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Monsanto Biopirates Strike Again in India

RFSTE Press Release
5th August 2003

RFSTE, Greenpeace & Bread for the World Launch Campaign against Monsanto's Biopiracy of Indian Wheat

Monsanto's patent (EP 044592981) claims to have "invented" wheat plants derived from a traditional Indian variety, and products made from the soft milling traits that the traditional Indian wheat provides.

Monsanto repeats the biopiracy pattern that was earlier attempted by RiceTec's claim to have invented Indian Basmati. Through a case filed by the RFSTE in the Indian Supreme Court, which forced the government of India to challenge the RiceTec Patent No. 5663484 in the USPTO, and a national and global movement against basmati biopiracy, we succeeded in having 99% of the RiceTec patent revoked. Earlier we had started the Neem campaign to challenge the USDA/ GRACE patent, which was revoked in EPO in May 2000. With Greenpeace, we are preparing a challenge against Monsanto's biopiracy of Indian wheat. And with farmers groups in India, Navdanya, a programme under RFSTE, is working to conserve, rejuvenate and grow native wheat varieties which were displaced and marginalized by the Green Revolution, even though in terms of nutrition per acre and productivity with respect to water, they are superior to the industrial varieties which depend on intensive inputs of chemicals and water.

In reply to a Parliamentary Question on the Monsanto wheat Biopiracy, the Minister of Agriculture has replied, (starred question no. 8 dated 21st July 2003), "M/s Plant Breeding International, a Unilever company which was acquired by Monsanto in 1998 has obtained a patent for a new verity of wheat designed for use in Europe. This variety incorporates some characteristics of the Nap Hal land race of wheat from India. The Nap Hal land race is not covered by the European patent and continues to be available to Indian farmers and researchers".

The reply indicates that the government of India is not planning to take any action against the Biopiracy and is in fact legitimising it. The reply also accepts two flaws in the patent claim. Firstly, European law does not allow patenting of plant varieties. Secondly, the reply accepts "Nap Hal" as a name of a land race in India, even though no farmer in India would name a traditional variety "Naphal".

Naphal means "no fruits" - No farmers variety could have such a name

1. The plants claimed as inventions in Monsanto's patent are essentially derived verities of traditional Indian wheat referred to in the patent as "Nap Hal" available as accession No. 1362 from the AERC Institute of Plant Science Research, Norwich, U.K. There is no traditional Indian wheat called Nap Hal. In Hindi the word would mean that which gives no fruit. Nap Hal is not an Indian name for an indigenous wheat variety. It could have been a name for Monsanto's 'terminator seeds'. The vernacular names of wheat varieties are khani, mundia, rotta, sita, kathia, jandi and many others. Breeders gave the wheat varieties names in accordance with the breeding centers where they worked. "Nap Hal" is evidently a distortion of Niphad. If the British could turn Hindus into "Gentoos" and Mumbai into "Bombay", Niphad could easily be distorted to Nap Hal. Niphad is a place in Maharastra, which has a crop- breeding centre. Varieties selected and bred at Pusa were called Pusa-4, Pusa-6 etc. Varieties were named New Pusa (NP) when the agriculture station shifted from Pusa (in Bihar) to IARI Delhi. Those at Niphad had the nomenclature Niphad. P-4 / NP-4, Niphad-4 is an Indian variety which is a selection from the local "mundia" found in the U.P. hills (now the Uttaranchal state), Gujarat and the Deccan according to Dr. B.P. Pal, one of India's leading wheat breeder. It is the government's duty to investigate which variety has been incorrectly recorded as Nap Hal and correct the nomenclature appropriately. Wheat is the most documented crop in India since formal breeding of wheat started more than a century ago in 1905.

NP - 4/ Pusa 4 / Niphad 4 is beardless variety with felted, white glumes with grains of an amber colour. Sir Albert Howard (known as the founder of modern organic farming, the author of the "Agriculture Testament" in whose honour RFTSE/ Navdanya organise the annual Howard Memorial Lecture on Non violent Agriculture on Gandhi Jayanti, the 2nd October), his wife G.L.C. Howard and Habibur Rehman Khan selected the pure lines NP-4 (Pusa-4) from the mundia land race in 1905. "Mundia" combined higher yield potential, early maturity with superior grain quality features. As a ICAR report states "It soon crossed the national boundaries and was adopted in many countries. The variety won prices in several international grain exhibitions as one of the best grain quality wheat during 1916-1920". This is how it must have entered the U.K. collections and got recorded under the distorted name "Nap Hal". Indian wheats have travelled widely since 1873, with the opening of the Suez Canal and removing export restrictions. Indian wheat was so important a crop for the British Empire that an important Resolution of the Government of India no. I - 39-50 of March 14th, 1877 was passed on the wheat question requiring the Governor General to provide all information on Indian wheat including "local names for the varieties of wheat cultivated and three description in English". More than 1000 wheat samples in bags o 2 pounds each were sent to the India office, examined by Forbes Watson, and a detailed report provided to the Secretary of State. It is the traits, not the name which will be the basis of our challenge of biopiracy and we are working on the analysis of the traits of various varieties conserved by Navdanya farmers and grown by traditional farmers.

