Brazil fines 35 firms US$44 million for biopiracy

Some companies have not been sharing the benefits of exploiting Brazil's biodiversity Copyright: Flickr/Branto

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[SÃO PAULO] A Brazilian government agency responsible for natural resources has fined 35 companies for not sharing benefits from exploitation of the country’s biodiversity.

The decision follows official complaints filed by the Genetic Heritage Department of the Brazilian Ministry of Environment to the agency in charge, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama).

Ibama announced earlier this month (6 July) that 35 different companies were responsible of 220 violations of the national law on biodiversity, totaling 88 million Brazilian reals (around US$44 millions) in fines. Most of the fined companies are Brazil-based cosmetic and pharmaceutical multinationals.

Some of the companies were fined for not sharing financial benefits from the exploitation of Brazil’s biodiversity, and others for falsely claiming that they did share the benefits, according to Ibama.

Brazil’s national law on biodiversity stipulates that benefit-sharing resulting from the exploration of biodiversity can include: the sharing of profits or payment of royalties; technology transfer; and the training of people in the region from which a resource has been taken.

Natália Milanezi, from Ibama’s Board of Environmental Protection and the person in charge of the operation, said that companies that do not comply with the law are causing huge injuries to the Brazil’s economy and are practicing biopiracy.

"Unfortunately, biopiracy is still not a crime, despite several bills in the congress trying to make it [such]," she told SciDev.Net.

Although the operation to control institutions that are evading benefit-sharing started in 2010 and several researchers and universities have been warned or fined since, this is the first time Ibama has fined companies on such a large scale, Milanezi said.

Milanezi added that Ibama does not want to prevent companies from working in Brazil, so there is an option of writing off up to 90 per cent of the fine if the companies agree to better regulate their benefit-sharing policies.

She said that the Ibama is looking into a method to ensure the money from fines reaches local people.  

Vanderlan Bolzani, vice president of innovation agency at the State University of Sao Paulo Júlio de Mesquita Filho, Brazil, said that the large number of companies fined indicate that the government agencies and ministries responsible for regulating biodiversity need to communicate more effectively to speed up processing the requests from companies.

"It shows that governmental sectors must talk to each other in order to avoid the bureaucracy to obtaining license and permission to access the genetic heritage," she told SciDev.Net.

Vanderlan also highlighted that the biopiracy law should be educational, not only punitive.

The companies now have the right to appeal to Ipama’s decision.

A spokesperson from Mapric Pharmaceutical Products Ltd, one of the fined companies, said that Ibama’s complaint is unfounded and that they have officially registered several documents showing the legality of their work.

Other fined companies SciDev.Net contacted did not reply or did not have an official view on the fines yet.