July 10, 2013. Delhi. The battle in India between millennia-old beliefs about nature versus the WTO, IMF and the rest of the global government has been raging for decades. And this week, farmers and ordinary citizens won a major victory. While Monsanto insists they can own and patent life forms like plants and animals, the Indian Patent Office just broke with the globalists and forcefully said no.
Thousands of widows march against Monsanto. In India, 270,000 farmers have commit suicide in the last 15 years.
This week’s ruling by India’s Intellectual Property Appellate Board against Monsanto’s claim to be able to patent plants may be new, but the argument is old. Since the first days of European expansion into North America, westerners bumped into a culture that didn’t understand the European concept of owning nature. “A man can’t own the Earth, the wind, the water or Mother Nature,” Native Americans argued. But their argument lost with great bloodshed and death. Today, modern farmers in India are fighting the same battle all over again.
History vs. the future
For thousands of years, Indian farmers have used ingenious methods, handed down from generation to generation, to outsmart nature’s obstacles. They created salt-resistant seeds for seasons when the oceans flood the country’s farmland. They developed cold-resistant seeds for years when it’s too cold to grow regular crops. And they did it all naturally, using nothing but Mother Nature’s help.
Enter the World Trade Organization. At the behest of multi-national corporations like Monsanto, the global government passed laws that took ownership of naturally altered seeds away from the global public domain and handed them over to corporations. And in 2003, the WTO forced India to revise its patent laws to allow for corporate ownership of entire plant and animal species.
But India hesitated. Creating a compromise that didn’t make either side happy, the country refused to allow patents on animals, but left the door open for corporate ownership of plants. As detailed by Greens.org that year, ‘The new omission of “plants” from this section implies that a modification of a plant can now be counted as an invention and can hence be patented. Thus the method of producing Bt cotton by introducing genes of a bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis in cotton to produce toxins to kill the bollworm can now be covered by the exclusive rights associated with patents. In other words, Monsanto can now have Bt cotton patents in India. The Amendment of 3(i) is clearly a Monsanto Amendment.’
Describing India’s long-held reservations, the outlet wrote, ‘As a result of sustained public pressure after the agreement came into force in 1995, many Third World countries made recommendations for changes in Article 27.3 (b) to prevent biopiracy. India in its discussion paper submitted to the TRIPs Council stated:
“Patenting of life forms may have at least two dimensions. Firstly, there is the ethical question of the extent of private ownership that could be extended to life forms. The second dimension relates to the use of IPRs’ [intellectual property rights] concept as understood in the industrialized world and its appropriateness in the face of the larger dimension of rights on knowledge, their ownership, use, transfer and dissemination.”’
India rejects Monsanto’s patent claim
In rejecting Monsanto’s patent claims this week, the second most populous country in the world has set the stage for a major battle over the ability to own and patent life forms. While this particular patent rejection only focused on Monsanto’s application for patent protection on climate-resistant seeds, the Indian Patent office Appeals Board rejected it saying the corporation merely discovered a new property within a known substance that didn’t constitute an invention.
As detailed in today’s Economic Times/India Times, ‘Monsanto's method of "enhancing stress tolerance in plants and methods thereof" has already been accepted in the US and Europe. "This is the first time Section 3(d) has been used on plant patents, and its implications are farreaching," said environmentalist Vandana Shiva. This is also the first judgment citing Section 3(j), which specifies that plants and animals aren't patentable.’
A statement from Monsanto seemed to present a strategic conflict. As the company downplayed the Appeals Board’s rejection of its climate-resistant seeds, it also insisted the patents were necessary for future profit and growth in the Indian seed market, ‘The patents are essential for continued investments. Research and development efforts take over a decade to develop and patent protection is a must.’
Grassroots activists react
The above report went on to quote a number of individuals explaining that this is a serious setback for Monsanto. “Monsanto cannot do with climate resilient crops what it did with Bt cotton," said environmentalist Vandana Shiva. Subhra Priyadarshini, editor of Nature India, agreed saying, “This is a setback to Monsanto because they were betting on transgenic crops."
Indian patent attorney Rahul Dev also confirmed the sentiment explaining, “This patent was very crucial for Monsanto. Although, currently Monsanto sells only one variety of seeds (hybrid maize seeds) in India, had this patent been awarded, Monsanto could have enjoyed exclusive patent rights for all the seeds sold in India that used this technology." Showing that mankind still has an uphill fight ahead, the Economic Times piece reminds readers that three corporations – Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta – own 53% of all commercially used seeds on Earth.
The anti-Monsanto wing of the Occupy Wall Street movement also released a statement yesterday celebrating the announcement from India. The title read, ‘Monsanto Patent Rejected by Indian Government and Rejection upheld, Saving Small Farmers’.
The group’s statement explained the patent debate and the recent ruling saying, ‘The 1970 Patent Act of India excluded patents in agriculture, and product patents in medicine. The Act had to be amended when India signed the WTO agreements, including the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement of WTO. However, because of strong movements, clauses like 3 on “What are not inventions” were strengthened. Article 3(d) excludes as inventions “the mere discovery of any new property or new use for a known substance”.’
Like the environmentalists quoted by the Economic Times/India Times piece, Occupy Monsanto reiterates what many Indian citizens feared would happen if Monsanto was granted its patents on climate-resistant seeds, ‘270,000 farmers in India have committed suicide in India in the last decade and a half. Most of these suicides are in the cotton belt. Monsanto now controls 95% of the cotton seed supply through its GMO Bt cotton, and the associated Intellectual property claims. Costs of cotton seed jumped 8000% with the introduction of Bt cotton.’
In closing their statement yesterday, Occupy Monsanto spoke for the entire worldwide anti-GMO movement saying, “We applaud the decision of the Patent Office and Appellate Board and will disseminate it world wide so that other countries can use it to protect farmers, biodiversity and seed sovereignty. We will also be ready to intervene should Monsanto bring the case to the Supreme Court.”
To keep informed on future Monsanto and GMO happenings, visit OccupyMonsanto360.org.
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