The soft milling low elasticity traits of India wheat have been patented. The wheat plant claimed as invention in Monsanto's patent relates to products derived presumably from the primitive landrace from India called "Naphal". Naphal are extremely unusual in lacking two High Molecular Weight
(HMW) subunits of glutenin coded by the "x" and "y" genes, which refer as the "Glu - D1 double null" trait. The HMW subunits of glutenin, which make up only about 6-10% of the gluten (wheat protein) content of wheat are, the key components in conferring elasticity and dough mixing stability. Due to the lack of HMW glutenin in Naphal, the dough becomes more easily hydrable than other wheat and produces very weak inelastic dough which is very extensible. This is advantageous in making of semi-sweet biscuits, non-fermented crackers, wafers, and food and food ingredients made from batter because the flour will form a dough with less water (when Sodium Metabisulphite or SMS is not used).

The production of a strain of wheat variety Galahad-7 claimed by Monsanto comprised of crossing a commonly grown soft wheat variety "Galahad" with a "Sicco" line containing the "NapHal" Glu-D1 double null wheat strain (Nap-Hal x Sicco). The wheat provides flour from which a dough can be prepared at ambient temperature without the need for chemical treatment
(SMS) of the flour at ambient temperature and is useful in the manufacture of biscuits, crackers and wafers and other. The Galahad-7 is essentially derived from native Indian wheat. Crossing is an obvious step in breeding and since both the criteria of novelty and non-obviousness necessary for patentability are violated, the patent should be revoked.

Even though plants are not an invention the first statement in Monsanto's patent states "this invention relates to plants and to products derived there from" In this case the plant is essentially derived from the traditional Indian wheat's which Indian farmers have collectively evolved and conserved over millennia. The Monsanto patent in effect pirates the collective cumulative innovation of Indian farmers and people claims the piracy as an invention. The traits of Indian wheat, which is being claimed by Monsanto, as its invention are traits evolved for India's food culture and cuisine based on "rotis" and "chapattis". The patent is thus a piracy not just of millennia of breeding by Indian farmers but also of millennia of innovation in food qualities.

Gluten (wheat protein) plays an important role in the texture of chapattis and other food preparations made form wheat. The gluten content of wheat varies from about 9-13%. The hard milling varieties contain more gluten than the soft milling one which are more suitable for chapattis.

Soft Milling Wheat is not an Invention; it is Our Daily Diet

For thousands of years we have eaten soft milling wheat appropriate to our food culture. Ignoring the daily diet of one fifth of humanity, Monsanto arrogantly claims "No wheat varieties are yet available commercially which are soft milling and from which a dough with low or very low elasticity can be prepared with out either chemical treatment or the use of carefully controlled conditions (e.g. low temperature) during the preparation of the dough. The need to maintain critical conditions during dough preparation is obviously a serious constraint on manufacture. The need for chemical free treatment of the flour usually conducted with sodium metabisulphate (SMS) would be avoided. If possible, especially in view of the current consumer pressure for foodstuffs those have been "chemically treated". It is generally recognized that the biscuit making industry would avoid the use of SMS if there was any commercially viable alternative".

The alternative is available on a very wide scale in India in our daily food. This is the alternative which Monsanto has pirated. Monsanto's claim covers wheat plants derived from Indian wheat varieties and products made from soft milling wheat.

The patent needs to be revoked because it is not an invention. It also needs to be revoked because with an exclusive right to grow wheat with low gluten and produce high value products with it, Monsanto could extend these rights to India under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) and then charge royalties from farmers growing traditional wheat varieties. Even if the patent is not recognized in India, Monsanto's biopiracy patent in Europe and USA prevents India from deriving benefits from the growing market in US and Europe for chemical feel, low gluten, wheat products.

OUR DEMANDS TO THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA

The Government of India should protect Indian biodiversity of wheat, our collective intellectual heritage embodied in traditional breeding by farmers and our markets. In particular we call on the government to:

· Analyze all native wheat varieties and their pure line selection at IARI, Pusa and Niphad for the traits being claimed by Monsanto as their invention and identify the correct name of the variety recorded as "Naphal" in the patent,

· Challenge Patent No. EP 0 44592981, which is based on biopiracy of Indian wheat varieties,

· Initiate a major campaign to support farmers and provide incentives to conserve and grow high value native wheat to farmers for ecological production and fair trade,

· To create a sui generis law that guarantees recognition of farmers traditional breeding techniques and protects farmers collective cumulative innovation.

RFSTE/ Navdanya and Greenpeace Campaign

· Navdanya is launching a major campaign to protect and promote native wheat varieties.

· With Greenpeace, Navdanya/ RFSTE will challenge Monsanto's Biopiracy to resist Monsanto's monopoly over wheat breeding and wheat based products developed from piracy of farmer's varieties in India. This challenge will be filed jointly at the European Patent office in Munich.

· Navdanya/ RFSTE will also investigate the traits of India wheat varieties independently.

For further information, please contact:

Navdanya / RFSTE
A - 60, Hauz Khas, New Delhi - 110016
Tel: 26561868, 26562093, 26853772
Email: rfste@vsnl.com ; vshiva@vsnl.com

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