Patents on Rice: the Genetic Engineering Hypocrisy

Press release - 26 April, 2005
At their AGM today the genetic engineering (GE) corporation Syngenta will celebrate with its shareholders how much money they made in the last year. At the same time Greenpeace research(1) reveals how they plan to further profit from farmers all around the world.

Sygenta has spent the last five years trying to develop a magic riceseed that they claim will cure blindness and eradicate malnutritionacross the world. While claiming that the development of Golden Ricewas not a commercial, but humantiarian venture(2), they had alreadyapplied to patent it in over 100 countries, (3) It would apply even indeveloping countries although it had previously  said the seedwould be provided free.

"Anyone applying for patents wants to make money from them," saysGreenpeace's patent expert, Christoph Then. "Syngenta seems to haveproblems with the truth in general. The company also kept secret therecent scandal involving unauthorised varieties of geneticallymanipulated corn. The patent claims now discovered show the true faceof a company that wants to ensure it has monopolistic rights overplant-breeding, agriculture and food production, without concern forthe dangers to people and the environment."

At least another five patents have been filed for important genesequences in normal rice plants. Greenpeace is calling on Syngenta towithdraw its patent applications. In addition to which, patenting seedsand forms of life must be banned:

"Syngenta will undoubtedly claim they are happy to allow  the freeuse of the patent by researchers,"said Then. "But patents last for 20years and the company can start charging anytime."

The agro-industry has been arguing for years that geneticallymanipulated rice would help combat deficiency diseases. However,agrarian scientists warn that patents impede research and plantbreeding and jeopardise the existence of farmers who are no longerallowed to use their own harvest for re-seeding.

The patent applications filed for the rice genome are unprecedented inplant cultivation. They cover over 1,000 genetic sequences which alsoaffect normal plant breeding. Syngenta's patent claims are aimed at themost important gene sequences for plant growth, resistance to diseaseand nutritional content. All genes with a similar structure andfunction in other varieties of plant are even included in the claims.

Other contacts: Bruno Heinzer, Greenpeace Switzerland: +41 (0) 79400 8831 Christoph Then, Greenpeace Germany: +49 (0)171 8780 832Simone Miller, Greenpeace Germany press officer, tel. +49 (0)40 30618 343

Notes: (1) Nature Biotechnology, 23, 2005(3) (WO 04/085656) Countries included in the patent application are India, China, the Philippines and 16 African nations