Bio-Pirates: India Sues Monsanto for Biopiracy

Photo Courtesy of Skasuga |

Global Biotechnology Giant, Monsanto, is getting a taste of their own aggressive litigiousness. The Indian National Biodiversity Authority has been pursuing the charge of Biopiracy against the corporation since late 2009, citing that the company’s use of a tradition steam of Brinjal eggplant in their development of a Bt Brinjal violates the country’s Biological Diversity Act, which was enacted in 2002. 

The Biological Diversity Act calls for GMO developers to apply for prior approval before using naturally occurring crop breeds for the purposes of genetic modification. Monsanto offered no prior notice to the Indian National Biodiversity Authority, and through it’s subsidiary Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco), began the Bt Brinjal development process without any consideration of the value or rightful ownership of indigenous farming knowledge. Using six traditional strains of Brinjal eggplant Monsanto and Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company have developed a Bt variety of the local crop which produces it’s own insecticide internally in an effort to ward off undesirable pests. Bt strain crops developed by Monsanto have been conclusively linked to causing internal inflammation in Humans and animals, with potential impacts like increasing allergies, increasing the likelihood of heart disease and numerous cancers. 

Indian farmers and members of the Biodiversity authority argue that the six strains of traditional Brinjal eggplant are all direct results of hundreds of years of culminated Indian agricultural knowledge and experimentation, and that that knowledge cannot be utilized without the knowledge and approval of the Indian authorities. 

Monsanto’s response has been minimal and terse, with a focus on distancing themselves from the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company, who carried out their local operations. Monsanto said that it had simply provided Mahyco with some patented genes and was not intimately involved in the Bt Brinjal project. However, Monsanto owns 26 percent of Mahyco and has a substantial presence on it’s executive board. So things may have been more ‘intimate’ that Monsanto suggests. 

General criticisms of the Indian case against Monsanto have centered on the idea of monopolizing and citing the origin of traditional indigenous knowledge. How can the National Biodiversity Authority sue Monsanto for Biopiracy without finding the exact origin of the Brinjal eggplant varieties used? Moreover, who would the beneficiaries of this lawsuit be? Who exactly owns the Brinjal eggplant? Regardless, this case could potential initiate an enormously progressive precedent in the fight against Monsanto’s insatiable quest for global crop domination. 

Lauren Murphy