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[genet-news] PATENTS & ANIMALS: German farm minister rejects ex-Monsanto’s pig patent

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: Deutsche Welle, Germany



DATE:   18.04.2009

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German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner has come out strongly against a European patent application for a test to check pigs for a gene that makes them produce more meat.

?Breeding livestock through cross-breeding and selective breeding must remain a patent-free zone,? Aigner is quoted as saying in a pre-released interview with the Sunday edition of the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,

?It would not be acceptable for a firm to patent a genetically altered animal and afterwards demand license fees from breeders, whose animals exhibited this gene,? she said.

Hundreds of people demonstrated earlier this week in front of the European Union patent office in Munich against the patent, which is owned by the US company, Newsham Choice Genetics, whose initial application was approved last July.

Farmers, environmentalists and politicians say the patent opens the door to further commercial exploitation of bioengineering processes and undermines the livelihoods of farmers.

German states favor ban

Following this week?s protests, the major German farming states of Bavaria and Hesse have also come out in favor of a blanket ban for both plant and animal patents.

Aigner also said there was ?clearly room for improving current European patent law.?

Germany is the world?s fourth largest meat producer and almost a quarter of the European Union?s pork is raised in the country. Pork also plays a key role in the German diet - from sausages and cold cuts, to ham hocks and hearty roasts.

Christoph Then, a patent expert with Greenpeace, said his organization feared that a growing monopolization of animal and plant breeding would lead to a small number of companies dominating the market and dictating prices.

Not really genetic technology?

The Newsham pig testing kit was originally developed by US biotech company, Monsanto, which was recently in the news after Germany banned the use of its genetically modified corn.

The kit allows farmers to identify a particular gene in pigs that yields robust animals with body fat and meat proportions sought by the pork industry. Once pigs with the gene are identified, farmers can select them for intensive breeding.

Christoph Then argues that the process involved here is only a selective breeding tool, not genetic technology, and therefore should not be patentable.

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: Intellectual Property Watch, Switzerland

AUTHOR: Monika Ermert


DATE:   18.04.2009

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MUNICH - Farmers? associations, environmental, aid and development organisations together with anti-patent activists of the free software movement met this week for one of the largest anti-patent rallies in Munich.

Bringing a herd of pigs to the European Patent Office (EPO) between one and two thousand protesters asked for an end of patents on animals, plants and breeding and for changes in European patent law. Representatives of the ?No Patents on Seeds? alliance during the event delivered 5,000 complaints to the EPO against a patent on pig breeding granted by the EPO to US company Monsanto last year. The deadline for complaints on the disputed patent ended on 15 April.

The pig breeding patent meanwhile was sold in a transaction to US-based Newsham Choice Genetics. After their march, biopatent and software patent critics considered further joint actions.

Christoph Then of Greenpeace, one of the partners of the ?No Patents on Seeds? alliance, said at a roundtable after the march that there was a momentum for the fight against patents. With more and more patents granted by the EPO on conventional breeding and farming (instead of genetically modified versions) and plants that have been cultivated by farmers over centuries, society and politicians have started to ask, ?how can they get a patent on a pig?,? said Then.

Mobilising Effect of the Pig Breeding Patent

In a study commissioned by Greenpeace, Then and his co-author Ruth Tippe listed 40 patents on breeding methods for pigs, cows or plants, most of them already granted by the EPO. Then ridiculed the inventive step of these patents by comparing them to the selection of elephants for breeding depending on average nose length measured with a yard stick.

After the pig breeding patent had been granted, farmers ?started to pay attention to the issue and are asking what this office is up to,? Tippe told the protesters. She collected the 5,000 individual complaints against the pig breeding patent. These complaints now have to be checked by the EPO and sent to Newsham for comments.

Tippe underlined the concern of German farmer associations that the breeding patents would lead to a complete dependence on large multinational companies and an end to free farming despite assurances by the EPO that the patents did not include the animals themselves.

EPO spokesman Rainer Osterwalder told Intellectual Property Watch that only 12 of the original 30 claims were granted in patent No. EP 1651777. Monsanto originally asked to get a patent on a herd of pigs that had a particular gene related to faster growth. Still, Osterwalder, conceded: ?Some of our legal experts say the patent could be interpreted to extend to the offspring, others say it cannot.?

