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intellectual property

This is Why It’s Important to Know What bt Stands For

We’ve been hearing more about India in the news lately. Along with the decision about whether or not to approve bt eggplants (brinjal), India is also debating a set of new biotechnology intellectual property laws. As I’ve said in the past India currently doesn’t recognize genetic patents, so anybody can breed transgenes into their own seeds and sell them. Of course the only legalized GE crop in India right now is cotton but as others are legalized, the same situation would apply.

I’ll admit I disagree with this quote:

Clinton said she favoured a strong intellectual property or patent regime (IPR) to safeguard the ownership of agricultural research, as that would be in ‘everyone’s interest’.

India is faced with the question of how best to balance protection for creators, to encourage biotech research, and the rights of farmers, to make sure they get the most possible benefit from that research. It is important to strike the right balance between the two, not just cater to the desires of one side of the other. It’s the same issue faced by every country when it comes to regulating everything from pharmaceutical research to the music industry.

And I have faith India will find the right balance. After all we’re talking about a country where cheap pirate copies of movies are available cheaply and easily on every street corner sometimes before movies even make it into theaters, yet Bollywood (the Indian film industry based in Mumbai) is quite profitable, turns out twice as many films as Hollywood, and is probably the only other national film industry, other than America’s, recognized around the world.*

So given all that could the people who write about the issue please PLEASE bother to look up what bt stands for? Case in point:

First, the Indian government has yet to greenlight the commercialisation of Bt brinjal — crucial for the future of these ‘Bt brand’ companies — even after a thumbs up from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). … the MNCs who produce ‘Bt’ seeds, as genetically modified or GM crops have come to be popularly known (patents would ensure that no one else would be allowed to produce or sell these seeds).

*Off the top of my head I’d recommend Krrish and Salaam/Namaste as examples of entertaining movies Bollywood has put out recently, and Gol Maal as a hilarious one from several decades ago.

Sugar Belle Citrus and Patents

Mandarin Orange (Not a Sugar Belle)

Mandarin Orange (Not a Sugar Belle) from dungodung on flickr

We’ve been talking about grains and genetic engineering strait for a few days, so I thought it’d be the perfect time to put up a story about conventionally bred citrus. The University of Florida put out a press release about a new mandarin orange breed developed by Fred Gmitter, called Sugar Belle. The fruit is of course described as delicious and it may well be, I can’t say one way or the other. Importantly to a different group of people (producers rather than consumers of citrus fruit), the fruit matures 4-6 weeks earlier than other varieties of mandarin, making the harvest better timed to cater to the demand for citrus around Christmas.

Fred has been developing the breed since 1985, when he found the tree Sugar Belle was bred from in the experimental plot of another plant breeder who’d just retired. That’s twenty-four years of research and development. 1985 is the year “new coke” was released. Soviet and Western forces still faced off against each other across the Berlin Wall. If Sugar Belle was a person, it’d already be old enough to be in grad school right now.

The lesson here (one of them) is that it takes a long time to breed fruit trees.

But that’s not the only interesting thing about this story. (more…)