USAID program charged with seed theft in India

A genetically-modified food project funded by the US Agency for International Development faces legal action for bio-piracy offences. The National Biodiversity Authority of India has published its decision to allow the case to proceed.

Local organizations responsible for the research and development of Bt Brinjal, a modified aubergine, are alleged to have acquired genetic material from aubergine varieties without obtaining prior permission of the Indian authorities.

Such an oversight would contravene India’s Biological Diversity Act which regulates access to natural resources and ensures that local communities benefit from any commercial exploitation.

Monsanto, the giant US biotechnology company which leads the world in development of genetically-modified crops, owns 26% of Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds, the company responsible for the commercial marketing of Bt Brinjal.

The charges, which have been denied by both Mahyco and Monsanto, will fuel claims by anti-GM food campaigners that USAID acts as an agent of the US biotechnology industry, embedding its products into developing countries with funds earmarked for hunger reduction.

The development of Bt Brinjal emerged through the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II, a consortium led by Cornell University and funded by USAID. One of the published aims of the project is the “commercialization of bio-engineered crops as a complement to traditional and organic agricultural approaches.”

The aid agency’s support for GM technology has become even more explicit through association with President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative for global food security, for which USAID has principal responsibility for implementation.

Earlier this year, USAID chief, Dr. Rajiv Shah, announced new partnerships with Monsanto and 16 other global agribusiness corporations. Speaking at the World Economic Forum at Davos in January, he said: “USAID is committed to creating new public-private partnerships in Feed the Future focus countries to advance their national investment plans.”

Monsanto’s latest move in India is an application for permission to access varieties of Indian onions with the intention of creating a commercial hybrid. Clearance will be awarded if the National Biodiversity Authority receives no official objections from relevant state bodies by the end of August.

Few subjects could be more sensitive for the new chair of the Authority, Dr Balakrishna Pisupati, who is due to start work this week. Every Indian household is intimately acquainted with the characteristics of local onion varieties.

“No fresh application for accessing India’s biological resources must be entertained from any agency being investigated for biopiracy,” is the verdict in a statement released by leaders of the Environment Support Group, an Indian NGO which closely monitors the implementation of biodiversity laws.


this article was first published in the OneWorld section of Yahoo World News