Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on
ag-biotech.


Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives

Subscribe

 


SEARCH:     

Date:

October 17, 2000

Subject:

'Golden Rice' Creator Potrykus Responds to RAFI's Criticism

 

Open letter to Hope Shand and RAFI in response to their press release on
"Golden Rice" from October 13.

Dear Mrs Shand,

it is unfortunate that you did not contact the inventors before producing
the press release. It contains, therefore, unnecessary wrong information,
which I have now the task to put right again. As I stated in public at the
World Food Prize Symposium I share your motivation to improve the lives of
the poor in developing countries, and I even share much of your concerns
with regards to the role of industry and pubic research in plant
biotechnology are playing. We only differ in our approaches to ensure that
as much benefit as possible from the new technology is reaching the
underprivileged. I do not beleive that attacking industry and patents will
be very helpfull. Getting help from industry and making best possible use
of the patents offers, probably, a better chance to serve those we both
want to help, you as an NGO representative, and I as a scientist.

In your press release you complain that we "surrendered" "unnecessarily"
Golden Rice to industry, that this has to be investigated and reversed.
This view could not be wronger and a reversion would do more harm to the
subsistance farmers. The inventors did not "surrender" they actively
saught support for their task, making "Golden Rice" available to
subsistance farmers free of charge and limitations. We had a deadline of
April 1999 because we wanted the commercial partner to also take care of
the application of the International Patent. Why did we need to involve a
commercial partner? Because "Golden Rice" also needs a commercial basis to
reach the urban poor. Why do we need a patent? Because only then we can
ensure, that nobody interfers with our task. We were glad that we could
come to an agreement with Zeneca which 100% supports our humanitarian
task, because we even had legal obligation to involve Zeneca: the
development of "Golden Rice" was also using funds from the Eurpean
Commission to Peter Beyer. In the last three years of ist development it
was part of an EU-consortium in the Fourth Framework Program. Funds are
only avalable if there is a commercial partner. This was Zeneca. Zeneca
had, therefore, legal rights on the Golden Rice. It did not play this
card, but it could have done so. Rather it agreed in a very generous
solution for the "humanitarian use", $ 10'000 gain from "Golden Rice" per
unit involving also local and national opportunities for commerce. And it
is taking every effort to support the humanitarian use. Why are you upset
if in return Zeneca is trying to make profit from developing a commercial
"Golden Rice", which even also will have benefits for the poor not
directly linked to subsistance farmers? Could you not agree that it is
neither fair nore wise to blame industry for working for profit? This is
for what they are there. If you want to blame biotechnology for not
helping with the problems of the poor, you should blame public research.
Public research has the freedom to invest in research from which a
financial return can not be expected. To come back to the excample of the
EU funding. I consider it neither fair nore wise to force public research
into coalitions with industry. Now lets turn to the patent problematic. I
understand your anger about the situation which puts public research into
total depency of those who have patented the basic technologies. I too was
most upset when I realized that despite the fact that "Golden Rice" was
developed without industry support and within public research, I would
need permission from numerous holders of intellectual and technical
property rights. I was even motivated to join those who are fighting
against patenting in plant biotechnology – until I thaught it little bit
deeper and realized, that I was able to develop "Golden Rice" only because
there were patents and consequently all the information available publicly
which otherwise would have remained company secret. I, therefore, beleive
that we serve the underprivileged better if we work towards a better use
of intellectual property right, were better means free use for
humanitarian projects in developing countries. Exactly this has been the
task of a satelite meeting at the World Food Prize, and it is unfortunate
that you were not invited. This meeting demonstrated that there is a lot
of good will in agbotech companies to accept this task and to make
"enabling technologies" available for food security projects in developing
countries. What also became obvous was that the majorstumbling blocks for
this attempt are not the IPR/TPR’s in the hand of industry, but those in
the hands of universities. The participants of this workshop, both from
industry and public research, and from developed and developing countries
agreed on a statement which reads as follows: "In response to concerns
about food security, we encourage universities and industry to work
together to form a mechanism to facilitate sharing of enabling
technologies in agricultural biotechnology for humanitarian needs." For
more information please contact prakash@tusk.edu.

