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[genet-news] PATENTS & ANIMALS: German farmers march against Monsanto’s pig gene patent

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: Deutsche Welle, Germany



DATE:   16.04.2009

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Farmers worry that their pigs could become other people?s intellectual property

German farmers have marched on the offices of the European Patent Office to block a patent application connected to the genes of their prized livestock

In a rare show of solidarity, German farmers and environmentalists staged a protest to block a genetic patent application from getting the green light. The patent would protect the breeding of pigs that possess a naturally occurring gene linked to rapid growth.

Some 400 protesters parked tractors and herded pigs outside the European Patent Office in the German city of Munich on Wednesday. They also filed an appeal seeking to overturn a 2005 patent application (Patent EP 1651777) filed by US biotech giant Monsanto, and now owned by Newsham Choice Genetics.

The patent aims to protect a pig breeding process based on genetic analysis. But critics warn that the patent could be extended to cover the animals? genes themselves, and farmers fear that they could one day be forced to pay royalties for their traditional livestock.

The German states of Bavaria and Hesse also oppose the patent application and have already signaled their intention to introduce a general ban on all patents covering animals and plants.

The head of the German Farming Association, Gerd Sonnleitner, told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper that the patent was a ?threat to free breeding.?

?Patents on animals and plants should be generally banned, because it contradicts every basic understanding of farming, that individuals should have monopoly rights on genetic material,? Sonnleitner said.

?Corporations are always trying to bypass the regulations to achieve access to animals and plants. For this reason all legal loopholes should be closed at the EU level so large companies do not dictate what is bred and what lands up on consumers? plates,? he added.

The farmers? association president also called for more research into so-called green biotechnologies to investigate the risks and opportunities involved.

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: No Patents on Seeds, Germany

AUTHOR: Press Release


DATE:   15.04.2009

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?Stop the patent on the poor creature?

Munich, 15 April. - Over a thousand farmers joined by environment and development-aid organi­sa­tions today demonstrated against patents on animals and plants in Munich. Over 5,000 people and some 50 organisations have filed a joint opposition to a patent on breeding pigs originally registered by the US agricultural corporation, Monsanto. The No Patents on Life organisation is handing over the objection today at the European Patent Office in Munich. Those taking part in the protest march, being made under the heading ?Stop the patent on the poor creature?, are calling for patents on life to be prohibited by law. Greenpeace yesterday presented new research on patent applications author­ised by the EPO, showing these now ranged from the breeding of cows to milk. Today?s demon­stration against patents on life is reckoned to be the biggest so far in Europe.

?Farmers and breeders are dispossessed by patents on life,? says Rudolf Buehler from the Schwaebisch Hall farmers? association, which has today led a herd of its traditional breeding pigs to the patent office. ?Corporations like Monsanto want control over agriculture and food, from piglets to cutlets.? The animals being claimed in the pig patent (EP 1651777) are no different from other breeding pigs. Nor is any new technical invention described in the application. Monsanto has just modified breeding procedures that are already known.

The demonstration is also supported by the German dairy farmers alliance, the BDM, and the AbL farmers? cooperative. ?There are new patent applications that range from cows to milk and yoghurt,? says Romuald Schaber at the BDM. ?The German government must set limits to big companies? greed for living creatures.?

The development-aid organisation Misereor fears farmers in developing countries are losing the rights to their own seeds through such patents. Patents on seed further aggravate the global situation for food by making cultivation more expensive.

The demonstrators in Munich have already chalked up an initial success for the independence of agriculture. The Hesse state government and the Greens in the German Bundestag last month called for a change in European patent laws prohibiting such patents being granted in future.

                                  PART 3

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SOURCE: Der Spiegel, Germany

AUTHOR: Michael Scott Moore


DATE:   16.04.2009

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A German ban on genetically modified corn has found broad support in the German public, and protests against a patent on a strain of pig made headlines on Wednesday. German commentators wonder if this is just European technophobia or whether genes are a natural resource which no patent should restrain.

It?s been a tough week in Germany for proponents of genetically engineered farm products. First Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner announced a ban on cultivating a strain of genetically modified (GM) corn. Then on Wednesday, demonstrations were held in the Bavarian capital of Munich and the Hessian capital of Wiesbaden against a patent on a breed of pig.

