversity Programme has even proposed to hold a workshop on ‘Investing in Biodiversity Businesses and Ecotourism’ as a side event at the World Ecotourism Summit in 2002.

A few years ago, the World Customs Organization (WCO) in cooperation with the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) recognized the linkages between tourism and the escalating theft and smuggling in flora and fauna and produced a brochure to raise awareness on this matter. At the 1998 World Travel Mart in London, WCO officials pointed out that customs authorities as well as the travel and tourism industry need to be fully educated on how much damage the illicit bio-trade can do to societies, cultures and the environment. Despite all warnings, tourism policy-makers, the industry and large conservation organizations tend to ignore this burning issue, probably out of fear that the exposure of these illegal activities in connection with (eco)tourism can create image problems and hurt the funding of projects.

In a letter to the Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (SCBD), Dr. Hamdallah Zedan, we have proposed that the forthcoming UNEP/SCBD Workshop on Sustainable Tourism actively contributes to the Reviewing Ecotourism process and highlighted ecotourism-related biopiracy as a theme that greatly affects indigenous and local communities’ rights and therefore needs urgent attention. In his reply, Dr. Zedan informed us he expected the workshop “to focus on all relevant aspects of ecotourism, including of course conservation and the concerns of indigenous and local communities”. So we do hope that the workshop in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic, in June as well as forums that are part of the official IYE process will foster open and sincere discussions on the serious risks of tourism and biopiracy and explore effective counter-measures.

The campaign coordinating groups:
Third World Network
Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team (t.i.m.-team), Thailand
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM), Malaysia
Consumers Association of Penang (CAP), Malaysia

From: Brazzil, 24 March 2001, [shortened version]

Bio Plunderers

By Ana Paula Corazza

Bio-piracy is just another one of the threats the Amazon has to face since Brazil's colonization period. It emerged in the last 30 years as a consequence of the development of a new line of science, the biotechnology. Differing from the prospectors and smugglers, the bio-pirates don't carry guns, but act mixing up with the tourists who arrive everyday in order to see the beauty of the forest. Their interest, of course, is not in the rain forest tourism, but it's based in the chance of making a great amount of money with the species of plants and animals found exclusively in Brazilian territory.

The Amazon has been inhabited since immemorial times. When the first European colonizers arrived in the XVI century, a few million Indians lived in the region. While the Amazon occupation started around the year 1540, until the end of the Second World War, the human presence in that environment didn't cause a considerable change to the natural vegetation and fauna. A new period started when the Brazilian government decided to use these lands for agriculture and immigrant settlement.

With 5.033.072 km2 of area in Brazil and being the home of 50 percent of the world's biodiversity, the Amazon is a natural target to the action of companies and bio smugglers interested in researching and exploring it with profitable purposes.

Covering 6 percent of the earth surface, the rain forests of the world concentrate half of the living beings on the globe. Of the 240,000 species of plants with flowers, for instance, 150,000 are in the tropics. Of these, 55,000 are in Brazilian territory, many can only be found here. Besides it all, the Amazon rain forest is house of 24 percent of the primate species, 23 percent of the amphibious, 30 percent of all the superior plants, more than 300 species of mammals, 2000 of fish and 2.5 million of anthropoids.

In this ocean of life, sail the biological plunderers. Accordingly to general Germano Arnold Pedrozo, of the Military Command of the Amazon, in a testimony to the National Congress of Brazil in 1997, the bio-pirates arrive with tourist visas, under the protection of international environmental NGOs or religious missions.

It's not easy to catch them. For less than $250 per day, anyone can rent a boat in Manaus city and adventure through the immense labyrinth of the region's rivers. And with hundreds of illegal airports and 12,000 kilometers of border guarded by only about 22,000 military soldiers, it's impossible to avoid the come and go of smugglers.

Agents of the Ibama (Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Renovแveis Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Resources) have learned from the Indian and the catalog a French company left with them, the price insects can cost in the international market. A beetle of the species Titanus giganteus, for example, can be worth $1,000 if sold to collectors.

Police suspects that the responsible for the distribution of the catalog is a Belgian, Robert van der Merghel, arrested in August 1997 carrying 200 beetles and butterflies at the airport of the city of Tef้, in the Alto Solim๕es. Merghel was sentenced to one year in prison but stayed only six months and was released through the intercession of the President.

