In a decision hailed by environmental and development groups, the European
Patent Office yesterday revoked a patent granted six years ago for an
anti-fungal product derived from the neem tree, which is widely grown in
India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh and has been used for centuries to make
medicines, insect repellants, cosmetics, and contraceptives.
The scientists and activists who challenged the patent, which had been
granted to the multinational company W.R. Grace and the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, said it was a perfect example of biopiracy, or corporations
plundering the biological resources of the developing world and claiming
ownership of applications that have been known to locals for centuries.
Activists hope yesterday's decision will set an important precedent.
straight to the source: BBC News, Karen Hoggan, 05.11.00
straight to the source: BBC News, Alex Kirby, 05.05.00
source: Financial Times, 05.10.00
ECOLOGICAL DESTRUCTION AND A VERMONT FARM IN MAY
The timing is unbearable. Here on my desk in the middle of the blooming,
buzzing month of May is the best report yet on the state of the world's
ecosystems. Best not because it contains good news -- it doesn't -- but becaus
it's short and clear and blunt.
The report evaluates the health of our life support system with a simple
colored squares. Five columns across the top list the five kinds of ecosystems
from which we live -- agricultural land, coastal waters, forests, freshwater,
grazing land. Four rows down rank each of these systems according to their
ability to produce what we need from them: food and fiber, water (both quality
and quantity), and biodiversity (the support of other species). The
the squares cover a range from "excellent" to "bad."
Once glance reveals that there's no "excellent." There's one "bad" (freshwater
biodiversity) and four "poors" (ag land water quality, ag land biodiversity,
forest biodiversity, freshwater quality). Eight "fairs," only three
land production, forest production, freshwater production). Three
blank, meaning not relevant or not assessed.
That's all I can take in one dose. I sigh and wander outside, where our
twittering. Warblers migrate through in waves, barn swallows swoop for black
flies, an oriole pours forth joy from a blooming apple tree. Wow! The
an oriole is liquid gold, and then to see its brilliant orange and black agains
white blossoms! The colors on that grid may be gloomy, but the colors
little spot in Vermont are amazing.
The story isn't over yet. The planet is still full of magnificent
That oriole fortifies me to study the chart more carefully. The colors
boxes show the present state of each ecosystem. Within each box is an arrow
showing its direction of change. The arrow slopes up if the ecosystem's
capacity is increasing, down if it is decreasing, both up and down if
is mixed. Of the seventeen squares two are mixed (coastal water quality,
freshwater production). One is improving (forest production -- the
that forest plantations and natural forest cutting are increasing and
fiber scarcity in sight.) Fourteen, including forest biodiversity and water
quality and quantity, are pointing down.
That's on a global scale. These are the systems that sustain human life.
Whew! Time to go outside again.
There's some nice bottomland on this farm, one of the main reasons we
For one year we left in it alfalfa and grass, then we plowed under seven acres,
sowed a cover crop, plowed that down, picked out the big rocks, spread manure
and lime, harrowed. Stephen and Kerry, our vegetable farmers, are
now to supply 50 subscribing families with fresh-picked produce from June
through October. Next year we'll be able to certify the land as
call it "good;" we're aiming to get it up to "excellent."
The story isn't over. At least in small places people are actively building
resources instead of tearing them down.
The report was put out by a page-long list of scientists and advisors convened
by the UN Development Program, the UN Environmental Program, the World
the World Resources Institute. Just in case their grid doesn't convey the
point, these august bodies conclude in italics, "The current rate of
the long-term productive capacity of ecosystems could have devastating
implications for human development and the welfare of all species."
Dozens of groups have come to a similar conclusion over the past decade, but
somehow it hasn't sunk in. Listen to the chatter of the media, the
pronouncements of politicians, the forecasts of economists, and you
any recognition of what must be the most important fact of the present
We are undermining the systems that support all people and all
don't we even TALK about this? Why can't we FOCUS on it?
The pastures sloping up from the bottomland are that intense May green, spangle
with yellow dandelions. Our three horses and ten cows are in heaven up
We're keeping the stock count low; we'll do rotational grazing to help build
High up on the ridge the forest is light-green lace. We worry about that
forest. Acid rain falls on it. Climate change encourages the spread of pests
like the woolly adelgid, which kills hemlocks and is moving north toward
The chestnuts, elms, butternuts are already gone. Though we hope to
forest more productive, it's not possible to move a small place toward
"excellent," if systems all around are crashing down from "fair" to
The story is far from over. Life is bursting forth, pushing, throbbing, aiming
toward fertility, productivity, purity and the most astonishing beauty.
awesome force working in our direction, if we would let it do so.
(The report cited here is called "A Guide to World Resources 2000-2001: People
and Ecosystems: The Fraying Web of Life." It's available from World Resources
Institute, www.wri.org, 10 G Street NE, Washington DC 20002.)
(Donella Meadows is an adjunct professor at Dartmouth College and
the Sustainability Institute in Hartland, Vermont.)