Climate-Ready Crop Patents Present Danger For Biodiversity, Group Says 26/10/2010 by Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch 4 Comments Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)NAGOYA, JAPAN – A civil society group this week warned government officials gathered here against patents on “climate-ready” crops and what they characterised as an attempt to obtain an exclusive monopoly over plant gene sequences. The group asked states at the United Nations biodiversity conference to recognise that such patents are a threat to biodiversity and to the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources. Yesterday, the ETC Group held a side event and presented a paper [pdf] alleging that the six largest global agrochemical and seed corporations are filing wide-scope patents with the aim of obtaining a monopoly on plant gene sequences that “could lead to control of most of the world’s plant biomass” for food, feed, fibre, fuel or plastics. Biomass is defined by the group as “material derived from living or recently-living biological organisms.” Biomass includes all plants and trees, microbes, but also by-products like organic waste from livestock, food processing and garbage, they said. “Climate-ready” crops are engineered to address climate change challenges. According to the paper, there was a significant upsurge of patents published (both applications and issued patents) related to “climate-ready” genetically engineered crops in the last two years. Some 262 patent “families” encompassing 1,663 patent documents worldwide were published from June 2008 to June 2010, representing a significant increase, and including specific claims to “abiotic stress tolerance”, which refers to resistance to drought, heat, flood, cold and salt. “A patent family contains a set of related patent applications and/or issued patents that are published in more than one country or patent office (including national and regional patent jurisdictions),” said the paper. The list of patents and their details are published in the paper. The scope of those patents could potentially “become the broadest and most dangerous patent claims in intellectual property history,” the paper said. The claims of the patents extend to multiple characteristics in “scores of genetically modified crops and even to the harvested food and feed products,” it said. Six companies – DuPont, BASF, Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow – along with their biotechnology partners, control 201 of those 262 claims, or 77 percent, ETC said. The public sector has only 9 percent. There are high economic interests at stake, according to the paper, which said that the global market for drought tolerance in maize alone is estimated at $2.7 billion, while the US Department of Agriculture estimates the global bio-based market for chemicals and plastics will top $500 billion per year by 2025. Rulings May Reduce Patent Scope In July 2010, the European Court of Justice issued a ruling denying Monsanto intellectual property rights over exports of soy meal from Argentina to the European Union. The seed giant went to court against Dutch importers of soy meal from Argentina containing DNA sequences of its herbicide-tolerant soy, which was not under patent in Argentina (IPW, Biodiversity, Genetic Resources, Biotech, 7 July 2010). The decision “made clear that claims on DNA sequences do not extend to derivative or processed products,” ETC said. ETC warned against proprietary, “high-tech” seeds that “will not be accessible – or suitable for – the vast majority of the world’s farmers.” The paper calls for alternative paths for climate resilience, which “ultimately depends on agricultural biodiversity, local seed systems and agro-ecological processes in the hands of farming communities.” Under-utilised crops and plant diversity that provide natural tolerance to harsh conditions are one alternative option to “technological fixes.” “Indigenous and local farming communities that have developed and managed that diversity and their role in developing strategies for climate change adaptation must be recognised, strengthened and protected,” it said. ETC also called for governments to reject the “corporate climate agenda” at the Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Cancun, Mexico, from 29 November-10 December, and asked that the Governing Body of the International Seed Treaty meeting in Bali, Indonesia in March 2011 “take action to stop the patent grab on climate-related genes and technologies as a violation of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.” Local Farming Knowledge Deemed Essential Agricultural biodiversity is a subset of larger biodiversity, Pratap Shrestha of USC Canada, a non profit organisation, said at another side event on 21 October, on farmers’ innovations, agricultural biodiversity and climate change. Farming communities have played a vital role in local food systems and food security, agricultural knowledge and innovation on genetic resources. The side event was organised by the Development Fund, a non-profit organisation based in South Africa and the United States developing innovative “financing vehicles that can attract private-sector capital for community purposes,” according to their website. Local farming communities are sustaining a wide variety of crops, not only major food crops, but also neglected and under-utilised food crops, uncultivated and wild food crops. They have a diversified knowledge on the crops such as nutritional quality or medicinal use, said Shrestha. There is little use of farmers’ knowledge and innovation in formal research and development on agrobiodiversity conservation, he said, and there is a rapid erosion of this knowledge. The 10th meeting of the Conference of the Party of the Convention on Biological Diversity, taking place from 18-29 October, named two working groups to negotiate items of the agenda, notably to establish a strategic plan. “Working group one” is talking about agriculture biodiversity but they are not talking monopoly and intellectual property rights, said Pat Mooney, executive director of the ETC Group. Patents “make fun of the international plant treaty (International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture), and the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) to secure the exchange of plant genetic resources, Mooney said. He asked that patent offices such as the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the European Patent Office and the Japan intellectual property office either reject patents on climate-ready crops, or revoke them if already granted, as they “violate food security,” he said. Fair prices, fair markets and strong farmers’ rights would reverse the trend of farmers leaving their land, he said. At present, the vast majority of global agriculture is produced by small farmers. Mooney said the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Committee on World Food Security, which took place on 11-14 October, “showed amazing progress.” Olivier de Schutter “gave an incredibly optimistic speech,” he said. Link to press release from de Schutter event here. A new FAO study released 26 October argues that the preservation of plant biodiversity, particularly in wild relatives of crops generally used for food, is critical to future food security. It is available here. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related Catherine Saez may be reached at email@example.com."Climate-Ready Crop Patents Present Danger For Biodiversity, Group Says" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.