19 Nov 2014

Life for sale -- going fast!

Casey B. writes:*

Patents on seeds have become a "thing." Seeds have been patented in the States for a while now and have just recently made their way to Europe - but what exactly is the problem with the patents on seeds?

Well for starters they are not technical, human made interventions, but part of nature and as such should be available for everyone..right?

Unfortunately however they aren’t. Almost any plant can be patented if they are [1] either technically modified, [2] if patented genes are inserted or [3] if merely their molecular properties are analyzed - this patent also extends to all "future off-spring" and crossed seeds.

The mere analyzation of the components in one plant can be enough to patent all plants with the same components. DuPont, for example, simply analyzed (pdf) the structure of a specific maize corn and received a patent for ALL maize plants with the same structure - including plants which have been a vital part of the Mexican agriculture for centuries.

Patents on seeds are growing quickly. It is estimated that DuPont, Monsanto and Sygenta currently dominate the world-wide seed market as they control the majority of the market with 53 percent. Their unique position allows them to introduce genetically modified seeds on a large scale to small and medium sized farmers with the promise, that they - if used with the companies own and very expensive pesticides - will survive all wind or weather conditions.

Deciding which seeds to purchase or examine for scientific reasons proves to be a big issues as some seeds are covered with up to 70 patents (pdf). According to a report by the Center for Food Safety (pdf), "93 percent of soybeans and 86 percent of corn crops in the U.S. come from patented, genetically engineered seeds.” Prices have been rising rapidly - since 1995 the price for soy beans has risen 325%, and the price for corn 259% - both seeds are essential nutritious crops, especially in third world countries - further price increases could have devastating consequences.

Jonas Salk has pointed out the ethical problem with patents after he was asked who owns the patent to his essential polio vaccine: “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” But wealthy companies think differently, as they dominate farmers, breeders and politicians: initiatives for new laws and legislation's against genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) continue to fail.

Bottom Line: Patents have created an environment in which it is almost impossible for small-scale farmers to make profit, endanger the world's food supply, and hinder the development of better, more nutritious seeds.

* Please comment on these posts from my environmental economics students, to help them with unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc.

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