Johannesburg - Food company Nestlé on Friday denied contravening the country's Biodiversity Act in a so-called act of rooibos robbery.
This followed allegations by environmental groups, the Berne Declaration and Natural Justice, earlier this week that five recent patent applications by Nestlé on the use of rooibos and honeybush were in conflict with South African law.
Nestlé spokesperson Ravi Pillay said the company had not carried out any research activities in South Africa on these plants and had not collected any materials in South Africa.
"South African suppliers provided rooibos and honeybush extracts and material to two Nestlé research facilities in Switzerland and France, which used it as part of their fundamental research programme in bioactive ingredients," he said.
Pillay said Nestlé's subsidiary Nestec had, following research, filed several patents in Switzerland to protect its research results, which showed potential benefits for consumers.
"Nestec has not filed any patent relating to the plants themselves, or extracts of the plants.
"Nestlé has not made any commercial use of these patents, and has no plans to do so in the near future," Pillay said.
He said that should Nestlé decide to make commercial use of these patents, it would of course fully comply with the benefit-sharing provisions of the South African Biodiversity Act.
Both the Berne Declaration and Natural Justice alleged that Nestlé had committed rooibos robbery.
The parties accused large corporations of neglecting their obligations to seek prior informed consent and to share benefits when using genetic resources from developing countries.
"Rooibos and honeybush are both endemic to the South African Western and Eastern Cape provinces and both plants have a long tradition of use in the region, also for related medicinal purposes."
The parties said that according to the Biodiversity Act, a company needed a permit from government to do research with commercial intent on genetic resources occurring in South Africa.
"Such a permit can only be obtained if a benefit-sharing agreement has been negotiated.
"The department of environmental affairs of the South African government confirmed to Natural Justice and the Berne Declaration that Nestlé has never received the permits to use these South African genetic resources."
As well as manufacturing food products, Nestlé holds a 30.5% participation in L'Oréal - the biggest cosmetic producer worldwide - and 50% in Innéov, a joint venture with L'Oréal.