Brazil has the world's largest reserve of biodiversity, but loses US$ 1.5 billion annually because of stolen genetic
material, mainly in the Amazon, reports the Brazilian Environmental Protection Institute (Ibama).
The use of medicinal plants, also known as phytotherapy, as part of a regular health program through pharmacies
would do two things, says the Ministry of Health. First, it would resolve the problem of piracy. Second, it would improve the
health of some 80 million Brazilians who do not have regular access to medicine.
The idea of such a program is being discussed at the First National Conference on Medicine and Pharmaceutical
Assistance which is taking place in Brasilia.
It is estimated that illegal international traffic in wildlife is worth US$ 10 billion annually worldwide, of which US$
1.5 billion originates in Brazil. According to the Federal Police, each year, some 12 million animals, most of them
considered threatened species, are captured in Brazil, with approximately 3.6 million of them illegally exported abroad.
In a campaign to deal with the problem, which includes not only wildlife but also biopiracy, a new program, Project
Drake, has been launched by the Federal Police. The program will increase vigilance in ports and airports, as well as run
educational campaigns around the country. The public awareness campaign will focus on government agencies, schools, hotels and
Started in July, Operation Drake I is taking place in the states of Amazonas, Amapá, Bahia, Mato Grosso, Mato
Grosso do Sul, Pernambuco, Pará, Rio de Janeiro, Roraima, São Paulo and the Federal District. The crackdown consists of a
series of action plans running from repression to public educational programs to police training.
Brazil is a favorite target of biopirates and wild animal traffickers for the simple reason that it has the world's
greatest variety. Material taken from plants and animals, many of them native only to Brazil, is used in foreign laboratories for
studies that can lead to patents for medicines and genetic discoveries. The material is now seen as part of Brazilian biodiversity,
property that belongs to Brazil.
Another problem is that traffickers smuggle the material out of the country in ways that are harmful to living specimens.
Last June, Ibama intensified its activities involving control and inspection at airports, in accordance with
environmental legislation. The task was undertaken through a campaign to inform and orient airplane users and employees of air
"We want this public to be partners of Ibama, helping in the control and inspection of shipments of live cargos (wild
animals), products and subproducts (genetic material) derived from animals, plants, and fish, and substances that are potentially
harmful to the environment and human health," affirmed, at the time, the Ibama coordinator of environmental supervision,
Marcelo Marquesini. To support the campaign, posters and folders were put in place and distributed to the population.
The material for this article was supplied by Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian
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