Brazil to step up crackdown on ‘biopiracy’ in 2011

RIO DE JANEIRO, (Reuters) – Brazil plans to expand a  crackdown on companies that patent products made from rare  plants and animals without adequately compensating the South  American country or its indigenous communities.

The fight against “biopiracy” has won the support of  indigenous communities and defenders of the Amazon rain forest  who say corporations unfairly benefit from medicine and other  products derived from Brazil’s exotic plants, poisonous snakes  or brightly colored frogs.

But the effort has sparked criticism that it slows crucial  scientific research and arbitrarily targets entrepreneurs that  could develop environmentally sustainable businesses.

Brazil has levied more than 100 million reais ($59 million)  in fines since July on companies charged with not paying fair  compensation for the use of genetic material native to Brazil,  said Bruno Barbosa, who heads inspection for the environmental  oversight agency Ibama. Next year, officials will begin pursuing companies that did  not notify the government of their use of local species to  create products such as pharmaceuticals, as required by law,  meaning fines will likely go up.

“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’re  going to find those people,” he said.

Barbosa says examples of biopiracy abound, such as the  development in the 1970s of the hypertension medication  captopril from a snake venom that indigenous groups used on  arrowhead tips.

Pharmaceuticals companies also used the yellow-and-green  Kambo frog, found in Brazil’s Amazon state of Acre, to create  anti-inflammatory drugs without distributing benefits to local  residents, he said. Many of these incidents came before a 2001  decree that created the current rules governing species use.

The government this year stepped up the anti-biopiracy  effort with a campaign known as “Operation New Direction” that  aims to crack down on what it calls profiteering.

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