The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)


Intellectual Property Rights, Genetic Resources’ Access and Biopiracy in Mexico

Yolanda Massieu,
Rosa Elvia Barajas,
Universidad AutÚnoma Metropolitana-Azcapotzalco,

The paper focuses in the increasing economic value biodiversity acquires with recent biotechnology’s advances and how this is related to genetic resources’ access and intellectual property rights, specially when local and indigenous human communities have got this kind of resources in their territories.

Biodiversity refers to all living organisms and their genes. It includes people of different races and cultures who live in a determined territory. Since new biotechnology and genetic engineering started, its importance has grown. Mexico is one of the greater biodiverse centres in the world, but this richness is being rapidly lost: if destruction is not stopped, in the next ten years 96 birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and amphibian species, as well as 66 plants and fungi, will disappear from Mexican territory, as it was warned by environmental groups in 1998. The majority and most important biodiversity centres are in tropical and subtropical regions, where there have been developed original crops and agriculture started. The greatest biodiversity is placed in tropical forests, although they represent only 7% of the planet surface, they keep 90% of its biological diversity. A group of eighteen countries has got 98% of tropical forests, all of them underdeveloped and nine of them Latinamerican. In Mexican territory there are all the main types of echosystems, diversity of fish and amphibious reaches 1000 species, the highest in the world; there are 439 mammal species, the highest in American continent; vascular plants are more or less 25,000, higher than Europe or USA and Canada together.

Modern agriculture has not paid enough attention to biological diversity and it has led to more homogeneity and genetic erosion, because its aim has been to increase yields of a few useful crops. This seems to be more acute with the new transgenic crops, which apparently solve plague and yield problems, but are genetically poor.

Genetic engineering in agriculture has generated new economic values of biological diversity, as the main source of genes to research and obtain new genetically modified varieties, so now biodiversity is more identified because of the genetic resources it contains. This means that underdeveloped countries that own this diversity (like Mexico) should have adequate laws and policies to make a rational use of these resources. Pharmaceutical companies have taken plants and animals to make new medicines since many decades ago and now great agrobiotechnology companies are increasingly interested in having access to genetic resources. This happens in a world context that favors private owning of living creatures and their genes, through intellectual property rights. Private interests touch local and indigenous communities’ rights in this sense, as biological diversity is located in these groups territories.

The papers describes some recent cases in Mexico in which the controversy about genetic resources’ access has been present and biopiracy has been mentioned as some kind of abuse that has been committed against farmers and local-indigenous people.

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