www.checkbiotech.org ; www.raupp.info ; www.czu.cz
The mega event, the 2nd International Rice Congress-2006 (IRC) concluded in
Delhi last week with a determination to boost rice production for food and
nutritional security, trade and elevating millions of the world?s poor,
October 2006 by Ashok B Sharma.
The scientists gathered at the conclave earmarked areas of activities like
development of seeds resistant to submergence, drought and salinity through
genetic enhancement, molecular breeding and transgenics.
Quality seed production and storage, nutrient use efficiency, combating
global climate change, conservation agriculture and restoring soil health,
creating markets for rice, development and popularisation of aromatic and
medicinal rice, financial and economic profitability, processing and value
addition, deployment of ICT in agriculture and private-public partnership
were also discussed. Farm ministers of nine Asian countries?China, India,
Indonesia, Laos, Nepal, Pakistan, The Philippines, Sri Lanka and
Vietnam ?signed an accord for multi-lateral cooperation.
The efforts to ensure food and nutritional security in rice are laudable.
But rice scientists are likely to face major hurdle in moving towards their
goal. Swiss biotech giant Syngenta has tightened its monopoly control over
rice by seeking global patent rights over thousands of gene sequences. The
rice DNA contains 37,544 genes, roughly one-fourth more than the genes in a
human body. With the multinational all set to ?own? the world?s most
important staple crop, there may be serious implications for future
Syngenta has filed for its rights before the European Patent Office, US
Patent and Trademark Office and the World Intellectual Property Rights
Organisation. Syngenta?s claims are also aimed at other important food crops
like wheat, corn, sorghum, rye, banana, soyabean, fruits and vegetables,
besides others. The company has claimed that most of the gene sequences that
it has ?invented? are identical in other crops and therefore the patent
rights need to be extended to these crops as well.
The scientists at the IRC were happy in reiterating that the gene sequencing
and the knowledge of structural genomics have given a wonderful tool for
developing new rice types. Little do they know that their task may not be an
easy one, once Syngenta is accorded with patent rights.
However, director-general of the International Rice Research Institute
Robert S Zeigler was vocal in saying that germplasm and research tools
should not be patented, while the final product may be patented. Zeigler
needs the support of global IPR experts and scientists to translate his
noble intention into action.
The seed multinationals like Monsanto, Bayers and Syngenta have always been
using the national research institutes and inter-governmental agencies to
further its goals. The public sector national and international global
research bodies have begun depending on these multinationals for funds. In
the era of ?economic liberalisation?, most of the governments, particularly
in the developing world, are withdrawing their controls and are under fiscal
strain. The contribution of both the developed and developing countries to
public sector research is on the decline.
A session on commerce within the IRC cautioned that global trade is likely
to become complex with the commercialisation of GM rice. There would be
problems of certification and labeling as consumers in some countries do not
want to eat GM food. Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, while
inaugurating the congress, advocated the deployment of biotechnology. He
called for balancing of ethical and religious issues and did not speak on
the safety aspects relating to health and environment. But a session in the
congress did dwell on biosafety issues of GM crops. Zeigler and others
clarified that all biotechnological applications may not lead to a GM
product?some like marker assisted selection and gene pyramiding may lead to
a non-GM product.
There are ample options before scientists to develop improved plant types,
without taking help of transgenic technology. GM crops developed so far
promise no increase in genetic yield potential and they are mostly claimed
to be insect and pest resistant.
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