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Vandana Shiva: Controversy over Biopiracy in India & Developing World

  • Wheat Biopiracy The Real Issues the Government is Avoiding
    By Vandana Shiva
    Z Mag, November 16, 2007
    Straight to the Source

The epidemic of biopiracy is an assault on our living heritage of biodiversity and cumulative innovation embodied in the traditional knowledge of agriculture and medicine. In the long run, it determines livelihoods and economic sovereignty because what is commonly available becomes an intellectual property? of a company for which royalty must be paid.

It is the governments duty to protect the resources and heritage of the country and prevent its usurpation by foreign interests and commercial corporations. The governments affidavit is in effect arguing that the government will allow the theft of our heritage and the public good that belongs to the Indian people.

The moment a patent is taken on plants and seeds derived from Indian biological resources, biopiracy have occurred. Challenging and stopping such biopiracy is the duty of government. The governments repeated failure to legally challenge biopiracy has forced the petitioner to take up such challenges on behalf of the Indian people, and to protect the public interest and the national interest.

Biopiracy refers to the use of intellectual property systems to legitimize the exclusive ownership and control over biological resource and biological products and processes that have been used over centuries in non-industrialized cultures. Patent claims over biodiversity and indigenous knowledge that are based on the innovation, creativity and genius of the people of the Third World are acts of ?biopiracy?. Since a ?patent? is given for invention, a biopiracy patent denies the innovation embodied in indigenous knowledge. The rush to grant patents and reward invention has led corporations and governments in the industrialized world to ignore the centuries of cumulative, collective innovation of generations of rural communities.

A patent is an exclusive right to make, sell and distribute the patented product. Patents on biodiversity imply that corporations who own patents get exclusive rights to the production and distribution of seeds, livestock and medicine. This establishes monopolies on food and health, makes it illegal for farmers to save and exchange seed, and prevents decentralized, pluralistic economies for the production of food and medicine. It also encourages ?Biopiracy? or theft of our indigenous knowledge.

The new IPR laws embodied in the TRIPs agreement of WTO have unleashed an epidemic of the piracy of nature's creativity and millennia of indigenous innovation. RFSTE/ Navdanya started the campaign against biopiracy with the Neem Campaign in 1994 and mobilized 1,00,000 signatures against neem patents and filed a legal opposition against the USDA and WR Grace patent on the fungicidal properties of neem (no. 436257 B1) in the European Patent Office (EPO) at Munich, Germany. Along with RFSTE, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) of Germany and Ms. Magda Alvoet, former Green Member of the European Parliament were party to the challenge. The patent on Neem was revoked in May 2000 and it was reconfirmed on 8th March 2005 when the EPO revoked in entirety the controversial patent, and adjudged that there was "no inventive step" involved in the fungicide patent, thus confirming the ?prior art? of the use of Neem.

In 1998, Navdanya started a campaign against Basmati biopiracy (Patent No. 5663484) of a US company RiceTec. On Aug 14th 2001 Navdanya achieved another victory against biopiracy and patent on life when the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) revoked a large section of the patent on Indian Basmati rice by the US corporations RiceTec Inc. These included (i) the generic title of the RiceTec patent No. 5663484, which earlier referred to Basmati rice lines; (ii) the sweeping and false claims of RiceTec having `invented?, traits of rice seeds and plants including plant height, grain length, aroma which are characteristics found in our traditional Basmati varieties and (iii) claims to general methods of breeding which was also piracy of traditional breeding done by farmers and our scientists (of the 20 original claims only three narrow ones survived).

The next major victory against biopiracy for Navdanya came in October 2004 when the European Patent Office in Munich revoked Monsanto?s patent on the Indian variety of wheat ?Nap Hal?. This was the third consecutive victory on the IPR front after Neem and Basmati, making it the third consecutive victory. This was made possible under the Campaign against Patent on Life as well as against Biopiracy respectively. MONSANTO, the biggest seed corporation, was assigned a patent (EP 0445929 B1) on wheat on 21 May 2003 by the European Patent Office in Munich under the simple title ?plants?. On January 27th 2004 Research Foundation for Science Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) along with Greenpeace and Bharat Krishak Samaj (BKS) filed a petition at the European Patent Office (EPO), Munich, challenging the patent rights given to Monsanto on Indian landrace of wheat, Nap Hal. The patent was revoked in October 2004 and it once again established the fact that the patents on biodiversity, indigenous knowledge and resources are based on biopiracy and there is an urgent need to ban all patents on life and living organisms including biodiversity, genes and cell lines.

