Pirating African heritage: the pillaging continues – Media release...

The African Centre for Biosafety (ACB), a non- profit activist organization based in South Africa, has today released a report documenting 7 new cases of suspected biopiracy involving legally untenable patents/patent applications.

Some patents have already been granted and others are still pending in Europe and the USA in respect of African resources ranging from medicinal plants, and marine sponges to human viruses. The patent claimants include European big corporations such as Bayer and Louis Vuitton (Christian Dior), small natural health businesses, and even include the USA government.

?The 7 cases show that the patent systems in Europe and the United States are being used to promote the misappropriation of traditional knowledge and biological resources from the South? said Mariam Mayet, Director of the ACB.

German based agriculture and healthcare giant Bayer, has staked a claim to the use of any extract from any plant of the Vernonia genus in Madagascar for ?improving the skin status.? The patent application appears to violate international law as it duplicates traditional knowledge held by indigenous communities in Madagascar. Bayer has in particular, laid claim to a particular Vernonia species endemic to Madagascar, known as ‘ambiaty’, which is used in their skin cream ?Ambiaty Daily Revitalizing Cream.? An average Malagasy would exhaust his or her entire annual income on just seven jars of the cream.

According to Mayet, ?Patents can only be granted for new ideas and inventions. Age old traditional knowledge can never be patented. In order to get around patent laws, traditional knowledge is mischievously being camouflaged in scientific lingo to appear as new inventions.?

Louis Vuitton has obtained a patent from the US Patent Office which allows it to lay claim to extracts from the seeds of the Aframomum angustifolium, a native African plant, which it claims prevents ageing skin. The seed extracts are sold as ‘Dior Capture Totale Multi-Perfection Correction Serum? for US $135 for 28 grams.

The US Department of Health has been granted a patent on the viruses taken from blood samples of indigenous people in the Cameroon. ?Taken together with the recent patent claims on African lactose tolerance genes exposed by the ACB earlier this year, a disturbing trend of patenting biomedical research materials taken from the bodies of Africans is emerging?, said Mariam Mayet, of the ACB.

Some of the patent claimants say they intend to seek patents in South Africa and other African countries. The study found little and in some cases no evidence of the existence of prior informed consent agreements for using the resources that form the subject matter of the patents, nor mutually agreed benefit sharing arrangements, as required by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

The full report can be found on the website of the African Centre for Biosafety at www.biosafetyafrica.org.za

Mariam Mayet 083 269 4309