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The BBC's Nicola Carslaw
"An unlikely product to cause an intercontinetal row"
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Monday, 26 June, 2000, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
Charity fights basmati 'biopiracy'
Rice farmers in India
Rice farming in India could be threatened by patents
Development charity ActionAid has launched a campaign to stop businesses claiming ownership of plants and their genes.

The charity claims the livelihoods of poor farmers in countries such as India could be threatened by the actions of organisations like US bio-tech firm Rice Tec Inc which has been given a patent for its type of basmati rice.

Farmers protest
Farmers protest in India against US patents

ActionAid is urging the UK government to reverse its support for patenting and boycott a European Union directive allowing the practice.

But Rice-Tec argues that such a small company does not pose a threat to the big Indian rice industry.

Protest advertisements published in national newspapers on Monday warn that entire food crops could be next on the patent list.

ActionAid is backing countries like India in their opposition to biopiracy

Ruchi Tripathi

Basmati, known as the "king of rice", is the costliest rice in the world and India is the leading exporter.

But in the paddy fields of Texas, the Rice Tec Inc company is growing a strain of rice which it advertises as "comparable to the best basmati rice, but different."

Cultural threat

Farmers in northern India, where most of the natural rice is grown, say there is a threat to India's culture and heritage.

ActionAid's protest, which includes lobbying World Trade Organisation talks on patenting, coincides with the Indian government's legal challenge to the US patent.

ActionAid supports the legal challenge against Rice-Tec's patent Basmati

Ruchi Tripathi, ActionAid food rights adviser, said the basmati patent exposed the mounting threat to crops developed and grown by poor farmers for generations.

"If rich countries abuse their power to get their way in the WTO, developing countries like India will lose the right to challenge patents on crops," she said.

"This is why ActionAid is backing countries like India in their opposition to biopiracy."

The WTO talks, which open on Monday aim to extend patent rights to staple food and crops

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06 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
Charity warns against GM seeds
17 Jul 98 | South Asia
King of rice in court
26 Jun 98 | Asia-Pacific
Thailand accuses US company over rice
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