Rice row

US eyeing patent on Thai jasmine rice?

 
Published: Sunday 15 June 2003

Thai rice at risk thai jasmine rice could soon suffer a similar fate as that of Indian basmati . The us is developing a new strain of the aromatic rice that is indigenous to Thailand.

Under the research project, Chris Deren of the University of Florida, is altering original jasmine rice using gamma rays. The new variety would be a semi-dwarf one, and will flower early so that it can be harvested before the onset of winter. At present, Thai jasmine rice fetches a premium price in the us.

If the us is successful in its efforts, several Thai farmers who export this rice could lose their means of livelihood. FoodFirst Information and Action Network (fian), an international human rights organisation, is demanding a guarantee from the us department of agriculture (usda) that it will not seek a patent on the new strain of jasmine rice. The usda is funding the research.

"Although Deren has promised not to apply for patents by himself, somebody else will probably do so," fears Karsten Wolff from the 'Save Our Rice' campaign, Malaysia. Wolff adds: "International regulations prohibit intellectual property rights on germplasm. But as soon as the germplasm is altered, one can apply for a patent."

If Thailand gets protection for jasmine rice on the basis of geographical indication (gi), other countries would be prevented from commercially cultivating it. Under gi, a product is identified as originating in a country or a region where a given quality or reputation can be attributed exclusively to its geographical origin. But Thailand's draft gi bill does not even include jasmine rice at the national level.

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