FW: Bizzare new world, eh?

Susan Hayes (susan@ELSEWARE.COM)
Mon, 9 Oct 1995 09:35:00 PDT

anyone have any thoughts on this?

>From: perezoso@nando.net (Edward Hammond)
>Thu, 5 Oct 95 09:15:36 EST
>To: Multiple recipients of list <biodiv-l@ftpt.br>
>Subject: RAFI Press Release: Indigenous Person Patented
>***Please! Direct any e-mail replies to:
>"Another major step down the road to the commodification of life"
>says Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) Director Pat Mooney.
>RAFI moves to take the life patenting issue to the World Court.
>Patenting Indigenous People
>In an unprecedented move, the United States Government has issued itself a
>patent on a foreign citizen. On March 14, 1995, an indigenous man of the
>Hagahai people from Papua New Guinea's remote highlands ceased to own his
>genetic material. While the rest of the world is seeking to protect the
>knowledge and resources of indigenous people, the National Institutes of
>Health (NIH) is patenting them. "This patent is another major step down
>the road to the commodification of life. In the days of colonialism,
>researchers went after indigenous people's resources and studied their
>scoial organizations and customs. But now, in biocolonial times, they are
>going after the people themsleves" says Pat Roy Mooney, RAFI's Executive
>Director, who is at The Hague investigating prospects for a World Court
>challenge to the patenting of human genetic material.
>The Hagahai, who number a scant 260 persons and only came into consistent
>contact with the outside world in 1984, now find their genetic material -
>the very core of their physical identity - the property of the United
>States Government. The same patent application is pending in 19 other
>countries. Though one of the "inventors,"resident in Papua New Guinea,
>apparently signed an agreement giving a percentage of any royalties to the
>Hagahai, the patent makes no concrete provision for the Hagahai to receive
>any compensation for becoming the property of the US Government.. Indeed,
>the Hagahai are likely to continue to suffer threats to their very survival
>from disease and other health problems brought by outsiders.
>RAFI's Jean Christie has recently returned to Australia after consultations
>with the governments of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands (one of
>whose citizens is also subject to claims in a related US Government patent
>application). On her return from Port Moresby and Honiara, Christie said
>"This outrageous patent has provoked anger in the Pacific and is a matter
>of deep concern worldwide."
>In response to 1993 investigations by the Government of the Solomon Islands
>and RAFI, NIH's Jonathan Friedlander (Physical Anthropology Program
>Director) wrote to the Solomon Islands Ambassador to the United Nations,
>allaying their concerns by saying that the patent applications "will likely
>be abandoned entirely or not allowed." Contrary to Friedlander's
>indication, in the course of routine research prior to Christie's trip to
>the Pacific RAFI discovered that the patent was issued 6 months ago.
>Linked to the "Vampire Project"?
>The first-ever patent of an indigenous person comes as an international
>group of scientists are embarking on the Human Genome Diversity Project
>(HGDP), which aims to draw blood and tissue samples from as many indigenous
>groups in the world as possible. While the Hagahai are not specifically
>mentioned in the draft "hit list" of the HGDP -- dubbed the "vampire
>project" by its opponents worldwide -- it has targeted over 700 indigenous
>groups, including 41 from Papua New Guinea, for "sampling" by researchers.
>Friedlander, who wrote that the patent application would likely be
>withdrawn, participated in the development of the HGDP and was among those
>at its founding meeting. Within weeks of the patent's issue, Friedlander
>returned the Pacific on business related to the collection of blood
>samples. At the same time, indigenous people and NGOs from across the
>Pacific are working on the implementation of a "Lifeforms Patent-Free
>Pacific Treaty."
>As recently as last week's UNESCO Bioethics Committee meeting, HGDP
>Director Dr. Luca Cavalli-Sforza claimed that the project did not support
>the patenting of indigenous peoples' DNA. In contrast, at the Beijing
>Women's Conference, Sami indigenous women from the Nordic countries added
>their voice to the dozens of indigenous peoples' organizations that have
>denounced the project as a violation of their rights. "The thin veneer of
>the HGDP as an academic, non-commercial exercise has been shattered by the
>US government patenting an indigenous person from Papua New Guinea," said
>Edward Hammond, Program Officer with RAFI-USA in North Carolina.
>The Value of Human DNA: Mining Indigenous Communities for Raw Materials
>NIH's patent (US 5,397,696) claims a cell line containing the unmodified
>Hagahai DNA and several methods for its use in detecting HTLV-1-related
>retroviruses. The team that patented the cell line is headed by the 1976
>Nobel Laureate in Medicine, Dr. D.Carleton Gajdusek. Recent cases have
>concretely demonstrated the economic value of human DNA from remote
>populations in the diagnosis and treatment of disease and development of
>vaccines. Blood samples drawn from the asthmatic inhabitants of the remote
>South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha were sold by researchers to a
>California-based company which in turn sold rights to its as yet unproved
>technologies for asthma treatment to German giant Boehringer Ingelheim for
>US $70 million.
>NIH patent claims on indigenous people's genetic material are pursued
>abroad by the National Technical Information Service, a division of the US
>Department of Commerce. Ronald Brown, the US Secretary of Commerce has
>left no question as to his interpretation of the controversy, stating
>"Under our laws... subject matter relating to human cells is patentable and
>there is no provision for considerations relating to the source of the
>cells that may be the subject of a patent application." The Hagahai, and
>millions of other indigenous people, in other words, are raw material for
>US business.
>RAFI believes that this is only the beginning of a dangerous trend toward
>the commodification of humanity and the knowledge of indigenous people.
>Whether human genetic material or medicinal plants are the target, there is
>scarcely a remote rural group in the world that is not being visited by
>predatory researchers. Indigenous people, whose unique identity is in part
>reflected in their genes, are prime targets of gene hunters. Says Leonora
>Zalabata of the Arhuaco people of Colombia: "This could be another form of
>exploitation, only this time they are using us as raw materials."
>RAFI Challenges the Patenting of Human Beings
>RAFI has been closely following the patenting of indigenous people since
>1993, when pressure from RAFI and the Guaymi General Congress led to the
>withdrawal of a patent application by the US Secretary of Commerce on a
>cell line from a Guaymi indigenous woman from Panama. RAFI is currently
>investigating prospects to bring the issue of human patenting to the World
>Court at the Hague as well as the Biodiversity Convention and relevant
>multilateral bodies.
>Pat Mooney, Executive Director Ottawa, ONT (Canada) (613)
>Jean Christie, International Liaison Queensland, Australia
>(61) 79 394-792
>Edward Hammond, Program Officer Pittsboro, NC (USA)
>(919) 542-1396
>DATE: 4 October 1995
>Duane Griffin
>Univ. of Wisconsin Geography Dept.
>384 Science Hall
>Madison, WI 53706