Friday, 7 August 2009

Chicken tikka tussle

The Glaswegian MP Mohammed Sarwar is calling for fellow parliamentarians to back his campaign for EU (Protected Designation of Origin) PDO status for chicken tikka, which he is claiming originated in Scotland. If his campaign is successful this would effectively patent the name ‘chicken tikka’ so it could only be used when produced in specified standards within a defined geographical area. As Dervinder Sharma writes about on his blog, the development of dishes are complex and impossible to attribute to a single person or geographical area. But the story goes that a Glaswegian chef spontaneously made up the sauce for chicken tikka after a customer complained their meal was too dry, throwing together a can of tomato soup and some spices that were close to hand. The claim is contested by a restaurant chain in Peshawar which claims to have been cooking chicken tikka since before the partition of India in 1947.

This follows similar PDO battles in the UK. British cheese producers resisted calls from Greece for PDO status for the term ‘feta cheese’ but Leicestershire pie makers wanted the boot on the other foot when they applied for PDO status for Melton Mowbray pork pies. Both these applications were eventually approved by the EU.

India has already had to contend with a US Patent Office application for the healing properties of turmeric, which has been used widely as communal knowledge for hundreds of years. India’s campaigners against biopiracy also have intellectual property applications coming at them from within their own country. The Agricultural and Processed Food Export Development Authority (APEDA) applied for a patent on basmati rice. This was eventually granted, vesting APEDA with power over registration and enforcement of Intellectual Property Right (IPR), even though rice was listed by the government as protected from IPR. As Dervinder Sharma points out, opponents to the patent had amassed some 50,000 pages of evidence that basmati rice is a ‘prior art’, known to exist earlier than the patent applicants are claiming.

Meanwhile, the real treasure of biological diversity is increasingly at risk with rare breeds including poultry in diminishing numbers on small farms. This photo is, I think, a White Dorking chicken. The Dorking breed comes in many colours including silver grey, red and dark. Dorkings were first introduced to Britain in AD30 by the Romans and later used to develop the successful Sussex and Faverolles breeds. According to the Rare Breeds Survival Trust this is one of many vulnerable breeds of poultry on its watchlist, which have been carefully bred to suit local conditions and give good quality meat and eggs. There used to be flocks all over the Southern counties of England.

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