Food & Beverage

Aug 1, 2017

SEEDS WITHOUT COPYRIGHT

The worlds impressive legislative path has come to the most trivial of products: food. Is the latest attempt made by Mankind to take over and control elements of nature.

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Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) are becoming a recurrent and constant presence on our food supply. The European Patents Institute has, just as an example, accepted that the Swiss multinational Syngenta could held the copyrights for the sweet pepper, "as a fresh produce, sliced fresh produce or ready for processing, for example, in canning". Since then the sweet pepper has to pay a royalty to the multinational for their plantations, raising the prices for the average consumer.

Well then, researchers from the University of Göttingen and the Dottenfelderhof School of Agriculture, both on Germany, have been analysing the growing tendency for the alteration of good produces and consequential patents and decided to apply to GMO the same principles of free software and generic medication: they just launched a wheat and tomato open source varieties, meaning it's free from copyrights.

The idea behind it it's not properly new, it has been tried before in the United States and in India, but these German institutions have created for the first time ever a legal protection for their invention. This means that these products can be used freely and even changed but only if no patents are registered regarding the new breeds of plants that may descend from these seeds.

Johannes Kotschi is managing the commercial licensing of this invention for Agrecol and is also one of the scientists helped with the redaction of the license for the use of these open source GMO, and on comments given to the American "Science" magazine, he made it clear that this licence "says that you can use the seed in multiple ways but you are not allowed to put a plant variety protection or patent on this seed and all the successive developments of this seed".

But Agrecol, which is working on partnership with the University of Göttingen and the Dottenfelderhof School of Agriculture since April, has already made public the interest of the three institutions to go beyond wheat and tomato and expand the research to potato and hop. Keep in mind that Germany is one of the world's top producers and consumers of beer, thus being the natural their focus on the free alteration and innovation of hop seeds, crucial for the brewing of beer.

Lucas Larsen, journalist, writes in "Science" that "people have been breeding plants in search of desirable features, such as drought and pest-resistance, for millennia. But until 1930, when the United States began applying patent law to plants, there was little a breeder could do to assert ownership over a new variety".

Since then, argue the creators of the new open source varieties, those patents and intellectual property over seeds and plants had the practical effect of preventing that researchers can try to create and improve the varieties of seeds that have already been patented. Given that the larger companies enforce a policy of international acquisitions, the patents are becoming less and less disperse, concentrating on a few conglomerates and affecting the companies of a smaller dimension.

The open source model will be of use to complement the global market of already patented genetically modified organisms. There are no predictions that one day it will replace it or become dominant over it, since such would affect not only the larger companies but also the several labs and universities that research, improve and create new GMO that are more effective than those already in use and those labs and universities get a large portion of their funding through the royalties of their patents, funding that they use to further their research. The future will most certainly make the most of a balance between the two options, bearing in mind that some countries have yet to legislate on the copyrights of living organisms.

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