No more thieving

Published: Wednesday 31 January 1996

INDIA is arming itself take on the enemy in the 'gene war'. It will no longer be easy for foreign firms to steal centuries-old traditional Indian plant varieties. In a bid to check any attempt to 'pilfer' the country's vast plant genetic heritage worth billions of dollars, India is strengthening its patent laws.

The government is proposing stringent measures under a new law called Plant Varieties Protection Act. Over 2,300 currently unprotected Indian plant varieties would be covered by the law. The law would help evolve a self- generating system to suit Indian needs and protect the rights of farmers for use and reuse as seed, selling farm produce and deposition of gene samples to a national gene bank. The law would be based on the Union for Protection of New Varieties of Plants, an agreement signed in 1987 and renewed in 1991 by 33 countries including India, said R S Paroda, director-general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. India had protested strongly when a us firm had recently tried to get a patent for the traditional neem plant.

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