Finally to the question whether the financial resources have been properly
used and unduely "surrendered" to industry. The project was financed with
funds from The Rockefeller Foundation, the Swiss Federation, and the
European Union. We have already discussed the latter and have done exactly
what was expected. Concerning the funds from Rockefeller, the conditions
are that results must be freely available for subsistance farmers in
developing countries. Again, exactly this is the case, and we have
additional support for this from industry. The funds from the Swiss
Federation were for "basic research", with the requirement that they
should be used for competitive science. This was, again, the case. The
achievement was scientifically remarkable. That I tried to use the funds
for both, competitive science and contribution for food security in
developing countries was my personal and free decision. I could have used
the same funds for studying why the hairs on the leaves of the small weed
Arabidopsis thaliana are sometimes 2- and sometimes 3-forked. From your
press release I can conclude that you beleive that "Golden Rice" has a
chance to releive many poor from severe ilness and even death, and that it
is, therefore, important that it reaches the poor without industry
intervention. If I would have studied the leaf hairs I would not have any
problems with you, and Greenpeace, and other opponents. Again, I am
afraid, you are addressing the wrong, if you want that the poor will
benefit from biotechnology. Your actions are not encourageing other
scientists to contribute to this goal, they are heavily discourageing. In
the interest of the disadvantaged we should not fight, but we should try
to collaborate on the ground of common motivation

------------------------

Here is the statement from RAFI that provoked the above response from Dr.
Potrkus
---
From: Rural Advancement Foundation Intl
Subject: News Release from RAFI
Bcc:
Original-recipient: rfc822;prakash@tusk.edu


RAFI News Release
Thursday, October 12 2000

Update on Trojan Trade Reps, Golden Rice,
and the Search for Higher Ground

"Golden" Goosed?

The Golden Rice AstraZeneca saga is a case study in public science's
failure to understand and address patent issues. In justifying their
surrender of Vitamin A enriched GM rice to the giant corporation, the
researchers claim they couldn't navigate the 70+ intellectual and tangible
property conflicts that could potentially scuttle their work. There are
likely no more than 11 - and possibly as few as 4, patent conflicts and
one outstanding tangible property issue. A public sector group -
including the people Golden Rice is intended to help - should meet to
debate all the options and alternatives. The contract and the events
surrounding it should be investigated.

When shareholders confirm this week that the agricultural divisions of
AstraZeneca and Novartis will indeed merge under the new name, "Syngenta,"
they will probably be talking more about their market prospects for GM
crops in the North than about the needs of poor farmers and malnourished
consumers in the South. More of the discussion will be about the
opportunities created with the coming together of the two enterprises'
Terminator and Traitor patents than about Vitamin A deficiency in Asia.
But, according to RAFI's Research Director, Hope Shand, "Syngenta had
better be giving some serious thought to its deal on Golden Rice - and
quickly, or they could have a major embarrassment on their hands."

Laying a not-so-Golden Egg: "The deal struck by Potrykus and Beyer (the
Swiss and German scientists who developed Golden Rice) with AstraZeneca
was totally unnecessary," Shand insists. "It should be thoroughly
investigated by the public institutions who funded the research." News
that Golden Rice, a GM rice containing Vitamin A enrichment genes, was
showing promise first surfaced in January. By April, however, the
financial backers of the research - including the Rockefeller Foundation,
the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and the European Union - were
letting it be known that commercialization of the work in countries with
Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) could run afoul of between 70 and 105 patents,
licenses, and Material Transfer Agreements (MTAs - agreements governing
technical property such as germplasm) controlled by more than 30 public
and private institutes. Their alarm appears to have been kindled by a
study the Rockefeller Foundation commissioned from ISAAA!
(International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications -
a bio-broker with offices in the UK, USA, and the Caribbean). The patent
search was conducted on behalf of the International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, spurred by concerns that if it
adopted Golden Rice it might be sued by other patent-holders. Despite
their shock as to the number of potential intellectual property conflicts,
the donors were stunned on May 16th when the two researchers independently
signed a deal with AstraZeneca turning over the future development of
Golden Rice to the Gene Giant. The agreement was negotiated through
another biotech bargainer, Greenovations, which is a spin-off of the
University of Frieburg where one of the inventors has his lab. In return
for exclusive monopoly control of Golden Rice in the North and in sales to
larger farmers in the South, AstraZeneca agreed to make the technology
freely available to the South's poor farmers. At the time, !
Beyer and Potrykus told the media that the dizzying muddle of conflicting
intellectual property claims necessitated the deal. Aside from clearing
away intellectual property hurdles, AstraZeneca will also undertake
additional research related to the environmental and health issues
surrounding Golden Rice before releasing seeds to the market, they
suggest, sometime around 2003. At the time of the deal, some of the
donors were actively exploring public sector avenues for completing this
work in Australia, Asia, and Europe. All of the donors were apparently
aware that the inventors were considering commercial options but did not
expect an agreement to be reached unilaterally or so quickly. Their
public sector efforts came to an abrupt halt. Nine years and millions of
dollars of public funding were surrendered to a multinational corporation.

