Eleven reasons why Europe needs to ban patents on food plants and farm animals

The “No Patents on Seeds” coalition published a new report on patent applications for conventional plant and animal breeding which, according to European patent law, are excluded from patentability. Nevertheless, from beginning of 2018 until the end of 2019, more than 100 patent applications were filed on conventional breeding.

The report presents eleven examples, highlighting cases of biopiracy, claims on vegetables, beer and barley and farm animals. These include specific pepper plants, originally collected in Mexico, whose use in breeding could now be covered by monopolistic patent claims. Other examples concern natural resistance to plant diseases derived from wild populations of basil, musk melons with intensely red coloured flesh, and endive plants with reduced browning after harvesting. There are further patent applications claiming spinach, maize, tomatoes, alliums, artichokes, eggplants, beet, broccoli, cassava, cauliflower, celery, cotton, potatoes and rice, as well as cattle, pigs, sheep, horses, goats, rabbits and poultry.

All the examples are derived from conventional methods of breeding, based on random processes and crossing and selection, but not on genetic engineering. The wording of the European patent law prohibits the patenting of non-technical breeding. However, decisions taken in 2017 and 2018 by the Administrative Council of the European Patent Organisation (EPO) and its Technical Board of Appeal created a great deal of legal uncertainty, as it prohibited some, but not all, patents on plants and animals derived from conventional breeding. Faced with its own legal contradictions, the EPO ceased in 2019 all further patenting in the field of conventional breeding. Now, in 2020, further decisions are expected to be made.

The report of the international coalition “No Patents on Seeds“ shows how companies will try to expand their control of food production in Europe if the current problems are not solved, and no clear distinction is made between technical inventions or random processes.

Further information: