The Daily Cougar Online
Today's Weather

Sunny weather

Hi 92 / Lo 68


University of Houston HomepageUniversity of Houston Department of Student PublicationsUH Houstonian YearbookWestern Association of University Publications ManagersThe Daily Cougar Online StaffThe Daily Cougar Copyright & Web Use NoticeThe Daily Cougar AwardsAbout The Daily Cougar OnlineThe Daily Cougar Campus Spotlight Online FormThe Daily Cougar Online ArchivesThe Daily Cougar Ad Rates & InformationWelcome to The Daily Cougar OnlineThe Daily Cougar Online Campus SpotlightThe Daily Cougar Online ComicsThe Daily Cougar Online Life & ArtsThe Daily Cougar Online SportsThe Daily Cougar Online OpinionThe Dailly Cougar Online News

Student Publications
University of Houston
151C Communications Bldg
Houston, TX 77204-4015
713.743.5350

©1991-2007
Student Publications,
All rights reserved.

Last modified:

Contact:
ktruitt@uh.edu

Volume 70, Issue 7, Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Opinion
 

The grain that broke the camel's back

Matt Clement
Opinion columnist

Food is an essential human need. So, in 1997 when RiceTec, Inc., an agribusiness firm located in Alvin, got approval for a patent on a strain of Basmati rice, a major conflict erupted. The main issue: How could a company suddenly claim ownership over a strain of rice that, like most food, has evolved over thousands of years?

RiceTec ignored that question when making statements to the press. In fact, the Houston Chronicle quoted Bruce Hicks, a company spokesman, saying, "It took us 10 years (to develop the rice strains under application). It wasn't something we cooked up over a weekend." 

Ironically, RiceTec intends to convey that 10 years was a long time to work on synthesizing a new strain of Basmati rice. But rice, or even rice flavored like Basmati, is not a novel invention. 

What is novel, however, is that these megacorporations have been centralizing their control over the food supply, partly by attempting to patent various forms of food crops (such as basic grains like rice). 

With patents, the companies hold a 14-year legal monopoly over the varieties they "invented." When such practices involve a crop on which many depend for subsistence, the future becomes less certain for the world's 840 million undernourished.

Despite heavy competition from foreign sources, U.S. agribusiness firms continued to succeed partly because they took advantage of trade provisions established by the World Trade Organization, which is essentially a global entity that regulates trade in favor of big corporations. 

As a result of these practices, gaining an advantage in real life competition (and the general ability to survive in the marketplace), requires the ability to regulate the marketplace. 

The capitalist perspective on the economy is that the state's role be minimized. But as U.S. rice developers have learned, when the market was left unsanctioned, foreign competitors won the favor of U.S. consumers.

While some sections of RiceTec's patent claim were successfully challenged, the WTO practically makes any patent enforceable in any country, like India. 

Had RiceTec's original claims been approved, Indian Basmati rice farmers would have been in a precarious situation, not knowing if their rice production required royalty payments to RiceTec. Even so, RiceTec's ability to patent a strain of rice traditionally grown in India satisfies the U.S. demand for flavorful, foreign rice, while keeping this strain under the strict control of U.S. agribusiness.

Unfortunately, RiceTec's actions are the rule and not the exception. The majority of the food Americans consume comes from hard-working farmers, who had to pay corporations like Monsanto or DuPont for the seed to grow the food.

Is this bad? Well, if Jesus came back today, he would have to say, "Take this and eat; it used to be my body, but then the WTO told the Galilean trade representative that my body had been patented by some agribusiness firm, so I can no longer tell you this is my body!" WWJD? Stop patenting food!

Clement, a columnist for The Daily Cougar, 
can be reached at balec@uh.edu.

The Daily Cougar Online
 
 



Tell us how we're doing.

To contact the 
OpinionSection Editor, click the e-mail link at the end of this article.

To contact other members of 
The Daily Cougar Online staff,
click here .



House Ad

Visit The Daily Cougar