Integrating a right to food sovereignty into intellectual property law?

ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship

Food sovereignty is frequently characterized as the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, in addition to peoples’ right to define their own food and agriculture systems. To realize these objectives, countries including Bolivia, Ecuador, Egypt, Nepal, and Venezuela have incorporated rights related to food sovereignty into their constitutions. Several other countries have experimented with embodying notions of food sovereignty in sub-constitutional legal frameworks.

Our project seeks to examine whether and how food sovereignty might be embedded into intellectual property laws. Many of the interactions and transactions with which food sovereignty is concerned may be encapsulated in an elegant yet powerful technological package: the seed. For this reason, the operation of food sovereignty in frameworks that grant intellectual property rights for plants is particularly important to understand. Such regimes include laws governing the protection of breeders’ rights over novel crops and other plants. In research that focuses on developing and least-developed countries as case study countries, we consider the impact that constitutional rights related to food sovereignty have had on intellectual property laws in these countries.