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By Tirso Fiorotto
Monsanto adds problems in Argentina. In addition to the overwhelming civil resistance to the installation of a transgenic plant in the province of Córdoba, there were complaints from peasant organizations for an alleged dominant position in the market, due to the collection of a fee for commercialized soybeans containing technology patented by the multinational.
Now another obstacle has been added, which threatens the multinational with leaving it without property titles over seeds that it believed to be its own.
Patenting the seeds is an outpost of imperialist capitalism already on life.
If it is important to know the intended owner, even more so is the invasion of the genetic condition of the species to make them to the taste of the human, or better, to put life at the service of private interest.
This issue is not properly addressed yet. But in the matter of patents the issue remained on the table.
The world of GMOs has many edges and which one is more delicate for study and debate.
It should not be forgotten that in corn, for example, the more than 200 breeds of this continent are reduced to a handful of genetically modified cultivars, in business at scale. At the same time the regime attacks a variety of other species, such as pests.
The fact is that some judges decided to take the bull by one of its horns: the extension of the right to the patent. Thus they gave Monsanto a brake that would make the most talked-about businessman nervous.
The US firm seeks to recover from this judicial stab with an appeal to the Court, but the lifeline it seeks is not guaranteed.
The result of this lawsuit interests Argentina very particularly, because most of the agricultural space depends to some extent on this system of transgenics with chemical substances, in the economy of scale implemented in the 90s and strengthened in the last two decades. Dozens of environmental assemblies flourished in the country to clarify, become aware and resist this regime.
Puncture the balloon
The National Chamber of Federal Civil and Commercial Appeals denied GMO patents, and did so with reasons that anyone understands. For the judges, it is debatable that whoever obtains a transgenic, for just one change, intends to patent the entire seed.
The opinion reminded us of a passage from Shakespeare's play, The Merchant of Venice, where a miser tries to collect a debt from the heart of the debtor, and the judge empowers him but denies him the right to shed a drop of blood ...
To make their reasoning against the claims of the GMO breeder more accessible, the judges used a comparison of the genetic code with the language, and showed as an example that the author of a literary work does not own the language.
Things are getting murky for the multinational, a friend of the rulers and poles, and chosen as the emblematic enemy of the environmentalists.
Monsanto was calling for a rule that takes plants and animals out of the orbit of patents to be declared unconstitutional. And the House turned its back on him.
Is that Patent Law No. 24,481 says in Article 6 that "all kinds of living matter and substances pre-existing in nature" are not considered inventions, and in Article 7 it establishes that "all biological and genetic material are not patentable existing in nature or its replication, in the biological processes implicit in animal, plant and human reproduction, including genetic processes related to the material capable of conducting its own duplication under normal and free conditions as it occurs in nature ”.
Outside the innovator
In a word, the laws make it difficult to patent life, which is what Monsanto and other similar firms around the world are used to doing. "The principle of patentability is not in dispute, but its extension," said the magistrates.
For the Chamber, the material used by Monsanto comes from nature, and has "properties and functions beyond the work of the innovator." So? The multinational will see them in figurines to become owner of the seeds.
Of course, the judges did not tell Monsanto that it cannot carry out these manipulations, what they clarified is that it will not be the owner of the result, which is equivalent to puncturing the balloon.
Three thousand millions
However, there are other, more important issues that are not present in the ruling.
To analyze them, we spoke with the researcher Rafael Lajmanovich, and instead of dwelling on the paragraphs of the ruling, he preferred to point out deeper aspects, as a result of genetically modified organisms –OGM-.
"When we are facing a living being, however insignificant it may seem to us, we are facing 3,000 million years of history," remarked the scientist from Paraná, a leader in the investigation of the harmful effects of herbicide and insecticide irrigation on biodiversity. It must be said, because GMOs are prepared, precisely, so that certain crops resist the onslaught of those substances sprayed in the field, and can emerge without competition from other plants.
Rafael Lajmanovich is an independent researcher at Conicet, a full professor of the Chair of Ecotoxicology at the Faculty of Biochemistry and Biological Sciences of the UNL. Asked about the ruling, he pointed out that the approaches can be as diverse "as the very nature of the complexity of life that is intended to be modified", and preferred an answer "from an ecological-evolutionary point of view and not a mechanistic one. That is why I would like to remember those old days - he said - that as a biology student I was fascinated by the evolution of sarcopterygian fish (they had muscular fins with bone structure inside). These primitive animals about 380 million years ago gave rise to the first tetrapods and amphibians that finally conquered the Earth and that we still see today ”, he clarified.
The researcher thus indicated his intention to analyze genetic tinkering from the complexity of life, which takes millions of years to develop modifications and interactions largely ignored by humans. And contrast that complexity with the pride of the human who interferes in that treasure chest.
"Those millions of years are only a small part, the genetic code that science currently has the ability to modify (and want to patent) began much earlier, at the origin of life on Earth, in a 'soup' of compounds organic constituted by inorganic processes, ”Lajmanovich recalled.
