A handful of multinational corporations are pressuring governments to allow what could become the broadest and most dangerous patent claims in history, warned the group while releasing a report on the subject at the UN Convention on Biodiversity being held here Oct 18-29.
"These patents are the latest form of biopiracy," said Vandana Shiva, director of India's Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology. "Farmers have bred seeds for drought, flood and salt tolerance over millennia. Climate resilience ultimately depends on farmers' innovation, biodiversity and agro-ecological processes staying in the hands of farming communities."
Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group warned: "The gene giants are stockpiling patents that threaten to put a choke-hold on the world's biomass and our future food supply. The breadth of many patent claims on climate ready crop genes is staggering. In many cases, a single patent or patent application claims ownership of engineered gene sequences that could be deployed in virtually all major crops - as well as the processed food and feed products derived from them."
ETC Group has identified over 262 patent families, adding up to 1,663 patent documents published worldwide (both applications and issued patents) that make specific claims on environmental stress tolerance in plants (such as drought, heat, flood, cold, salt tolerance).
DuPont, Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Syngenta and their biotech partners account for 77 percent of the patent families identified. Just three companies - DuPont, BASF, Monsanto - account for over two-thirds of the total. Public sector researchers hold only 10 percent.
"In a desperate bid for moral legitimacy and to try to ease public acceptance of genetically modified crops, the gene giants have donated a few proprietary crop genes to poor farmers in Africa," said Ribeiro.
"The quid pro quo is that developing country governments must facilitate market access for genetically modified crops and embrace biotech-friendly patent laws. It's an unacceptable trade-off. In exchange for untested technologies, these governments are being pressured to surrender national sovereignty over intellectual property, biomass, and food."
"Governments meeting at the UN biodiversity summit must put a stop to the patent grab, yet another false solution to climate change. They should instruct their patent offices to reject or rescind all of these patents," said ETC Group's Neth Daño. "A fundamental review of all intellectual property claims in agriculture should be jointly undertaken by the CBD and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). These patents also clearly violate the FAO Seed Treaty and its governing body must investigate and take action."