Monsanto To Face Biopiracy Charges In India

by Sayer Ji
January 18, 2012

In an unprecedented decision, India’s National Biodiversity  Authority(NBA), a government agency, declared legal action against  Monsanto (and their collaborators) for accessing and using local  eggplant varieties (known as brinjal) to develop their Bt genetically  engineered version1 without prior approval of the competent authorities, which is considered an act of “biopiracy.”2

The journal of Nature Biotechnology reported:

“An Indian government agency has agreed to sue the developers of  genetically modified (GM) eggplant for violating India’s Biological  Diversity Act of 2002. India’s National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) is  alleging that the developers of India’s first GM food crop–Jalna-based  Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) partnered with St. Louis–based seed giant Monsanto and several local universities–used local varieties to develop the transgenic crop, but failed to gain the appropriate  licenses for field trials. At the same time, activists in Europe are  claiming that patents on conventionally bred plants, including a melon  found in India, filed by biotech companies violate farmers’ rights to  use naturally occurring breeds. Both these pending legal cases could set important precedents for biopiracy in India and Europe.”

An excerpt from the NBA’s official resolution giving effect to the decision, and released on August 11 2011, follows below:

“”A background note besides legal opinion on Bt brinjal [GM egplant] on the alleged violation by the M/s. Mahyco/M/s Monsanto, and  their collaborators for accessing and using the local brinjal varieties  for development of Bt brinjal with out prior approval of the competent  authorities was discussed and it was decided that the NBA may proceed  legally against M/s. Mahyco/ M/s Monsanto, and all others concerned to  take the issue to its logical conclusion.”   [Official copy of these  minutes may be accessed here .]

As reported by the Environment Support Group (ESG), the “alleged violation” referred to by the NBA was the ESG’s complaint:

“…specifically charging these agencies for criminally accessing at least 10 varieties of brinjal in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu   without in any manner seeking prior and informed consent from the National  Biodiversity Authority, State Biodiversity Boards and applicable Local  Biodiversity Management Committees as required. Such a rigorous process  of appraisal is mandatory to protect loss of biodiversity due to misuse  or overuse, theft of biodiversity and to secure biodiversity from  contamination when transgencis are involved. In addition, the law  mandates that when biodiversity is to be accessed in any manner for  commercial, research and other uses, local communities who have  protected local varieties and cultivars for generations must be  consulted and if they consent benefits must accrue to them per the  internationally applicable Access and Benefit Sharing Protocol.”

Ultimately the initiation of criminal action against Monsanto/Mahyco  and their collaborators may result in an immediate suspension of all  applications by any of the agencies involved in biopiracy seeking access to any biological resource of India. According to ESG “this would imply that NBA must stop processing Monsanto’s application for accessing two  varieties of Indian onions.”

India has a strong tradition of thwarting the commercialization of  indigenous knowledge associated with bio-prospecting, which includes  biopiracy and the search for previously unknown compounds in organisms  that have never been used in traditional medicine, with the aim of  obtaining lead and/or novel compounds for pharmaceutical patents.

For instance, in 1995, two expatriate Indians at the University of  Mississippi Medical Centre were granted a US patent (no.5, 401,504) on  use of turmeric in wound healing. After the Indian Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) filed a re-examination case with the  US Patent & Trading Office challenging the patent on the grounds of  its existing prior use in traditional Ayurvedic medicial practice, the  patent was canceled.

Another example occurred when the Indian government took legal action against a pharmaceutical firm who received a patent for a technique to  extract an anti-fungal agent from the neem tree, with the patent  eventually being overturned in 2005

1The Bt gene is derived from a soil organisms known as  Bacillus Thuringensis, and confers to the genetically engineered plant  the ability to produce the pesticide Bt

2Biopiracy is defined as the commercial development of  naturally occurring biological materials, such as plant substances or  genetic cell lines, by a technologically advanced country or  organization without fair compensation to the peoples or nations in  whose territory the materials were originally discovered. [Source: The  American Heritage Dictionary]Monsanto To Face Biopiracy Charges In India.

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One Response to Monsanto To Face Biopiracy Charges In India

  1. Norman says:

    Perhaps the days of doing business the old way are coming to an end. Of course, even if the cases are won, collecting any damages will be like that incident in Bhopal many years ago.

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