The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it

Biopatents and food security from a Christian perspective, EKD-Text, 2013

A study by the Evangelical Church in Germany's Advisory Commission on Sustainable Development


Over two years ago, the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) tasked its Advisory Commission on Sustainable Development to write a study on "biopatents and food security" in light of the rapid increase in patents being issued for plants and animals. The commission already had at its disposal the EKD study, published in 1996, entitled Einverständnis mit der Schöpfung. Ein Beitrag zur ethischen Urteilsbildung im Blick auf die Gentechnik, which dealt with ethical views on genetic engineering. The 1996 study, however, focused solely on the patenting of genetically altered organisms; at the time, conventionally engineered plants and animals were not viewed as patentable according to the regulations of patent law.

Over 10 years of experience with the European Biopatent Directive - the main body of regulation for biopatents in Europe - has however shown that the feared effects of issuing patents for plants and animals have in fact manifested themselves: Now patents have even been issued for plants and animals that were not genetically engineered. The diversity of seeds and animal breeds has declined; agricultural research and breeding have been impeded; traditional knowledge has been privatized through biopiracy; and food security has not been improved but in fact endangered and further reduced.

A reform of the European biopatent regulations has been a matter of discussion at the political level - and this past year in particular. In February 2012, the German Bundestag (Federal Parliament) passed a resolution to demand that conventionally bred plants and animals no longer be patentable. In May 2012, the European Parliament also called for stricter use of the European biopatent regulations and passed a resolution stating that beyond certain limits, patenting violates ethical principles and harms agriculturalists.

The EKD, due to the events of the past several years, has deemed it necessary to work on a new study, asking with a view to the biblical witness: How are we to understand God's command to "till and keep" the earth (Gen. 2:15)? And more specifically, how and to what extent should human dominion over plants and animals be limited in order to protect the creation?

Grounded in the perspective of such basic theological questions, the EKD is entering into a heated debate over biopatents with the present study. The study delineates the effects of biopatents on global food security and encourages the introduction of legal and institutional patent reforms. The study thus aims to promote both the interests of the common good and to provide a compulsory assessment of the socioeconomic and ecological consequences of biopatents.

From a Christian perspective, God is the creator of all life. Within the context of Old Testament experience, the psalmist wrote: "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it" (Ps. 24 : 1). People must therefore answer to God when it comes to their treatment of God's creation and of the lives of the plants and animals that form a part of it. The EKD's treatment of the topic of biopatents is driven by these convictions.

On behalf of the EKD Council, I would like to thank the Advisory Commission on Sustainable Development for this informative study, which has been so carefully prepared, both factually and theologically. It is my hope that this text is met with strong resonance both in Germany and throughout the ecumenical world.

Hanover, July 2012

Praeses Dr. h.c. Nikolaus Schneider
Chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany



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