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European Patent Office upholds patents on conventionally-bred plants

Broccoli Who owns broccoli? (Photo: Liz West/Flickr.com)

The European Patent Office (EPO) has approved the controversial patenting of plants and animals derived from conventional breeding. In a long awaited decision on the precedent cases of broccoli and tomato, the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the EPO in Munich ruled on Wednesday that plants obtained by essentially biological processes are patentable. The EPO made clear that while processes for crossing and selection cannot be patented, plants and animals stemming from these processes can still be granted patent protection. The decision was heavily criticised by the coalition "No Patents on Seeds!" which is supported by over 300 NGOs and farmers’ organisations worldwide. The organisations described the ruling as “illogical” and warned against an increasing monopolisation of the breeding of plants and animals needed for food production. “The EPO has paved the way for companies such as Monsanto, Syngenta and others to take control of resources we all need for our daily lives. We call upon European governments to put political pressure on the EPO to change its practice”, Christoph Then commented for No Patents on Seeds!. In a report published in October, he documented the increasing number of patents on plants and seeds derived from conventional breeding which have been granted by the EPO. Since the 1980s, around 2400 patents on plants and 1400 patents on animals have been granted in Europe. The EPO has granted more than 120 patents on conventional breeding and about 1000 such patent applications are pending. The scope of many of these patents often covers the whole food chain from production to consumption. The current precedent case of broccoli refers to a patent granted to Monsanto-owned Seminis on the „severed broccoli“, a conventionally-bred broccoli, which has a longer stalk than other varieties, making it easier to mechanically harvest the crop. The coalition No Patents on Seeds! is now calling for "a revision of European Patent Law to exclude breeding material, plants and animals and food derived thereof from patentability". The Green Party in the European Parliament also described the Board of Appeal’s decision a “scandal”. The agricultural policy spokesman Martin Häusling said: „The European Patent Office does obviously not decide in the interests of European citizens and farmers, but in the interests of its paying customers, namely the agricultural industry, which wants to ensure market monopolies through these patents.” (ab)

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