Then he said that when he observed the lawsuit in court over genetically modified organisms and their patents, he also remembered “Miller's famous experiments on the conditions existing on the planet around 3,000 million years ago. They were such - he added - that they could have given rise to the spontaneous formation of organic macromolecules. These simple inorganic molecules that Miller put into his apparatus (plus radiation), led to the formation of a variety of complex molecules in living cells (current of course). RNA (ribonucleic acid) was the first form of life on Earth, later developing a cell membrane around it and thus becoming the first prokaryotic cell. Genetic information (genes) is contained in DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which transcribes its message through RNA, which in turn translates this information into an appropriate sequence of amino acids that are assembled into proteins that are responsible for almost all cellular functions ”, he explained, to delve into the delicate source of life.
No to reductionism
“I cannot fail to name the reductionist thinking and central dogmatic theory of Watson and Crick that had emphasized that genes, by themselves, make us what we are, and the 'selfish gene theory' that claimed that bodies they are only a vehicle for genes and that it was trying to explain why male lions kill the cubs of other parents (so that their genes continue) ”.
“On the other hand, Systems Biology arose in response to this extreme reductionism and focused attention not only on one part, such as the genome, but on the 'complex interaction of biological and ecological systems through genes, proteins and complex molecular pathways, which are influenced by an epigenetic layer, affected by both endogenous and exogenous systems such as nutrition, the environment, and perhaps even thoughts. ' And of course we must not forget - he added - the natural communities (group of organisms, generally of different species) and their emergent properties (size, density, distribution patterns, etc.); that they are not the result of the sum of their components, and that they are subject to selective forces ”.
For Rafael Lajmanovich, the decision of the Chamber should be understood as a "notice", because from a judicial perspective it is attending a process of billions of years that an urgent selective intervention intends to modify without more, to attribute the creation.
An intervention, of course, from multinationals whose purposes are summarized in the word profit, that is, unrelated to humanitarian, food or health purposes.
"I cannot help but remember the thought of Dr. Andrés Carrasco:‘ transgenesis directly or indirectly alters the functional state of the entire genome as demonstrated by the lability of the phenotypic response of the same genotype to the environment ’".
"In this denial of biological complexity," Lajmanovich insisted, "the presence of an essential input is perceived: the ontological dimension of the gene. And he returns to Carrasco's expressions: 'Do not reconsider this classic concept of the gene as a fundamental unit of the rigid genome conceived as a' mechano ', a predictable machine based on the sequence (classification) of genes and their products that can be manipulated without consequences, expresses the failure and the theoretical crisis of reductionist thought of 200 years' ”.
“Similarly, other scientists around the world (especially geneticists) question the genetic manipulation of organisms and their subsequent release into nature. These doubts are not only dogmatic, they are real, especially because of the much discussed (and denied) horizontal gene transfer. For example, the genetic contamination of creole corn in Mexico, due to the presence of toxins from GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in human breast milk or due to the acquisition of foreign DNA that leads to new strains of bacterial pathogens, among other examples ”.
“We are not just facing a technical legal problem. Wanting to patent plants and animals is also an ethical dilemma. In this complex reality, plagued by 'chief executives' and 'business possibilities', let us not forget that when we are dealing with a living being, however insignificant it may seem, we are facing 3,000 million years of history ", concluded the researcher of Paraná.
From the coast
In December 2012, half a dozen social groups on the coast released a 20-point document entitled "In defense of corn and life."
Let's look at the first three. 1-Declare corn (zea mays) venerable and inviolable seed of Abya Yala and the planet, substantial food for the human species. 2-Ignore any private patent or intellectual property on the seed or corn plant. 3-Fight against any norm or project that conditions individual, family and collective freedom in the planting of corn, that puts its extraordinary nutritional conditions at risk or threatens the varieties.
The basics read: “Traces of corn are known as human food grown for more than 6,000 years in Abya Yala. That there is evidence of human contribution at different times for corn to serve as food for animals and humans. That no nation of Abya Yala, no people, no family, no person, of the many who cultivated corn and made efforts so that corn continues to accompany us today have asked for a reward, or have patented the seed, but instead, for On the contrary, everyone, for thousands of years, collaborated collectively and shared the seed, the knowledge about this vegetable and offered it to the entire planet without asking for any special rights in exchange, much less claiming the exclusive property of the seed. That this appropriation is an effect of capitalism, which in the case of patents on genes already shows one of its worst destructive weapons ”.
Then the 2012 statement says: “No human being, no corporation, no remote or contemporary state can be attributed the creation of corn and therefore it is inconceivable to recognize ownership of the genetics of corn, in any of its varieties. The introduction of one gene in thousands, to keep everyone, is a clear case of usury that must be repudiated and condemned. That corn is also part of the general culture of Abya Yala, the art and beliefs of our peoples and that in one way or another the cultures and peoples of Abya Yala and the world express their gratitude and love for this wonderful vegetable".
The document is published in the book Fibras by the Gualeguaychú journalist Julio Majul. The gaze on corn is extended there to all the seeds, and it is not difficult to find a certain affinity with the court ruling, although the coastal protesters repudiate both genetic appropriation and manipulation.
Some of those same organizations published a Manifesto for Emancipation in January 2016, five centuries after Solís' landing. In a chapter titled Pachamama, he says: “Pachamama is neither bought nor sold. Our conscience is not for sale. As a consequence of this awareness, we will think of 2016 as the year of the hinge to start the jubilee process. Then the soil and life will escape from property titles and patents to return to the bosom of Pachamama, and from there to sumak kawsay, healthy food and full biodiversity ”.