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Free For All Or Biological Serfdom?

Italy hosts FAO meeting, to discuss an international undertaking (IU) to retain 40-50 world crops in the public domain. 100 or more crops important for food security were identified in the FAO's at the 1996 State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Not being addressed are many genera that are important for local nutritional security (protein, minerals, vitamins), health cures and rural livelihoods.

Nearly 400 organisations from 60 countries worldwide are calling for a just, equitable and legally-binding IU that keeps seeds free from Intellectual Property Rights, recognises Farmers' Rights and ensures benefits from the use of seeds by the food and plant breeding industries flow back to the farmers who developed them.

The US, supported by New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and Japan called for a delay until all aspects of the IU could be fully understood and negotiated - they needed more time despite 7 years of delayed negotiations.Whether the US topple the treaty or remain silent in the knowledge that it will be many years before they ratify the treaty or be moderated by the new power structure in the US Senate, now increasingly hostile to Bush, remains to be seen. A 'member of staff' from the New Zealand embassy in Rome is to represent the New Zealand position at the negotiations.

MAF official Peter Kettle stated "New Zealand's position is in line with its membership of the WTO, UPOV and ASSINSEL and takes into account the fact that the government here, unlike the case in most other countries does not control the NZ genebanks. The government can not tell the genebanks that they must place their material in the multilateral system. New Zealand is strongly supportive of the ideals behind the revision of the Undertaking but will no enter into an agreement that is at odds with domestic legislation or existing international agreements to which it is a Party."

GE Free NZ was unable to reach Peter Kettle today to ascertain New Zealand's position at the talks and who is in control of the NZ genebanks, but was referred to the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology who were unable to provide further information.

Will our own government be seen again, as with world food standards, to be signed up to the position of the big players disempowering both farmers and developing nations. ENDS

CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS TAKE A CLEAR POSITION IN THE FINAL STAGES OF THE IU NEGOTIATIONS ASKING FOR: Clear political commitment to complete the IU negotiations and its subsequent implementation The IU to be the predominant international agreement on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) -- and as such to influence interpretation of WTO rules, where these conflict The exemption of PGRFA from all forms of intellectual property rights - meaning not only the intact material, but also the germplasm and genes it contains - once the IU comes into force An internationally-enforced obligation to implement Farmers' Rights in all countries Access arrangements to cover all the varieties of all the crops covered by the IU including those on farms, in research institutes, public and private collections, etc. Legally-binding benefit-sharing from the use of any resources that are currently privatised, and a direct consumer-producer link through contributions from the food industry

More information
Susie Lees,
Secretary GE Free NZ.
Peter Kettle, MAF

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