The Future Control of Food: A Guide to International Negotiations and Rules on Intellectual Property, Biodiversity, and Food Security

By Geoff Tansey; Tasmin Rajotte | Go to book overview

Preface

Intellectual property (IP) rights are a source of hidden wealth worth trillions of dollars, and they impose
hidden costs on the same scale. The rules of intellectual property range from confusing to nearly incomprehen 
sible, and the professional practitioners who manage these rights sometimes seem to belong to a secret society.
… The IP system also determines when and how an innovation becomes available for others to use by defin 
ing boundaries around what is accessible and what is not. Intellectual property rights help determine which
innovations are widely available and which are closed off, separating innovation haves from have-nots. …
Ever-stronger intellectual property protection is surely not a panacea to promote technology progress and
wellbeing in all countries and industries … intellectual property creates winners and losers and on balance it
helps in some situations, hurts in others … intellectual property shapes society – whether for better or for
worse.

MICHAEL A. GOLLIN FROM Driving Innovation: Intellectual Property Strategies
for a Dynamic World (Cambridge University Press, 2008)

In today's world, access to food is highly, and unacceptably, uneven. There is massive overproduction and over-consumption, and yet millions experience scarcity and hunger. This book looks at some of the forces and rules shaping the food system and who has control over it. In particular, it focuses on rules on intellectual property – for example patents, plant breeders' rights, trademarks and copyright – and their relations to other rules on biodiversity, an essential requirement for food security. It looks through the lens of intellectual property (IP) at the future control of food and farming, because rules on IP are central to struggles over the distribution of wealth and power in the 21st century.

When, from the 16th century onwards, the colonial powers reorganized the world to suit their economic interests, drew up state boundaries and secured resources for their use, they set the stage for trade patterns and future conflicts that still ring around the planet. Today, the colonies are mostly gone and there are around 200 nation states, yet through a series of quite unbalanced negotiations among these states, the most powerful countries are still able to shape the rules of the world in their interests. Nowadays, their concerns include intangibles like IP and the use of genetic resources. The new international rules on these, agreed since the early 1990s, will do much to shape the future control of food. Yet these often complex and remote negotiations are little known or influenced by the billions of people who will be affected by them. This book is a guide to both the negotiations and these new global rules. At stake are the livelihoods of 2.5 billion people still directly dependent on agriculture and the long-term food security of us all. The IP regime, a new factor in many countries, along with a changing trade regime and new agreements on biodiversity, will help shape the kind of agricultural development in the future. It may include most of these 2.5 billion people, or it may exclude them. Either way their livelihoods will be affected. Moreover, all of us will be affected by the way these rules are written, since they will also help shape the food system, the kind of products it produces and the structures through which it delivers them. It is

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