Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Avast Ye Scurvy Dogs!

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Avast Ye Scurvy Dogs!

Article excerpt

Brazil's Amazon Rainforest is unrivaled in its biodiversity The jungle has the largest population of plant and animals in the world and is home to one-tenth of the globe's known species. The wealth of flora and fauna is also a goldmine for pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies that often use the forest's rare plants and animals as the basis for their products. Now, the Brazilian government is saying that if companies want to make profits off those life forms, they are going to have pay fairly for the privilege--or else suffer some hefty fines.

Last year the Brazilian government launched a new program designed to crack down on "biopiracy." The campaign aims to stop what Brazilian officials call profiteering companies that did not notify the government of their use of local species to create products. Since July 2010 the Brazilian government has levied fines of $60 million on companies that did not, as required by law, pay compensation for the use of genetic material native to Brazil. Government regulators expect that number will increase in 2011, and that companies could face cancellation of their patents in Brazil.

"Given that [fighting biopiracy] is a new process and that Brazil has one of the biggest reserves of biodiversity in the world, I think most of this activity is illegal, and we are going to find those people," says Bruno Barbosa, who heads inspections for the Brazilian environmental authority Ibama.

Barbosa says there are many examples of biopiracy in Brazil. In the 1970s, for example, pharmaceutical companies developed the hypertension medication captopril from snake venom that Indigenous groups used on arrow tips. …

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