GRAIN | 11 October 1998 | BIO-IPR (1997-2009)
The Times of India Saturday 3 October 1998
INDIAN CATTLE BREED LATEST ADDITION TO PATENT ROW Environmentalist locks horns with Scottish institute over 'Vechur cow'
By V J Thomas
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 medicinal value.
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.
Â© Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. 1997.