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When Agrochemical Corporations Invented Nature

BERLIN  - A civil society protest against a British agrochemical company that claims it has invented a particular sort of broccoli has again focused attention on the question who owns natural biodiversity, especially vegetables, seeds, and many forms of meat and animal food products.

Delegates from some 300 environmental and consumer organizations from all over the world gathered last month in Bavarian capital Munich, some 500 kilometers south of Berlin last month to demonstrate outside the headquarters of the European Patent Office (EPO) against the patent the agency accorded on broccoli seeds, plants and breeding methods to the British agrochemical company Plant Bioscience.

EPO granted the patent in 2002, on a method claimed by Plant Bioscience for increasing a specific compound in broccoli through conventional breeding methods. The patent, which also faces opposition by two other agrochemical multinationals, includes the breeding methods, and the broccoli seeds and edible broccoli plants obtained through these procedures.

The demonstration in Munich took place as the EPO opened its litigation procedure on the legitimacy of its own patent agreement. A decision on the issue is expected in October.

Plant Bioscience claims that its breeding methods increase the anti- carcinogenic glucosinolates in the species. This is one of hundreds of similar claims presented by numerous agrochemical multinational companies, such as Monsanto and Syngenta.

For environmental and consumer activists and independent farmers, such patents amount to an attempt to expropriate natural biodiversity for the benefit of a handful of corporations, which would rule as a cartel upon agriculture, especially in developing countries.

Christoph Then, expert on intellectual property rights for the environmental organization Greenpeace, told IPS that what a handful of biochemical multinational companies are doing is to "misappropriate biodiversity."
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