Osterwalder said a patent violation would have to be proven when the growth gene is found in piglets. But the president of the Association of Peasant Farming (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Bäuerliche Landwirtschaft), Friedrich Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf, said that the reversed burden of proof makes it nearly impossible for small farmers to escape royalty claims by big multinationals.

Seed-related cases in the United States and Canada related to seeds also have made this clear, said Mute Schimpf from the Catholic development organisation Misereor, which also is a partner in the No Patent on Seeds alliance. Misereor and Greenpeace partnered with the government of Mexico in fighting for the revocation of a patent by multinational DuPont on corn grains and products with improved oil composition.

The patent would have laid claim to plants that have been traditionally cultivated by farmers in Latin America, said Schimpf. The patent was revoked by the EPO. Then warned that seed and breeding patents lead to higher costs in developed countries and to hunger in the developing world.

German State Governments Plea for Change in EU Patent Law

?The discussion on the pig patent in fact appears absurd,? said Bavarian Environment Minister Markus Söder. ?The integrity of creation is more important than the profit interests of a few greedy gene companies.? Söder announced that Bavaria would join the state of Hesse in its initiative to change European patent law in order to prevent patents on life.

?We want nothing less than a change of the EU patent law,? said Then. ?We won?t stop for less.? He promised the alliance would come back even after the European Parliament election in June this year to remind politicians of their promises. The biggest political goal is the abolition of the EU Biopatent Directive, Then said in the roundtable. ?Without it the EPO would lack any legal basis for the patents on life,? said Then.

Yet software patent critics including Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, and several representatives from the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure said that not having a EC Directive did not help them to prevent patenting in the software sector. Contrary to the anti-biopatent community, the anti-software patent community so far has succeeded in squashing all attempts to introduce a software patent directive.

Stallman warned against the threat patents pose to free farming and free software engineering, and heavily criticised the EPO for its grant practice. He called it an ?evil and malicious organisation? Europeans should try to get rid off and should in the first place try ?to stop treating every EU institution as if it was sacred and inscrutable.?

EPO representatives at the protest, meanwhile, pointed to several activities of the office to fight trivial patents. The ?raising the bar? project was aimed at ensuring quality patents with satisfactory inventive steps. For the first time, the EPO is granting less than 50 percent of the patents applied for, said an EPO representative. With regard to computer-related inventions only seven percent were granted, and for biopatents, 39 percent.

Well over 90 percent of the biopatents granted were narrowed in scope before the grant, they said. Moreover, with regard to computer-related inventions, the EPO ?has referred a number of questions to the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the EPO? to seek to clarify existing grant practice related to article 52 (2) and (3) of the European Patent Convention.

Next Action

The software patent critics and biopatent critics now are discussing how to join forces in a next step. After the successful protest march as a first joint action, Then said the groups should consider fighting one of the trivial patents related to both areas like a ?method for combinatorial optimisation in plant or animal breeding? granted to a Belgian company that would interfere with the mere possibility of farmers using their computer to select animals for breeding from a database containing data on genotypic or phenotypic characteristics. Such a complaint again might be able to show the low level of the requirement for the inventive steps in patent applications and how broad the granted patents were.

Oncology expert Alfons Meindl from Munich University warned in the roundtable meeting also against another area of patenting that would cause harm to people. There was a wild rush to patent human genes and even small fragments of genes, the so-called, expressed sequence tags. Meindl said for example he and other physicians in Europe could possibly face patent violation complaints after a technical board of appeal at the EPO decided to maintain a patent (EP 699754) on a ?Method for diagnosing a predisposition for breast and ovarian cancer.? On patenting in medicine and biogenetics, Meindl said, ?Patents are the last thing my patients need.?

                                  PART 3

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SOURCE: Reuters, UK

AUTHOR: Brian Rohan


DATE:   17.04.2009

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BERLIN- A test to check pigs for a gene that makes them produce more meat has sparked a row in Germany, where farmers, ecologists and politicians filed objections to its patent before an appeals deadline on Thursday.

Germany is the world?s fourth largest meat producer, and almost a quarter of the EU?s pork is raised in the country. The meat has long played a traditional role in German cuisine.

