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Thailand’s National Plant Variety Protection Committee is reported to be prepared to sue the United States government if it finds that Thai jasmine rice seeds were illegally obtained to develop a new rice strain for US farmers.

According to the Bangkok Post the committee suspects that Chris Deren, professor of plant breeding at the University of Florida, used a strain of seeds that were developed by the Thai Rice Research Institute in his breeding study. The original strain is protected under Thailand’s 1999 Plant Variety Protection Act.

The Thai government, says the newspaper, has requested further information about how the seeds were acquired from the backers of Deren’s research, which include the US Department of Agriculture. A Thai official is also due to visit the experimental site in Florida.

On Friday Thai Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, said he would back moves by Thai scientists to stop American rice breeders from patenting Thai jasmine rice.

Jasmine rice is a valuable commodity in the United States, owing to its distinctive taste. Although the US is the world’s fourth-largest rice exporter it imports about 350,000 tons of Thai jasmine annually, as the crop needs a warm climate year-round to flourish.

By altering the ‘photoperiod’ gene - which allows plants to mature earlier in the year when temperatures are still high - Deren claims that Florida will be able to produce its own commercially viable crop in about 10 years, making Thai imports unnecessary.