Indians bring 'biopirates' to court

15.03.00: A FEDERATION of Amazonian Indian tribes has taken the biotech giant ImGen to court, claiming theft of indigenous knowledge. Several years ago an expedition, financed by the company, identified several potentially valuable plants, including one used by the tribes to shrink tumours and a root crop that is resistant to some tropical pests. ImGen has now patented them.

"This is biopiracy," says Peter Xian, spokesperson for the Black River Federation.

"ImGen is getting a free ride on the back of our tribal history ­ thousands of years of native knowledge. We have been offered nothing in return."

ImGen claimed: "We are helping to feed the world," and pointed to the pesticide-resistant tuber's potential to increase tropical food yields.

But aid experts cite the case of India's neem tree, used by farmers for centuries as an antibiotic and pesticide. After it was patented by a large pharmaceutical company, farmers could no longer afford to buy the seeds. JB