no patents on beer! — Patents on plants and animals

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Patents on plants and animals, on barley and beer?

The European Parliament, the EU Commission and governments of the EU member states are all demanding a stop to granting patents covering plants and animals derived from conventional breeding. This is something that many NGOs, farmers and breeders have called for over many years.

Nevertheless, in recent years the European Patent Office (EPO) has continued to grant such patents covering e.g. food plants, such as tomatoes, broccoli, melons and, more recently, barley. The patents cover everything from seeds to harvest, and barley to beer.

Large corporations such as Monsanto, Bayer, Dupont and Syngenta are systematically using these patents to progressively take control of the basics of our food security. At the same time, traditional breeders are being squeezed out of the market or bought up – creating ever greater dependency for farmers and consumers. The patent holders determine what is bred, what is grown and which food products are brought to market. They also dictate the prices we pay for these products.

The EPO has exploited every imaginable loophole to avoid existing prohibitions. In doing so, it is following its own business interests: The EPO earns money from granting patents. However, according to European patent law, neither plant varieties nor animals derived from conventional breeding can be patented.

The patents granted to Carlsberg and Heineken show just how industry and patent lawyers in collusion with the EPO, are able to exploit and target grey areas in patent law to avoid existing prohibitions. In this case, the so-called „invention“ is based on random mutations in the genome of the barley; these are commonly used in conventional breeding. Use of the barley is meant to simplify brewing and make it cheaper, the beer will also supposedly keep for longer.

The scope of the patents is immense: The patents cover the barley, the brewing process and the beer itself. In addition, the patent covers all barley plants with the same traits, independently of how they were bred. This means that the brewing companies profit twice over – by selling the beer and from the cultivation of the barley. At the same time, they can prevent other breeders from breeding better barley and also extend their market dominance – to the detriment of farmers, breeders, other breweries and consumers.

Even in future, the EPO would willingly grant such patents. By contrast, according to the EU, only processes in which, for instance, the genome is directly manipulated through genetic engineering can be patented, but not random changes in the genome.

It is now up to the governments in Europe to take action: Together in the Administrative Council of the EPO, they could jointly enforce a more rigorous interpretation of existing prohibitions. Loopholes also need to be closed to make the prohibitions properly effective. In fact, in 2017, European governments decided on a joint initiative; and a decision could be made by June 2017. However, there is a danger that the prohibitions might again be ineffective. Therefore, write a letter to the German Minister for Justice, Heiko Maas – he is the current responsible minister in Germany.

Report on patents on seeds:

Report No patents on seeds!