In May, a record 65,000 people from 30 countries and 32 organizations have backed the complaint issued to the European Patent Office due to the approval of a Syngenta tomato discovered in South America and cultivated by traditional methods.
The tomato was accepted as an “invention” in August 2015, with patent EP1515600, which further describes a “flavonoid pathway in the production and domestication method of the tomato.” This gives the Swiss company Syngenta the power over all plants with the characteristics mentioned, including seeds and even fruits and foods derived from them.
“This so-called “invention”, however, is simply a crossing of tomatoes originating in Peru and Chile, with varieties currently grown in industrialised countries,” said via email to La Gran Época María Carrascosa, of the association Red de Semillas, which joined the international coalition “Against patents on seeds”.
According to François Meienbergm, who took part in the protest, the tomatoes were discovered in those countries “before seed samples were taken to the US and consequently preserved. Syngenta then gained access to the seeds and then proclaimed that the crop was its ‘invention’. The countries of origin have basically stolen their biological treasures,” he said in the document issued in Switzerland to the European Patent Office (EPO) on 12 May.
“This patent entails a veiled bio-piracy,” he said. Meanwhile, the opposition coalition warns that members of the EPO, for their part, have so far refused to arrange a meeting with the opponents, as requested.
“Such patents endanger the future of plant cultivation,” added Ulrike Behrendt, a professional tomato grower. “The patent does not meet the requirements for an invention, as it merely describes the existing characteristics of the plants. Future plant breeding programmes and plant breeders will be negatively affected by such patent monopolies.”
Jörg Rohwedder, of the European Campaign Network “Wemove”, explained that “our opposition shows that European citizens no longer want large companies to control their food through patent rights. We have to stop these patents now.”
However, the EPO has granted about 180 patents for plants developed with conventional breeding and there are about 1,400 pending patent applications, according to figures given by Global Agriculture.