India vs Monsanto

I think I might have mentioned I was reading the book Fatal Harvest. It’s a giant book, and not the sort of thing you breeze thru. It is, however, the sort of thing that completely occupies your mind. Perhaps because of that,
another post from TreeHugger this morning really caught my eye.This article was about the ongoing struggle against bio-piracy in India. In this particular case, the Indian people won their right to keep much of their heritage from being patented by unscrupulous US companies. The government of India has been moving to declare the 1500 asanas, as well as aspects of ayurvedic and other traditional medicines as part of the public domain, therefore not subject to being privatized.
While this may sound like a statement of the obvious, India has had a long struggle with these sorts of issues, and unfortunately, a history of losing these battles. The challenge to a US patent of Turmeric, a common spice with well-documented healing properties, took many years and millions of dollars to overturn, for example. A similar brouhaha erupted over the patent of Neem Oil, another staple of Indian medicine and considered a gift from the Tree of Life. Again, successfully fighting this wrongful patent cost years in the courts and millions of dollars in resources.
I first became aware of the struggle everyday Indians faced a few years back when Vendana Shiva went public about the shameful practices of Monsanto and PepsiCo. From suing farmers over seed-saving, to bankrupting farmers by stealing their water, it seemed that the whole country was in danger of falling prey to unscrupulous business practices and unfair patent laws.

These proactive steps taken by India’s government represent an important shift in policy, one which should help protect against the biopiracy of the future, and will help protect the knowledge faithfully handed down by generations to the next in line. While the fight isn’t over, all farmers, gardeners and practitioners of traditional medicines can do a small happy dance that these issues are finally being brought out into the open.


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