The Coalition Against Biopiracy (CAB) hosted the 6th Captain Hook Awards ceremony at the Thirteenth Conference of the Parties (COP13) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Cancun, Mexico, on Friday 10th December 2016.
This award ceremony came as high-tech ‘digital’ biopiracy is becoming easier than ever. With the accelerating tools of genome-editing and synthetic biology, today’s biopirates no longer need to carry their booty offshore in boats and airplanes – they can swiftly upload DNA as digital sequences in one location and then recreate it as synthetic DNA on the other side of the planet. As the CBD meets to discuss what to do about Synthetic Biology it’s high time to take on the new cyberthieves of the biodiversity commons.
CAPTAIN HOOK AWARDS:
Digital Biopiracy Award – DivSeek
Divseek, a large international digital gene banking project, was given this award for facilitating wide-spread biopiracy by providing access to digital sequences of the world’s crop biodiversity without provisions for benefit-sharing.
For more information on DivSeek and the CBD see: http://www.twn.my/announcement/digital_genebanks_final_uslet.pdf
Worst Government Behaviour Award – Canada
For attempting to delete any reference to digital sequences in the text at the UN CBD COP 13, and for putting 30 million dollars into digitizing its biological collections without considering digital biopiracy implications
The Canadian Budget for 2016 provides $30 million over six years to AAFC (Agriculture and Agrifood Canada) to accelerate DNA analysis and digital recording of over 19 million specimens from its biological collections. These are collections obtained over many years and are preserved in herbariums and insect collections and culture collections by Agriculture and Agrifood Canada.
Two Faces Award – Blairo Maggi
Maggi’s ministry has adopted measures in Brazil that limit the Brazilian commitments in the CBD; instead of ratifying Nagoya Protocol they support the creation of the Legal Framework of Biodiversity which legalizes biopiracy in Brazil. This is in addition to promoting deforestation and his offensive treatment of peasants, traditional peoples and communities in Brazil.
For more information on Maggi’s legacy of deforestation in Brazil: http://www.greenpeace.org/brasil/pt/Noticias/maggi-o-bar-o-da-soja-e-tamb/
Greediest Biopirates Award – a tie – Coca Cola and Clarins.
Coca Cola for massively profiting from Stevia in their beverages while traditional growers, the Guarani groups living across Paraguay and Brazilian borders, make very little; and developing syn bio stevia with Evolva threatening the livelihoods of those farmers even further.
For more information on Coca Cola and Stevia see these two recent reports from the organization Public Eye: https://www.publiceye.ch/fileadmin/files/documents/Biodiversitaet/BD_STEVIA_REPORT_EN.pdf
Clarins for patenting African medicinal knowledge of harungana tree, selling its product for US $7000/kilo and paying $2/kilo to African farmers for dried leaves (and then for calling it “Fair Trade”).
For more information see: http://twn.my/title2/briefing_papers/No84.pdf
Most creative legal defense: The Mayan Council in Bacalar, Quintana Roo, including The Agroecology School “Educe”; The Beekeepers “Kabi Habin”; The Seeds Collective Much Kanan; and several ejidos.
They have managed to stop the plantings of transgenic soy, including legal suspensions, defending not only their livelihoods but those of the pollinators. In past years, their honey production has been rejected by European markets due to the presence of transgenic traits in the pollen, and they have suffered the collapse of thousands of hives. To resist the planting of 253 thousand hectares of transgenic soy in several states of Mexico, they are inaugurating a new legal strategy that rejects fake “consultation” process and stalls the projects. They denounce these “consultations” as a way of giving a clean alibi to destructive corporate projects in their lands.
Best peoples’ defense: People’s Permanent Tribunal – Mexico Chapter
The PPT is a long-standing people’s alternative legal process. On the issue of transgenic maize, the Tribunal ruled in favor of a total prohibition of transgenic corn in Mexico. In the sentence, they express that transgenic maize represents a “genocide strategy,” a crime against humanity. The PPT-Mexico said that the introduction of transgenic corn in Mexico will destroy a civilizational matrix that is pillar for the persistence of humankind.
CANCUN – The Coalition Against Biopiracy (CAB) hosted the 6th Captain Hook Awards ceremony at the Thirteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 13) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) on December 9, 2016. The public action in the main lobby of the Conference “celebrated” five biopirates – corporations, governments, and organizations that play a part to privatize genetic resources from Indigenous Peoples and local communities for profit – with an awards ceremony attended by civil society organizations and government delegates.
“High-tech ‘digital’ biopiracy is becoming easier than ever,” said the award’s Master of Ceremony, Captain Hook. “With the accelerating tools of genome-editing and synthetic biology, today’s biopirates no longer need to carry their booty offshore in boats and airplanes – they can upload DNA as digital sequences in one location and then recreate it as synthetic DNA on the other side of the planet.” The implications of digital sequencing is a hot topic at COP 13.
Captain Hook Awards 2016 included:
DivSeek, a large international digital gene banking project for crop diversity, was gifted the Digital Biopiracy award. “In the world of genetic information, DivSeek is working diligently to write the biopirate symphony,” says Edward Hammond of Third World Network. “DivSeek understands biopiracy perfectly clearly, and it deliberately chose to be part of the problem, not part of the solution, because it was easier.”
The Canadian Delegation at COP 13 was granted the Worst Government Behavior Award. “Canada deserves this award for attempting to delete any reference to digital sequences in the text at COP 13,” proclaimed Captain Hook. The Canadian government has also announced an investment of 30 million dollars into digitizing its biological collections without considering digital biopiracy or treaty rights implications.