Hundreds demonstrated on Wednesday in front of the European Union patent office in Munich against the patent, which is owned by US-based company Newsham Choice Genetics whose patent was approved last July. The firm could not be reached for comment.

Opponents say the process opens the door to further commercial exploitation of biological processes and weakens farmers, but the patent office says it is up to individuals to decide whether or not to use it.

?We fear a growing monopolisation of animal and plant breeding and companies dominating the market and dictating prices,? said Christoph Then, a patent expert with Greenpeace.

?And we fear having the same problem in the context of conventional breeding -- this is not genetic technology and thus should not be patentable,? he added.

The test kit, originally developed by US biotech company Monsanto, allows farmers to identify a particular gene in pigs that yields robust animals with body fat and meat proportions sought by the pork industry.

Once pigs with the gene are identified, farmers can select them for intensive breeding.

Some farmers are worried that the patent could open the door to claims by the patent holder on all descendents of the ?super pigs? bred after a one-time use of the process, or that it could claim a share in profits from any pigs carrying the gene.

EU authorities say the fears are unjustified.

?To enforce the patent, this company would have to sue a farmer and prove he had used its specific process entirely as disclosed in the patent,? said Rainer Osterwalder, spokesman for the Munich-based EU patent office.

(Reporting by Brian Rohan, Editing by Peter Blackburn)

                                  PART 4

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SOURCE: British Broadcasting Corporation, UK

AUTHOR: Laurence Peter


DATE:   16.04.2009

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German pig breeders want to limit the scope of biotech patents

Pig farmers and green campaigners in southern Germany have urged the EU to withdraw the patent for a genetic technique used to breed meatier pigs.

The pig breeders fear they might have to pay royalties to a US biotech firm in future if the patent is upheld.

They demonstrated outside the European Patent Office (EPO) in Munich on Wednesday, on the eve of a deadline for objections to the patent.

The EPO granted the patent nine months ago, but will now study the objections.

The patent application was filed in 2005 by Monsanto, which sold its pig-breeding technology to another US biotech firm, Newsham Genetics, in 2007.

In a statement, Monsanto said the sale ?included any and all swine-related patents, patent applications, and all other intellectual property [relating to pigs]?.

A spokesman for the EPO, Rainer Osterwalder, said the existing patent ?is in force until there is a decision to revoke it?.

The patent covers a breeding process that relies on a genetic marker for selecting pigs that fatten quickly and produce juicier meat. The particular gene is found only in certain pigs.

National rules apply

Mr Osterwalder said the EPO had narrowed the scope of the patent, so that it related only to the firm?s scientific method, but not the pig itself, the gene sequence or the kit used for selection.

Biotech firms? activities are a major political issue in Bavaria

?It?s normal to pay royalties for using a test,? he told BBC News. ?The question is - how far does the breeder?s right go in using the test??

Under EU rules the EPO grants patents, but all the consequences fall under national law, he said. So the rules for pig breeders in the UK may well differ from those in Germany or other EU states.

Mr Osterwalder stressed that a breeder would not have to pay royalties if his pigs had the same genetic trait as that described in the patent, because the gene itself was not patented.

There are about 20 objections to the patent, he said, and an expert panel will assess them.

Bavaria?s Environment Minister Markus Soeder has called for a ban on genetic patents for animals and plants.

On Tuesday, German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner - like Mr Soeder a member of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) - said Germany would ban Monsanto?s genetically modified (GM) maize, called MON 810.

Since the EPO was created in 1977 it has received almost 200 patent applications for marker-assisted breeding of animals, Mr Osterwalder said. It has granted about 30 of them, but many are still pending. About half are American applications and half European.

The spokesman said that under EU rules, a firm can patent an animal only if it is transgenic - that is, an animal with an artificially modified gene.

Gene sequences can be patented only if they have an industrial application and only if they have not been made public before.

                                  PART 5

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SOURCE: SciDev.Net, UK

AUTHOR: Kathy Jo Wetter & Hope Shand


DATE:   15.04.2009

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Kathy Jo Wetter is a programme manager at ETC Group (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration) and Hope Shand is its research director.

