Patent Grab

Auto Date Thursday, June 12th, 2008


In Geoffrey Lean’s article in The Independent, “Biotech Giants Demand a High Price for Saving the Planet: Companies Accused of Profiteering as They Attempt to Patent Crop Genes,” he found, through a Canadian organization’s report (ETC Group) that biotech companies are filing hundreds of monopoly patents on genes that help crops resist climate change.  The new investigation has concluded that nine biotech firms have filed at least 532 patents around the world on about 55 different genes offering protection against heat, drought, and floods.

If granted, the companies would be given control of crucial natural raw material needed to maintain food supplies in an increasingly hungry world.

The ETC Group report says some of the applications are sweeping. One would cover more than 30 crops from oats to oil palms, triticale to tea, and potatoes to perennial grass—“in other words, virtually all food crops.”  The report also asserts that the “corporate grab on climate-tolerant genes” means that “a handful of transnational companies are now positioned to determine who gets access to key genetic traits and what price they must pay.”

Small farmers in developing countries will be particularly hard hit by such “climate-change profiteering.”  Patenting will make the crops expensive and ensure that poor farmers have to buy them every year by prohibiting them from saving seeds from one harvest to grow for the next.

We typically think of drought resistance, salt resistance, and bio-fortification related only to GE crops.  However, the real breakthroughs in agriculture in 2007 were in sustainable and organic farming, not genetic engineering. Conventional, non-GMO breeding techniques are making remarkable progress in developing crops that can tolerate heat, floods and drought.

Some of the non-GMO breakthroughs include: 

  • salt-tolerant wheat to bring life to “dead” farmland

  • improved corn harvests

  • drought-resistant corn

  • beta carotene-rich sweet potatoes

  • allergen-free peanuts

  • iron-fortified corn

  • solutions for fuel, and more.  

The non-GMO solutions also bring with them none of the uncertainties that surround GMOs. 

The ETC Group report claims that “the patent grab is sucking up money and resources that could be spent on affordable, farmer-based strategies for survival.”  It concludes:

These patented technologies will ultimately concentrate corporate power, drive up costs, inhibit independent research, and further undermine the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds.

If the biotech industry is now patenting all the “climate change” traits allowable, then the non-GMO farmers would not be able to use “their” traits for drought resistance, etc., and produce non-GMO solutions. 

Time and time again, we can connect the dots and the biotech industry’s motivation is clear.  Seems so obvious, yet much of the public still has no idea what is really going on.


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