Saturday 3 October 1998
Indian cattle breed latest addition to patent row
Environmentalist locks horns with Scottish institute over `Vechur cow'
NEW DELHI: Is the Indian cow, which is associated with Hindu mythology
since time immemorial, going to be patented by a pioneering British
animal genetic engineering institute?
After neem, basmati rice, haldi (turmeric), a controversy has now
broken out over the patent of a nearly extinct Indian cattle breed
called ``Vechur cow.''
Environmentalist Vandana Shiva says that the Roslin Institute of
Scotland, which produced the world's first cloned sheep ``Dolly,'' has
applied for the patent rights to the genetic material of this rare
cow, which draws its name from Vechur, near Vaikom in Kerala.
Ms Shiva says that of the 14 applications filed by the Roslin
Institute and its associate, PPL Therapeutics Ltd, in the European
patent office, one is for the Vechur cow.
Meanwhile, the Roslin Institute, in a letter to the Kerala
Agricultural University, at Mannuthi near Trichur, where research on
the Vechur cow is being held, denied that they applied for patent
rights to the Indian cattle breed.
The agricultural university authorities say that the institute
director wrote to them saying that the institute did not possess any
genetic material of the Indian cattle breed.
The Kerala government also said that it did not have any information
on the patent issue.
But, Ms Shiva says, investigation carried out by her institute,
Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, through
public interest groups in Europe, has found the Roslin Institute's
application, bearing the number E.P.0765390, for patent rights to the
Indian cattle breed (Bos indicus).
``All Indian breeds, inspite of their diversity, are called ``Bos
indicus.'' This confirms that an Indian breed was named in the patent
claim. They are mainly interested in the Vechur breed because it eats
less fodder and gives more milk. It can bring more profits,'' she
says, adding that there is every possibility that the basic research
which was done on the Vechur cow in India might have been smuggled out
of the country.
``An institution in a developed country can earn billions of dollars
if it develops a new breed by transferring Vechur genes if we fail to
assert ourselves. The Union government should investigate all aspects
of the patent issue,'' Ms Shiva says.
The Vechur cow is the smallest variety of cattle in the world. Its
average height is 87 cm and length 124 cm. It gives more milk in
relation to the meagre amount of fodder it eats. Its milk has high fat
content from 6.02 to 7.86 per cent while Europe's high-yielding
varieties have 3.5 to 4.5 per cent. Local people say its milk has
The Kerala Agricultural University has a research centre for the
Vechur cow. Scientists from here go to European countries for
seminars. There were reports earlier that genetic material of the
Vechur cow had reached Switzerland.
India has a variety of cattle breed like Ongole, Hallikar, Sindhi,
Nimari, Hariana, Krishna Valley, Hissar and Amritmahal.
India's cattle breed are being used for developing major livestock
economies in Australia, South Africa and the Latin American countries.
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