There is no doubt that patents on plant varieties, despite being prohibited by law, have reached the markets in Europe without any public perception. In consequence, the current system of plant breeding in Europe is facing a deep crisis with the freedom to operate for traditional breeders being severely endangered and undermined.

123rfLimited©studioaccendo. Spinachs

The PINTO database (European Seed Association) shows that in Europe, almost 1.200 conventionally bred varieties are already concerned by the more than 100 patents that are listed. Some of these patents cover more than 120 varieties, the maximum is 175 – affected by the patent EP3282016 on the resistance against rhizomania (a disease caused by a virus) in sugar beet by the German breeding company KWS. Some species and traits already are impacted by a real patent thicket. In many cases, one single variety is already concerned by up to 5 patents. These patents are often under control of KWS, BASF and Bayer. The species concerned are sugar beet, sunflowers, lettuce, white cabbage and maize. Since the input to the database is voluntary, it is likely that several other patents are not listed

The highest number of patents per species concerns spinach with 12 patents, nearly all of them concerning resistance to downy mildew. It has to be assumed that already now, it is more or less impossible for smaller breeders to breed for resistance against downy mildew, which is the most relevant plant disease in spinach, without being at risk to infringe one of these patents. This is a very concerning trend in regards to food sovereignty in Europe.

The current system of plant breeding in Europe is facing a deep crisis

To show how relevant patents are for the European market, we compared the maize varieties officially recommended for cultivation in Switzerland for 2023 with the data from PINTO. We found that eight of the maize varieties are concerned by four patents. It is very likely that research performed in other European countries will come to similar results.

In order to have a resilient food system in Europe, breeders need to have access to varieties to be able to adapt plants to new pests, diseases or climate conditions. Patents put our food security at risk and the politicians of the member states of the European Patent Office have to take urgent action now!

  • Check out here No Patents on Seeds! recent reports 

No a las patentes sobre semillas

Author: Johanna Eckhardt, No Patents on Seeds! project coordinator.

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