Another responsible for illegal trades is an Austrian naturalized Brazilian, Ruedger von Reininghaus, president of the Ecological Association of the Alto Juruแ, a non-governmental organization. Ruedger was looking for people interested in buying the secrets of medicinal plants of the Indians of the Acre State. He escaped from justice only because of the lack of proof against him.

It's crystal clear that the two outlaws were amateurs in an activity in which the most common professionals show off their master and doctor in science titles. And feel as comfortable in a research lab as in the middle of the jungle.

But masters and doctors in science alone cannot be blamed for taking samples of animals and plants to other countries, according to Oz๓rio Jos้ de M. Fonseca, former director of Inpa (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisa da Amaz๔niaNational Institute of Research of the Amazon). In an article written to the Amazonas em Tempo newspaper, he talks about the importance of researching and studying animals, plants and microorganisms in the Amazon in order to improve mankind's quality of life. He also stresses that serious researchers are not getting the necessary support and suggests that it is necessary to search for national and international agreements.

"The development of projects based on agreements allows the training of Brazilian scientists and researchers, making possible the sharing of knowledge, technology and new materials between the partners that can legally patent their discoveries", writes Fonseca. "The material that leaves the research institutions is closely inspected", adds Fonseca, "but one thing we don't know is the name of the heads of civil institutions that have its people coming and going in the Amazon or the pastors and priests who live in traditional communities in the forest collecting information and maybe material that can easily leave the country through its wide hydrographic net".

For Fonseca the only way to avoid the harm of illegal exploration of the Amazon is to research and patent first every product of biological origin. And put pressure on the government convincing the nations in the world to sign a treaty forbidding any product with biological source to be patented before its origin is absolutely clarified.

In 1965, physician and researcher S้rgio Ferreira, from the University of Sใo Paulo (USP), discovered a substance in the poison of the jararaca snake responsible for a high decrease in blood pressure of people who are beaten by this snake. Patented by the Wellcome laboratory, the substance originated a line of anti-high blood pressure medicines that brings $40 billion per year in income.

Brazil hasn't received anything for the discovery. The pharmacist and researcher Evandro de Ara๚jo Silva of the Universidade da Amaz๔nia (University of the Amazon) explains why it is so hard to produce medicines in the country: "In the '40s, the cost until the launching of a new medicine was $40 million. Today its cost is around $500 million and might go as high as $1 billion soon".

Ever since the first gene was isolated, in 1973, genetic engineering has experienced a spectacular progress, creating a market for the major companies in the chemistry-pharmaceutical, agricultural and medicinal areas. And the impact of these changes is only in the beginning. In the next decades, new products will invade peoples every day life, generating business of incalculable value. In the middle of these new discoveries we find an unexplored new world, where life is a precious valuable good not only in the philosophic-legal point of view but also in economic matters.

To put things in perspective:

One single North-American company has catalogued over 7000 Amazon plants without paying a cent for it.

Blood and DNA samples of native Indians Karitianas and Suruํs of the State of Rond๔nia are sold to foreign countries.

Frogs, snakes, scorpions and other poisonous animals are extremely valuable to biotechnological researches due to the toxins they produce and distil. In January 1998, researchers of the Abbot laboratory, one of the giants in the chemistry-pharmaceutical sector, announced the synthesis of a new composition, the ABT-694, made through the toxin found in the skin of the Amazon frog, Epipadobates tricolor. According to the Abbot scientists, the ABT-694 might become the first of a family of analgesics for pain, able to substitute the opium derivates.

With the development of genetic engineering, there is no doubt the bio-piracy will continue to increase. And, despite the disagreement among scientists and foreign parties on the research agreement, at least in one point they all agree: Brazil needs to take place in the vast biodiversity heritage of the Amazon, invest in research and do it before others do.

That the Amazon Forest is an immense lab on open air we all agree. But it is important to find a point of agreement on how to explore its richness in a way mankind can enjoy the benefits of the new discoveries and at the same time respect the laws, borders and rights of the people who live in the Amazon and in throughout the country.

