Wednesday, November 2, 2011
A noisy silence - EPO’s reply to civil society’s accusations
Press Release (Translated from Italian by Emilia Mancini)
November 02, 2011
Last week, in spite of uninterrupted rain, over 300 million protesters gathered in Munich to voice their refusal of EPO’s patent policy. The large crowd included a wide range of environment activists, farmers and development organizations from several European countries.
Just outside the main entrance to the majestic building owned by EPO (European Patent Office), the protesters reported the irregularities found in the latest patents granted on living matter (which represents the most precious common good). Such patents even exceed the rather loose limitations imposed by European laws. In fact, not only do they concern plants and animals reproduced through biotechnological processes, but also those reproduced through ‘essentially biological methods’, which do not need to be patented according to the European Patent Convention or to the Directive 98/44 named ‘Directive for the protection of biotechnological inventions’.
Following an appeal filed against the patent on broccoli (EP1069819), it was decided that such a plant would represent a ‘judicial case’ for EPO and that, based on the decision of the High Court of Appeal (the EPO’s inner court), it should be decided whether patents should also be granted on plants reproduced through conventional methods. The Court’s decision was long awaited and arrived three years later. In December 2010, EPO announced that the patent on broccoli’s reproduction procedure was revoked, whereas the patent for the plant itself was left on a standby status.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Melons now a Monsanto “invention”
No Patents on Seeds!
May 17, 2011
Munich - Recent research conducted by the coalition No Patents on Seeds! shows that in May 2011, the US corporation Monsanto was awarded a European patent on conventionally bred melons (EP 1 962 578). Melons have a natural resistance to certain plant viruses. It is especially evident in melons grown in India. Using conventional breeding methods, this type of resistance was introduced to other melons and has now been patented as a Monsanto “invention”.
“This patent is an abuse of patent law because it is not a real invention. It contravenes European law excluding patents on conventional breeding. Further, it is a case of bio-piracy, since the original and most relevant plants come from India,” says Christoph Then, a spokesperson for No Patents on Seeds!. “Patents like this are blocking access to the genetic resources necessary for further breeding, and basic resources needed for daily life are subordinated to monopolisation and financial speculation.”
In a precedent decision, the European Patent Office (EPO) decided in December 2010, that conventional breeding could not be patented (G2/07 and G1/08). However, in the Monsanto patent case, the EPO just excluded the process for melon breeding. The plants and all parts of the plant, such as the seeds and the melon fruit, have been patented as an invention. Therefore, the patent was only changed cosmetically but not in substance.
The actual plant disease, Cucurbit yellow stunting disorder virus (CYSDV), has been spreading through North America, Europe and North Africa for several years. Monsanto can now block access to breeding material inheriting genetic conditions that confer resistance. DeRuiter, a well known seed company in the Netherlands, originally developed the melons. DeRuiter used plants designated PI 313970 - a non-sweet melon from India. Monsanto acquired the seed company in 2008, and now also owns the patent.
The coalition No Patents on Seeds! are calling for a revision of European Patent Law to exclude breeding material, plants and animals and food derived thereof from patentability. More than 160 organisations and about 15.000 individuals have already signed up to this call that was started in March 2011.
Monday, March 28, 2011
The Battle for Biodiversity: Monsanto and farmers clash
By Anna Lappé
March 28, 2011
Two weeks ago, Monsanto announced the latest genetically engineered crop it hopes to bring to market: a soybean rejiggered to resist the herbicide dicamba. The new product, says Monsanto, will aid in weed control and “deliver peace of mind for growers.”
Meanwhile, half a world away, La Via Campesina, a farmers’ movement of 150 organizations from 70 countries, had a slightly different idea about what would bring peace of mind to its millions of members: protecting biodiversity. In its statement to those gathered in Bali for the United Nations treaty on plant genetics, the organization urged treaty drafters to reevaluate the legal framework that allows seed patenting and the spread of genetically engineered crops, like those Monsanto soybeans. These genetically modified crops and the international patent regime, La Via Campesina said, block farmers’ ability to save and share seeds, threatening biodiversity and food security.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
No seeds, no independent research
By Doug Gurian-Sherman
February 13, 2011
Soybeans, corn, cotton and canola — most of the acres planted in these crops in the United States are genetically altered. “Transgenic” seeds can save farmers time and reduce the use of some insecticides, but herbicide use is higher, and respected experts argue that some genetically engineered crops may also pose serious health and environmental risks. Also, the benefits of genetically engineered crops may be overstated.
We don’t have the complete picture. That’s no accident. Multibillion-dollar agricultural corporations, including Monsanto and Syngenta, have restricted independent research on their genetically engineered crops. They have often refused to provide independent scientists with seeds, or they’ve set restrictive conditions that severely limit research options.
This is legal. Under U.S. law, genetically engineered crops are patentable inventions. Companies have broad power over the use of any patented product, including who can study it and how.
Agricultural companies defend their stonewalling by saying that unrestricted research could make them vulnerable to lawsuits if an experiment somehow leads to harm, or that it could give competitors unfair insight into their products. But it’s likely that the companies fear something else too: An experiment could reveal that a genetically engineered product is hazardous or doesn’t perform as well as promised.
Whatever the reasons, the results are clear: Public sector research has been blocked. In 2009, 26 university entomologists — bug scientists — wrote a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency protesting restricted access to seeds. The letter went public, but not most of the writers’ identities. They were afraid of retaliation from the companies that might further hamper their research.
Friday, January 21, 2011
GM crop patents near end, US farmers ask what next
By Charles Abbott and Carey Gillam
January 13, 2011
WASHINGTON, Jan 13 (Reuters) - The biotechnology industry should develop a format to handle the looming expiration of patents on the first wave of genetically modified (GM) crops, to avoid seed shortages or trade disruptions, the largest U.S. farm group said.
“There just needs to be a way to deal with it,” Rosemarie Watkins of the 6 million-member American Farm Bureau Federation said on Thursday. Patents will expire in coming years on two dozen genetically modified seed varieties. The first, in 2014, will be the herbicide-tolerant Roundup Ready soybeans developed by Monsanto Co and used by most U.S. soybean farmers.
Some grower and seed groups have asked if generic versions of the seeds will be available in time and if other nations will accept the crops. Half of U.S. soybeans are exported, for example, so rejection could be price disaster for growers.
Foreign approval is held by the company that owns the patent. The transition from patented to generic seed is not certain either at home or abroad, say some farm and seed groups.