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Is biopiracy helping Brazil recreate coveted breeds of Indian cattle there? The Andhra Pradesh Biodiversity Board (APBD) has launched an investigation into one such suspected case where an Andhra cattle-breeder recently sold a bull of the famous Ongole breed to an Indian middleman—working for the Brazilians—for a reported sum of Rs 35 lakh and without sanction from the authorities. The Biological Diversity Act of 2002 requires prior permission for any export of Indian genetic material (which was not granted in this case). The value of a healthy Ongole bull, apparently, is in the crores in Brazil.
Brazil has in the past imported live cattle, embryos and semen samples from India to improve local breeds and even replicate Indian breeds there. The results have been extremely positive, allowing the South American country to create a flourishing dairy and meat industry worth billions of dollars using, at least in part, genetic material from Indian cattle. Brazilian foreign minister Antonio Patriota, on a visit to India last month, reportedly even made a special request for genetic samples in exchange for an Indian demand for Brazilian football coaches! That said, acquisition of prized genetic material hasn’t always happened through legal channels. There are concerns about India’s biodiversity being trafficked around the world without any equitable sharing of revenue with locals who have helped protect these resources.
Says APBD member secretary S.N. Jadhav, “Our investigations show that an Indian middleman who works for the Brazilians acquired the bull and sent it to a laboratory in Bhavnagar. If we find that either the bull or its genetic sample was exported from there, the National Biodiversity Authority will issue a notice.” The Brazilians have regularly contacted breeders of the Ongole breed in AP. The meat is prized in Brazil because of its reported immunity to the mad cow disease. Sheikh Mohammed Ali, a local breeder, says it all happens with the knowledge of “certain influential people, including politicians”. “They have set up a racket in exporting semen samples of Ongole bulls. Once Brazil replicates the breed, the value of the Indian bull here is going to fall and we will lose out to them,” he says.
Satyajit Khachar, a cattle-breeder from Jasdan in Gujarat who specialises in the Gir variety, says that every 10-15 years the Brazilians “need infusion of fresh blood from the parent country to retain vigour”. With Brazilian partners, he runs Brazil India Ltd that has exported 200 embryos of the Gir breed in the last two years. Khachar claims he has the necessary clearances from the state/central animal husbandry departments. The long-term plan is to recreate the Gir breed, known for its high milk yield, there. “I expect more than a million USD (over Rs 4.5 crore) for a good Gir bull in Brazil,” he adds. Khachar uses the services of a lab in Bhavnagar run by Cenatte Embryos, a Brazilian firm, to export the embryos.
Renowned molecular biologist P.M. Bhargava is exasperated. As he puts it, “Any export of genetic material can be permitted only on humanitarian grounds or if it benefits the country, not for the benefit of individuals. Like when India permitted the export of some of its buffaloes to Vietnam after the war there so that children could have more milk.” It is said that just 17 of the 170-odd countries account for 70 per cent of the world’s biodiversity. India is one of these ‘megadiverse’ countries, which makes it imperative that we do a lot more to ensure proper management of our prized bioresources.
I refer to the article on how Brazilian companies are trying to illegally acquire the genetic material of the Ongole bull, said to be resistant to the mad cow disease (A Load of Bull, Apr 25). I am amazed at the unfounded charge. The export of bovine embryos from India to Brazil has always strictly followed legal procedures, in a transparent process, with requirements met scrupulously and permissions granted by Indian authorities. In such a context, the reference to a supposed ‘special request’ by the Brazilian foreign minister “for genetic samples in exchange for an Indian demand for Brazilian football coaches” is totally unfounded.
Marco Brandao, Brazil Ambassador
The whole objection to the Brazilian demand sounds ridiculous. An attempt a few years back by the US to patent folk medicines was rightly opposed by India and others. But, in this case, I don’t see how India has a case in opposing the export of a particular species of bulls. These are only farm animals. If the animals help the Brazilians, what’s the problem?
During the early 1800s, the Dutch started growing coffee in Suriname, a colony of theirs, which sits just north of Brazil. The Brazilians managed to smuggle a few seeds from there, and started growing coffee. They managed to improve it, put a large area of the rainforest under coffee, and in no time Brazilian coffee was selling everywhere, taking over the large markets of Europe and the US. Now, Brazil is the world’s largest producer, while Suriname has all but closed down its plantations. Moral of story: Brazilians are old hands at biopiracy.
G. Natrajan, Hyderabad
Mongolia does not seem to be making an issue of Chengiz Khan having exported genetic material far and wide across Eurasia.
During the 1800s and early 1900s, the Dutch started growing coffee in their colony, Suriname, which sits just north of Brazil. The Brazilians managed to smuggle a few seeds from there, and started cultivating coffee at home. They managed to improve it, levelled a large area of the rainforest for coffee cultivation and in no time, Brazilian Coffee was selling everywhere. The stuff was so good that traders in the large coffee markets of Europe and the US made Brazil their biggest supplier. Now Brazil is the world's largest producer and exporter of coffee, and Suriname, being unable to compete, has nearly closed down its coffee production. Moral of the story: The Brazilians are known for their biopiracy. We must watch out for them.
This sounds pretty ridiculous. There was an attempt a few years ago by some US companies to patent folk medicines, and this was rightly opposed by India and other developing countries. But in this case, I don't see how India has a case in opposing export of particular species of bulls. It's not like exporting endangered species or something, these are farm animals.
If these animals will help Brazilian people, and don't subtract anything from India (in fact, add a few dollars in terms of the purchase price of each bull), what's the problem ?
G.Natarajan, "Brazilians are known for their biopiracy", you might not be aware that many food crops that are now integrated into Indian cuisine are actually from the new world (i.e. the Americas). For example, corn, potatos, chilis, peanuts. And the exchange has gone the other way also. The so-called Brahma bull in the US is derived from Indian breeds. Etc.
Genetic exchange of animals or crops is a very old practice, and benefits people on the whole, and I don't see any moral justification for the Indian govt to try and stop it.
That is a hilarious and very appropriate comment. You must be a real fun person to have around to bring reality to the world around you. /st
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