October 23, 2003



Monsanto Withdrawal From Europe May Help India Wheat


Food and environment rights activists believe American biotech giant Monsanto's decision to partially withdraw from Europe will give a boost to an Indian campaign as they can now free a wheat patented by the multinational company (MNC).


Groups such as the New Delhi-based Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) and the global environment campaigner, Greenpeace, state that a Monsanto patent for a strain of wheat it claims to have invented is derived from a traditional Indian variety of the cereal.


"We expect Monsanto's withdrawal from Europe to strengthen our case," says RFSTE additional director Afsar H. Jafri. RFSTE and Greenpeace are planning to challenge the patent in the European Patent office in Munich before end 2003.


"The Monsanto patent pirates the collective cumulative innovation of Indian farmers," alleges RFSTE, maintaining that the traits of Indian wheat Monsanto claims to have invented are part of India's food culture. "The patent is thus a piracy not just of millennia of breeding by Indian farmers but also of millennia of innovation in food qualities," it says.


Though Monsanto's decision to withdraw from the European market is being hailed by anti-GM activists as a victory for the campaign against Genetically Modified (GM) crops that they claim contaminate the environment, on the other side, Indian campaigners are also concerned of the issue on whether MNC will now focus more on developing nations.


"Monsanto will be on the look out for other markets, and since it has already been eyeing India and China, we have to be a lot more vigilant," says Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign, another New Delhi-based organization working for the rights of Indian farmers.


But activists expect Monsanto to use India as a lucrative market, despite the agitation over the impact of GM crops. "We fear Monsanto will get government agencies to clear their operations by hook or by crook," says Jafri.


Sahai believes the European experience, where pressure from civil society has driven governments to put a de facto moratorium on the production of GM crops, can be replicated in India only if the government is more transparent about its policy on GM crops.


"But the problem is that the government of India is as transparent as a brick wall," she states.


The groups, however, stress there will be no slow down in pressurizing the Indian government on the hazards of GM crops.
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