Monsanto Pulled to Court by India for “Biopiracy”

Indian Brinjal (aka: egglant in American English, aubergine in British English)

Monsanto and India don’t have a very cozy relationship. Monsanto came in on the promise of cheaper crops, alleviating hunger, and so on and so on. India found out before long that they got totally ripped off and screwed by the agribusiness multinational giant. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Indian farmers have actually committed suicide in response to Monsanto’s screw-you (with a smile), give-money-to-us genetically modified (GM) crops.

The latest in this long, sad saga is that the National Biodiversity Authority of India (NBA) is suing Monsanto, Mahyco, and other collaborators who were involved in “accessing and using local brinjal varieties in developing Bt Brinjal without prior approval of the competent authorities” (aka biopiracy).

While this decision was officially made by the NBA in June, the official minutes of the meeting were just released on August 11. Here’s the decision dictated in those:

“A background note besides legal opinion on Bt brinjal 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.”

Here’s more from GM Watch:

“The ‘alleged violation’ referred to by NBA is based on a complaint filed by Environment Support Group before the Karnataka Biodiversity Board on 15 February 2011 (copy attached). Subsequently, the Board thoroughly and systematically investigated the matter and submitted in its 28 May 2011 letter to NBA that ‘six local varieties for development of Bt Brinjal’ have been accessed in Karnataka by M/s Mahyco/Monsanto and their collaborators ‘without prior approval from State Biodiversity Board/National Biodiversity Authority’. Furnishing a variety of documents in support of its contention, the Board has sought ‘further action’ by the Authority on the basis of ESG’s complaint.”

Hope they get due justice, in this case at least. Many more details are available at the GM Watch link above.

Long History if Biopiracy in India

I ran across the story above on TreeHugger. In the piece there, Matthew McDermott did a good job of pointing out that biopiracy is something India has had to battle for quite awhile, as foreigners (largely Americans) come in and try to patent common practices and products India has been using for centuries or longer.

Here’s more from McDermott on some of the biopiracy attempts in India over the years.

In the past various multinational corporations have tried patenting products that were just packaged versions of traditional medicinal remedies used for generations. Neem and turmeric were often targets.

In 2009, India passed a law deem all traditional medicinal herbs (as well as yoga postures) as being part of the nation’s cultural heritage and therefore “public property”, prohibiting anyone patenting them. It did not prohibit people from making money off them, only trying to claim exclusivity over them.

In 2010, Colgate was accused of biopiracy for attempting to patent a toothpaste formula that was essentially a traditional Ayurvedic recipe.

Corporations are so considerate of others, aren’t they?

Image via mckaysavage