Nestle accused of SA bio-piracy
Multinational food giant Nestlé has been accused of bio-pirating South Africa's genetic resources.
Five recent patent applications by Nestlé on the use of Rooibos and Honeybush had been in conflict with both South African law and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Swiss non-governmental organisation the Berne Declaration, and non-profit environmental organisation Natural Justice said.
"This second bio-piracy case in South Africa in less than a year again demonstrates how big corporations neglect their obligations to seek prior informed consent and to share benefits when using genetic resources from the developing countries as obliged by the CBD," they said in a joint statement.
Four of the five patents in question related to the use of Rooibos and Honeybush for the treatment of certain hair and skin conditions, they said.
Another patent claimed the use of Rooibos for the preparation of a product to prevent inflammatory disorders.
"The claims are very broad and subsequently applicable to a product range that stretches from cappuccino to salad dressing and from toothpaste to lipstick."
The applicant for the patents was Nestec SA, a subsidiary of Nestlé.
Rooibos and Honeybrush
Rooibos and Honeybush are endemic to the South African Western and Eastern Cape provinces and both plants have a long tradition of use in the region, also for related medicinal purposes.
According to the SA Biodiversity Act - which implemented the CBD in South Africa - a company needs a permit from the government to research with commercial intent, or patent the use of, genetic resources occurring in South Africa.
"Such a permit can only be obtained if a benefit-sharing agreement has been negotiated," said the Berne Declaration and Natural Justice.
"The department of environmental affairs of SA confirmed to Natural Justice and the Berne Declaration that Nestlé has never received the permits to use these South African genetic resources."
It was clear the patents of Nestlé and the research on which they were based contradicted South Africa law and the CBD.
Nestlé held a 30.5 percent participation in L'Oréal (the biggest cosmetic producer worldwide) and 50 percent in Innéov, a joint venture with L'Oréal, "which could explain the company's interest in skin and hair care products".
The organisations claimed that Nestlé had built its new business on "illegally accessed material," precluding South Africans of their rightful share of benefits.
"Such illegal behaviour must no longer be supported by the patent system and tolerated by our governments," said François Meienberg, a member of the management board of the Berne Declaration.
Nestlé was not able to comment immediately.