The Guardian December 13, 2000


Blatant biopiracy

by Ann Douglas

Fighters for international justice are calling on the US Patent and 
Trademark Office to revoke all claims by US transnational corporation 
RiceTec on basmati rice.

The campaign was launched in Geneva by a number of non-governmental 
organisations, comprising the Research Foundation for Science, Technology 
and Ecology, ActionAid, the US Coalition Against the RiceTec Patent, the 
Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, WWF International and the Berne 
Declaration, to halt what they describe as "biopiracy".

In 1997, Texas-based RiceTec was granted a US patent on basmati rice and 
grains.

This patent allows the company to grow and sell a "new" variety, which it 
claims to have developed under the name of basmati, in the US and abroad.

RiceTec's patented basmati has been derived from Indian basmati crossed 
with long grain and semi-dwarf varieties.

The coalition says that the patent is for a type that is essentially 
derived from a farmers' variety. It is simply cross-breeding and should not 
be treated as a novel invention.

The patent falsely claims a derivation as an invention. This is a clear 
example of biopiracy which the US Government perhaps unwittingly, supports.

So far, the Indian Government has challenged and forced RiceTec to withdraw 
only four claims out of 20 from its patent in September.

It leaves RiceTec with exclusive rights to grow basmati in the Americas and 
the Caribbean.

The coalition is urging the Indian Government to fully challenge the 
Ricetec patent and calling on the US Patent Office to revoke RiceTec's 
claims before World Trade Organisation meeting in Geneva to review Trade 
Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs).

Research Foundation for Science director Dr Vandana Shiva says: "If all 
claims to basmati by RiceTec are not withdrawn, the US Patent and Trademark 
Office and the WTO will establish themselves as protectors of piracy  not 
of innovation and creativity".

ActionAid Pakistan food rights co-ordinator Aftab Alam says: "Developing 
countries like India need support to face increasing WTO Pressure to let 
business gain patents on staple food crops which are nothing short of 
biopiracy.

"We urge India to stand firm and all those who care for the poor to demand 
that the US patent office revokes the rest of RiceTec's patent."

Genevieve Vaughan, from the campaign, says: "Many Texan citizens are 
protesting against RiceTec's patent and the movement is growing.

"We do not want to be co-opted into exploiting the people of the global 
South, stealing and privatising their indigenous plant species and causing 
devastation for the livelihoods of farm families."

Woman farmer Ghulam Madina, who grows basmati rice and runs a learning 
centre for producing organic crops in Bahawalnagar, Pakistan, says: "I know 
just how important basmati is as a vital source of income for many farmers 
in the developing world.

"If this patent is not defeated, it could be a serious threat to our living 
standards."

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Morning Star, Britain's socialist daily

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