Food and Nutrition
Peace and Nonviolence
Trees and Forests
The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge
Biopiracy is a learned, clear and passionately stated objection to the
ways in which Western businesses are being allowed to expropriate natural
processes and traditional forms of knowledge.
Praise for Biopiracy
"Biopiracy is a path-breaking work on one of the most important issues
of the coming century." --Jeremy Rikfin
"With her characteristic blend of analysis and passion,
Vandana Shiva traces the continuity from the European
colonization of 'native' peoples . . . to the present
appropriation of the natural resources they need for their
physical and cultural survival. An important book that should
be read by anyone wanting to understand the global threat posed
by the technological transformations of organisms, cells, and
molecules and by their exploitation for profit."--Ruth Hubbard
Biopiracy was named a "Break-Through Book" on Intellectual Property in Lingua
Franca July/August 1999 issue.
Quotes from Biopiracy
"On April 17, 1492, Queen Isabel and King
Ferdinand granted Christopher Columbus
the privileges of 'discovery and conquest.'
One year later, on
May 4, 1493, Pope Alexander VI, through
his 'Bull of Donation,' granted all islands
and mainlands 'discovered and to be discovered,
leagues to the West and South of the Azores
towards India,' and not already occupied
or held by any christian king or prince
as of Christmas of 1492,
to the Catholic monarchs Isabel of Castille
and Ferdinand of Aragon."
"Charters and patents thus turned acts of piracy into divine will. The
peoples and nations that were colonized did not belong to the pope who
'donated' them, yet this canonical jurisprudence made the christian monarchs
of Europe rulers of all nations, 'wherever they might be found and whatever
creed they might embrace.' The principle of 'effective occupation' by
christian princes, the 'vacancy' of the targeted lands, and the 'duty'
to incorporate the 'savages' were components of charters and patents.
"The Papal Bull, the Columbus charter, and patents granted by European
monarchs laid the juridical and moral foundations for the colonization
and extermination of non-European peoples. The Native American population
declined from 72 million in 1492 to less than 4 million a few centuries
"Five hundred years after Columbus, a more secular version of the same
project of colonization continues through patents and intellectual property
rights (IPRs). The Papal Bull has been replaced by the General Agreement
on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) treaty. The principle of effective occupation
by christian princes has been replaced by effective occupation by the
transnational corporations supported by modern-day rulers. The vacancy
of targeted lands has been replaced by the vacancy of targeted life forms
and species manipulated by the new biotechnologies. The duty to incorporate
savages into Christianity has been replaced by the duty to incorporate
local and national economies into the global marketplace, and to incorporate
non-Western systems of knowledge into the reductionism of commercialized
Western science and technology.
"The creation of property through the piracy of other's wealth remains
the same as 500 years ago."
"The freedom that transnational corporations are claiming through intellectual
property rights protection in the GATT agreement on Trade Related Intellectual
Property Rights (TRIPs) is the freedom that European colonizers have claimed
since 1492. Columbus set a precedent when he treated the license to conquer
non-European peoples as a natural right of European men. The land titles
issued by the pope through European kings and queens were the first patents.
The colonizer's freedom was built on the slavery and subjugation of the
people with original rights to the land. This violent takeover was rendered
'natural' by defining the colonized people as nature, thus denying them
their humanity and freedom.
"John Locke's treatise on property effectually legitimized this same
process of theft and robbery during the enclosure movement in Europe.
Locke clearly articulated capitalism's freedom to build as the freedom
to steal; property is created by removing resources from nature and mixing
them with labor. This 'labor' is not physical, but labor in its 'spiritual'
form, and manifested in the control of capital. According to Locke, only
those who own capital have the natural right to own natural resources,
a right that supersedes the common rights of others with prior claims.
Capital is thus defined as a source of freedom that, at the same time,
denies freedom to the land, forests, rivers, and biodiversity that capital
claims as its own and to others whose rights are based on their labor.
Returning private property to the commons is perceived as depriving the
owner of capital of freedom. Therefore, peasants and tribespeople who
demand the return of their rights and access to resources are regarded
. . .
"Neem, Azarichdita indica, a beautiful tree native to India, has
been used for centuries as a biopesticide and a medicine. In some parts
of India, the new year begins with eating the tender shoots of the neem
tree. In other parts, the neem tree is worshipped as sacred. Everywhere
in India, people begin their day by using the neem datun (toothbrush)
to protect their teeth with its medicinal and anti-bacterial properties.
Communities have invested centuries of care, respect, and knowledge in
propagating, protecting, and using neem in field, field bunds, homesteads,
and common lands.
"Today, this heritage is being stolen under the guise of IPRs. For centuries,
the Western world ignored the neem tree and its properties: the practices
of Indian peasants and doctors were not deemed worth of attention by the
majority of British, French and Portuguese colonists. In the last few
years, however, growing opposition to chemical products in the West, in
particular pesticides, has led to a sudden enthusiasm for the pharmaceutical
properties of neem. Since 1985, over a dozen U.S. patents have been taken
out by U.S. and Japanese firms on formulas for stable neem-based solutions
and emulsions-- and even for a neem-based toothpaste. At least four of
these are owned by W. R. Grace of the United States, three by another
U.S. company, the Native Plant Institute, and two by the Japanese Terumo
Corporation. Having garnered their patents, and with the prospect of a
license form the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Grace has
set about manufacturing and commercializing its products by establishing
a base in India. The company approached several Indian manufacturers with
proposals to buy up their technology or to convince them to stop producing
value-added products and instead supply Grace with raw material. Grace
is likely to be followed by other patent- holding companies. 'Squeezing
bucks out of the neem ought to be relatively easy,' observes Science
"The journal Ag Biotechnology News has called W. R. Grace's processing
plant the 'world's first neem tree-based biopesticide facility.' Nearly
every home and village in India, however, has biopesticide facilities.
The Indian cottage industries' Organization Khadi and the Village Industries
Commission have been using and selling neem products for 40 years. Private
entrepreneurs, too, have launched neem pesticides, such as Indiara. Neem
toothpaste has been manufactured for decades by Calcutta Chemicals, an
indigenous company. W. R. Grace's justification for the patents hinges
on a claim that their modernized extraction processes constitute a genuine
Although traditional knowledge inspired the research and development
that led to these patented compositions and processes, they were considered
sufficiently novel and different from the original product of nature and
the traditional method of use to be patentable.
"In short, the processes are supposedly novel, an advance on Indian techniques.
This novelty, however, exists mainly in the context of the ignorance of
the West. Over the 2,000 years that neem-based biopesticides and medicines
have been used in India, many complex processes were developed to make
them available for specific use, though the active ingredients were not
given Latinized scientific names. Common knowledge and use of neem were
the primary reasons given by the Indian Central Insecticide Board for
not registering neem products under the Insecticides Act of 1968. The
Board argued that neem materials had been in extensive use in India for
various purposes since time immemorial, without any known deleterious
Table of Contents of Biopiracy
Piracy Through Patents: The Second Coming of Columbus
Knowledge, Creativity, and Intellectual Property Rights
Can Life be Made? Can Life Be Owned?: Redefining Biodiversity
The Seed and the Earth
Biodiversity and People's Knowledge
Tripping Over Life
Making Peace with Diversity
Nonviolence and Cultivation of Diversity