P A N U P S
Pesticide Action Network Updates Service
NGO Applies For Ownership of British "Chip"
March 1, 2002
In a move to demonstrate the defects of international patent
British non-governmental organization ActionAid is applying for
on the famous British "chip," a french-fried potato that is a
of one of the country's favorite fast food dishes, fish and chips.
In cooperation with Professor Leo Pyle, a food scientist at Reading
University, the London-based organization created a brand of
"ready-salted" chip that it calls the ActionAid Chip. In February,
group filed an application for registering the "invention" with
British patents office.
To be granted a patent, applicants must prove that the product
created is their "invention," or that they have altered the product
some way that makes it "novel." All of the ingredients used to
ActionAid Chip -- namely salt and potatoes -- are natural, but
salt on top of chips and combining the two foods in such a "novel"
should be enough to be granted a patent, the group said.
"This is no joke," said Maya Vaughan, an ActionAid spokeswoman.
able to make this claim under new patent rules that allow companies
get exclusive rights over basic foods and even nature itself,"
If ActionAid is granted a broad patent, its legal advisors say
could win the rights over any chips sold commercially that have
properties as the ActionAid Chip, i.e. those with added salt.
the group has no intention of doing so, with a patent it could
how the product was produced and sold, and require chip-shop
the United Kingdom to pay it license fees for permission to add
their chips. Over 300 million servings of chips with added salt
commercially each year.
There are almost one thousand patents on rice, wheat, maize,
sorghum -- the five staple crops that constitute 70% of the world's
supply. Six major agrochemical corporations -- Aventis, Dow,
Mitsui, Monsanto and Syngenta -- own 30% of the global seed market
98% of the global market for genetically engineered crops.
By modifying genes of plants or cross-breeding varieties and
patents on plants that are clearly not 'inventions,' the current
system is giving agrochemical corporations unprecedented control
the food chain," the group commented.
ActionAid explains that patents can have a serious impact on
the 75% of
people in poor countries whose livelihoods depend on agriculture
totaling millions of people worldwide. Under companies' licensing
agreements, farmers using patented seeds cannot save, exchange
replant them, and must buy new seeds every year or risk prosecution.
"Farmers in poor countries are faced with the prospect of having
for the right to grow food that they have been growing for generations
or risk infringement of the patent. This is an outrage," commented
Shetty, ActionAid's chief executive.
Citing the example of agrochemical companies in Pakistan that
succeeded in removing their liability under national laws for
"hazardous effects" of their patented crops, ActionAid criticizes
companies for wanting control over crops but refusing to take
responsibility for any negative consequences.
The gathering and patenting plants and food crops from poor communities
across Asia, Latin America and Africa by scientists from U.S.
European companies amounts to more than what the U.N. calls "the
theft of knowledge from developing countries," according to ActionAid.
Instead, the group explains, there is also the potential for
countries to lose vital export earnings. ActionAid notes the
the Mexican yellow bean patented by Larry Proctor, the president
U.S.-based seed company, after bringing some of the beans back
U.S. following a trip to Mexico.
Proctor applied for and won an exclusive monopoly patent on the
making it illegal to grow beans in the U.S. or import them without
paying royalty payments to the patent holder. The export earnings
Mexican farmers who had been growing and exporting the beans
generations came under threat, as demonstrated by Proctor's legal
against two U.S. seed importers who tried to do business with
The international rules that allow the patenting of food and
are currently under review. Part of the World Trade Organization,
rules are enshrined in the Trade Related Intellectual Property
or "TRIPS," agreement. ActionAid is calling on British Prime
Tony Blair and the British government to withdraw their support
For more information, see
Sources: ActionAid Press Release, February 11, 2002; OneWorld
February 12, 2002.
Contact: Action Aid, Hamlyn House, Macdonald Road Archway, London
5PG, U.K.; phone (44-20) 7561-7561; fax (44-20) 7272-0899; email
[log in to unmask]; Web site http://www.actionaid.org.
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