[For further information on the Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and
Agriculture see Forum website.
Note, participants are assumed to be speaking on their own behalf, unless they state otherwise.]
Sent: 05 July 2004 08:39
Subject: 45: Intellectual property rights
I am Mudadi Benhura of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Zimbabwe.
I thank the moderator for prompting discussion on, among other things, intellectual property rights.
The issue of intellectual property rights is complicated and can be discussed at different levels.
Currently, the operation of the patent system is heavily weighted against the individual discoverer, irrespective of whether the discoverer is working in the developing or developed world. It is understandable that one is required to pay a fee in order that a claim to a discovery is processed. It is understandable that someone must pay for the searches that are required in order to demonstrate novelty. What is not easy to understand is why, once a patent is granted, annual fees have to be paid in order to maintain the validity of the patent. What the payment of annual fees does is not to reward inventiveness but to reward ability to pay. As a result, many academics in African institutions give up about applying for patents.
Another problem is that many African universities have no policy at all about what to do concerning discoveries by workers in their departments. I remember a university worker who thought he had discovered something new and useful and started to make inquiries from administration about what he needed to do. After being shuttled from office to office, he gave up and tried to get a patent on his own only to meet the problem described earlier.
A third problem has to do with who owns the intellectual property rights to a discovery that is made on the basis of indigenous knowledge but could not have been made without the intellectual input of an individual. Let us say that a given community has been using a specific plant for purpose X from time immemorial. A young man from the community goes to university, obtains a PhD and teaches and researches at the national university. Because of his education, he is in a position to speculate on the nature of the active principle in the plant. As a result of research he discovers that an extract of the plant is suitable for purpose Y. Who owns the intellectual property rights for the use of the plant for purpose Y? Should the question be asked at all? This last problem is important in the developing world. It can, of course, be argued that indigenous knowledge is like any other knowledge. Modern brewing technology, is really based on indigenous knowledge. But maybe I should stop here for now.
Dr M A Benhura
Department of Biochemistry,
University of Zimbabwe, Box MP 167,
benhura (at) medic.uz.ac.zw
[Thanks to Mudadi Benhura for this message about intellectual property rights (IPR). Please try and keep messages on this topic focused on the relevance/role/impact of IPR for food processing, as we do not want a general discussion on IPR per se, as the topic is too wide for this e-mail conference. Note also that a previous conference of this Forum (conference 6, held on 20 March to 14 May 2001, entitled "The impact of intellectual property rights (IPR) on food and agriculture in developing countries" http://www.fao.org/biotech/Conf6.htm), was dedicated to the issue of IPR and agricultural biotechnology, although the issue of IPR in food processing was not raised there...Moderator].
Sent: 05 July 2004 11:34
Subject: 46: Biotechnology // Commercial opportunities // Nutraceuticals
I am Dr. Nelson Ojijo Olang'o of the Department of Food Science and Technology, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya.
First, the moderator said that nearly 400 people registered for this conference; yet only a modicum have presented their views. Part of the reason that the majority (me included) may prefer to peep from the sidelines is that many people, even those trained in Food Science and Technology, are not well-versed with the subject of biotechnology. The curricula for Food Science and Technology in many African universities do not lay emphasis on biotechnology. This is often just a topic mentioned in passing under Food Microbiology. I am just winding up a postdoc fellowship at the Department of Food Biotechnology and Engineering, The Technion - Isreal Institute of Technology, Israel. Actually, until last year, the name of the department was Dept. of Food Engineering and Biotechnology. But in order to emphasize biotechnological aspects in the curriculum, the name was altered. I think developing countries need to emulate this trend. In view of the potential benefits of biotechnology to the economies of developing countries, it would be expedient to develop Food Science and Technology curricula that deliberately emphasize biotechnological principles especially molecular biology.
Secondly, in Message 7 (June 17), Marcel Hofman indicated that industrialization of the food industry may not be desirable for Africa as there may not be "huge demand for human labor in manufacturing industries". I wonder if one should draw a dividing line between 'industrialization of the food industry' vis-a-vis 'commercialization of food production'. The majority of people in developing countries live in the rural areas. I personally believe that one way of increasing their income and standard of living is the development of small-scale, rural-based food processing industries. The concept is simple: people organized at the community level manufacture value-added food products and sell them to urban dwellers. Since the production of biotechnological products (e.g. fermented foods) are generally less capital intensive, they are suitable for such rural industries. In this sense, it is easy to see that developing countries need to encourage commercialization of biotech foods.
Thirdly, as we think of applications of biotechnology in food processing, there is a big challenge in the food-medical interface. How can we use biotechnology to develop functional foods that promote health? I am thinking particularly of the development of foods with nutraceutical potency for the management of HIV/AIDS patients. Currently, the care of AIDS patients is taking quite a big chunk of the national resources in many countries. Also, in view of the high cost of anti-retroviral drugs, nutraceuticals that are immunopotentiating will be very opportune. I will be very glad to hear any comments on this.
Nelson Ojijo Olang'o
Department of Food Science and Technology,
Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology,
ojijonko (at) yahoo.com
[Nutraceuticals (or nutriceuticals) is a term used to describe substances in or parts of a food that may be considered to provide medical or health benefits beyond basic nutrition, including disease prevention...Moderator].
Sent: 05 July 2004 14:38
Subject: 47: Re: Biotechnology // Commercial opportunities // Nutraceuticals
I am Dr. Mrinal Kumar Sharma from India.
The food-medical interface mentioned by Nelson Ojijo Olang'o (Message 46, July 5) is perhaps the most fertile area for development in food biotechnology.
