Absurd plants Treaty clause raises royalties question

The addition of an absurd Treaty of Waitangi clause in the Plant Varieties Rights Act raises the question whether “Maoridom” will claim royalties on new plant varieties, Hobson’s Pledge spokesperson Casey Costello said today.  

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, the great compliance Ministry, has decided to add Treaty compliance to the Plant Varieties Rights Act so that:

  1. The Crown protects Maori guardian (kaitiaki) interests in the plant variety rights regime, and that
  2. This requires consideration of Maori guardian interests at all stages of the plant variety rights process, from the start of the breeding programme to the decision on whether or not to grant a plant variety right. 

Every year more than 100 new varieties of plants are registered with the New Zealand Intellectual Property Office.

This enables those who created those new varieties to earn royalties from licensing others to produce and sell propagating material from them.

But the Plant Varieties Rights Act has never had a Treaty clause so MBIE foolishly asked the Waitangi Tribunal for a recommendation – and got one that cited the Wai 262 Maori culture and identity inquiry.

The tribunal recommended that the plant variety rights regime (along with bioprospecting, genetic modification and other intellectual property law and policy) facilitate better protection for guardian (kaitiaki) relationships with highly prized (taonga) species and Maori knowledge (matauranga).

The tribunal made specific recommendations to ensure Maori guardian (kaitiaki) relationships were considered effectively in plant variety rights decision-making processes.

“This is nonsense, especially when discussing pasture, fruit and vegetable varieties, and ornamentals that never grew in New Zealand until settlers brought them here,” Ms Costello said.

“Besides, how can a new variety which no one other than the creator of that variety has any knowledge of be regarded as a part of Maori knowledge?” she said.

“While changing the traits of plants to produce desired outcomes, what specific steps must the plant-breeding scientist now take to match his or her work to the Treaty world view?” Ms Costello said.

The word “taonga” simply meant property in 1840. Since then, the meaning has been changed so that by simply calling something “a taonga” enables a Treaty claim over it, Ms Costello said.

To suggest that a treaty made almost 180 years ago, guaranteeing the same political rights to all New Zealanders, also enables a property right to unnamed Maori people over a new plant breed is the height of absurdity, she said.


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