Cog Awards 2004

The Winners of the 2004 Cog Awards, for opposing biopiracy...
(Cogs were ships designed to repel pirate attacks.)

Best Advocate

Percy Schmeiser, Canadian farmer

For defending Farmers' Rights, for courageously speaking out against bioserfdom and for refusing to yield to Monsanto's strong-arm tactics in the field and in the courts. Monsanto argues that, under Canadian patent law, as in the US and many other industrialized countries, it is illegal for farmers to re-use patented seed, or to grow Monsanto's genetically modified (GM) seed without signing a licensing agreement. In 1998 Monsanto initiated a lawsuit against Percy Schmeiser, accusing him of illegally using the company's patented GM canola seed. Schmeiser, who has been farming for over 50 years, maintains his innocence. Schmeiser claims he did not buy Monsanto's patented seed, nor did he obtain the seed illegally. Pollen from genetically engineered canola seeds blew onto his land from neighboring farms or passing trucks. (Percy Schmeiser's neighbors and an estimated 40% of farmers in Western Canada were growing GM canola at the time). Refusing to be intimidated or silenced by mighty Monsanto, Schmeiser has spent the past five years eloquently defending the rights of farmers worldwide.

The Federal Court of Canada ruled against Percy Schmeiser in 2001, concluding that he was guilty of infringing Monsanto's patent. The Federal Court of Appeal upheld that ruling in 2002. Schmeiser has appealed the case to the Canadian Supreme Court. Oral arguments were heard in January 2004 and a court ruling is expected later this year.

No matter what the outcome, the Canadian Supreme Court ruling will have far-reaching implications for farming communities and democracy around the world. Will farmers be forced to pay royalties on GM seeds found on their land, even if they didn't buy the seeds, or seek to benefit from them by using proprietary companion chemicals? Will farm communities, rather than the Gene Giants, be forced to accept liability for contamination from genetically modified crops?

Best Peoples' Defense - Joint Winners:

Peruvian Coalition Against Biopiracy in the Andes

For organizing a coalition of indigenous peoples' and farmers' organizations in 2002 to oppose patent claims by US-based PureWorld, Inc. on maca (Lepidium meyeni), a traditional Andean food and medicinal crop cultivated by Quechua peoples for millennia. The Coalition is demanding that the company abandon its predatory patents, and has requested that the Lima-based International Potato Center develop a clear policy to prohibit intellectual property claims - not just on seeds and genetic material held in its gene bank, but also on traditional knowledge of indigenous communities. Members of the Coalition have also formally requested that the World Intellectual Property Organization investigate the patents as an assault on traditional knowledge:

"Our communities are deeply offended by the use of monopoly patents that are predatory on the innovation and traditional knowledge of our people. We do not believe in the use of patents to claim ownership and monopoly control of maca, maca-based products, or traditional knowledge related to these products. The PureWorld patent, US Patent No. 6,267,995, is morally offensive to our communities, and to our way of thinking."

In response to the coalition's demands, the Peruvian government has established a "national working group" on biopiracy. However, the working group fails to include membership from relevant indigenous peoples' organizations or the Peruvian Coalition Against Biopiracy, and, so far, the egregious patent on maca has not been formally challenged.

Best Peoples' Defense - Joint Winners:

Mexican indigenous communities and peasant farmers

For protesting the Mexican government's and the CGIAR's failure to act on the contamination of farmers' traditional maize by genetically modified DNA. It has been over two years since the first scientific evidence became public, showing that traditional maize grown by farmers in Mexico is contaminated with DNA from genetically modified maize - despite a prohibition on the planting of GM seeds in Mexico. In October 2003 peasant farmers and indigenous communities along with civil society organizations in Mexico publicly released the initial results of genetic tests on maize grown by traditional farmers in 138 communities. Tests are ongoing, but the initial results show that contamination has spread to farmers' field in nine Mexican states.

Although GM contamination has been known to exist for more than two years in Mexico, neither governments nor international institutions have taken action to stop GM contamination and to protect farmers' and indigenous peoples' livelihoods.

In November 2003 an open letter signed by 302 organizations from 56 countries was sent to Mexican government authorities and intergovernmental bodies, demanding that actions be taken to stop contamination of farmers' maize with DNA from genetically modified (GM) maize, and to prevent any further contamination in the world's centers of crop diversity and origin. The Convention on Biological Diversity, in cooperation with other international organizations, is asked to publicly acknowledge that GM maize contamination has taken place in Mesoamerica and that genetic pollution poses a potentially serious threat to biological diversity, particularly in crop centers of origin and/or diversity. The letter asks that the CBD call for an immediate moratorium on the release of genetically modified seed or grain in those countries or regions that form part of the crop centres of origin and/or diversity. In cooperation with other international organizations, the CBD must also develop and adopt comprehensive strategies to stop contamination and protect the integrity of farmers' crop genetic diversity.

"Lone Voice in the Belly-of-the-Beast" Award

Michael Meacher, former UK Environment Minister (sacked in 2003)

For having fought against biopiracy and in support of Farmers' Rights, while advocating from within one of the most pro-biotech administrations in the world. In a speech given to the UK Food Group on World Food Day, 2003 Meacher called for food sovereignty, Farmers' Rights, and reform of corporate governance.

Best Legal Defense - Joint Winners:

The Institut Curie, Institut Gustave-Roussy, and the Assistance Publique - H˘pitaux de Paris (France) with the support of many European research organizations and Ministers of Health

For opposing US-based Myriad Genetics' European patents on breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility genes, which cover all diagnostic and therapeutic treatments based on their proprietary gene sequences, BRCA1 and BRCA2. Because exclusive monopolies on breast and ovarian cancer genes will jeopardize public health and stifle research, European medical organizations are challenging three of Myriad's patents at the European Patent Office. Opposition is led by French medical organizations (the Institute Curie, Institut Gustave Roussy and Assistance Publique-H˘pitaux de Paris) with support from the Dutch and Austrian health ministries as well as research organizations throughout Europe.

Best Legal Defense

Greenpeace International, Misereor, the Mexican government and other concerned parties

For challenging, in May 2001, Dupont's patent on all maize varieties with higher oil and oleic acid content - including traditional maize varieties. Granted by the European Patent Office in August 2000, EP 0744888 B1 covered "Corn grains and products with improved oil composition," the result of plant breeding done at Iowa State University and the University of Illinois (USA). After a challenge made by Greenpeace and Misereor, and letters from the Mexican Government, the European Patent Office reviewed the opposition in February 2003 and announced the revocation of the patent on February 12, 2003.

According to Alejandro Nadal, Mexican economist at Colegio de Mexico and expert witness who attended the opposition hearing at the EPO in Munich on February 12, 2003, "The case was a victory against biopiracy and demonstrates that many companies are monopolizing farmers' varieties through patents. However, it's important to note that Dupont has applied for the same patent in more than 30 countries. In Europe alone Dupont has over 200 pending patent applications on varieties based on farmers' resources and collective knowledge."