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ENVIRONMENT -
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Patenting a Pig

Posted in the database on Monday, August 08th, 2005 @ 11:51:51 MST (1518 views)
by Paul Harris    Axis of Logic  

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In a report released August 2, 2005, Greenpeace has alerted the world, and thereby God, to the fact that Monsanto is about to challenge God’s patent rights to his creations … again. This time, it’s the pig.

Canadian readers might remember the plight of Percy Shmeiser, a Western farmer who lost a Supreme Court battle against Monsanto in 2004 over their genetically modified canola seed. People the world over have sat up and taken notice.

Shmeiser’s troubles began in 1997. He was routinely spraying herbicide along a ditch and discovered that some of his canola plants appeared to have become herbicide resistant. It turned out that his canola had been contaminated by pollen from Monsanto’s patented herbicide-resistant canola that was being grown in a nearby field. Shmeiser wasn’t impressed to find his canola tainted but he continued with his normal crop cycle, which includes harvesting and replanting some of the seed from his field. He also sold some of the seed he gathered.

In 1998, Monsanto sued him for patent infringement. They alleged that he had acquired and planted their patented seeds without obtaining a license from them, and that he then sold his harvested seed and further infringed their patent. Ultimately, Monsanto had to take Shmeiser all the way to the Supreme Court where, in a stunning 5-4 decision, Monsanto earned the right, for themselves and all other corporations, to patent life.

The issues the court had to decide were whether genetic patents were valid and with what scope, how exactly would such a patent be infringed, and whether contamination caused by an outside party imposes obligations on the party contaminated.

Shmeiser argued that it should not be possible to patent life. Period. Further, since he never sprayed his crop with Monsanto’s product Roundup, he had not taken advantage of the herbicide-resistant quality of the crop and never benefited in any way from the presence of their patented material in his fields. In other words, he argued that since he didn’t exploit their invention, he could not have infringed Monsanto’s patent. He also argued that he was an innocent bystander: patented material “passively and inadvertently” mixed with his personal property and he should not be held accountable to the patent holder for that.

The court sided with Monsanto on all points and created a huge problem for grain producers. Farmers say that cross-contamination from Monsanto’s products is wide-spread and uncontrollable. Essentially, the court has made individual farmers liable to Monsanto for crop contamination created by Monsanto.

Beyond the absolutely absurdity that ‘life’ can be patented, Monsanto is not a newcomer to such controversial attempts to purchase the rights to Mother Nature. Nor are they shy about trying to control every bit of food we eat. They are also responsible for something called ‘terminator’ technology in which they sell you seed for a certain crop. The crop grows normally but is sterile and can’t produce seed. The idea is that you then have to buy more seed from Monsanto in order to plant the next crop. In effect, this upsets a balance that has existed over many millennia where farmers have traditionally grown crops and harvested some of the seed to produce the next crop.

Crop planting from harvested seed appears to be what nature intended when these crops were domesticated many thousands of years ago. But by manipulating just a small gene within one of these crops, they are no longer part of the natural heritage of this planet: they are the private property of Monsanto.

Worse for Canadians, it appears the Government of Canada may be complicit in assisting Monsanto to develop these terminator crops. What possible value this can provide to the world, other than Monsanto shareholders, is beyond comprehension.

These so-called ‘suicide seeds’ strike a hard blow at the many millions of scratch farmers around the world who have existed for millennia by harvesting and replanting the crops that nature gave them. They are increasingly finding themselves in the clutches of this monolithic corporation whose sole purpose appears to be to find a way of ensuring that no food is grown that is not owned by Monsanto.

Greenpeace’s release of August 2 reveals that Monsanto has applied for patent rights in more than 160 countries for The Monsanto Pig. The documents were filed in Geneva in February 2005 at the World Intellectual Property Organization. The language in the patent applications is sufficient vague that Monsanto is clearly seeking patent not only on the methods of breeding pigs, but on the actual act of breeding and the offspring of said breeding.

Here’s what they’re doing: Monsanto’s patent application (WO 2005/015989) describes in very general terms methods of swine crossbreeding and selection, types of artificial insemination and other breeding methods, all of which are already in use. Monsanto’s ‘invention’ is the particular combination of these elements which they claim is designed to speed up the breeding cycle to make the animals (known as products) more commercially profitable. According to Greenpeace, Monsanto isn’t seeking only a patent on their ‘new’ method, they’re seeking also to patent the actual pigs which are produced by this method. Naturally, that would then give them a patent on all the little piglets and bacon that followed.

In another application (WO 2005/017204), Monsanto refers to pigs in which a certain gene sequence related to faster growth is detected. This same sequence has been noted in mice and humans and is a variation on a naturally occurring sequence; Monsanto did not invent it. But they are trying to patent it

If the patents are granted, Monsanto would be legally able to prevent pig breeders from breeding pigs whose characteristics are described in the broad and vague patent claims. Or pay royalties. Or go to jail.

This appears to be Monsanto’s first step toward acquiring ownership of the animal kingdom. They have aggressively pursued already ownership of various grain and vegetable crops with the same kind of manipulative patent application language. This company used to make its money through agrochemicals; but in recent years they have aggressively bought up seed companies and they now hold a wide range of broad patents on seeds, most of which are Genetically Modified Organisms.

Monsanto has even tried to claim patent rights on traditionally bred wheat from India and soy from China, with the patent claims attempting to apply not only to the seed but to all uses of the plants and harvest from those seeds. It is evident that they are trying to wrap up the whole food cycle as their personal property, to be resold to those able to afford Monsanto’s price.

Canada’s Supreme Court made a mistake: the very premise that a corporation can own ‘life’, that it can take ownership of something that has developed through evolution merely by placing some obscure gene marker in it is patent nonsense (forgive the pun). But the corporations will run with this, and they will vigorously pursue malefactors through the legal system in an attempt to crush farmers.

In light of the efforts of other corporations to sew up ownership rights to the world’s water, it is but a small leap to seeing the very basics of our existence in the clutches of a few faceless corporations. We would do well to recall that central control of food and water has been a standard tool for political and social control throughout much of our history.

We could ultimately be seeing the merging of the entire global food and water supply into just a few hands. And it is not much of a reach to see food and water wars on the horizon. No one will give a damn about oil, the fight will be over much more basic needs.

In the end, the corporations will lose because billions of people are not going to die of thirst and starvation because some foolish court rules that they don’t have the right to eat or drink. They will take what they need, and life will degenerate into a fierce fight for survival.

It’s hard to imagine God being happy about all of this and it is surprising that he has not taken Monsanto to court for infringing his invention rights. But maybe he figures this is all our own stupid fault and we deserve it; we’ve done it to ourselves.



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