Members Of Human Rights Expert Committee At UN Question Patents On Food 07/08/2009 by Kaitlin Mara for Intellectual Property Watch 7 Comments Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)A group of experts working as a think-tank for the United Nations Human Rights Council raised the issue of patents and food at a meeting this week. Meanwhile, a new report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food expected to be available at the end of August will focus on the intersection between intellectual property and the human right to food. “Right to food is one of the human rights that was most violated,” despite its being “Millennium Development Goal number one,” said Jean Ziegler, the vice-chairperson of the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee and the former UN special rapporteur on the right to food from 2000-2008. The expert body met from 2-7 August in Geneva. The world produces enough food to feed twice its human population, yet one billion people still lack access to adequate food, Ziegler added, according to an unofficial record of the event. The advisory committee takes its mandate from the HRC, and covers a variety of human rights issues. Its latest task on the right to food is to “examine discrimination in the context of the right to food; best practice in terms of policy; and strategies to combat discrimination,” according to a 5 August unofficial record. To that end, there were two reports produced by the committee, one on Noma [pdf] – a disfiguring and usually fatal disease affecting primarily undernourished children between the ages of 1 and 6 years old – and one on the exploitation of so-called “peasant farmers” [pdf]. After some debate over whether or not these reports had satisfied the mandate, expert members of the committee discussed other ways in which discrimination harms the right to food. Jose Antonio Bengoa Cabello, the advisory committee’s vice-chairperson, said good practices must include “addressing issues related to toxic food, genetically modified seeds; education systems and food security; peasants’ control of intellectual property related to food; microfinance for poor women, which gave very good results; and good practices related to the urban poor,” according to a 6 August press release. At least two experts called into question the impact on food security of other international bodies, such as the World Trade Organization. “The policies of the World Trade Organization could be seen as discouraging food security and production,” said Dheerujlall Seetulsingh, the chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of Mauritius, according to the 5 August unofficial record. And “the issue of patents and copyrights in the production of food and the ownership of scientific agricultural data developed by developing countries and then appropriated by richer countries” should be further examined, he added. Seetulsingh also called on governments and international organisations to “provide incentives and scientific know-how for small farmers to produce” staple crops, especially where the climate had made such production difficult. Melik Ozden of the research institute Centre Europe-Tiers Monde (Europe Third World Centre) spoke of the Via Campesina, an international movement for the rights of farmers. “Farmers had always been and continued to be the primary victims of the violation of the right to food,” Ozden said. “Thousands were killed each year defending their right to land, water, seeds, and means of production. For decades, these crimes had been committed in the name of neo-liberal policies for the benefit of international organisations.” “Via Campesina had been created to defend the rights and liberties of millions of farmers, with and without land, and to defend them from criminal liberalisation of the food market as promoted by the World Trade Organization. Via Camepesina thought the current system of defence of human rights was insufficient to defend farmers, who were expelled from their lands, killed, and deprived of seeds through patents,” Ozden added, according to the unofficial record. There were also several mentions of genetically modified organisms, which have historically caused debate not only due to concerns about their health and environmental impact but over the ability to then own seeds. The conclusion of the advisory committee was to request the HRC assign the task of coming up with a comprehensive study on discrimination and the right to food to the committee’s drafting group on the right to food. Special Report on the Right To Food Meanwhile, also expected to report to the HRC soon is the new UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter. His 2009 report focuses on intellectual property rights in the food system. It is currently in the editing process, and is expected to be available by the end of August, secretariat sources said. In 2008, de Schutter submitted an interim report [pdf] on the right to food via the director general to the UN General Assembly. In it, he said that the requirements of the WTO Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement “will have considerable implications across the food system.” “The result of the strengthened protection of intellectual property rights at the global level, if it is indeed extended to plant varieties and seeds, would be to reinforce the control of corporations claiming such rights in the global food system,” de Shutter’s report said. Patenting plant varieties in particular would cause dependence on the part of agricultural producers on prices set by companies, and a decrease in biodiversity due to increased use of a single kind of seed. The new report will be an in-depth examination of IP and food, including recommendations to ensure the balance between protecting intellectual property and protecting the right to food and the rights of farmers is maintained. The report is expected to be delivered to the General Assembly in October, according to a source. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related Kaitlin Mara may be reached at email@example.com."Members Of Human Rights Expert Committee At UN Question Patents On Food" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.