Unproven and patented GM fixes will not help farmers in the South adapt to climate change, say Kathy Jo Wetter and Hope Shand.

The global North?s super-sized carbon footprint has already trampled the South?s farmers, most recently in the form of energy crop plantations, which have been directly responsible for deforestation and farmer evictions in some developing countries, including Indonesia and Tanzania.

Now the world?s largest seed and agrochemical corporations are stockpiling hundreds of monopoly patents on genes in crops genetically engineered to withstand the environmental stresses associated with climate change, such as drought, heat, cold, floods and saline soils.

In 2008 the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration reported that the largest of these companies, including BASF, Bayer, DuPont, Monsanto and Syngenta, had already filed 532 patent documentson so-called ?climate ready? genes at patent offices around the world.

Beyond Europe and the United States, patent offices in major food-producing countries ? including Argentina, Brazil, China, Mexico and South Africa ? are also being swamped. Since last year?s count, the ?Gene Giants? have filed at least 65 more patent documents related to the ability of plants to tolerate environmental stresses, as opposed to biological stresses such as pests or weeds. Monsanto, the world?s largest seed company, and BASF, the world?s largest chemical firm, have forged a colossal US$1.5 billion partnership to develop such crops, suggesting that the number of patent filings to date is just the beginning.

Bad news

But the huge number of patent filings does not mean that these companies have found the key to unlocking how plants withstand environmental stresses ? though they may be knocking on the right door. We do not yet know how these plants will perform in the field. What is clear is that their appearance in the marketplace will increase the concentration of corporate power, drive up costs, inhibit independent research, and, most alarmingly, undermine the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds.

There is a further danger that, as the climate crisis deepens, governments may strong-arm farmers into planting prescribed biotech seeds with traits deemed essential for adaptation. This is already happening in the United States ? the government?s Federal Crop Insurance Corporation gives a discount to farmers planting Monsanto?s biotech maize seed because, according to data submitted by Monsanto, there is reduced risk of low yields compared to other varieties. It is common for US policies to serve as templates for developing countries, so we shouldn?t be surprised to see other governments following suit.

Biotech companies insist they don?t want to hamper farmers in developing countries who are struggling to eke out a living, nor do they want to take food out of the mouths of hungry people. They point to projects like the Water Efficient Maize for Africa collaboration as evidence. This brings together Monsanto and BASF among others with US$47 million in funding from charitable foundations to develop drought-resistant maize which they will give, royalty-free, to farmers in Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

While such projects provide good publicity for the companies involved, suspicion is warranted. At the same time that companies appear to be engaging in no-strings-attached philanthropy, industry groups such as CropLife International are campaigning hard for governments in the South to enact tougher intellectual property laws to ensure that farmers pay royalties on proprietary seeds.

Kenya, for example, recently adopted the ?Anti-Counterfeit Act?, which applies to ?any intellectual property right subsisting in Kenya or elsewhere in respect of protected goods?. Uganda and Tanzania are following Kenya?s lead to draft their own anti-counterfeiting legislation. Kenya?s law explicitly criminalises violators of plant breeders? rights. Even more recently, Kenya passed a biosafety law to allow production of GM crops. The influx of costly, proprietary seeds in the marketplace and stricter intellectual property laws are no help to farmers racing to adapt crops to changing climatic conditions.

Beyond biotech

Biotech proselytisers have been preaching that only genetic engineering can beget crops that will survive climate change. On the contrary, the genetic diversity of plants and animals and the diverse knowledge and practices of farming communities are the most important resources for adapting local agriculture to a changing climate.

Farmer-led strategies for adapting to climate change ? such as efforts to diversify crops and bring them to the marketplace ? must be recognised, strengthened and protected by society as a whole and by governments in particular. Farming communities must be directly involved in setting priorities and strategies for adaptation. Where appropriate, scientists can work with farmers to improve conservation technologies, strengthen local breeding strategies, and assist in identifying and accessing seeds held in banks.

This may involve strengthening and expanding farmer-to-farmer networks for exchanging and enhancing crops through organisations such as La Via Campesina. It may also involve facilitating access to new sources of genetic material for farmers to experiment with breeding, and implementing Farmers? Rights under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.



European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)

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