Friday, February 7, 2014

Oh patents! Patented seeds

© Françoise Herrmann

Question: Pantone® 7737 or  Pantone® citron 12-0524?


Agriculture has one of the highest fossil fuel footprints as pesticides are petroleum-based and large scale agri-business is very mechanized requiring lots of energy to power equipment. Thus, there is much green activity related to agriculture, seeking to reduce this fossil fuel footprint causing excess emissions of greenhouse gasses, contributing to global warming.


Among the various and many proposed green solutions related to agriculture, there are several sorts of patented seeds, termed transgenic seeds as they invoke the many recent advances of genetic engineering.

Here are a few examples of these seed technologies, which may be designed in one of three important ways:

  • as pest-resistant, herbicidal or insecticidal seeds.
  • as accelerated-growth plants (energy-crops)  needed as feedstock or biomass for biofuels and bioenergy
  •  as climate-resistant plants, for example resistant to drought

Commercially available transgenic seeds include, for example:

·  BT seeds: These seeds produce the crystalline insecticidal protein Bacillus thruringiensis or Bt. Plants producing the Bt toxin were approved both by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the FDA in 1995 and they are the first insecticide producing plants in the US. There is Bt soybean, Bt cotton (Bollgard® cotton), Bt potatoes (New-Leaf® potatoes resistant to the Colorado potato beetle), and Bt maize (YieldGuard® corn resistant to the European corn borer).


·  Roundup-ready® seeds:  These seeds are bioengineered as tolerant to the glyphosate herbicide (weed-killer). The seeds are “Roundup-ready®” because this is the trademark name of the glyphosate herbicide. 


Other patented seed technologies includes:

·     T-GURT and V-GURT seed technologies:  aka “suicide” or “terminator” seeds. GURT stands for Genetic Use Restriction Technology. T-GURTs are technologies designed to switch off a genetic trait in genetically modified seeds, so that the genetically modified seeds cannot be used without an activator compound. V-GURT technologies create sterile second generation seeds. There is a de facto moratorium on field trials of GURT technologies until further research establishes security and benefits (


There are thousands of patents related to these seed technologies.  A search at the EPO for “transgenic seeds” yielded 3732 hits, with 12 hits for “pesticide transgenic seeds”. Below appears a selection of these hits: 

US2013316348 Herbicide tolerant cotton plants and methods for identifying same
US2013318660  Soya beans having high germination rates and ultra low raffinose and stachyose content
US2004048833 Control of shoot/follar feeding pests with pesticide seed treatments (Monsato tech.)
US2003033631 Method for reducing pest damage to corn by  treating transgenic  corn seeds with thamethoxam pesticide (Monsato Tech.)
WO0228184 (A1) Treatment of transgenic corn seeds with clothianidin (Monsato Tech.)

Likewise a search at the EPO for “drought resistant plant” yielded 607 hits. Below appears a selection of these patents.

EP2665820 (A1)  - Drought resistant plant and methods for making the same using transcriptional regulators (University of
US2012137382 (A1) Stress-tolerance in plants
US2009300980 (A1) Corn with transgenic insect protection traits utilized in combination with drought tolerance and/or reduced inputs particularly fertilizer
US2010146661 (A1)  Sugar beet genes involved in stress tolerance
WO2009099415 (A1)   Compositions and methods for drought tolerance
WO2010019838(A2) Stress tolerant transgenic crop plants

Answer:  According to the very best observers and critics of seed technologies, these are highly profitable and not fully understood technologies. These are also very controversial technologies from just about every standpoint, other than the large corporations and government agencies involved, whether it is from the perspective of the farmer, the consumer, the legislator, or civil society groups (Shiva, 2000, Navdanya, ETC Group, 2011,,

Question: Why?

Answer: In a nutshell, it is argued that TG patented seeds are a  threat to food sovereignty and security (Shiva, 2000, 2011, Navdanya 2014).

But,  that’s another really interesting question!
A question of dissenting views and perspectives.

Econexus (2014)
GRAIN (2014)
Navdanya (2014)
Shiva, V. (2000) Stolen Harvest: The hijacking of the global food supply. Cambridge, MA: South End Press  
Shiva, V. (2011) Foreward to Earth Grab: Geopiracy, the New Biomassters and Capturing Climate Genes. Oxford, UK: Pambazuka Press. 

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