22.02.2017 |

EU rejects patents on conventionally bred plants and animals

No patents on peppers, broccoli and tomatoes! (Photo: CC0)

The EU Member States have taken a stand against patents on conventionally bred plants and animals and the heavily criticised practice of the European Patent Office (EPO) of granting such patents. In its meeting on 20 February, the EU Competitiveness Council adopted conclusions which confirm that plants and animals from conventional breeding, unlike genetically engineered crops, are not patentable. The Council called on Member States to ensure that the EPO respects these conclusions. In recent years, the Munich-based EPO has repeatedly granted patents on plants and animals derived from conventional breeding, including patents on red peppers, melons, soybeans, broccoli and tomatoes. Most recently, the breweries Carlsberg and Heineken were granted three patents on barley plants, their usage in brewing as well as the beer produced by these methods.

According to European patent law, plants and animals “obtained from essentially biological processes” are not patentable. However, EPO has a different interpretation. Its Enlarged Board of Appeal ruled in March 2015 on the precedent cases of broccoli and tomato, that even though essentially biological processes for the production of plants are not patentable, the resulting plant or fruit can be patented. In December 2015, the EU Parliament rejected this in a resolution approved with a huge majority. A notice adopted by the European Commission in November 2016 confirmed that plants and animals derived from conventional breeding are not patentable. The Council now backs these positions and reiterates that EU legislator’s intention when adopting the relevant directive on the legal protection of biotech inventions was to exclude from patentability products derived from conventional breeding.

The Council decision is the result of heavy protests from civil society against patents on plants and animals, especially from No Patents on Seeds!, an international coalition of several hundred organisations from all over Europe. “This is a huge success for all of the people who have been active against the monopolisation of seeds, agriculture and food. They have forced the political decision makers to finally take action,” said Katherine Dolan for Arche Noah, Austria. “But now we have to make sure that the governments practice what they preach and the loopholes are really closed to put a stop to all patents on conventional breeding.“ In June, the coalition had submitted more than 800.000 signatures against such patents to the EPO. The organisations warn that patents often cover the whole food chain from production to consumption, with food production becoming increasingly dependent on just a few big international companies. (ab)

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Donors of globalagriculture Bread for all biovision Bread for the World Misereor Heidehof Stiftung Hilfswerk der Evangelischen Kirchen Schweiz Rapunzel
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