Genetically Manipulated Food News

Please distribute widley.

7 August 1997

Table of Contents

Related Internet Websites
Patents on Life
Mistakes Cannot Be Recalled

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Internet Websites related to Genetic Engineering

Those of you who are feeling overwhelmed by all the genetic engineering news might enjoy visiting the following website. It is the most uplifting site I have seen, particularly for those interested in native traditions:

Here is some excellent material on the patenting of life from the website of the Council for Responsible Genetics

Their website is:

You can also link to their website from the Natural Law Party genetic engineering website

by choosing the link 'other websites' or the link 'links' at the bottom of the page.



DNA patents create corporate monopolies on living organisms


Cells from a human spleen . . . mice that are genetically predisposed to get cancer . . . bacteria that can digest oil . . . an extract from a tree native to India . . .

There are at least two features that these all have in common: they are derived from living organisms, and they all have been patented as "human inventions." Rapid developments in biotechnology during the last decade have enabled corporations and scientists to alter nature's handiwork for commercial profit. A major strategy for private exploitation in this area is to obtain the patent rights to an organism or its component parts. As these developments affect all of society, we need to decide whether any corporation, institution, or individual should have the right to private ownership of life.


Patents were historically developed to insure that inventors could share in the financial returns and benefits deriving from the use of their inventions. With the development of the modern corporation, patent rights are almost always assigned to the company rather than an individual. This gives the patent holder a form of monopoly control for 20 years from the filing of the patent, and creates a legal means of limiting competition. Private investors generally regard such monopolies as favorable to their interests, so in many industries patents aid in the development of new products.


For over two hundred years living organisms have been excluded from patent laws; life forms were considered a "product of nature" and not a human invention. The non-patentable status of living organisms changed with the 1980 landmark Supreme Court case Diamond v. Chakrabarty. The court decided in a narrow 5-4 decision that a strain of bacteria that had been modified by the insertion of new genes was patentable because it was not naturally occurring. The foreign genes gave the bacteria the ability to break down hydrocarbons, and its "inventors" hoped it might be useful for cleaning up oil spills.

Industrial societies have always permitted ownership of individual animals. However, until recently no corporation, institution or individual could own the rights to an entire strain or species of organism, nor could they patent components of organisms such as cells, genes or proteins. All of these are part of our global living heritage. The granting of patents on microorganisms and increased pressure from the biotechnology industries began a "slippery slope" progression towards the patenting of more complex life forms.


In 1988, a Harvard University biologist was granted a patent for a mouse that had been engineered for increased susceptibility to cancer. The "Harvard Oncomouse" became the first animal to be considered an invention by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It established a precedent within patent procedures for patenting genetically modified animals. Although this research was intended to benefit human health, the question remains about the ethics of patenting complex living beings. The U.S. Congress has never explicitly addressed the question of whether animal genes and cells can be corporate property.


A most alarming aspect of patenting life is the patenting of human genes, cell lines and tissues.

Corporate patent attorneys have lobbied the Patent office that these "products of nature" are patentable once they have been isolated to produce a form not found outside of a laboratory. For example, in 1976 a leukemia patient named John Moore had surgery at the University of California to remove his cancerous spleen. The University was later granted a patent for a cell line called "Mo," removed from the spleen, which could be used for producing valuable proteins. The long term commercial value of the cell line was estimated at over one billion dollars. Mr. Moore demanded the return of the cells and control over his body parts, but the California Supreme Court decided that he was not entitled to any rights to his own cells after they had been removed from his body.


As new DNA sequences on our chromosomes are being identified, entrepreneurial scientists are applying for patents in order to claim exclusive rights to research and profits from thousands of such gene sequences. The Human Genome Organization (HUGO) is an international membership organization of individual scientists dedicated to coordinating efforts in genome research. HUGO recently released a statement in favor of the right of those who have determined the biological functions or products of the genes to patent their work. Patents are necessary, they claim, to provide financial incentive for scientists to do meaningful research. Does the research of molecular biologists give them the right to own genes?

A project associated with HUGO is the Human Genome Diversity Project. Designated by critics as the "Vampire Project," it aims to collect blood, hair and cell samples from up to 700 indigenous communities throughout the world. The stated goal is to gather genetic information from "vanishing" indigenous communities before these people disappear as a result of increasing industrialization and political repression. Many indigenous groups are outraged that researchers might patent genes without the consent of the communities of origin. All of the targeted groups agree that the goal of cultural preservation could be achieved by better methods than merely keeping their genes frozen away in a laboratory tissue museum. As Chief Leon Shenandoah of the Onondaga Council of Chiefs wrote in a letter to the National Science Foundation, "If there is a concern for our demise, then help us survive on our terms."


