A very welcome example of resistance against powerful agro-giant Monsanto that has paid off – their European patent on conventionally bred tomatoes (EP1812575) has been retracted partly as a result of an opposition against it filed by representatives of the international coalition No Patents on Seeds!.
With this patent, Monsanto had claimed property rights on tomatoes with a natural resistance to a fungal disease called botrytis. The original tomatoes used for this patent however came from an international gene bank, and the desired resistance was already a known trait of these plants. Monsanto had simply crossed these with other tomato plants, but through a cleverly worded patent they were still able to create the impression that genetic engineering had been used to produce the tomatoes.
A coordinator of No Patents on Seeds!, Christopher Then, says: “Revoking this patent is an important success. It was more or less based on a combination of fraud, abuse of patent law, and biopiracy. The patent could have been used to monopolise important genetic resources. Now breeders, growers and consumers have a chance of benefiting from a greater diversity of tomatoes improved by further breeding. The intended resistance is based on complex genetic conditions, which are not known in detail. So genetic engineering is clearly not an option in this case.”
The European Patent Office (EPO) has already granted more than a hundred patents on the conventional breeding of plants, even though “essentially biological processes for the production of plants and animals” and “plant varieties” are excluded from patentability. The coalition of No Patents on Seeds! has filed further oppositions against patents held by Monsanto, covering broccoli that can be harvested mechanically, melons that are resistant to plant viruses, and a selection of plants for breeding soybeans adapted to climate change. Hopefully the revocation of the tomato patent can lead the way also for these oppositions.
The EPO is granting more and more patents in this field and is intentionally undermining existing prohibitions (see this report). No Patents on Seeds! is calling on the European governments to take the EPO under political control to ensure a correct interpretation of patent law and enforce prohibitions effectively. Also a revision of European Patent Law is demanded to exclude breeding material, plants and animals, and food derived thereof from patentability.