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4-Patents: Crop king Monsanto seeks pig-breeding patent clout

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Crop king Monsanto seeks pig-breeding patent clout
SOURCE: Reuters, by Carey Gillam
DATE:   10 Aug 2005

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FEATURE-Crop king Monsanto seeks pig-breeding patent clout

KANSAS CITY, Mo., Aug 10 (Reuters) - Monsanto Co., already a world
powerhouse in biotech crops, is shaking up the swine industry with plans
to patent pig-breeding techniques and lay claim to the animals born as a

Agricultural experts are scrambling to assess how these patents might
affect the market, while consumer activists warn that if the company is
granted pig-related patents, on top of its tight rein on key feed and
food crops, its control over agriculture could be unprecedented.

"We're afraid that Monsanto and other big companies are getting control
of the world's genetic resources," said Christoph Then, a patent expert
with Greenpeace in Germany.

The patent applications, filed with the World Intellectual Property
Organization, are broad in scope, and are expected to take several years
and numerous rewrites before approval.

"We applied for a patent ... for some specific reproductive processes in
swine," said Monsanto spokesman Chris Horner. "Any pigs that would be
produced using this reproductive technique would be covered by these patents."

The practices Monsanto wants to patent basically involve identifying
genes that result in desirable traits in swine, breeding animals to
achieve those traits and using a specialized device to inseminate sows
deeply in a way that uses less sperm than is typically required.

"We've come up with a protocol that wraps a lot of these techniques
together," said Monsanto swine molecular breeding expert Mike Lohuis.

St. Louis, Missouri-based Monsanto says any fears about its work are
overblown and the patents are simply a "defensive move" as many players
around the world race to find technology to breed bigger and better pigs
to meet consumer demands for healthy, tasty and inexpensive pork.
Officials say they are not trying to patent pigs per se. They only want
the ability to track which pigs come from the Monsanto system.

Still, Greenpeace sees a more sinister motive and last week launched an
Internet campaign to quash the patents, spurring hundreds of people to
bombard Monsanto executives with e-mailed concerns.


More than 110 million hogs are marketed each year in North America, and
there are roughly 6 million breeding sows that support that industry.

Currently, the dominant U.S. player in the swine breeding industry is the
Pig Improvement Co. unit of British pig breeder Sygen International
(SNI.L: Quote, Profile, Research), which holds an estimated 40 percent
U.S. market share. Monsanto has an estimated 10-12 percent, obtained when
it acquired Dekalb Genetics six years ago.

"We'd like to build a business like theirs," Ron Schinnour, general
manager of Monsanto Choice Genetics, said of PIC. "It is an area we have
a lot of focus on."

The concerns over Monsanto's patents are two-pronged. One relates to how
the patent claims involving the animals themselves would be used. There
have been hundreds of animal patents granted over the last several years,
including claims on salmon, chimps and mice. But the majority are
genetically modified animals used in laboratory research, not common farm

Some fear that Monsanto one day could be filing patent infringement
lawsuits against pig farmers. Monsanto already has a track record of
suing farmers whose crops contain some of the company's patented genetic
plant technology.

"The claims are very unique. It's another incident of Monsanto trying to
really push the boundaries," said agricultural patent attorney Heidi Nebel.

Critics also say it is not apparent that Monsanto has actually invented
anything new in swine reproduction. They say the company is simply trying
to lay claim to a combination of practices already used along with
genetic selection that occurs in nature.

"The claims are very broadly sculpted; the question is whether there is
anything new here," said Max Rothschild, U.S. Pig Genome Coordinator from
Iowa State University, who holds several patents in this area.

Monsanto is best known for its herbicide products and its development and
marketing of genetically modified soybeans and corn and other crops that
resist insects and make it easier for farmers to fight weeds. Swine
industry players say Monsanto has the resources to become a significant
force in pork as well.

"They are making a big push," said animal scientist Dan Pomp, co-founder
of Gene Seek, a DNA-based service company that contracts with Monsanto
and other players for genetic swine testing. "They've built this
extensive and strong program to grow that side of their business."


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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