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Patents Won’t Feed People

In the 1970s, the seed trade said it could feed the 500 million hungry people in the world if governments would allow Plant Breeders’ Rights patent protection. Despite those concessions there are a billion hungry in the world now.

“Fifty-nine per cent of all of the patents that have been granted have been granted for flowers. Another third of them have been granted for fibres and feedstocks – almost nothing to feed people,” said Pat Mooney, the executive director of the ETC Group.

“There are as many patents for roses and chrysanthemums as there are for the three most important food crops – rice, wheat and maize. What are we to do, feed them chrysanthemums?”

In the 1970s, there were 7,000 seed companies in the world; now just 10 control 67 per cent of the market and three control half of that, according to Mooney.

“What they (seed companies) got from us was control over about one-quarter of the world’s biomass – the plant material that’s grown every year,” he said.

But conversely, 75 per cent of biomass production is still in farmers’ hands, Mooney said.

He said 85 per cent of the food is grown and consumed within the borders of the same country, 85 per cent of the world’s farmers are small landholders, and they produce 70 per cent of the world’s food supply. “They are doing it by saving their own seed and doing it without all the synthetic systems. They don’t have access to them. They’re the ones who are actually feeding the hungry.”

The ETC Group (pronounced “et cetera”) describes itself as an international civil society organization dedicated to the conservation and sustainable advancement of cultural and ecological diversity.

Mooney received the Right Livelihood Award (the Alternative Nobel Prize) in the Swedish Parliament in 1985 and the Pearson Peace Prize from Canada’s Governor General in 1998. He also received the American “Giraffe Award” given to people “who stick their necks out.”

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About the author

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Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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