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GMO Foods and Intellectual Property: The Ultimate Food Fight, 2012

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GMO FOODS AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: THE ULTIMATE FOOD FIGHT

 

As the world begins to digest the implications of intellectual property for online censorship, another intellectual property issue threatens an even more fundamental part of our daily lives: our food supply. Backed by legal precedent and armed with seemingly inexhaustible lobbying funds, a handful of multinationals are attempting to use patents on life itself to monopolize the biosphere.

In India, tens of thousands of farmers per year committed suicide in an epidemic labeled the GM Genocide. Sold a story of magic seeds that would produce immense yields, farmers around the country were driven into ruinous debt by a combination of high-priced seeds, high-priced pesticides, and crop failure. The GM seeds had been engineered with so-called terminator technology, meaning that seeds from one harvest could not be replanted the following year. Instead, farmers were forced to buy seeds at the same exorbitant prices from the biotech giants every year, insuring a debt spiral that was impossible to escape. As a result, hundreds of thousands of farmers have committed suicide in the Indian countryside since the introduction of GM crops in 1997.

As philosopher, quantum physicist and activist Vandana Shiva has detailed at great length, the effect of the invocation of intellectual property in enabling the monopolization of the world’s most fundamental resources was not accidental or contingent. On the contrary, this is something that has been self-consciously designed by the heads of the very corporations who now seek to reap the benefit of this monopolization. The monumental nature of their achievement has been obscured behind bureaucratic institutions like the World Trade Organisation and innocuous sounding agreements like the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

Although the deck appears to be stacked in favor of the giant multinationals and their practically inexhaustible access to lobbying and legal funds, the people are by no means incapable of fighting back against this patenting of the biosphere. In India itself, where so much devastation has been brought by the introduction of genetically engineered crops, the people are fighting back against the world’s most well-known purveyor of GMO foods, Monsanto. The country’s National Biodiversity Authority has enabled the government to proceed with legal action against the company for so-called biopiracy or attempts to develop a GM crop derived from local varieties of eggplant, without the appropriate licences.

Despite the fact that resistance to the patenting of the world’s food supply should be applauded in all its forms, what is needed is a fundamental transformation in our understanding of life itself. From a patentable organism to a common property of all of the people who have developed the seeds from which these novel GM crops are derived. This concept, known as open seeds, is being promoted by organizations around the globe, including Vandana Shiva’s Navdanya organization. To be sure, it will be a long and arduous uphill battle to bring this issue to the attention of a public that seems to be but dimly aware of what genetically modified foods are, let alone the legal ramifications of the ability to patent life. But as the work of such organizations continues to educate people about the issues involved, the numbers of those opposed to the patenting of the biosphere likewise increases.

From seed-saving and preservation projects to an increased awareness of and interest in organic food, people around the globe are beginning to take the issue of the food supply as seriously as the companies that are quite literally attempting to ram their products down the consumers’ throats. As always, the power lies with the consumers, who can win the battle simply by asserting their right to choose where and how they purchase food.