Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Nestle is stealing stuff from your home

Nestle -- the criminal corporation that made 11.55 billion dollars (Rs 56,595 crore) in pure profits last year by selling people junk food like Maggi, baby milk formulas that destroy the health of new-borns as well as water stolen from natural commons -- may have been receiving some help from the corrupt Manmohan Singh government in stealing India's traditional knowledge.

While we enrich Nestle by buying its junk food  -- more so by heeding a fuckhead like Amitabh Bachchan who's banking some extra crores by selling you "Meri Maggi" -- this transnational corporate thug has been busy enclosing more of global commons -- traditional knowledge that is.

Nestle is well on its way to patent Nigella sativa -- or kalaunji (Hindi), karinjirakam (Malayalam), kalo jira (Bangla). It's a herb that's widely used as a traditional medicine as well as a culinary ingredient in Indian households. Your mother or grandmother will bear me out.

Nigella sativa's medicinal uses include as a cure for asthma --- all well documented by scientists in India, Pakistan and elsewhere in the non-Western cultures.

SumOfUs, a US-based activist group, has run a campaign against Nestle's attempt to patent Nigella sativa -- eliciting international outrage and compelling this corporate bandit to make a fraudulent statement.

Read more about Nestle's patent application at the following link.

Read more about Nestle's bio-piracy attempt at And read my understanding of the matter, including Nestle's fraudulent statement and why India seems supine in the face of this theft, in the paras at the bottom of this post.

You may like to write to V.K. Gupta of Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) and Biswajit Dhar of Research and Information System for Developing Countries to tell them to do what they can to stop this outrage.

Their email addresses are (Gupta) and and (Dhar).

Why does Nestle think it can get way with this? Here is what I understand why.

First a little background: India seems to have been one of the more tougher challengers -- among developing countries -- to Nestle's repeated attempts at bio-piracy. India is, of course, also a big stakeholder. It has a wealth of traditional medicine systems like Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani and ancient texts/recorded knowledge.

It's one of the 17 "mega-diverse" countries, i.e. countries that are especially generously endowed with bio-diversity and plant genetic resources.

In fact, India had intervened earlier, successfully, to prevent an attempt by Qatar-based Al Jassim Group to patent Nigella Sativa knowledge for treatment of Asthma/allergy.

Data from India's Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) was used to invalidate Al Jassim's patent application no. EP1709995.

And data from TKDL have been used successfully to invalidate Nestle's three patent applications. Under agreement with India, a patent office in Europe (or elsewhere) must test patent applications against records in TKDL of 'prior art'.

One of these applications by Nestle had to be withdrawn in June 2011 and two in January 2012. The three patent applications were:

(a) Application no. EP2263481 -- Green tea extracts of improved bioavailability"
(b) Application no. EP2251032 -- Lactoferrin and brain health and protection in adults"
(c) Application no. EP2251029 -- Lactoferrin and gut neuronal health in adults and/or elderly"

So what has changed this time round? Why have TKDL data not been effective in invalidating Nestle's bid to patent Nigella Sativa knowledge?

I think the answer lies in Nestle's cunning strategy, along with the advent of Nagoya Protocol which Government of India is in the process of ratifying.

Nestle has tried to foolproof its strategy in the following, two-pronged manner.

(a) Pretend that the patent is not based -- in the first place -- on 'traditional knowledge'.

(b) Simultaneously, look and sound fair-minded and large-hearted by saying that 'we are anyway going to share the benefits, under Nagoya Protocol, arising out of the use of Nigella Sativa with the countries that produce the plant'.

Nestle spokesperson told Business Standard, an Indian daily, that "the research on Nigella Sativa was not inspired by any kind of traditional knowledge but focused on the compound which is found in this plant and other plants".

"The compound can be a thymoquinone containing extract, such as an extract from Nigella sativa (black cumin), or from other plants such as Eupatorium ayapana (now Ayapana triplinervis, or water hemp, an American plant from the daisy family), Satureja montana (winter savory, a European plant from the mints family), or the Thymus genus (plants from the mints family, found in Europe, North Africa and Asia)," Nestle spokesperson said.

Pressed further on patent application's appropriation of traditional knowledge, Nestle spokesperson said:
"Nestle recognizes the importance of biodiversity and respects the sovereign rights of nations over their natural resources, including genetic (biological) resources. We fully support the principle of fair access and benefit-sharing as described in the Convention on Biological Diversity of 1992 and the more recent Nagoya Protocol of 2010."

It's easy to see that benefits sharing under Nagoya Protocol does not prevent misappropriation of traditional knowledge or bio-piracy; it just fosters a framework of compromise in which there will likely be sharing of benefits between exploiters of genetic resources and providers of such resources.

So Nagoya Protocol may have lulled India into inaction in blocking Nestle's bid to appropriate its traditional knowledge pertaining to Nigella Sativa.

I won't even be surprised if it transpired that Nestle engaged in some underhand dealing with some part of the Government of India to weaken the case against the patent application, such as buying time until Nagoya Protocol is ratified.

(I understand the US is not among the signatories of the Nagoya Protocol. So even the compromise on benefit sharing is far far from fair.)

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