From: The Earth Times, 15 January 2001

Companies rush to patent wildlife of the Philippines

By Michael A. Bengwayan

MANILA, Philippines--There is a silent but reckless "gold rush" in Asia. One where a handful of genomic companies and their pharmaceutical partners are rushing to privatize the genes of plants, animals and humans to sell for profit.

The commodity they seek to exploit is not gold but biological information. The raw material they need is human DNA: that make up genes of human life, plant, and animal genes. They are the gene hunters and have invaded the Philippine shores.

Already, biopirates, skirting the loosely-crafted anti-biopiracy law in the Philippines and with the help of some Philippine scientists, have successfully acquired patents for a pain-killing snail, a cancer-curing tree and several vegetables and fruit that are remedies to diabetes.

The Philippine sea snail (Conus magus) has already been patented by Neurex, Inc. a US-based pharmaceutical company and has earned millions of dollars for the company. Neurex, with the help of scientists from the Marine Science Institute of the University of the Philippines (UP-MSI) and the University of Utah, have been isolating from the snail a toxin called SNX-111 which is a pain killer that is reported by scientists to be 1,000 times more powerful than morphine.

SNX-111 or Ziconitide was recently reported by Rosemarie Foster of Drug Infoline as having been issued a letter of approval by the US Food and Drug Administration on June 28 last year for treatment of chronic pain. The drug will be marketed by the company Elan Corporation.

The report added that Zoconitide is 100 to 1,000 times more potent than morphine, so potent to completely paralyze a fish within a matter of seconds. SNX 111 blocks critical openings in nerve cells, interrupting pain signals on their journey through the spinal cord to the brain. It is administered through a small tube directly into the spinal cord.

During the first year that the pain killer SNX-111 was marketed, it has earned Neurex more than $80 million. Neurex has entered into a marketing deal with Warner Lambert, one of the world's major international pharmaceutical companies to further push the product. SNX-111 will be worth more when sold outside the US. Another medical company, the US-owned Medtronic which specializes in medicinal plants, has signed a contract with Neurex, to sell the pain killer SNX-111.

As a pain killer, it is important in hospitals, drugstores and most especially, to the growing number of battlefields worldwide. There are also reports that the toxin from the snail is being tested for insecticidal properties to fight insects pests that have developed resistance to most chemicals.

Neurex owns all three patents of the Philippine sea snail under US Patent numbers 5189,020, 5559,095 and lastly 5587,454 which is referred to the snail toxin treatment for victims of stroke.

The controversial twist in the discovery of the toxin is that government-paid Philippine scientists, using government money, collaborated to form and finance a private company called Gene Seas Asia to capitalize in the commercial value of the snail which ultimately led not only to the foreign ownership of the snail, but to the exploitation of the same by a foreign company.

As such, Gene Seas Asia and UP-MSI connections are then siphoning and circumventing public funds to promote private research for private individuals, and eventually private income. As such, the arrangement between both institutions may be violating provisions of Executive Order 247 which poorly provides the government's guidelines against bio-prospecting but is silent on biopiracy. Biopiracy is the exploration, extraction and screening of biological diversity and indigenous knowledge for commercial, genetic and biochemical purposes.

Philippine endemic plants have not been spared. "Ampalaya" or bitter gourd (Momordica charantia) is now privately-owned by the US National Institute of Health, the US Army and the New York University which have successfully gained the US patent numbers US 5484889, JP 6501089 and EP 553357, respectively, on the Vitamin A-rich vegetable.

Ampalaya, mixed with another Philippine vegetable "talong" or eggplant (Solanum melongena) are traditional food that make up the Philippine delicacy "pinakbet", an effective cure against diabetes.

Today, scientists from the US pharmaceutical company Cromak Research, Inc. in New Jersey has started raking in profits reaching to as high as $500 million from a anti-diabetic product extracted from the two vegetables. Diabetes, together with cancer and tuberculosis, was named recently by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a leading disease for this new century.

The diabetic remedy was granted the US patent number 5900240 for Cromak. It is taken as a dietary supplement. The importance of the diabetic drug is crucial not only to some 22 million Americans who are afflicted by the disease yearly, 200,000 of whom die yearly, but also to 170 million others in developing nations, epidemiologist Venkat Narayan of the Diabetes International Foundation said.

