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Intellectual Property Rights & Biotechnology:

Indian Seed Conflicts

number: 41

mnemonic: grainwar






1. Abstract

This case study will examine the production and intellectual protection of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in the US and the effect that they have on conflict and the environment in India. Many groups in India reject the patenting of life forms in the market place. This rejection of intellectual properties has lead to several Indian groups to attack several Western subsidiaries that are based in India. A major recipient of these attacks has been Cargill Seed Company. The Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS) is a powerful farmer's association that has been responsible for such attacks as a July 12, 1993 demolishing of a Cargill plant in Bellry, India. Another attack occurred on December 29, 1992 when KRRS activists destroyed the official records at Cargill's plant in Bangladore, India. At the heart of these and other attacks Indian objections to the largely Western concept of protecting biotechnically engineered lifeforms through patents.

2. Description

In the broadest sense, biotechnology includes, "any technique that uses living organisms, or parts of such organisms, to make or modify products, to improve plants or animals for human needs, or to develop microorganisms for specific use." (OTA '88) Biotechnology consists of techniques ranging form traditional methods that have been preformed throughout human history in industry, agriculture, and food processing, to modern biotechnology characterized by genetic engineering. (Doyle and Persley)

The history of biotechnology has occurred in three phases. The first generation of biotechnology is based on empirical practice and minimal scientific or technical inputs. These techniques date back to the stone age, and use biological organisms such as bacteria, yeasts, enzymes, and traditional methods of fermentation to produce food and drink such as bread and wine. (Avramovic)

Biotechnology has its roots in the brewers of Babylon and ancient Egypt. Over time, the process of alcohol production became a standard industry that nations developed. Known as zymotechnology, the fermentation process was eventually applied to alternative industries outside the realm of beer and wine. (Bud) By the year 1900, zymotechnology processes had progressed to include a wide variety of applications including leather curing and citric acid production. (Bud) These zymotechnical methods constitute a bridge between the biotechnology's traditional heritage and its modern associations.

The second generation of biotechnology began during the interwar period when developments in fermentation technology using pure cell culture and sterile manufacturing facilities began to yield new products. Examples of the Phase II innovations are acetane, butanol, glycerol, Vitamin B2, citric acid, and lactic acid, but perhaps the most important discovery was that of penicillin in 1928. These discoveries led to the interest in, and subsequent development of, large-scale production of fermentation products for the pharmaceutical industry. The ability to innovate biotechnically, and produce new products for mass market, spurred a rapid increase in life sciences research. This research spawned the production of new antibiotics such as cephalosporines, as well as an increasing range of enzymes, vitamins and steroid like hydrocortisomes. (Avramovic)

In the 1930's the US agriculture industry began to use hybrid crop varieties which increased crop yields dramatically. By the late 1950's increases in biotech research led to the use of amino acid preparation for agricultural products such as glutamate in food flavoring and polysaccharides used as stabilizing/filling agents in food manufacturing. Due to the tremendous economic significance of the products developed this stage became known as the "Green Revolution." The Green Revolution can be viewed as a predecessor to the biotechnical revolution except that biotechnology encompasses a greater number of affected areas with a heightened impact. (Avramovic)

The turning point leading to a third generation, or modern biotechnology, is the discovery at Cambridge University of the structure of Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The subsequent research linking four related chemicals called bases to their related DNA sequence led to product developments signifying the beginning of modern biotechnology. (Rudolph )

The advances of modern biotechnology techniques have exponentially increased over the past two decades. The applications developed from these methods are consistent with those used throughout human history in industry, agriculture and food processing. Thus, while modern biotechnology provides powerful new tools, these tools are used to generate products that fill essentially the same role as those produced with more traditional methods. The major difference is that as biotechnology has developed, the cost of generating products has risen. Despite these rising costs, the trade-off made is the precision with which new techniques may be used and the shortened time required to produce results. (Doyle & Persley)

Modern biotechniques are varied, but three broad classes of basic biological techniques are of particularly prominent in industry use. First, tissue cell culture technology is used to establish cell lines used for medical diagnosis and treatments. Next, Hybridoma technology is used in various reproductions of human monoclonal antibodies, which can then be used as a supplement to natural human antibodies in medical treatments. (OTA '91) Finally, Recombinant DNA, also referred to as genetic engineering, is the most prominent biotechnique. This technique involves the direct manipulation of genetic materials of organic cells. Its application covers all industries that include organic cells such as agriculture, medical, and the environment. (OTA '91)

