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Nestle Obtains Patent on Genetically Engineered Coffee

From Greenpeace, April 14, 2006
Nestlé Obtains a Patent on Genetically Modified Coffee Plants

Zurich, Switzerland - Since the end of February 2006, the Swiss-based food giant Nestlé, holding its annual general meeting tomorrow, is the owner of a patent on genetically modified coffee plants allegedly providing an improved solubility of the coffee powder. In many parts of the world, the multinational group announced it was refraining from genetically modified food. However, the acquisition of such patents shows that Nestlé still pursues genetic engineering for economic reasons and strives to gain total control of food production.

The patent granted by the European Patent Office on February 22, 2006, refers to a genetically modified coffee plant with a blocked enzyme, designed to improve the solubility of the coffee powder. The patent covers the technical process, genetically modified plants as well as the use of coffee beans for the manufacture of soluble coffee.

"The fact that Nestlé applied for a patent on genetically modified coffee and that it was also granted this patent shows that the multinational group determined pursues the path to market genetically modified products. This patent also proves the greed of multinational groups for gaining total control of food production. In order to create new monopolies in food cultivation, the actual whole coffee tree as such was patented as an `invention' as well", says Marianne Künzle of Greenpeace Switzerland.

With this patent, coffee growers will become even more dependent on Nestlé. Victor Perezgrovas, President of the Latin American and Caribbean Coordination of Fair Trade makes clear: “Coffee producers have struggled for decades to achieve a high quality organic and fair trade coffee. What they have accomplished is now threatened by GE coffee. GE coffee would represent a severe backlash for all Latin American coffee peasants" It must to be expected that properties of genetically modified coffee trees will spread to plantations of conventional or organic coffee growers, rendering their harvests virtually unsaleable. Patented coffee seedlings will, most probably, be more expensive than traditional ones and the sale of genetically modified coffee may well fall under the control of the patent owner, too.
Nestlé has already announced further patent applications on genetically manipulated yoghurt bacteria as well as genetically modified cocoa and coffee. A few such patents have already been granted in Europe. It must be emphasized, though, that it is not clear yet how the modified properties of such coffee plants influence the coffee genome. Greenpeace calls on Nestlé to immediately withdraw its patents on genetically modified coffee and other genetically modified products. The risks that such patents pose to economy, ecology and health are unacceptable.

For further information, please visit or contact: Marianne Künzle, Genetic Engineering Campaign, Greenpeace Switzerland, mobile +41 79 410 76 48
Víctor Perezgrovas, Presidente de la Coordinadora Latinoamericana y del Caribe de Pequeños productores de comercio justo, +52  967 678 3196 (Spanish, English) Jerónimo Prujin, Head of Fair Trade México, +52 55 91 9764 70 (Spanish, English, Dutch)