Thursday, 19 February 2009

Farming GMO and biotech inventions in Brazil

Nowadays, it is estimated that farms using GMO represent nearly 125 million acres of land growing in Brazil. Compared to 2007, the use of GMO in agriculture in 2008 increased almost 10%.

According to recent data published by a Brazilian Non-Governmental Organization, the so-called Council for Biotechnology Information, in the year of 2007, GMO farming in Brazil represented the amount of 12% of the worldwide production, thereby ranking Brazil in third place (surpassed only by the USA and Argentina) and being pointed out as the most prominent agricultural producer and player in the related international market. Among the most farmed GMOs in Brazil, soybean occupies the first position, totaling 14 millions farmed acres, being followed by corn and cotton, in second and third places, respectively.

These figures indicate the relevance of GMO farming and its crucial role to the Brazilian economic development. Most importantly they highlight the technology impact to such growth, since this has long relied on export of agricultural commodities.

Nevertheless, this situation represents a paradox if related with the current legal framework regarding patent protection for biotechnology inventions. The Brazilian IP Law prohibits the patenting of plants and its parts derived from technological developments, including plant seeds. This legal restriction has led Brazilian companies and research institutions (both private and public) to seek patent protection for biotechnological plant products outside Brazil, especially in the US where patenting is fully accepted.

Within Brazil, the strategies to secure IP rights for plants and their parts are based on mechanisms such as: plant variety protection, confidentiality agreements and proprietary rights. These approaches, nevertheless, enhance the difficulties regarding the enforcement of such IP rights in a country of continental proportions and huge agricultural area.

This IP legal limitation and its resulting negative impact to the country’s technological development and trade have already been highlighted by economists and attorneys. Most importantly, they have been acknowledged by the Brazilian Federal Government as a relevant issue to the country’s further economic growth. As a result, significant debates, concerning the relevance of IP protection level to the agricultural field and its necessary review, have been promoted by the Brazilian Parliament Members (senators and deputies).

The possible benefits of patent protection to plants and their parts and its consequent agricultural competitiveness have been extensively highlighted by the so called “progressive deputies and senators”. Their arguments and persistent calls for discussions might turn into victory what has been a long battle to amend the Brazilian Industrial Property Law and insert effective property ruling to biotechnology.

Lately, this subject has been regarded as a priority in the Brazilian Parliament agenda. Nevertheless, as the 2010 country’s general elections approaches, priorities can be shifted. Therefore, these upcoming months will reveal if the effort has been sufficient to allow for the necessary changes to be carried out.

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