Talong and ampalaya are low-calorie traditional Philippine food which have contributed largely to the prevention of diabetes among Filipinos, according to diabetologists Dr. Julie C. Cabato and Dr. Marcelino Salango. Both lowers glucose level in blood thus lessening possibility of diabetes especially for the aging and obese people as well as those who lead sedentary lifestyles, they added.

The piracy of biodiversity has also claimed the Philippine yew tree (Taxus sumatrana) which has been reported by the government's Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) as having been patented by the University of Philadelphia. Sandra Buking, senior science research specialist of DENR said two scientists from the university were given a DENR permit to collect specimen of the tree in 1998 in the mossy montane forest of Mount Pulag, the country's second highest mountain.

The scientists reported that the tree, found only in Mount Pulag, contained taxol, a cancer-curing chemical, according to DENR. However, Buking mentioned that the scientists stopped communicating with DENR even after a number of requests were made by the agency to the university researchers.

The biopiracy of plants and animals puts ownership of these valuable resources into the hands of the few companies which can control the storage, patenting, licensing, reproduction and sale. As it is, the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) in its publication "Issues and Trends in Biodiversity: Conserving Indigenous Knowledge", 70 percent of the genetic diversity of the world's 20 major food crops have been lost from farmers' fields and the remaining 30 percent are controlled by food and pharmaceutical giants.

It further said that 68 percent of all crop seeds collected in developing countries and 85 percent of all fetal populations of livestock breeds are stored in genebanks in industrialized countries or in international agricultural research centers.

In the Philippines alone, some 150 traditional rice varieties are stored at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and are being used to breed input intensive artificial varieties which are then sold back to the farmers for planting.

The piracy of biodiversity in the Philippines is made worse by the inadequate provisions as well as limited implementation of Executive Order 247 which provides policies on bioprospecting but says nothing on biopiracy. Biopriacy is done by multinational firms and governments of developed countries which patent and map chromosomes of genetic resources without informing, consulting, acknowledging and duly compensating the resources.

The most well known biopiracy in the Philippines is the theft of an antibiotic extract from a soil in the province of Iloilo which became the world-known drug erythromycin. It was isolated by a Philippine scientist Abelardo Aguilar who was then working with the Eli Lilly Co. and who was from the province of Iloilo. Upon Aguilar's discovery of the new drug, he was promised by Eli Lilly a hefty share of the profits. Despite the millions of dollars earned by erythromycin and with the Philippine government's
intervention that Aguilar be recognized and be given a share, Aguilar and his relatives received nothing until recently.

Human tissues are even being owned by companies through human tissue piracy and tissue culture. Tissue culture is the reproduction of a microorganism, plant and animal cells in the laboratory. The culture of human cells is crucial for the biotechnology industry. When kept under proper conditions, "immortalized" human cells can produce in perpetuity and provide an infinite quantity of cells that contain the unique DNA of the original tissue donor or "tricked donor" as in the case of indigenous people who gave away a part of their lives without their knowing.

Last year, two Philippine nongovernment organizations, the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) and the Igorot Tribal Assistance Group (ITAG)--of which this reporter is a former director--, which work on rural development and environmental concerns bared that some Ifugao tribes people were lured into sharing their blood to foreign scientists who posed as medical researchers. Nothing was heard from the scientists after they collected blood and hair samples from the ethnic peoples.

Followingly, the Baguio City-based United Nations (UN) accredited Indigenous Peoples International Center for Policy Research and Education or Tebtebba Foundation, reported that Aeta tribespeople displaced by the Mount Pinatubo eruption in the province of Zambales were tricked into giving blood samples to a foreign medical team who presented themselves as aid workers.

Vicky Tauli Corpuz who heads Tebtebba and sits as the chairperson of the UN Indigenous Peoples Volunteer Fund says "the biopiracy of indigenous peoples' plants and animals is a clear demonstration of disrespect for indigenous peoples rights; the attempts to gather human tissues from indigenous peoples clearly is an exploitation which should be condemned by governments."

Mary Carling who heads the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) in the Philippines condemned the tissue piracy in strong terms saying "biopiracy is an extension of the imperialist policies of global corporations to whose ultimate aim is to control the world's resources".

