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Scientists Rush to Patent Human Cells

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Race to Buy Life Documents uncovered in the United Kingdom show that over half a million patents on genes or gene sequences have been granted or are pending.

Documents uncovered in the United Kingdom show that over half a million patents on genes or gene sequences have been granted or are pending. These include 161,195 patents on human genes or gene fragments, covering virtually every tissue in the body, ranging from lung tissue to light-sensitive pigment in the eye. Other patents include 152 patents on rice, patents covering 72 HIV genes, 1,331 patents on mice, 501 patents on chickens, and 11 patents on spiders.

The race to patent is motivated by financial gain, because patent owners can charge royalties and fees to anyone using the genes, whether for medical research or for growing patented crops.

Antibiotic Resistant Gonorrhea

The UK Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes recommends Monsanto's transgenic cotton not be approved. The cotton contains an antibiotic resistant marker that confers resistance to the antibiotics streptomycin and spectinomycin.

Scientists are worried that if the plant is released in the environment, the bacterium responsible for gonorrhea could acquire the antibiotic resistant gene either directly from transgenic plant materials or indirectly from other bacteria that take up the gene. This could result in strains of gonorrhea that are immune to treatment by antibiotics.

Hybrid Creatures

Amrad, an Australian biotech company, has acquired a European patent on a biotech process for producing embryos containing cells from both humans and animals, including mice, sheep, pigs, cattle, goats and fish.

The patent covers the combining of genes between species and includes the potential to produce a hybrid creature or chimera, with body parts from different species, including man. Citizen groups are outraged.

Paraguay Adopts Mandatory Labelling

Brazil rejected a shipment of Paraguayan corn late last year on suspicion that it contained biotech varieties. Consequently, Paraguay instituted mandatory labelling for genetically engineered (GE) corn and cereal exports. The country can't afford to lose the Brazilian market, which accounts for about half of foreign corn sales.

Liability Lawsuit Against Aventis

A coalition of US farming groups is pushing for legislation to make seed companies liable for any financial losses due to gene-altered crops. A class-action lawsuit has already been filed against Aventis, the developer of StarLink, accusing the company of harming American farmers through negligence.

The suit contends that Aventis was negligent in failing to inform farmers that StarLink was only approved for animal feed and needed to be segregated from other corn. Aventis would be liable for all losses resulting from StarLink contamination, including losses for farmers who did not plant StarLink, but whose corn was contaminated due to cross-pollination or during grain-handling. Aventis recently announced plans to sell off its agricultural arm and focus more on its pharmaceutical business.

No Biotech Feed

British food chains are refusing to sell meat, eggs and dairy products from animals fed on genetically engineered crops. The development slashes the crops' biggest remaining market in the UK and marks another severe blow to the biotech industry. Even fast food chains such as McDonald's are refusing to use products from animals fed on biotech feed.

Farmers Union Calls for Moratorium

Canada's National Farmers Union (NFU), which represents 10,000 farmers nationwide, is demanding a moratorium on GE foods until questions regarding consumer acceptance, health, the environment and ownership of the technology are resolved. At its annual convention in December, Cory Ollikka, President of NFU, said farmers are doubtful of the economic benefits of GE crops and are disconcerted by the push toward biotechnology. He said farmers are alarmed by the risks of genetic pollution. They are also very concerned about genetically engineered crops being rejected by food companies and importers.

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