Gene Giants Grab 'Climate Genes'

Amid global food crisis, biotech companies are exposed as climate change profiteers

| June 6, 2008

A report released recently by Canadian-based civil society organization ETC Group reveals that the world's largest seed and agrochemical corporations are stockpiling hundreds of monopoly patents on genes in plants that the companies will market as crops genetically engineered to withstand environmental stresses associated with climate change – including drought, heat, cold, floods, saline soils and more. ETC Group's report warns that, rather than a solution for confronting climate change, the promise of so-called "climate-ready" crops will be used to drive farmers and governments onto a proprietary biotech platform.

"In the face of climate chaos and a deepening world food crisis, the gene giants are gearing up for a public relations offensive to re-brand themselves as climate saviors," says Hope Shand, research director of ETC Group. "The companies hope to convince governments and reluctant consumers that genetic engineering is the essential adaptation strategy to ensure agricultural productivity. Monopoly control of crop genes is a bad idea under any circumstances, but during a global food emergency with climate change looming, it's unacceptable and must be challenged."

According to ETC Group's report, Patenting "Climate Genes" ... And Capturing the Climate Agenda, Monsanto, BASF, DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow – along with biotech partners such as Mendel, Ceres, Evogene and more – have filed 532 patent documents on genes related to environmental stress tolerance at patent offices around the world. A list of 55 patent families (subsuming the 532 patent grants and applications) is appended to the report.

"The emphasis on genetically engineered, so-called 'climate-ready' crops will divert resources from affordable, decentralized approaches to cope with changing climate. Patents will concentrate corporate power, drive up costs, inhibit independent research and further undermine the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds," Shand says. "Globally, the top 10 seed corporations already control 57 percent of commercial seed sales. This is a bid to capture as much of the rest of the market as possible."

ETC Group called on governments at the UN Biodiversity Convention (CBD) earlier this year in Bonn, Germany to suspend immediately all patents on so- called "climate ready" crop genes and traits. They also called for a full investigation, including the social and environmental impacts of these new, un-tested varieties. The group also asked governments at the meeting to identify and eliminate policies such as restrictive seed laws, intellectual property regimes, contracts and trade agreements that are barriers to farmer plant breeding, seed-saving and exchange.

"The world has already recognized that we are in a food crisis and a climate 'state of emergency,'" says Pat Mooney, ETC Group's executive director. "In this 'state of emergency,' farmers must be given all the freedom and resources they need to get us through this crisis."

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