Saturday, August 13, 2011

Brinjal piracy

Heat on Monsanto over brinjal piracy
Dinesh C Sharma
India Today
August 12, 2011

New Delhi - American seed giant Monsanto and its Indian collaborator, Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) are to be prosecuted for allegedly ’stealing’ indigenous plant material for developing genetically modified brinjal variety known as Bt brinjal.

The National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), a statutory body set up under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, has decided to initiate legal proceedings against the two companies and their collaborators for using indigenous brinjal germplasm without necessary permission.

Taking plant material without any permission and using it for commercial purposes is considered an act of biopiracy.

“The authority has decided to proceed legally against Mahyco and Monsanto, and all others concerned to take the issue to its logical conclusion”, NBA secretary C Achalender Reddy said. The decision on the complaint filed by the Bangalore- based Environment Support Group (ESG) was taken in June by the authority and it was formally confirmed during its meeting held in New Delhi this week.

Any violation of the Biodiversity Act is a non- bailable, cognizable offence and the authority plans to initiate criminal proceedings against the offenders. It took almost one year for the authority to prepare a case against the two companies.

This is going to be a test case of biopiracy because for the first time a commercial entity will be booked under the Biodiversity Act.

ESG had accused the two seed companies and their Indian collaborators including UAS of using germplasm of six local varieties of brinjal for the development of Bt brinjal.

While Monsanto and Mahyco are trying to blame the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Dharwad, for supplying the local brinjal varieties, this may not weaken the case against them as the law makes no such distinction. Even USAID which facilitated agreements between Mahyco and Indian universities will have to share the blame.

“This is an unprecedented development in the conservation history of India”, said Leo Saldanha of ESG who had filed the complaint against the seed companies along with Bhargavi Rao. “While we are happy that action is finally being initiated, it is also a sad indicator that NBA acted only on the basis of our complaint and our persistence that some action was taken”. When contacted Monsanto tried to distance itself from the case by saying that it had not developed Bt brinjal, but it had been ‘developed by Mahyco, with the Cry1Ac gene accessed from Monsanto, in collaboration with multiple public sector institutions’. This is a halftruth because Monsanto owns 26 percent of Mahyco, and also has a separate joint venture Mahyco Monsanto Biotech Limited which handles its business related to Bt.

Interestingly Mahyco also denied any violation of the Biodiversity Act and said the Karnataka Biodiversity Board had informed it in April that “there has been a violation by UAS, Dharwad in using six local varieties of brinjal. Information was sought pertaining to the objectives of the agreements between UAS, Dharwad and the same is under consideration by the authorities”.

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