Contestation Over the Ownership, Use, and Control of Knowledge and Information
Edited by Sebastian Haunss and Kenneth C. Shadlen
Chapter 4: Illicit Seeds: Intellectual Property and the Underground Proliferation of Agricultural Biotechnologies
Ronald J. Herring and Milind Kandlikar Genetic engineering in agriculture has enabled new claims of intellectual property in seeds; novelty claimed for patent protection has likewise resonated with new claims of risk, supported by a global politics of opposition to biotechnology. Political framing of “GMOs” as bio-safety risks has produced special regulation of some seeds. Both property claims and regulation – which can function as intellectual property – increase incentives for the emergence of underground seed markets, where evasion of both regimes is possible. Contraband, “gray-market”, “brown-bag” or “creolized” transgenic seeds diffuse widely beneath the radar of both firms and states in a global pattern about which little systematic is known. Some illicit seeds are frauds on farmers, analogous to fake medicines: counterfeit seeds. Others build on rural grass-roots challenges to formal intellectual property claims, and simultaneously constitute continuous challenges to states’ claims of special regulatory authority: stealth seeds. Stealth seeds in particular necessitate rethinking of (1) conventional wisdom on biotechnology’s effect on rural income distribution; (2) constraints on agricultural development presented by restrictive bio-safety and bio-property law; (3) political claims of both developmentalist and anti-biotechnology advocacy networks. The spread of illicit seeds renders problematic conventional wisdom on (1) extent of diffusion of transgenic technology; (2) studies of yield effects of transgenics that fail to measure counterfeit seeds; (3) income effects for small farmers; (4) bio-safety agreements signed in cities. This chapter addresses the causes and consequences of this phenomenon, building on the case of India’s first transgenic crop – Bt cotton – to...
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