American farmers and consumers throughout this century have fought against the inclusion of food crops under the patent laws. Corporate control over plant varieties themselves has been regarded as contrary to the interests of the general population.

Patenting plant life will also intensify the inequality between the developing and industrialized nations. The open exchange of seeds and plant material over the centuries has given the U.S. and Europe potatoes and tomatoes from Latin America, soybeans from China, and wheat, rye and barley from the Middle East, to name but a few. The developing world has never received compensation or recognition for these intellectual and technological contributions. Patenting plant life will exacerbate this inequality. While centuries of innovation by indigenous farmers have created most of the food crops grown today, the tinkering by agribusiness entitles them to claim a plant as their own invention, and receive all profits from its use. This "biocolonialism" will continue the pattern of a few transnational corporations profiting at the expense of large numbers of indigenous farmers.

The hunt for new genes to exploit for profit is regarded as a vast new frontier in science and industry. "Bioprospectors" are mining the rich genetic resources of the Third World for pharmaceutical compounds and other products, often using indigenous knowledge as their guide. As a result, indigenous communities could end up paying royalties for products based on plants and knowledge that they have been using for centuries.


The neem tree, a native of the Indian subcontinent, has a myriad of applications in traditional Indian Ayurvedic and Tibetan medicine, agriculture, and household use, as well as being symbolic as "Gandhi's favorite tree." Its usefulness is known throughout India. The Latin name, Azadirachta indica, is derived from the Persian for "free tree," as even the poorest families have access to its beneficial properties.

However, it is possible that Indian citizens will soon be required to pay royalties on the products produced from the neem, since a patent has been granted to the U.S. company W.R. Grace on a compound in the tree (azadirachtin) for the production of a biopesticide. In 1993, over five hundred thousand South Indian farmers rallied to protest foreign patents on plants such as the neem, and launched a nation-wide resistance movement. Under free trade agreements such as GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), countries of the developing world will feel strong pressures to implement U.S. -style patent systems. Multi-national corporations can make large profits on their "discoveries," while depriving the communities which have fostered this knowledge for centuries of the choice of how they would like to use their own knowledge and native species.


No individual, institution or corporation should be able to claim ownership over species or varieties of living organisms. Nor should they be able to hold patents on organs, cells, genes or proteins, whether naturally occurring, genetically altered or otherwise modified. Our reasons are:



Richard Wolfson, Ph.D., Campaign to Ban Genetically Engineered Food

Natural Law Party, 500 Wilbrod Street, Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2, Tel. 613-565-8517 Fax. 613-565-6546, email: GE Website:

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"Killer" Issues Ignored by the GMO Industry:

Genetic Mistakes Cannot Be Recalled: Time and Future Generations

From: (Peter M. Ligotti)

Tue, 5 Aug 1997 13:50:25 (Rick Roush) wrote:
....for the transgenic crops that I support (cotton, corn, soybeans and potatoes), the crops survive poorly without human cultivation, and could easily be mopped up if there was a mistake. In cases where this is not the case, I agree that extreme caution must be observed.


We have here some movement towards agreement, but please do not overlook the element of time and future generations, as well as more slowly-discovered and therefore more devastating mistakes. (Plus we cannot reliably predict even the short-term result of human ingestion of GMO corn, soybeans, potatoes)

The expression "genetic mistakes cannot be recalled," refers to future generations. This refers to future generations of plants, microorganisms, insects, animals, humans etc. Not all mistakes will be found quickly. The fact that there have been quickly-found mistakes (such as L-tryptophan, Brazil nut DNA soybeans, unregistered Round-up Ready canola) proves my point. These examples of quickly-found errors give evidence to the common sense notion that there will be more devastating mistakes because they will be undiscovered until much later in time; they will be slowly-found mistakes. These will be unrecallable, irreversible living mistakes. These living mistakes will become a permanent part of the ecosystem. They will bring irreversible, unrecallable mutations in the form of living plants, bacteria, viruses, microorganisms, animals, human beings, etc.

This is what I meant. You must add time and future generations. Have you ever thought about these issues from this perspective?

The greater the time, the more the inability to recall. For example, some genetically engineered organism may cause mutation of weedy relatives, which later mutate local microorganisms, which then bring some other unnatural change and evolution into the environment and the food chain. And time and the danger quickly becomes utterly unmanageable.

These unnatural mutations have the potential to suddenly spiral out of control. I respectfully ask you to deeply consider this issue. Professor Cummins has even brought plentiful evidence regarding harm upon digestion from some food products altered with virus DNA. GMO's stand as a tempting Pandora's box. You open it and out comes a raging surging uncontrollable forest fire of danger.

Peter Ligotti

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