In February 2014 a broad coalition consisting of 34 NGO’s, farmers’ and breeders’ organisations from 27 European countries filed an opposition to a pepper-patent from Syngenta. The company patented an insect resistance, which they copied from a wild pepper. Such patents are ethically questionable, increase the seed market concentration, hinder innovation, and consequently pose a threat to global food security.
On May 8, 2013, the European Patent Organisation (EPO) granted a patent (EP 2140023 B1) to Syngenta for insect resistant pepper plants. A wild pepper plant from Jamaica was crossed with commercial pepper plants. Since the wild plant is resistant to various pests, the patented resistance already existed in nature. However, Syngenta claims the ownership to insect-resistant pepper plants, their seeds, and their fruits, although the patented plants are products of conventional breeding. Such plants should definitely not be patentable under European patent law.
The opposition to the patent demands that it should be revoked. It is the first time in EPO’s history that such a widely supported opposition, featuring co-opponents from 27 member countries of the European Patent Convention, has been filed, echoing the broad disagreement with the current EPO practice. In May 2012 a resolution has been adopted by the European Parliament which “calls on the EPO to exclude from patenting products derived from conventional breeding and all conventional breeding methods.” An upcoming decision by the enlarged board of the EPO may lead to a change of the practice to grant patents on conventional plants. The revocation of the pepper-patent would be an important first step. But to bring about a much-needed and lasting change, a political decision by the administrative council of the EPO is needed.
If plants can be patented, this aggravates the already existing concentration process of the global seed market with a few multinational corporations controlling the future of our food. Supposedly, patents on seeds should create an incentive for breeding new plant varieties, but they cause the opposite: Breeders can not access freely the very base material of plant breeding, such as plant varieties and wild plants. This leads to a decreasing agro-biodiversity and food sovereignty and thus to a smaller choice for consumers.