Through citizen actions, we have won three-biopiracy battles and have thus contributed to the defense of farmers' rights, indigenous knowledge and biodiversity. Navdanya?s focus on collective, cumulative innovation embodied in indigenous knowledge has created a worldwide movement for the defence of the intellectual rights of communities.

Our challenge in the EPO forced the EPO to recognize that Monsanto?s ?Naphal? patent was a biopiracy patent. Instead of challenging the US patents on ?Naphal?, the government is making excuses to avoid performing its duty. It seems instead to be wanting to help the biopirates in their biopiracy.

The weak excuses the government has given are:

Patent EPO 445929 is not valid in India, and it has no adverse impact, therefore no action is to be taken. (p 1.4) (The petitioner is fully aware that the EU patent is not valid in India. But the EU patent was given for a variety derived from Indian genetic material. Hence, we needed to intervene. The EPO recognized that the patent was based on biopiracy. However, the government is refusing to admit what the EPO has already admitted.

The US Patent No. 5763741 on a variety derived from an Indian variety with claims covering the unique properties of the Indian variety need not be challenged because the patent expires on 18th February 2010. A theft is a theft. Whether the patent expires 2007 or 2010 is not the issue. The main issue is that the properties and traits which Monsanto is claiming as their ?creation? are derived from an Indian variety. This is relevant not just for this variety but for the hundreds of thousands of India?s traditional varieties. Tomorrow Monsanto will claim patents on varieties derived from our salt tolerant varieties, or our flood resistant varieties, or draught resistant varieties.

A broad patent on varietal traits derived from traditional Indian varieties is an act of biopiracy in itself. If such trends continue, and precedence is established that Indian biodiversity is up for grabs we will loose our heritage and economic sovereignty. That is why precedence must be established by challenging biopiracy. The petitioner has done it in the case of the EU patent. The government must do so at least in the case of the US patent.

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post Nov 18 2007, 07:07 PM

At the basic level, I cannot believe we have the audacity to patent *life* since we only have the ability to grow it from materials already present, not to create it! --diana

post Nov 18 2007, 10:30 PM

QUOTE (diana @ Nov 18 2007, 12:07 PM) *
At the basic level, I cannot believe we have the audacity to patent *life* since we only have the ability to grow it from materials already present, not to create it! --diana

Thanks for this Diana. I can't believe I missed it! Vandana Shiva is a big time hero of mine and a visionary for our age.It was watching a speech of her's on one of the subversive media outlets that I really became aware of how interlinked and entwined biopiracy and GMOs were, and just how dangerous the process of allowing corporations to hold patents on basic foodstocks could be. It was quite a few years back and Ms Shiva was still angry over the incident but to listen to her rant in that beautiful precise English with the lilt of her Indian accent about a Texas company that had *patented* Basmati rice.Like there's Basmati rice in Texas.That patent has since been overturned, but not until Indian farmers hadd lost millions and millions of dollars that they'll never see and all because some Texas lawyer patented basmati rice. Now the Texans didn't discover it, didn't invent it, didn't breed it never farmed it never even ate it, but all of a sudden for a few years they *owned* it? /rant. That's when I fell in love w/ her.I thought this woman has some spine, a sense of humor and purpose.She hasn't backed down yet.

Support your local familly farmers.

post Nov 19 2007, 12:01 AM

Yeah, I think I was promoting her for president, on this forum recently. smile.gif She could be president of the world if she wished, in my view.

The patenting is a little like the trade-marking of words. We are an amazingly greedy culture. Why can we not share words openly, except, perhaps, to demand they be used honestly (as opposed to Wisconsin Wal-Mart 'organic' and all the stuff they tried to slide in).

I used a certain phrasing, coined in the 80s and used by many over the years, a positive and descriptive wordage, on a fat acceptance list, and was threatened vehemently by a woman who claimed to have trademarked the phrase. How on Earth can we claim words as our own, and disallow others any access to them? How can we claim to patent life, and to then go on to hoard it, even when it means access to food is denied to others, unless they buy from us? There is something terribly morally wrong with hoarding like that. If I work and grow stuff and have surplus, I can see selling it to you. It's the result of my work. But if I trot off to the the fed-folks and pay money to deny you access to your own seeds that would help you grow stuff -- that is totally immoral!

I'm probably the only 51-year old woman who has a Natalie Maines for Pres/ Pink for Veep sticker. Now I need one for Vandana Shiva, too, for president of the world. --diana

post Nov 19 2007, 06:22 AM

sheesh, diana, I think we mighta been separated at birth or sumpin tongue.gif,

Shiva has been making the connection lately, and it was never lost on me, that almost all of these companies that are in the Ag/chem/biotech/seed trade are also in the Military/munitions/chem/bio trade and that there is something just plain inherently wrong w/ using the same chemicals and technology to kill people that you would use to feed and sustain them.And really, it is only a rung or two up the ladder fom cannibalism, ya know?

Support your local familly farmers.

post Nov 19 2007, 11:26 AM

Cool! Can I be the evil twin? wink.gif

Along similar lines to the cannibal theme, Revlon, the cosmetic company, makes armaments. Always seemed oddly logical to me: control women via self-fixation, esp. to an impossible (and juvenile) ideal; control men via force or uber-macho image-pushing, also to an impossible and absurd ideal. We are a weird species.

Have you watched The Zeitgeist? Or The Corporation, a wonderful Canadian film? When you look at it with intensity, there is a people-control thread that runs through it all. Could be mere economics (as if starving entire populations is ever 'mere'). But it could also be a move toward increasingly consolidated power -- power in the hands of very few families across the globe. In case you missed the last 367 references, The Zeitgeist is available in full at: and you can view The Corporation on YouTube at ... just in case. High-speed Internet is probably necessary to view them, though.

Since empire-building isn't exactly unfamiliar to the human species, and since money is involved, there is some plausibility to the view that Empire is All. Maybe I just don't get the lure of power, or why anyone would wish to control another. And so maybe it is just pure power, and the thrill of competing and blasting everyone else out of the competition, that is at the base of it all. I hate competition, and I detest both the 'winning' and the 'losing' roles, so I don't get the appeal, but I sure see it around me. And it explains why so many are so willing to lie and obfuscate, cheat and denigrate, their fellow beings. --d

post Nov 19 2007, 10:37 PM

I still haven't had time to watch Zeitgeist but I promise it's on my list. The Corporation is a must see. I assume you've read Jeff Smith's books? Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette? Greg Palast's Armed Madhouse and John Perkins Confessions of an Economic Hitman, along w/ Naomi Wolf's latest on America and Fascism,I can't think of thetitle and I loaned my copy out. That's my essential political reading list for Fall '07. What's your's? And what's everyone else's?

Support your local familly farmers.

post Nov 20 2007, 01:08 PM

John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hit Man -- yes!!! Have you read David Korten's books (The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism or something like that --? My favorite ag book is this huge coffee-table thing weighing ten pounds or so, called Fatal Harvest: The Tradgedy of Industrial Agriculture -- again, could be slightly different; I'm working from memory (from many check-outs at the local public library). And, of course, The World Without Us which is one of the best-written books I've read, skillfully crafted in form AND in content selection. And anything by Alfie Kohn, but especially No Contest -- about the whole notion of competition, a real re-think for western culture.

There's another Naomi who's written on political stuff ... will have to search her out, too. Klein? I tend to get uncomfy when my reading list is too male, too white, too conventionally-religious. Audre Lorde went and died of cancer. She is probably the most brilliant woman I have ever met in print. So did Andrea Dworkin, but not of cancer. I actually met her in person, a fragile being driven to tell her truths, brave beyond her capabilities .... I see from a quick glimpse on that Vandana Shiva has a number of books in print. Those are going on my wish list!

I read Elaine Brown's A Taste of Power about the rise and fall of the Black Panthers, who did some amazing, wonderful things (along with the ritual stoopids that such public and cooptable groups do), at the same time as Mary Crow-Dog's Lakota Woman which goes into the BIA travesty surrounding Leonard Peltier. Both excellent reads, and especially useful to gain glimpses of living through eyes not normally shared by the privileged world, no matter your placement in it.

I re-watched The Zeitgeist last night. It does have an empowering ending, and it makes a point that I think we cannot stress enough, no matter. We are taught, groomed really, to see difference, and to catalogue it so as to contain others/ aid in their containment. I am enough of a long-time activist to know that difference gives us identity -- and views that the privileged do not have. Those farthest from the center often have the best perspective, seeing the forest AND the trees. We need to honor that, to avoid the pompous, callous presumptions that privilege prompts in us. And yet we need to see the sameness and the similarity in others, in order to bridge differences, real and perceived. Privilege, with its concurrent belief that we Know It All, don't have to listen to those deemed 'lesser,' is the real problem, the real divide. Yeah, we're different -- and isn't it cool?! Yeah, we are fundamentally the same, and isn't that comforting, as well? --d (stepping off the soapbox smile.gif)