The media continued to talk of the gaggles of patents and haggles of
licensing from May through August. On August 3rd, Monsanto, which had
jettisoned its own rice programme some months earlier, garnered cheap
publicity by proclaiming that its warehouse of rice-related patents would
be licensed gratis to the Golden Rice project. The next day, Potrykus told
the Washington Post, "I consider the Monsanto offer important because I
can now use this case to tell other companies, 'Look, Monsanto is giving
me a free license. Won't you do the same?' It's an important first
example." It now appears that only one Monsanto patent is a factor in
most countries in the South that have high levels of Vitamin A deficiency.

Potrykus' comments beg the question: Why didn't the public researchers,
backed by their donors, attempt to clear possible patent constraints
before striking a deal with AstraZeneca?

At the beginning of September, AstraZeneca let it be known that as few as
four patents and two MTAs might have to be negotiated. RAFI now
understands that only one MTA continues to be a problem.

Counting Eggs Before They Hatch: At the beginning of October, RAFI
received a copy of ISAAA's IP audit on Golden Rice. The ISAAA study
identifies 70 patents and 16 technical property constraints (MTAs and
other licenses) that could have implications for Golden Rice
commercialization. RAFI's review of the claims indicates that no more than
11 patents potentially complicate the completion of the project. RAFI's
analysis focuses on the 60 countries that are designated by the World
Health Organization (WHO) as having clinical or severe levels of Vitamin A
deficiency.

* Although there are technically 70 patents, many of the same patents are
replicated with different codes in the United States and the European
Patent Office. In fact, there are only 44 patents applicable in any one
country.

* Of the 44 patents, 26 are for process claims. These patents are not
applicable if the product using the process is made in a country where the
patent does not apply.

* Of the 60 countries that suffer the most serious levels of VAD, 35
countries recognize no patents related to Golden Rice.

* Of the 25 VAD countries where Golden Rice patents have been recognized,
only a dozen patents are actually relevant.

* Of the 12 patents that are recognized in VAD countries, 7 patents are
held by four Gene Giants (AstraZeneca -1; Aventis - 2; Monsanto - 1; and
DuPont - 3 though the 3 DuPont claims are all identical). One patent -
recognized only in Mexico (of the VAD countries) is held by Yissum
Research & Development Co. - a biotech company spin-off of the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem. The remaining 4 patents are held by four public
sector institutions (University of Maryland; Centre National - France;
National Research Council of Canada; University of California).

* But, only 12 countries have VAD and consume rice in sufficient quantity
to make them potential targets for introducing Golden Rice. Of these 12
countries, 6 have no patent conflicts for the production of Golden Rice.

* At most, 11 patents can be considered a constraint to the project.

In sorting out the ownership conundrum, three points become clear. First,
only a very small percentage of the patents are relevant for the poor
countries suffering the most from Vitamin A deficiency. Second, only a few
patents held by the private sector actually conflict with the further
development of Golden Rice for the South. Of the four companies with
patents, two - Monsanto and Astra Zeneca - have already agreed to royalty
free licensing, leaving only two other major players, Aventis and Dupont
to agree to the same. Third, the abuse of MTAs as a market weapon to
frustrate scientific advances has been underestimated and is in urgent
need of examination.

