Genetically modified (GM) crops are patented, allowing research, breeding and ultimately the entire food chain of GM-crops to be controlled by a few multinational biotech companies such as Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Pioneer and Dow. The market is driven by these companies' desire to sell herbicides as well as seeds, in their aggressive pursuit of profit.
Patenting seeds, or ‘patents on life’, are like patents on any invention. They legally prevent anyone but the patent-holder from making, using or selling the invention– but these ‘inventions’ are plants, animals, pieces of DNA or cell tissue.
Until 1998, patents on life were not allowed in Europe, as living things or material could not be considered ‘inventions’. However, the rise of genetic engineering brought strong pressure from biotech lobbyists who finally pushed the European Parliament to approve the ‘life patents directive’ – legalising patents on food crops. Since then, around 900 patents on animals and 1,800 patents on plants have been granted by the European Patent Office. Several thousand further patent applications on plants are pending.
Patents on life: profits for big corporations
Patenting genetic material has shifted the balance of economic power towards big business. Three leading biotech companies now control 53 percent of the global commercial seed market. Farm-saved seeds, crucial for maintaining local varieties of crop plants and biodiversity, are under threat.
These patents also negatively impact farmers through higher prices and dependency on companies for seed. Farmers who buy patented crops cannot save seed from one year to the next, but have to buy new seeds each year. Professional plant-breeders are also forbidden to further breed patented plants.
Moreover, farmers risk being sued by big corporations in cases of accidental cross-contamination. Crops like oilseed rape are impossible to control and easily spread their pollen via wind and insects to neighbouring fields. In the US, hundreds of farmers have been sued by Monsanto, Syngenta, BASF and Pioneer for illegally growing patented crops. By December 2012, Monsanto had sued 410 farmers and 56 farm companies for patent infringements.
So far, there are no cases of farmers being sued like this by biotech corporations in Europe, but there is no reason to assume this will not happen if more patented GM-crops are to be grown here.
Stop patents on life
Europe needs food and farms that provide livelihoods and healthy food for people, protect our biodiversity, and don't pollute the environment. Traditional crops and local varieties in combination with modern plant breeding are invariably better suited to local conditions, and are far cheaper than more expensive patented seeds and the continued investment required for new seeds and pesticides.
The organisations sound a clear warning that a complex arsenal of herbicides would also be needed in the EU to delay weed resistance if any of the 14 herbicide resistant crops in the EU authorisation pipeline are ever approved – raising serious concerns about the overall impact on health and the environment caused by herbicide resistant crops.
One of the claims made by proponents of genetically modified crops is that GM technology increases farmers’ seed choices. They also claim that farmers in countries that restrict GMO production have fewer seed options. But recent research shows the opposite—that instead of increasing farmers’ choice, the introduction of GM crops has limited farmers’ seed options.
About the Stop the Crop campaign
This website and film present some of the dangers of GM-crops, and call for people across Europe and beyond to take action to stop them. We need a future of food and farming that benefits people and planet, and not the pockets of big business. We need to stop GM-crops from spreading across Europe. You can sign up for updates and alerts opposite.