Biopiracy: Agribusiness Moves to Slowly Crush Independent Farmers
India outraged as US company wins patents on rice
Here are excerpts from an article that recently appeared in the Guardian, the United Kingdom's best newspaper.
by Luke HardingThe decision to give an American company patents on three strains of basmati rice has provoked an uproar in India, where angry MPs have disrupted parliament and accused the fragile government of selling out to foreign interests.
The US patent and trademark office has granted three patents to RiceTec of Texas. Four years ago RiceTec made sweeping attempts to register basmati as a trademark, but later it withdrew several of its patent applications in the face of overwhelming opposition.
But last week the patent office allowed the same company to register three hybrid versions of basmati - Texmati, Jasmati and Kasmati. It produced the varieties by crossbreeding basmati seed with American long-grain rice. RiceTec was also given permission to claim that its brands are "superior to basmati".
The ruling has caused consternation in India, where basmati rice has been growing for centuries in the foothills of the Himalayas. Basmati, which is long grained, soft textured and has an aromatic flavour, is exported in huge quantities to Britain from India and Pakistan.
The Indian government insisted yesterday that the ruling would not immediately affect India's lucrative basmati exports to America. But other campaigners say the case shows how western corporations are using the World Trade Organisation's oppressive patent laws to exploit poor farmers in the developing world.
The British charity ActionAid said: "There is growing concern that corporations are taking advantage of traditional Indian crops developed over thousands of years by farmers, without any recompense for the poor people who do all the work.
"We remain concerned that there is a threat to [India's] export markets. The fact is that this company is intent on marketing its basmati and is trying to get it into British supermarkets."
ActionAid has launched a campaign against "bio-piracy" - multinationals taking out patents on crops that grow in poor countries.
India's upper and lower houses have been rocked by the affair. Opposition MPs surged into parliament shouting slogans, forcing an adjournment.
They accused the government, led by Hindu nationalists, of caving in to foreign pressure.
Balbir Punj MP said: "The government has claimed that our losing the basmati case will have no bearing on exports. If it has no bearing on exports why did we fight the case?"
The prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has warned that there should be "no misappropriation" of the developing world's "biological and genetic resources".
Yesterday the US patents office confirmed that RiceTec's attempts to patent basmati had been thrown out. RiceTec had argued that basmati was merely a generic term, even though India exports more than six million tons every year.
RiceTec's chief executive said the company had spent 10 years developing its own rice varieties and had filed patents only to protect them. He claimed he was surprised by the "flap" the applications had caused.
This particular case might not be crucial, but it is just one example of a huge upswing in special patent privileges being awarded under suspicious circumstances. Are such special privileges necessary? Should they be granted at no cost to the applicant? How is the free market affected? Share your opinions with others at The Progress Report:
Page One Page Two Archive Discussion Room Letters What's Geoism?