Trojan Trade Reps? "The researchers appear to have surrendered a decade
of public funding to the commercial and PR interests of the biotech
industry," notes Julie Delahanty of RAFI, "The threat of a plethora of
industry patents that had no relevance to the development of Golden Rice
turned the project into a "Trojan Trade Rep" for northern industry's
campaign to impose their IP rules on the world." Even though poor
countries have every legal right to utilize any technology not patented
within their territories - pressure from industry seems to have convinced
public science - and its funders - that they had to negotiate access to
all the patents in order to develop Golden Rice.

RAFI believes that a number of questions need to be answered in order for
the public to have confidence in any ongoing research related to Golden
Rice:
* What were the terms and conditions of the contract with AstraZeneca?
Were there other related arrangements between any of the parties involved
in Golden Rice research and funding?

* What was the substance of the initial report made by ISAAA on Golden
Rice prior to the publication of its later document in September? How
many conflicts did it identify and what was its advice? Why didn't ISAAA
researchers give a more accurate and transparent IP audit - taking into
account the rather limited number of IP constraints for most poor
countries?

* What is the commercial potential for Golden Rice in the North and among
larger farmers in the South? In other words, what market was surrendered
to AstraZeneca?

Action Needed: RAFI, along with many other civil society organizations,
is increasingly skeptical about the public health and environmental safety
aspects of any GM crop. A great deal more research will be needed in
these areas as well as a full examination of the socio-economic impact and
other alternatives, before Golden Rice can be considered. RAFI believes
that there are other more cost-effective strategies for addressing
micronutrient deficiencies in the South that not only meet human needs but
also promote - not restrict - biological diversity. RAFI also believes
that the technological and public relations disaster surrounding GM seeds
is continuing into biotech's second and third generations. As a
Generation Three product, Golden Rice requires forensic scrutiny since it
is aimed directly at poor consumers - in the centre of genetic diversity
of the world's most important food crop.

RAFI recommends three initiatives:

1. The public sector funders who supported this research should form a
consortium to conduct an immediate investigation of the events leading up
to the contract with AstraZeneca.

2. The funders, in cooperation with the Consultative Group on
International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) should discuss mechanisms that
could allow the issue of public scientific research and intellectual
property conflicts to be addressed to the Office of the High Commissioner
for Human Rights in the United Nations and the International Court of
Justice.

3. The consortium of donors should invite concerned organizations -
especially organizational representatives of the poor farmers and
consumers who are the focus of Golden Rice research - to meet and discuss
not only Golden Rice but the wider issue of meeting the micro-nutrient
needs of malnourished peoples. Hopefully, such a meeting would lead to a
renewed and collective commitment to address this issue. Whether or not
Golden Rice is seen as part of the problem or part of the solution would
be for the meeting to decide. Astra Zeneca (now Syngenta) should
immediately surrender its exclusive rights to the public sector, if this
meeting asks it to do so. The company should also assure the public that
its own intellectual property claims will not interfere with the research
or its final commercialization - if the work should eventually be
acceptable for marketing.

Searching for Higher Ground: RAFI will continue to follow this issue
closely in the months ahead. "We don't want to suggest that patent
conflicts are not a major problem. They are." Hope Shand concludes. "But
the only clear intellectual property claim right now comes from ISAAA
which has applied for a trademark on the name Golden Rice." "The clear
conclusion," Julie Delahanty adds, "is that the public sector has not been
facing up to the complex issues and moral dilemmas associated with
intellectual property. It's time they got their head out of the sand and
looked around before it's too late."

(For further background, see RAFI Genotypes On Golden Pawns, June 20,
2000, RAFI News Release "Patent Evils Threaten Public Goods," September 7,
2000, and RAFI Occasional Paper, In Search of Higher Ground, September 7,
2000, all available at http://www.rafi.org). RAFI will soon be publishing
a Communique on the Golden Rice deal that will be posted on our website.


For further information:
Hope Shand,RAFI, hope@rafi.org
Julie Delahanty, RAFI, julie@rafi.org

RAFI (The Rural Advancement Foundation International) is an international
civil society organization based in Canada. RAFI is dedicated to the
conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and to the socially
responsible development of technologies useful to rural societies. RAFI is
concerned about the loss of agricultural biodiversity, and the impact of
intellectual property on farmers and food security.

To add or remove your name from the RAFI listserver, please go to
www.rafi.org and then "Sign Up" where you will be given the choice of
adding or removing your name.