Help PMA grow | Petition forms | Site map | PMA main page
Bio-colonialism, Nga Wahine Tiaki o te Ao
Nga Wahine Tiaki o te Ao
1 September 2000
Representatives from the American based Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism today began a two-week tour of the North Island to discuss the implications of genetic technologies for indigenous peoples.
"Genetic technologies raise serious issues of concern to indigenous peoples", said Debra Harry, one of the visitors and Executive Director of the Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism (IPCB). The concerns occur on two fronts: human genetics and agricultural genetics. Both are driven by the same technological techniques and the application of patent law to forms of living beings.
Discussing the human genetics side, Harry noted, "Now that the sequencing of the average human genome is virtually complete, more scientists will turn their attention to human genetic diversity, which includes the collection and study of the DNA of indigenous peoples. This is likely to result in patents on the genetic inheritance of indigenous peoples, and possible manipulations of their DNA, which violate the natural genetic integrity of their ancestry".
The other visitor, Brett Lee Shelton, an attorney and IPCBs Director of Policy and Research states, "Indigenous peoples need to first obtain information about genetic research likely to be done in their communities. And, indigenous peoples need to assert their sovereign right to control genetic research activities that affect them. They must set limitations and enforce them when research activities affect their peoples."
"Genetic research of this scale hurts, rather than benefits, indigenous peoples because it diverts public funds away from direct health care and prevention programs," he added, continuing that "the millions of dollars spent on human genome sequencing has diverted attention away from far more current and pressing public health needs. The same amount of attention to insure we have access to basic health care, clean water, safe foods, and a healthy environment is an effort from which we would see real benefits." Harry noted, "several critics of the current widespread emphasis on genomic research have noted that economic oppression, not genetics, is a major cause of illness in minority/ethnic communities. An emphasis on genetic research will pose no benefits to vast numbers of the public, whose health problems are a product of contaminated environments, and economic poverty, not inherited diseases."
This work brings us closer to a future where the human genome can be privatized, not to benefit people's health but to fatten corporate profits. Already, patents have been filed, and then later abandoned, on the DNA of indigenous peoples from the Solomon Islands and Panama. The U.S. Patent and Trademarks Office (PTO) actually approved a patent on the cells lines of a Hagahai man from Papua New Guinea. The patent was granted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health in March 1994. In late 1996 the NIH abandoned the patent. However, the Hagahai cell line is now available to the public at the American Type Culture Collection as ATCC Number: CRL-10528 Organism: Homo Sapiens (human) for $216 per sample. This trend is likely to continue as new potentially profitable genes are identified in indigenous populations.
Numerous patents have been granted to both public and private interests for partial or full human genes. For instance, Celera has applied for 6,500 gene patents, while Incyte has filed patent applications covering 50,000 individual human genes. In order to stop the privatization and commodification of the human genome, several citizens groups are calling for national legislation to mandate the US Patent and Trademark Office to cease granting patents on human genes, and to exclude living creatures, their genes or components from the patent system.
The Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism is organized to assist indigenous peoples in the protection of their genetic resources, indigenous knowledge, and cultural and human rights from the negative effects of biotechnology. The organization encourages indigenous peoples to pay critical attention to genetic research, and to establish laws that protect their resources from exploitation.