Rooibos Robbery: Nestlé accused of biopirating South African genetic resources

By Natural Justice 27 May 2010

The Nestle patents for the uses of Rooibos with seeking a permit from the South African government shows 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 under the CBD.

Today, Natural Justice and Swiss NGO the Berne Declaration launched their media campaign against Nestle for contravening South African law and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in its five recent patent applications for the use of Rooibos and Honeybush. This second biopiracy case in South Africa in less than a year (the first was regarding pharmaceutical company Schwabe’s attempted patents on pelargonium) 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 under the CBD.

Four out of five of the patents relate to the use of the Rooibos and Honeybush plants for the treatment of hair and skin conditions. These plants are both endemic to South Africa’s Western and Eastern Cape Provinces and have long been used in the region for related medicinal purposes. According to the South African Biodiversity Act (the national legislation that implements the CBD), a company needs a permit from the government to do commercially-applicable research and/or patent the use of genetic resources found in South Africa. Such a permit can only be obtained if a benefit-sharing agreement has been negotiated.

The South African Department of Environmental Affairs confirmed to Natural Justice and the Berne Declaration that Nestle has never received the permits to use these genetic resources. Based on the information provided, it is clear that the patents of Nestle and the research on which they are based are in contradiction with South African law and the CBD. Nestle is yet to comment on the allegations against them. Natural Justice and the Berne Declaration will continue to lobby Nestle to comply with South African and international legislation. To view the briefing paper and press release, please go to our website.

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