Patents on seed threatens farmers' access to traditional seeds

Today, the European Patent Office (EPO) will have its final hearing on the approval of a patent on tomatoes with reduced water content. It is expected to grant the patent with small changes to the wording.

Despite the fact that the patenting of plant varieties is prohibited by European law, the EPO continues to grant patents to multinationals that encompass classical breeding.

According to No Patents on Seeds! this office has already granted more than 120 patents on conventional breeding and about 1.000 such patent applications are pending. In a report issued today, No Patents on Seeds! describes the state of play of the situation and calls for immediate action to stop this development and implement effective prohibitions to stop approving patents on plants and animals.

In March 2015, the EPO decided that patents may be granted for seed and plants obtained by traditional breeding techniques. This decision was taken based on a distorted version of the current law: while processes for conventional breeding cannot be patented, plants and animals produced by these processes are patentable. This is also contradictory in itself since the current law excludes “plant and animal varieties or essentially biological processes for production plants and animals”.

One of the consequence of the concentration power in the hands of a few companies is that other companies can no longer use this trait without consent of the patent owner. This hinders the innovation in breeding, creates less choice and higher prices for farmers, and on the longer term threatens food security. Moreover, patents on seeds threaten farmer’s right to use, exchange and sell saved seeds and propagating material as defined in the definition of “Farmer’s Rights” in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

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