"An Enemy of Indigenous Peoples": The Case of Loren Miller, COICA, the Inter-American Foundation and the Ayahuasca Plant

By Knight, Danielle | Multinational Monitor, June 1998 | Go to article overview

"An Enemy of Indigenous Peoples": The Case of Loren Miller, COICA, the Inter-American Foundation and the Ayahuasca Plant


Knight, Danielle, Multinational Monitor


Indigenous groups are planning a legal battle against the patent claims of a U.S. pharmaceutical corporation on an Amazonian plant, ayahuasca, the main ingredient in an indigenous ceremonial drink.

Charging that the patent was improperly issued, indigenous groups plan to challenge the claim at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, with the help of two Washington-based organizations, the Center for International Environmental Law and the Coalition for Amazonian Peoples and their Environment.

"The objective is the annulment of the ayahuasca patent and to teach international bio-pirates a lesson," says Rodolfo Asar, director of the Ecuador-based Coordinating Body for Indigenous Organizations in the Amazon (COICA), an organization representing over 400 indigenous groups from eight different countries.

PATENT PLUNDER

The conflict over the plant began more than 10 years ago, when Loren Miller, director of the small California-based International Plant Medicine Corporation, took a sample of a medicinal plant cultivated by an indigenous community in Ecuador.

After Miller returned to California, he obtained a patent from the U.S. government in 1986, claiming a new plant variety, which gave him exclusive rights to sell and breed new varieties from the plant.

While U.S. patent law requires the person requesting the patent to be the original breeder of the new plant variety, indigenous groups argue that the plant is widely used throughout the region and that Miller did nothing to the plant to improve it. Therefore, they say, he cannot claim to bc the "inventor" of the plant, and is thus not eligible for a patent.

The perceived theft of ayahuasca is especially disturbing to indigenous groups because the vine, also known as yage, is held sacred by many indigenous communities. It has been cultivated throughout the Amazon rainforest since the preColombian era for religious ceremonies and medicinal purposes.

"Only shamans are authorized to prepare it and no member of the community can drink it without the guidance of a shaman," says Augustin Grefa, a leader of the Rio Blanco community, which is located 350 kilometers east of Quito, Ecuador.

"Miller committed an offense against indigenous peoples for his benefit," says Antonia Jacanamijoy, the general coordinator of COICA.

"We would like to believe that, as the millennium is ending, so is the time of paternalism, protection and colonial practices - but it seems that we have the sin of optimism," Jacanamijoy says. "Commercializing an ingredient of the religious ceremonies and of healing for our people is a real affront for the over 400 cultures that populate the Amazon basin."

Miller says he was given a sample of the plant by an indigenous community in Ecuador, but he refuses to identify the community on the grounds that he wants to protect residents from COICA, which he has called a terrorist organization that ruined the reputation of his business.

Environmental groups and COICA say that, because the plant is cultivated throughout the region, no single group could have authority to give Miller permission to take the plant for the purpose of patenting it. Even if a community did give Miller permission to take the plant, however, the longstanding, broad use of the plant should invalidate his patent claim.

Miller - who refuses to speak with reporters - has ignored repeated requests to give up the patent, arguing that he is acting in accordance with U.S. law, according to environmental groups.

According to the actual patent, Miller's small corporation is working on developing psychiatric and cardiac drugs from the plant. If Miller decided to market these drugs, under U.S. law he would need a separate patent. The current patent is only applicable to selling plant varieties, not engineered drugs, from the plant.

While no samples of the plant have been commercially sold by Miller, other companies and individuals freely advertise ayahuasca on the internet. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

"An Enemy of Indigenous Peoples": The Case of Loren Miller, COICA, the Inter-American Foundation and the Ayahuasca Plant
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.