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Tropical fruit açaí

Brazil probes California firm for 'biopiracy'

Last Tuesday, Brazilian prosecutors stated they were investigating a U.S. company for alleged ‘biopiracy’. They were accusing Sambazon Inc of illegally using genetic components of the tropical berry açaí in the nutritional supplements it sells.

The federal prosecutors office for the northern state of Amapá, a main producer of açaí, said that the company had used the genetic material of the fruit without permission. Biopiracy is the unlawful appropriation or commercial use of biological materials, such as medicinal plant extracts, that are native to a particular country without providing fair financial compensation to its people or government.

The privately-held Sambazon makes fruit juices, fruit packs, frozen desserts and snacks, powders and energy drinks based on açaí imported from Brazil, the company’s website says. Sambazon representatives in Brazil and its headquarters in California did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Last year, the Brazilian government’s environmental agency Ibama fined Sambazon $20,000 for not obtaining permission to use açaí genetic material for technological development. In its defense, the company said its products were made by simply adding ingredients to açaí pulp.

The new investigation seeks compensation for the communities that produce açaí in the Amazon rainforest in Amapá state, from where Sambazon imports the fruit, the federal prosecutor in charge of the investigation, Rodolfo Lopes, told Reuters.

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