ETC Group's first Communiqué of 2005 focuses on Syngenta, the global gene giant that ranks first in agrochemicals and third in seeds. Syngenta has a patent pending in 115 countries that, if approved, would give it a multi-genome monopoly over at least 40 plant species.
Calling Syngenta's patent claims "an unprecedented bid for multi-genome monopoly," ETC Group (pronounced "et cetera") has written to the European Patent Office (EPO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) demanding that the patents be rejected. Simultaneously, ETC Group has written to the Director-General of FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and to the Chair of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) asking them to oppose Syngenta's applications, "on the grounds that they represent a direct threat to world food security and an attack on public agricultural research," said ETC Group's Research Director, Hope Shand.
In a Communiqué released today, ETC Group reveals how Syngenta's public image as the "nice" multinational belies its actual activities. "No more 'Mr. Nice Guy,'" Kathy Jo Wetter at ETC's US office insists, "Syngenta is muscling its way toward control of dozens of plant species even as it appears to make nice with FAO and CGIAR as the good guy Gene Giant. If Syngenta is granted this patent, it will make Monsanto look like Santa Claus."
Syngenta's 323-page application, WO03000904A2/3 claims monopoly control of DNA that regulates flowering development, flower formation, whole plant architecture and flower timing in rice - in up to 115 countries. But the claims are not limited to vital rice gene sequences. According to a study prepared by Dr. Paul Oldham at Lancaster University (UK), the scope of this massive patent application is virtually limitless - extending to flowering plants in general, including those not yet classified by taxonomists. Syngenta's claims extend to key gene sequences of 23 major food crops annexed to the FAO Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. "If all its claims are approved," says Silvia Ribeiro in ETC's Mexico office, "FAO's seed treaty will be virtually useless." Dr. Oldham's analysis is available on the Internet: http://www.cesagen.lancs.ac.uk/docs/genomics-final.doc (link no longer active).