NEW DELHI, August 16, 2005 (Financial Express
via CropChoice.com): The Swiss biotech giant,
Syngenta has tightened its monopoly control over rice
by seeking global patents over thousands of gene sequences.
A single grain of rice contains 37,544 genes, roughly
one-fourth more than the genes in a human body. With
the multinational all set to "own" rice, the
world's most important staple food crop, there may be
serious implications for future research in this crop.
These patents are filed before the European Patent
Office, US Patent and Trademark Office and the World
Intellectual Property Rights Organisation (WIPO).
"If conceded, it will be the beginning of scientific
apartheid not only against India but for all Third World
countries," said Devinder Sharma, chair of the
New Delhi-based Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security.
The former director-general of Indian Council of Agricultural
Research (ICAR) and present vice-chancellor of Banaras
Hindu University Dr Punjab Singh said, "The situation
is very serious. All patent applications need proper
scrutiny and India should fight to safeguard its interests,
if they are affected."
Syngenta's patent claims are also aimed at other important
food crops like wheat, corn, sorghum, rye, banana, soyabean,
fruits and vegetables besides others. The company claims
that most of the gene sequences that it has 'invented'
are identical in other crops and therefore the patent
needs to extend to those crops also. In all, Syngenta
has filed for patents on 15 gene sequences.
In a communication to the NGOs - Berne Declaration
(Switzerland), Swissaid (Switzerland), the German NGO
"No Patents on Life" and Greenpeace, Adrian
Dubock, head of Biotechnology ventures in Syngenta,
had said, "Syngenta's original commercial interest
(discontinued for now, but not necessarily forever)
was for sales in the industrialized countries of nutritionally
enhanced crops, included, but not limited to rice."
According to Dubock, the patent on the GE rice will
not be dropped. Yet the company claims there are no
commercial interests in this technology at the moment.