fight for agriculture


A Global Appeal against patents on conventional seeds
and farm animals

A joint Open Letter addressed to

Enlarged Board of Appeal of the European Patent Office,
Government Representatives,
The Executive Boards of Agrobusiness Companies

Keep out patents on conventional seeds and animals
For several years, patents on genetically modified
seeds and animals have been granted worldwide. The
damaging impacts on farmers, who are deprived of their
rights to save their seeds, and on breeders who can no
longer use the patented seeds freely for further
breeding, are well known.

In Canada and the US, for example, the multinational
seed company Monsanto has sued many farmers for
alleged patent infringements.1 The same company has
also filed court cases against importers of
Argentinean soy to Europe.2 Furthermore, the
possibility of patenting seeds has fostered a highly
concentrated market structure with only 10
multinational companies controlling about half of the
international seed market. Many farmers organisations
and NGOs around the world are fighting against these
patents. Because genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
are still not grown in most countries, or only used in
a small number of crops, the negative impacts of these
patents are not being felt everywhere.

However, there is an alarming new trend for patents not
only to be claimed on GMOs (such as Round-up ready
soybeans), but also on conventional plants. For
example, patent claims have been made for soy beans
with a better oil quality covering parts of the plant
genome when used in conventional breeding and
technologies to improve conventional breeding (such as
marker assisted breeding).

Some of the most threatening examples in this context
are patent applications from Syngenta which claim huge
parts of the rice genome and its use in breeding of
any food crops that have similar genomic information
to rice (such as maize and wheat).

The European Patent Office has also granted a patent on
aphid resistant composite plants which are based on
marker assisted breeding. Other recent patent
applications by Monsanto on pigs are also related to
normal breeding methods, indicating the increasing
danger of agricultural genetic resources becoming
monopolised by a few multinationals on a global scale.

Soon the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the European
Patent Office will decide on another patent of this
kind - for a method of increasing a specific compound
in Brassica species.

This decision will determine the patentability of
conventional seeds in Europe.

Whereas patents on conventional plant varieties are
normal practice in the US, many other countries,
especially developing countries, do not grant patents
on plants or animals. But as the recent history shows,
the standards defined and used at the European,
Japanese and US patent offices influence international
regulations (the WTO agreement on trade related aspects
of intellectual property rights, TRIPS , and the World
Intellectual Property Organisation, WIPO). Patent
offices all over the world are pushed to adapt their
regulations and practices either through the
international regulations or by bilateral agreements.
India, for example, has just passed a third patent
amendment in order to adapt its law to the TRIPS

This frightening new trend in patent policy will affect
many more farmers and breeders, than has been the case
with GMO patents. Any remaining farmers rights and
breeders' access to plant varieties and animal breeds
for breeding purposes, will disappear everywhere.
These patents will destroy a system of farmers' rights
and breeders' privileges that has been shown to be
crucial for the survival of farmers and breeders, for
food sovereignty, and for the preservation of
biodiversity in agriculture. The vast majority of
farmers in developing countries are small-scale
farmers, completely reliant on saving and exchanging
their seeds.

In order to secure the continued existence of
independent farming, breeding and livestock keeping
and hence the food security of future generations, we,
the undersigned farmers, researchers, breeders and
civil society organisations from all over the world,
restate our rejection of any patents on life, and urge
policy makers and patent offices to act swiftly to stop
any patents being granted on conventionally bred plants
and animals and on gene sequences for use with
conventional breeding technique, as well as on methods
for the conventional breeding of plants and animals. We
also urge companies not to apply for any patents of
this kind.

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