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Tuesday, 21 November, 2000, 17:49 GMT
India 'should tackle rice patent'
Indian farmers harvesting rice
ActionAid says growers in developing countries will be hit hard
The Indian Government should step up its efforts to stop a US company controlling a patent on basmati rice, according to a UK-based charity.

ActionAid made their appeal at a news conference in Geneva along with several other groups demanding that the Texas-based company RiceTec drop its patent on basmati rice.

But the company argues that its patent does not hurt Indian farmers and accused its opponents of spreading myths.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is meeting in Geneva next week to discuss patenting issues.

Rice
Opponents say RiceTec's basmati is developed from South Asian strains
Opponents of the rice patent argue that it is a threat to growers and exporters in developing countries.

They also dispute that the basmati variety patented by RiceTec is an invention, saying it is simply derived from varieties grown for years by farmers in South Asia.

The patent was granted to the company in 1997 by the US Patent and Trademark Office and allows RiceTec to market the rice as a new variety both in the US and abroad.

Challenge

The Indian Government has successfully challenged only four out of 20 claims contained in the patent.

Challenging such patents is costly, according to ActionAid spokesman Paul Collins.


In fact, in the last five years basmati imports have more than doubled

RiceTec spokesman Bruce Hicks
But he said it was important for developing countries to do it in order prevent growers and exporters from being squeezed out of business.

Mr Collins said that the WTO was meant to be encouraging greater access to world markets for developing countries - but patents could damage such efforts.

RiceTec denies that it poses a threat to the big Indian rice industry, and argues that its strain of rice is "comparable to basmati but different."

A spokesman for the company told BBC News Online that basmati had been grown in the US for the past 25 years and his company's efforts in no way harmed Indian farmers.

"In fact, in the last five years basmati imports [to the US] have more than doubled," the spokesman, Bruce Hicks, said.

The patent does not prevent rice growers in other countries from selling their produce in the US.

However, the exported rice would have to be different to the RiceTec brand.

Both India and Pakistan export large amounts of basmati rice, which is one of the best known varieties in the world.

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See also:

26 Jun 00 | Business
Charity fights basmati 'biopiracy'
17 Jul 98 | South Asia
King of rice in court
06 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
Charity warns against GM seeds
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