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Syngenta a step closer to "owning" our food (14/8/2005)

1.Syngenta patenting is threat to Indian food security
2.Syngenta – a step closer to "owning" our food

COMMENT

Last week as researchers from the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project (IRGSP) completed a sequence of the rice genome - the first crop plant to be sequenced, it emerged that GM giant Syngenta is claiming it invented more than 30,000 gene sequences of rice!

Syngenta has filed 15 global patent applications to give the company control over them. And because gene sequences are very similar in many crops, Syngenta's claims would cover genes with the same structure in other plants. (item 2)

It has also emerged that Syngenta's interest in the controversial project of genetically engineered 'Golden Rice' is primarily lead by commercial considerations and the interests of its shareholders, despite the company's repeated claims that this is purely a humanitarian project. (item 2)

Don't say you weren't warned. In Feb 2004, Devinder Sharma, chair of the New Delhi-based Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security, warned about Syngenta's design to 'own' rice in his analytical piece: "Rice is now Oryza syngenta"
http://indiatogether.org/2004/feb/dsh-riceyear.htm

RESOUCE: Syngenta: patent applications pending in Europe, US, Canada, Australia

http://www.swissaid.ch/news/e/documents/Syngenta-PatenteRechercheenglish.pdf
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1.AgriBusiness: Syngenta patenting is threat to Indian food security
The Hindu Business Line
http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blnus/07131106.htm

NEW DELHI: In an attempt to have monopoly control over rice, Swiss biotech giant, Syngenta has sought global patents over nearly 30,000 gene sequences in rice, which has serious implications for the future of rice research and food security of India.

If Syngenta's application for global patents is accepted, India will lose all control over the staple grain. "It will be the beginning of a scientific apartheid not only against India but for all third world countries," said Dr Devinder Sharma, Chairpers on of the New Delhi-based Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security.

India is one of the seats of origin of rice, which is world's most important staple crop. A single grain of rice contains 37, 544 genes, roughly one-fourth more than the genes in a human body.

Syngenta's patent claims are also aimed at other important food crops such as wheat, corn, sorghum, rye, banana, soyabean, fruits and vegetables besides others.

The company claims that most of the gene sequences that it has 'invented' are identical in other crops and therefore the patent needs to extend to those crops also. In all, Syngenta has filed for patents on 15 gene sequences covering thousands of genes, peptides, transgenic plants and seeds and method of genetic engineering, Dr Sharma said.

These patents have been filed before the European Patent Office, US Patent and Trademark Office and the World Intellectual Property Rights Organisation (WIPO). Syngenta made this known to a few NGOs on August 9, saying that the scope of many of these pat ents will be reduced as the examination of patents proceeds.

Staple food for more than half the world's population, rice is part of the Asian culture. Nearly 91 per cent of world's rice is produced in Asia, and 92 per cent is eaten in Asia. Rice is the principal food of three of the world's four most populous nati ons: China, India and Indonesia. For more than 2.5 billion people in these three countries alone - rice is what they grow up with. For centuries, rice has been the sociology, tradition and lifeline for the majority world.

"As the world finished commemorating the international year of rice in 2004, the multinational agribusiness giant, Syngenta, has already claimed ownership of rice.

"In other words, biological inheritance of the world's major food crop is now in the hands of a Swiss multinational," Mr Sharma said, adding that Syngenta, in collaboration with Myriad Genetics Inc of USA, has beaten Monsanto in the game by sequencing mo re than 99.5 per cent of the rice genome. - UNI
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2.Syngenta – a step closer to "owning" our food
Media Release, 11. August 2005
http://www.swissaid.ch/news/e/documents/pm_reisgenom_110805_e.pdf

Zurich, 11 August 2005 - Biotech company Syngenta has taken a huge step closer to "owning" seeds in the future, by filing 15 global patent applications on several thousand gene sequences from rice and other highly important crop plants (1). This would mean, in practice, that the company would be able to determine price, access, research and re-use of seeds in the future. On a meeting with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) this week (2), Syngenta refused to drop its so-called 'megagenomic' patents.

"With these patents Syngenta is claiming the work of breeders and farmers from the past centuries as the company’s own invention. The attempt to monopolise thousands of gene sequences from most important crop plants in one rush is nothing less than a theft of common goods," says Tina Goethe from Swissaid. "Not to the mention the fact that these patents could block future research to a large extent."

According to Syngenta patent experts, the company will claim all gene sequences that could be of commercial interest, thus trying really to get most of the 15 patent applications granted. By claiming the genetic information of rice, the company aims to monopolise also all similar gene sequences in any other useful plants, enabling Syngenta and other companies to determine prices and access to all kinds of seeds (3). The company is also trying to patent the use of the plants in food and animal feed. The only commitment Syngenta was able to give in the meeting was not to follow this kind of patents in least developed countries.

"These patents must never be granted. If the company follows its claims, they should expect public protests and legal actions against it. Politicians should initiate a legal framework to stop companies such as Syngenta, Monsanto, DuPont and Bayer to gain control on genetic resources," says Francois Meienberg from Berne Declaration.

The meeting with Syngenta also revealed that the interest of the company in the controversial project of genetically engineered 'Golden Rice' was primarily lead by commercial reasons. As the company engaged with the project Syngenta presented Golden Rice as the most effective solution to malnutrition in developing countries as it is enhanced with Vitamin A-related substances.

In his e-mail sent to NGOs before the meeting, Adrian Dubock, head of Biotechnology ventures in Syngenta, states: "Syngenta's original commercial interest (discontinued for now, but not necessarily for ever) was for sales in the industrialised countries of nutritionally enhanced crops, included, but not limited to rice." According to Dubock, the patent on the GE rice will not be dropped because "Our shareholders wouldn't thank us if we had forgone that possibility." Yet the company claims there are no commercial interests in this technology at the moment.

"This statement clearly shows a commercial background of this so-called humanitarian project. It didn’t mean to help people in developing countries: the primary goal was to benefit shareholders.

The whole project is based on a concept of misleading the public," concluded Greenpeace International campaigner Christoph Then.

Contacts:
Christoph Then, Greenpeace International, Tel + 49 171 8780832
www.greenpeace.org
François Meienberg, Berne Declaration, +41 1 277 70 04, www.evb.ch
Tina Goethe, Swissaid, +41-31-350 5375; www.swissaid.ch
Ruth Tippe "No Patents On Life!", +49 1728963858, www.keinpatent.de

Notes:

(1) As the German NGO "No Patents On Life!" shows in its recent research. According to Syngenta, some patent applications will be dropped for technical or economical reasons but they will try to have most of them granted in at least the United States and Europe.

(2) Participating NGOs: Berne Declaration (Switzerland), Swissaid (Switzerland), the German NGO "No Patents on Life" and Greenpeace. The meeting was organised after the NGOs

had made public already four of the 15 patent applications during the AGM of Syngenta in April 2005. (add link to our report and IPR from April on our homepage)

(3) Gene sequences in many crops are very similar. With these patents Syngenta claims for any genes with the same structure in any plants.

More about the patents on
www.evb.ch/index.cfm?folder_id=129

http://www.swissaid.ch/news/e/news.htm

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