Protests against Seed Patents at Syngenta General Assembly

Basel, 26.04.2005 - With an action at the door of the convention center and direct interventions before the assembled Syngenta shareholders Swissaid, Greenpeace, and the Berne Declaration protested against the plans of one of the world’s leading agribusinesses to monopolize important features of rice and other crops by means of patents on genetic materials. Farmers, researchers, and plant breeders would be most immediately affected by Syngenta’s wide-ranging patent claims. The three organizations are calling on Syngenta to cancel their applications for these patents.

Shareholders arriving for the Syngenta general assembly this morning were greeted by activists who protested against the corporation’s «arrogant patent claims and misleading communication policy»:

  • Syngenta claims: that its genetically modified Bt-10 and Bt-11 corns are practically identical1     whereas in truth: Bt10 – unlike Bt11 – has an antibiotic resistance marker gene 
  • Syngenta claims: that the company has no commercial interest in Golden Rice2                          whereas in truth: in 2004 the company filed patents for Golden Rice in over 100 countries. 
  • Syngenta claims that it is essential to build trust in order to improve access to genetic resources.3     whereas in truth: the company has filed numerous patents that tend to restrict such access.     

The gap between actual facts and facts as communicated by Syngenta is particularly large in the case of Golden Rice. Syngenta keeps saying it has no economic interest in the rice project, yet in 2004 the company filed patents for new developments of Golden Rice in over 100 countries, including India, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and several African countries.4) «This patent application reveals the true face of Syngenta» says Bruno Heinzer of Greenpeace, «there is no reason to file a patent except to make money from it. The company’s humanitariaism masks what are mostly commercial interests. It is hardly sufficient if Syngenta now claims that it will give away the rights to reserarchers or institutions for free. Patents have a 20 year term – more than enough time to be misused for monopoly interests.»

Syngenta has also filed patents on parts of the rice genome. The effect of these patents on research and the livelihood of farmers will be even more dramatic.5) These patent claims are very comprehensive and include numerous gene-sequences commonly found in many different crops such as rice, wheat, tomatoes, tobacco, or peanuts. By restricting the use of genes even in conventional breeding these patents constitute an enormous obstacle for breeders of new crop varieties and, in the long run, a serious threat for global food security. «Such comprehensive patents on plant genetic materials, while scientifically preposterous and presumptuous, show that Syngenta does not care about the consequences of its actions. Commercial interests rule supreme – even if they make the fight against hunger more difficult,» says Tina Goethe of Swissaid.

«Syngentas’ patent claims constitute an abuse of the patent system and should be stopped. Patents on life must be banned by law,» says François Meienberg of the Berne Declaration. The three organizations are engaged in a joint effort to make sure that patents on plants, animals, humans and their genes are banned under Swiss patent laws which are currently being revised. At the Syngenta general assembly, Swissaid, Greenpeace, and the Berne Declaration appealed to the corporation’s leadership to cancel the patent applications mentioned in their protest.

1) Syngenta spokesperson Rainer von Mielecki to Basler Zeitung (BaZ March 23, 2005)

2) Syngenta Report on Social and Environmental Impacts 2004

3) Andrew Bennett, Executive Director Syngenta Foundation, Symposium on Food Security, Basel 10.16.03

4) WO2004085656

5) WO03000905, WO03000906, WO03008540, WO03048319