Brazilian Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply Blairo Maggi was given the Two Faces Award for “saying one thing in the talks and doing another at home.” Maggi’s ministry has adopted measures in Brazil that limit the Brazilian commitments in the CBD; as one example, instead of ratifying Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing, they support the creation of the Legal Framework of Biodiversity which legalizes biopiracy in Brazil.
Finally, the Greediest Biopirate award was shared by Coca Cola and Clarins. Coca Cola, the ubiquitous soft drink, earns massive profits on its so-called ‘Coca Cola Life’ while the holders of the traditional knowledge of the sweetness of Stevia, the Guarani groups living across Paraguay and Brazilian borders, make very little. “It is true that Stevia to has a bitter sweet taste,” remarked Captain Hook. Clarins was (dis)honored with the same prize for patenting African medicinal knowledge of harungana tree and selling its product for US $7000/kilo, while only paying $2/kilo to African farmers for dried leaves. “Clarins then had the audacity to call this deal a ‘fair trade’!” Captain Hook exclaimed.
But it’s not all skulls and crossbones! The seas are also alight with beacons of hope. The ceremony also celebrated biodiversity defenders with the 2016 Cog Awards, which recognizes communities, organizations and individuals fighting against biopirates and threats to biodiversity on their land.
Tinkerbell presented the award for Most Creative Legal Defense to the Mayan Council in Bacalar, Quintana Roo, including The Agroecology School “Educe”; The Beekeepers “Kabi Habin”; The Seeds Collective Much Kanan; and several ejidos. “They received this award for halting thousands of hectares of transgenic soy in their region through an innovative legal strategy: refusing to be ‘consulted’ by the corporations,” Tinkerbell explained.
Tinkerbell also presented the Best People’s Defense to People’s Permanent Tribunal – Mexico Chapter for their 2014 ruling in favour of a total prohibition on transgenic corn in Mexico, and for declaring transgenic maize a crime against humanity.
Note to editors:
Captain Hook: Jim Thomas, +1 (514) 516-5759, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tinkerbell: Veronica Villa, +52 1 55 5432 4679, email@example.com.
Communications contacts: Trudi Zundel, +1 (226) 979-0993, firstname.lastname@example.org
More information and supporting materials for the Captain Hook and Cog Awards can be found at http://www.synbiowatch.org/captain-hook-awards-2016.
The Captain Hook Awards are put on by the Coalition Against Biopiracy, an informal group of civil society who first came together at the CBD in 1995.
 For more information on DivSeek and the CBD see: http://www.twn.my/announcement/digital_genebanks_final_uslet.pdf
 For more information on Canada’s digital sequencing project, see this article (and stay tuned for new developments) http://www.synbiowatch.org/captain-hook-awards-2016/?lores
 For more information on Brasil’s national policies and the CBD, see the Coup Against Biodiversity document circulating the COP 13 venue and distributed at the press conference today. Maggi’s promotion of deforestation and his treatment of peasants, traditional peoples and communities in Brazil see this report from Greenpeace: http://www.greenpeace.org/brasil/pt/Noticias/maggi-o-bar-o-da-soja-e-tamb/
 For more information on Coca Cola and Stevia see these two recent reports from the organization Public Eye: https://www.publiceye.ch/fileadmin/files/documents/Biodiversitaet/BD_STEVIA_REPORT_EN.pdf
Previous Captain Hook Award winners have included:
- In 2014 the UK and Canada received a “Pirates Cove” award for sheltering the syn bio industry and aggressively promoting the industry’s interests at CBD’s COP 12.
- The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) won the 2004 honour of “Worst International Convention” for proposing a new global patent system to facilitate a one-stop shop for exclusive monopolies.
- Synthetic biology pioneer Craig Venter has won the lifetime achievement award.
Previous Cog Awards have honoured:
- In 2008, the “Best Organized Advocacy” Award was given to Filipino / Philippine civil society organizations, fisherfolk and individuals who stood up for the Sulu Sea
- Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer, won the 2004 honour of “Best Advocate” for defending Farmers’ Rights in the field and the courts
- COMPITCH and other indigenous peoples’ organizations in Mexico won in 2002 for defeating the US government’s $2.5 million bioprospecting project in Chiapas.
See here for full lists of previous winners.
For the first time, the Oxford English Dictionary now includes “biopiracy,” The OED defines “biopiracy” as “bioprospecting, regarded as a form of exploitation of developing countries.”
Biopiracy refers to the monopolization of genetic resources such as seeds and genes taken from the peoples or farming communities that have nurtured those resources. It also refers to the theft of traditional knowledge from those cultures.
Today the main source of biopiracy occurs by corporations, academic institutes and governments claiming intellectual property over genetic resources – patents on life (eg gene patents) or claiming plant breeders rights. The introduction of new biotechnologies such as genetic engineering has facilitated a new wave of biopiracy.
With the advent of nanotechnology ownership of nature has now reached a more fundamental level. As well as gene sequences, nanopirates are claiming ownership of the molecules and even the elements that everything is made from.
Meanwhile the culture industry has been commercially exploiting the art, culture, language and symbols of indigenous cultures – often claiming trademarks on knowledge which they have stolen.
For some Biopiracy only refers to the unauthorised and illegal theft of knowledge and resources, claiming that legal bioprospecting agreements can be worked out to share commercial benefits. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) takes the view that agreements can be made on “access and benefit sharing” to overcome biopiracy. Many Indigenous groups disagree:
“Contractual benefit sharing is like waking up in the middle of the night to find your house being robbed. On the way out the door, the thieves tell you not to worry because they promise to give you a share of whatever profit they make selling what used to belong to you.” – Alejandro Argumedo, Quechua activist
Check out wikipedia’s definition of Biopiracy
For an introduction to Biopiracy and the state of global discussions check out this briefing from ETC Group