Nutraceuticals including probiotics and prebiotics or combinations thereof (synbiotics) and botanical food additives are known to have health promoting properties no doubt but the prospect of these candidates being of use in directly combating viral infections is still a remote prospect. Developments of large scale in the field of drug delivery will lead us to a position where these ingredients despite their inherent toxicity and immunogenicity will be delivered on to the target tissue.
On the other hand, his observation on immunomodulatory effect of nutraceuticals has a profound potential. It may be considered one of the most potential areas for prevention of diseases of all kinds. There has already been some claims of herbal ingredients being effective in treatment of AIDS. The potential therapeutic benefits of the food-medical interface will perhaps be at the more restricted neutraceutical-alternative medicine interface.
On another frontier, it may be observed that though AIDS victims are a significant number and their treatment cost is high, the amount of money spent on albeit simple disease problems like infantile diarrhoea is much higher and so is the number of precious innocent lives lost. Nutraceuticals in the form of herbs and Direct Fed Microbes could make a great contribution in these fields. The therapy will be cheaper than traditional medicine, more effective and in some cases the only form of treatment available.
Nutraceuticals also have a great role in prevention of diseases. Lutein a functional carotenoid is very effective in preventing cataract and anti ageing antioxidants are almost all plant-derived food ingredients. Designer eggs with higher lutein in their yolk have been made available in the developed markets. The incorporation of biotechnological methods to incorporate these functional ingredients into the general diet of man will be the key behind taking advantage of these unique beneficial foods.
But again, consumer education and shrewd marketing will be the key to get these kind of products into the masses. Nutraceuticals will obviously be costlier than normal food and consumers will need a good reason to go for such food despite the cost. In most cases, people in developing countries will not be inclined to spend an extra bit to prevent some harm from occuring. On the other hand, in the absence of strict and thorough regulations the threat of imitations being floated onto the market also looms large. This will again be a damp squib for the consumer because he will feel doubly cheated.
Nutraceuticals is certainly a very potential field but developing countries have to take up a number of steps, including investment in research and development, development of educative programmes through the mass media and putting in place a good regulatory and monitoring systems before letting such products onto the markets.
Dr. Mrinal Kumar Sharma,
22, Site - IV,
Ghaziabad - 201 010 (UP)
Tel: 0120-2959754. (O)
mrinals (at) DABUR.com
Sent: 05 July 2004 15:27
Subject: 48: Re: Biotechnology // Commercial opportunities // Nutraceuticals
I am Rose Rita Kingamkono of the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology, Dar Es Salaam.
I cannot more than agree with Nelson (message 46, July 5). For food scientists and technologists, the word biotechnology is rather uncommon and hazy even though the curriculum does cover fermentation, microbiological food safety, and germination which are aspects of biotechnology. This is because the word biotechnology is hardly mentioned while both fermentation and germination is being covered. There is a need to have a better coverage in the curricular of food scientists and technologists on biotechnology.
Talking of nutraceuticals, I believe fermentation and germination have a high potential in providing some solutions in the care of HIV/AIDS. Apart from improved nutrient bio-availability, particularly micronutrient resulting from the two technologies, fermentation has an extra property of protecting against or relieving from diarrhoea diseases. A series of in-vitro studies we conducted in Tanzania evaluating the microbiological quality of a lactic-acid bacteria fermented cereal gruel, widely consumed in Tanzania as a soft drink, demonstrated a significant improvement in the microbiological quality of the fermented gruel
We also evaluated the ability of the fermented gruel to prevent enteropathogenic colonization and therapeutic influence against diarrhoea in children consuming the fermented gruel in a community based studies. Higher frequency and regular consumption resulted in a significant reduction of faecal enteropathogenic bacteria in health children showing a lower colonization of the enteropathogenic bacteria thus reducing the risk of getting diarrhoea. This observation could be attributed to a synergistic effect resulting from a combination of lower transmission of enteropathogenic bacteria to consumers, inhibition of establishment of enteropathogenic bacteria in the intestines exerted by the lactic-acid bacteria activities and competition for nutrients and space.
We also demonstrated a significant faster recovery of intestinal mucosa (damaged by diarrhoea) in paediatric in-patient children who were consuming the fermented cereal gruel compared to those fed on unfermented gruel, indicating some useful factors in the fermented gruel that may be useful in hastening the recovery and hence improving nutrient absorption.
These observations may have positive implications for HIV/AIDS patients who are at high risk in getting diarrhoea.
Rose Rita Kingamkono (Ph.D)
Director, Research Coordination and Promotion
Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology
Ali Hasani Mwinyi Rd., Kijitonyama
P.O. Box 4302, Dar es Salaam,
Tel: (Off) 225 22 2700752
Mobile: 255 744 769808 / 741 540860
Fax: 255 22 2775313/4
rkingamkono (at) costech.or.tz
[1) enteropathogenic bacteria are those that tend to produce disease in the
2) Some further information about the results referred to above, about the benefits of togwa, a lactic-fermented cereal gruel, are available at
a) Kingamkono R. Influence of lactic acid fermentation on enteropathogenic bacteria: growth inhibition in cereals and in human intestine. PhD thesis. Chalmers University of Technology, Department of Food Science, Göteborg, Sweden, 1997. Abstract at http://www2.lib.chalmers.se/cth/diss/doc/9798/KingamkonoRose.html or
b) R. Kingamkono, E. Sjogren and U. Svanberg. Enteropathogenic bacteria in faecal swabs of young children fed on lactic acid-fermented cereal gruels. Epidemiology and Infection (1999), 122:23-32...Moderator].