PLANT PATENTS that pave the way for multinationals to make money at the expense of farmers and small breeders are a growing source of concern to European farm unions Copa and Cogeca.

The issue was raised at the recent high-level plants conference, organised by the European Patent Office and Community Plant Variety Office to look at intellectual property rights in the sector.

Copa and Cogeca firmly oppose the use of patents on plants and have warned of the detrimental impact such legal restrictions would have on farming, cutting the amount of varieties available on the market.

Thor Kofoed, chairman of C and C's Seed Working Party, stressed that the EPO was ignoring farmers who rely and use these products: “The new system favoured by EPO would be a disaster for farmers and small breeders. Small seed breeders would disappear which would cut the number of plant varieties on the market considerably. Only the big breeders – the multinationals – who can afford to make patent applications would survive."

C and C accused the EPO of already authorizing patents on naturally occurring products like tomatoes and broccoli, and ignoring the latest Commission advice which recommends not using patents on plants whose DNA belongs to nature.

Mr Kofoed continued: “We have to stop the process now. We have the best innovative plant breeding sector in the world. The Community Plant Variety Right system has worked well for 50 years, creating a good climate for breeding. It gives farmers access to an excellent and diverse range of plant varieties.

“Breeders in Europe currently make around 2000 varieties a year which shows how well the system works. Without this system, 90% of the varieties would disappear in the next 10 years to the economic benefit of a few multinationals. Farmers do not dare to take that chance and we can never accept a movement in that direction," he concluded.