Around 400 people demonstrated on Munich?s central Marienplatz square before moving on to the nearby headquarters of the European Patent Office, driving a small herd of swine. Their placards featured slogans like ?no patents on life? and ?stop the patent on the poor pig.? Bavaria?s Environment Minister Markus Söder, who has positioned himself as a prominent critic of genetic engineering in recent years, addressed the crowd. ?We don?t believe in the future of GM foods,? he said to great applause.

The pig patent, EP 1651777, is an attempt by the US-based company Newsham Choice Genetics to register a faster-growing meat pig within the European Union. The line of corn, Monsanto?s MON810, has been protected by a patent for years, and produces a toxin that kills the potentially devastating corn borer moth. The corn seed has faced bans in a few European countries -- against the European Commission?s will -- and the German decision to ban it just before farmers are due to plant their crops is an anti-Brussels gesture that should go down well in Aigner?s home state of Bavaria.

Aigner?s party, the CSU, is a Bavarian sister party to Angela Merkel?s conservative Christian Democrats. It has reason to worry about winning seats in the European Parliament this June and in the German parliament in September?s national election. But the reason Aigner gave for the ban is simple: Monsanto, the corporation that sells the corn seed, can?t guarantee that it will have no adverse effect on the environment. Recent tests from Austria suggest MON810 could reduce fertility in mice.

The swine patent likewise stems from Monsanto research, although Newsham bought the patent and its related corporate group from Monsanto in 2007. The protesting farmers in this case worry about an encroachment of patents into their fields and stalls, where traditionally no one has been able to demand money from them for cross-breeding.

German papers on Thursday are simmering over whether popular resistance to genetically modified corn and patented swine is a matter of kneejerk mistrust of US corporations, or an example of good science trumping hasty legislation.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

?To the four small EU countries that have so far banned MON810, two large ones have added their weight: first France, and now Germany. This development can?t be ignored in Brussels. For the time being, the EU bureaucrats will follow the results of a legal proceeding in France brought by (Monsanto), an international corporation. If the plaintiff wins, the EU will have a problem: It will then not be a simple matter of protecting consumers, but also, potentially, of protecting seed producers -- a group that may also include farmers.?

The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

?Opponents of genetic engineering rejoiced when Aigner banned MON180 seed on Tuesday. The joy is justified; the corn won?t be planted in German soil this year. But it?s a temporary triumph -- unfortunately nothing more.?

?Aigner is not at all convinced that the trans-genetic corn seed is truly dangerous. Before she came to the ministry last November, she argued in favor of the technology as a research expert before the German parliament. Now she?s flipped 180 degrees, within a few months, by referring to new hints of risk to the environment. But similar research has existed for years.?

?What?s new, however, is that the CSU are afraid of missing the nationwide 5-percent hurdle in the June elections for the European Parliament. Aigner fears that a pro-GM food position would cost votes, as polls in Bavaria predict. After the election, however, this motive will fall away.?

The conservative Die Welt, in a signed editorial by Stefan Mörsdorf, a Christian Democratic environmental minister from the state of Saarland, argues:

?As long as doubts remain about this strain of corn and its potential danger to humans and the environment, it is our duty to ban it. This is neither populism nor panic-mongering. It is an act of reason -- first to test the genetic process, then to gather facts. The existing studies raise questions that need to be answered before the ban can be lifted. The security of the consumer, of everyone who works in agriculture, and of the environment itself must have absolute priority -- even above the economic interests of a genetic-engineering concern.?

?The state of Saarland is free of genetically modified plants, and it will remain so in the future -- not out of populism, panic or fear of technology, but as a sign of quality in Saarland agriculture, which it is our duty to provide to consumers.?

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung gives the most comprehensive argument against patented GM crops and breeds:

?Farmers fear with some justification that they might be sued by a patent owner. For years Monsanto has set its lawyers loose in the US against farm owners who supposedly have used genetically modified seed without paying. The protesting farmers in Munich fear a world where they can only raise patented breeds -- and then only with the consent of certain companies.?

?A problem with all patents is that they assert a right to forbid. A patent owner, using intellectual property protection, can block out competitors by demanding huge fees. In the case of animals and plants, this infringes on the freedom to breed. Unrestrained access to genetic resources has been a right of all farmers for centuries.?

?Politicians have been arguing about the regulations for the last 10 years. They should broach the issue one more time and unambiguously rule out patents on plants and animals -- because even the fattest pig is not a machine.?



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