It should be recalled that in 1996, Hagahai tribes peoples in Papua New Guinea gave blood, tissue, and hair samples to American anthropologist Carol Jenkins in exchange for soap, candies and chocolates. Unknown to the Hagahais, their tissues were used to create an anti-leukemia drug. The tribe's blood contained HTLV-1 which is resistant to the illness. The Hagahais, through interceding NGOs sued to the World Court and have been compensated recently for the theft of their tissues but the patent remains with Jenkins and her company.

Many in the Philippines are now protesting against the onslaught of biopirates on biodiversity, traditional knowledge and indigenous systems. One of these, the Philippine Indigenous Peoples Network say the UN Convention of Biodiversity (UNCBD) should impose a deterring punishment to any company or institute seeking a patent based on indigenous products and knowledge.

But this is easier said than done. In a country where poverty is prevalent and the administrative systems are not functioning well, even the indigenous people are being forced to gamble their last remaining natural resources of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge-for a decent meal. What with the government's Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act (IPRA), the government program for the upliftment of its ethnic population, officially unimplemented.


From: Berne Declaration, Switzerland, and Community Technology and Development Trust (CTDT), Zimbabwe

Press Release 28. February 2001
Government and University of Zimbabwe determined to stop biopiracy by Swiss University

Initiated by Berne Declaration (Switzerland) and Community Technology Development Trust of Zimbabwe a meeting was held on February 16, 2001, at the University of Zimbabwe to discuss a controversial patent held by Lausanne University. Attending the meeting were concerned stakeholders including the University of Zimbabwe, the Ministry of Tourism and Environment, the University of Lausanne and the Zimbabwe Traditional Healers Association (Zinatha).

The participants agreed that the patent held by the University of Lausanne for a compound of Swartzia Madagascariensis (see press release of September 22, 2000;, ) and the Agreement for the Access and Benefit Sharing to Biomaterials of Zimbabwe needs to be renegotiated because they are legally unacceptable.

The vice-chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe sharply criticised the representative of Lausanne University for failing to abide by the provisions of the research agreement between the universities signed in 1995. Article 5f of this agreement stipulates that "a joint application will be made for any patent filed". In the case at hand, Lausanne University completely ignored the above provision and proceeded on its own to file a patent without even consulting the University of Zimbabwe. While the research agreement is by no means a perfect document, the University of Lausanne obviously made no effort to respect the content and spirit of the agreement. The conduct of Lausanne University clearly demonstrates that the illegal appropriation of biological resources from developing countries is still common practice by northern universities and corporations.

CTDT and Berne Declaration demand that the current research agreement between the universities concerning the open access to medicinal and poisonous plants of Zimbabwe be suspended with immediate effect for the following reasons:

The government is not party to this agreement as required by the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD). The representative of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism confirmed at the meeting, that they are the only legal authority to grant access to any Zimbabwean biological resources.

The benefit sharing mechanisms and frameworks of the agreement are not consistent with common practice. For example, there are no provisions for a future benefit-sharing agreement if a product is commercialized.

Under the current agreement only the University of Zimbabwe is a beneficiary, thus marginalizing other stakeholders such as traditional healers and the government. The current agreement has no mechanism to acknowledge and compensate the use of traditional knowledge systems. It seems that access to medicinal plants was granted to the University of Lausanne at less than a fair value.

We call upon the Ministry of Environment and Tourism of Zimbabwe to take the initiative and a leading role in defining a model agreement for access and benefit sharing. Such an agreement involving all relevant stakeholders should contain provisions for prior informed consent, mutually agreed terms and benefit sharing mechanisms. To avoid shortcomings and loopholes, the new agreement should be accessible for comments by civil society.

As the terms of access to the genetic resources of Zimbabwe are renegotiated, the University of Lausanne is given an opportunity to prove its good will by supporting a fair contract. Hopefully, they will not miss it.

For further information: Francois Meienberg, Berne Declaration; Tel: 0041 1 277 70 04; Andrew Mushita, CTDT; Tel: 00 263 4 567 091 or 576 108

Erklaerung von Bern - Berne Declaration
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