Breaking News: Monsanto To Face Biopiracy Charges In India

Photo by Arne Hückelheim

According to an article published this month in the journal Nature Biotechnology, Monsanto is facing biopiracy charges in India.

In an unprecedented decision, India's National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), a government agency, declared legal action against Monsanto (and their collaborators) for accessing and using local eggplant varieties (known as brinjal) to develop their Bt genetically engineered version1 without prior approval of the competent authorities, which is considered an act of "biopiracy."2

The journal of Nature Biotechnology reported

"An Indian government agency has agreed to sue the developers of genetically modified (GM) eggplant for violating India's Biological Diversity Act of 2002. India's National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) is alleging that the developers of India's first GM food crop—Jalna-based Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) partnered with St. Louis–based seed giant Monsanto and several local universities-used local varieties to develop the transgenic crop, but failed to gain the appropriate licenses for field trials.

At the same time, activists in Europe are claiming that patents on conventionally bred plants, including a melon found in India, filed by biotech companies violate farmers' rights to use naturally occurring breeds. Both these pending legal cases could set important precedents for biopiracy in India and Europe."

An excerpt from the NBA's official resolution giving effect to the decision, and released on August 11 2011, follows below:

"A background note besides legal opinion on Bt brinjal [GM egplant] 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."

[Official copy of these minutes may be accessed here.]

As reported by the Environment Support Group (ESG), the "alleged violation" referred to by the NBA was the ESG's complaint: 

"...specifically charging these agencies for criminally accessing at least 10 varieties of brinjal in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu without in any manner seeking prior and informed consent from the National Biodiversity Authority, State Biodiversity Boards and applicable Local Biodiversity Management Committees as required. Such a rigorous process of appraisal is mandatory to protect loss of biodiversity due to misuse or overuse, theft of biodiversity and to secure biodiversity from contamination when transgencis are involved.

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