Archbishop warns WTO about ethical problems with biotechnology patents

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi.

.- The patenting of genetically modified life forms can be ethically “problematic” and could hurt poorer countries if poorly implemented, a Vatican representative has told the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi addressed the WTO Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council in Geneva on Tuesday about a proposed TRIPS agreement which allows WTO members to exclude plants and animals from patentability but not micro-organisms.

The patenting of life forms, the archbishop warned, could sometimes support “biotechnologies that are problematic both from an ethical point of view and from the point of view of a ‘development-friendly’ intellectual property system.”

Noting other international agreements which hold that the human genome shall not give rise to “financial gains,” he said the TRIPS agreement, other WTO rules, and all other trade and intellectual property rights agreements should not reduce the ability of states to regulate the aspects of property rights related to human life and dignity.

These agreements acknowledge the ethical concerns that certain applications of “rapidly developing life sciences” pose to human dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms, the prelate stated. They also urge states to adopt all necessary measures to protect human life in the applied life sciences.

Turning to the availability of food, Archbishop Tomasi said, “Private monopolistic rights should not be imposed over those biological resources from which the basic food and medicine requirements of human life are derived.”

He added that control of patents on the production and distribution of new kinds of seeds and animals could affect both food security and the development prospects of poor countries.

The prelate also noted “significant concern” about patenting the varieties of seeds that are genetically engineered. He mentioned the risks to traditional and modern research and production, the risks of concentrated seed ownership, and the risks of forcing farmers to buy seeds every season instead of saving them from year to year.

“The main goal of the international community should be to promote the common good. Moreover, international trade rules and negotiations should aim toward the good of all, especially of those people who are poor and vulnerable,” the archbishop told the WTO meeting.

Archbishop Tomasi is the Holy See’s permanent representative to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva.


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