Tuesday, May 07, 2002

And now for a tale of big government run amok on an international scale; biologists who advocated a biodiversity treaty are now paralyzed by its red tape, complaining that "in many tropical regions, it is easier to cut a forest than to study it."

The situation the article describes, with scientists held up for months or years just trying to figure out what the relevant bureaucratic procedures are, is ridiculous --- but the Times gives the advocates of hidebound bureaucracy and statist regulation less credit than they deserve for trying to solve a legitimate problem. It points out that medical exploitation of third-world flora has been a disappointment, but doesn't say much about agriculture, where "biopiracy" has been more of a practical concern; in 1997, a U.S. company, Ricetec, obtained a patent on Indian Basmati rice, originally including the Basmati name and even native varieties developed through centuries of breeding by Indian farmers. (In 2001, the PTO cancelled all patent claims except those related to strains specifically developed by RiceTec).


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