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"Change in EU law is needed to stop patents on conventionally-bred plants"

Research carried out by No Patents on Seeds! shows how CRISPR/Cas technology is being used to take exclusive control of conventionally-bred tomatoes: there are currently more than 20 pending international patent applications for tomato plants with resistance to the aggressive Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus (ToBRFV or TBRFV, also called 'Jordan'-Virus). The filed patent applications cover both genetically engineered and conventionally-bred plants and may significantly hamper or block the work of European breeders, says the organization. The patents were filed by ten companies, including BASF, Bayer, Rijk Zwaan, and Syngenta.

"Several naturally occurring gene variants which may confer resistance to the virus have already been found. Therefore, there is no need for genetic engineering, as new varieties with the desired trait can be obtained from conventional breeding methods. Nevertheless, the patent applications include examples of random mutagenesis and new genomic techniques (NGTs), e.g. CRISPR/Cas, which were added as toppings, raising the impression of technical inventions."

The problem according to the organization is that the patent applications filed for the virus-resistant tomatoes are not restricted to genetically engineered plants, they also claim plants inheriting genetic variations resulting from non-targeted processes. "In fact, random mutations are being used as a kind of 'Trojan Horse' to expand patent monopolies to conventionally-bred tomatoes," they say.

European patent law only allows for patents on genetically engineered plants, including NGTs. In contrast, patents on plant varieties and non-inventive methods of breeding plants are prohibited. This prohibition is meant to safeguard what is known as breeders' privilege: Currently, breeders are free to use all conventionally-bred varieties on the market to breed and market their own new, improved varieties. "This freedom to operate is now under threat. If these patents are granted, breeders will no longer be free to use all conventionally bred varieties."


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