Cargill is one of a number of transnational corporations, which have begun to establish economic relations with India. India is by no means Cargill's first international business venture. With more than 140 affiliates and subsidiaries around the world, Cargill controls a large share of the world's grain trade. Since the 1950's, Cargill has become the main contractor of US food AID funded under Public Law 480 (1954). This law was amended in 1968 to allow for US food companies to obtain local currency from the proceeds of food aid. As a consequence of this amendment, subsidiaries of the food processors were set up in the areas of animal feed, poultry, and also export crops. Additionally, in the articles of the new WTO agreement provide more freedom to food processing corporations to enter seed markets of all member nations. This access is vital to the transnational corporations ability to develop subsidiaries and research facilities in nations such as India. These agro-industry corporations may achieve economies of scale by entering the foreign markets and thus squeeze out traditional small farmers. This unrestricted access to foreign markets and their biological diversity is the main cause for the conflict that is arising against transnational corporations in India. The map below shows all of Cargill's international business dealings which are denoted by the black shading:


3. Duration 1992-Present

The dispute has escalated in recent years as biotechnolgoy products have been brought to market, and free trade regimes have allowed for less and unrestricted access to several transnational corporations into India. These products are derived largely by US and EU manufacturers. The products themselves have only been available for the last few years and thus the conflict is fairly new. The roots of this conflict; however. come from the Indian Patents Act which was passed in 1970. This Act promotes the protection and promotion of technical and industrial developments. This act does not however, provide for protection of any inventions which fall into seven categories.

 1. Inventions the use of which would be contrary to law or morality or injurious to public health.
2. Scientific theories, discoveries and mathmatical methods.
3. Methods for treatment of the human or animal body by surgery on therapy or diagnostic methods practiced on the human or animal body.
4. Methods of agriculture or horticulture.
5. Methods of testing.
6. Invention relating to atomic energy.
7. Plant or animal varieties or essentially biological process for the production of plants or animals; micro-organisms and substances obtained by micro-biological processes.

These exceptions to patenting allowed the Indian government and it's society to reject any products that are life based for patenting.

4. Location

a. Continent: Asia

b. Region: South Asia

c. State: India

5. Actors: India and the US

II. Environment

6. Type of Environmental Problem: Biodiversity

a. Source Problems: Cultural


7. Type of Habitat: Tropical


8. Act and Harm Sites:

Combinations of Act and Harm Sites

(modified from Christopher Stone,The Gnat is Older than Man, 1993, p. 37.)
Site of Act:. Site of Harm: Example


Capture and patenting of rare and altered life forms by transnational corporations and Indian farmers refusal to recognize this intellectual property.

III. Conflict

9. Type of Conflict: Civil

10. Level of Conflict: low

11. Fatality Level: 0

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics:

a. Direct:

The attacks by the Indian farmers groups in this case is a direct result of the cultural views on life between the Western world where the products are manufactured and India where they are sold. The resolution of this matter is occurring at multiple levels. The Indian government has accepted WTO proposals on agriculture recently which ignighted the violence. The WTO proposals are now being reviewed by the Indian government. Also, the US government is conducting high level negotiations attempting to gain acceptance of US manufactured biotechnology products.


13. Outcome of Dispute:In Progress


14. Level of Strategic Interest: State

IV. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE Cases


16. Relevant Websites And Literature

Chossudovsky, Michel. "The Globalization of Famine" (Third World Network Features, ECODEC)

India Information Inc. "India Patents Act" 1970.

Khor, Martin, "A Worldwide fight against biopiracy and patents on life" (Third World Network Features)

Noronha, Frederick, "India-Biotechnology" (India Abroad News Service, 5-26-97)

Sahai, Suman, "The Bogus Debate on Bioethics" (Gene Campaign, New Delhi, India. 4-23-97)

Third World Network Features, "Indian Farmers Attack Cargill Seed Plant," June 12,1993.

Third World Network Features, "Joint NGO Statement on Issues and Proposals for the WTO Ministerial Conference"