Monsanto: Patent On Pigs?

April 16, 2009

Sorry pig, you're not patented.

Sorry pig, you're not patented.

There seems to be a lot of buzz, very recently in Germany, about this controversial subject; however, claims that Monsanto is patenting pigs are poorly researched and uninformed. Perhaps it is the fault of this company for not educating the public better (although we do offer information on pigs and patents on our corporate Website). Perhaps the fault lies with our critics that have spawned these rumors in attempt to disparage our reputation. Where ever the fault lies I will attempt to set the story straight.

To begin, one of the most talked about subjects seems to be the documentary, Patent on a Pig. This video is not only dated (produced in 2006) but skewed to serve the purpose of those who produced it. For example, Andrew Kimbrell, who offers his own commentary throughout the film, is a known anti-food-technology activist. His involvement in this film is not surprising; he has used similar strategies in his other numerous campaigns. Jeffrey Smith, an admitted critic of Monsanto and anti-genetic-enhancement activist, is heavily relied on in this film – presenting his own opinions as fact. The very fact that the video has been circulating for three years and viewers still assume the subject is current is a testament to the misinformation available on the Web.

The bottom line is this – the patent was never intended to patent a pig; the patent application in question was for a specific gene marker for a pig trait and not the trait itself.

Additionally, Monsanto has not owned a pig breeding company since 2007 when it sold Monsanto Choice Genetics to Newsham Genetics LC of West Des Moines, Iowa. Newsham Genetics inherited all patent research and patent applications in the sale. Monsanto does not own any livestock operations.

It may disappoint conspiracy theorists and bloggers but Monsanto is not trying to take over the world. I think that endeavor is best left to my friends Pinky and the Brain.

Kate works on the corporate website for Monsanto in the public affairs department. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Truman State University. Kate grew up in an Air Force family and has lived in sevaral states and countries but spent the majority of her childhood growing up in Iowa. Kate enjoys art and photography as well as horseback riding.

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22 Responses to “Monsanto: Patent On Pigs?”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Thanks for the update, Kate. Very interesting. I wasn’t aware of the controversy, but have posted it at our site so others are informed.

  2. Julien RICHARD Says:

    As often, the work of Monsanto and was misjudged by some people. Almost every case is distorted to make it bad. I find it regretable but some critics will not change their way of thinking about Monsanto.

  3. Edward Says:

    It could also be noted that Monsanto was not the first to patent genetic markers in pigs. There are patents on using genetic markers for selection in pigs dating back at least to the mid-90s, so I think some credibility is taken away from the critics when they are only questioning Monsanto’s (now Newsham’s) patent. Not to mention there are other pig breeding companies with patents as well.

  4. anon Says:

    can you address and explain the whole nato seed vault thing?

  5. Julien RICHARD Says:

    Yes, it’s very very interesting. As student, teachers tell us that Monsanto is a bad company . I have the proof that it’s isn’t right. I’m happy to read that because i’m shareholder of Monsanto.


  6. Please know, this is nothing about or against Monsanto. I would like something explained, though. Seriously.

    How can a company (any company) patent a genetic marker? They’re not creating it so how can they patent it? Could someone patent a genetic marker in a human? I don’t understand how this works and would love more info on it. (Feel free to e-mail me info as well.)

    Thanks!

    Amy

  7. Ewan Ross Says:

    Amy,

    As far as I understand patent law the genetic marker patent essentially gives intellectual property rights to the patent holder on use of the genetic marker to assist in breeding.

    In this instance patent law offers the holder exclusive rights to the discovery for a limited period of time in exchange for offering the information publicly – while the marker itself resides inside the pig genome, the work done to discover the marker and figure out how to utilize it in respect to pig breeding was undoubtedly a costly endeavour – the dicoverers are then left with a few options

    1) Utilize the discovery but keep it secret – this allows the individual/company to profit from the discovery either indefinitely, or until such time as someone else discovers it.

    2) Patent the discovery – this guarantees rights to the patent holder for a period of time (10-20 years I believe) after which it is considered public knowledge

    3) Freely disseminate the information, which isnt exactly a sound business practice for a discovery which may have involved millions in research.

    As 3 is pretty unlikely, and 1 is not particularly great for the advancement of human knowledge (or a particularly safe bet for any company) option 2 allows for the advancement of human knowledge while at the same time allowing inventors to profit from their discoveries. Which is exactly the reason patent law, in any form, exists.

    The scope of any given patent has to be limited, therefore in this case I believe that the scope of the patent would only cover use of the genetic marker in pig breeding to improve a line of pigs in some respect. (which I believe would involve screening pigs for the presence of the marker, breeding between pigs which carry the marker, and so on)

  8. John Q Says:

    “Anon” and “Mom”:

    Please use the “Topic Suggestions” link for your requests. They are likely to get lost buried in this “pig” conversation.

    Thanks!


  9. Ewan Ross,

    Thanks! I really appreciate the detailed response. That’s very clear, concise, and helpful. From how you’re describing the patent, it seems similar to the patents pharmaceutical companies obtain for a drug.

    Thanks again!

    Amy

  10. Ewan Ross Says:

    I’m sure one of our patent people could do a better job summing it up, but I’m glad it was helpful.

  11. Will S Says:

    With the recent outbreak of swine flu, perhaps the ‘much ado’ over Monsanto’s ‘pig patent’ wasn’t such a bad idea? By the way…exactly WHERE (what countries) did the ‘Monsanto pig’ end up in? Ironically your patent application seems to be a near perfect parallel with countries now facing a dramatic number of swine flu cases? Or hadn’t you realized this yet?

  12. Ewan Ross Says:

    Will – the monsanto patent is a patent on a “marker” which was already in the pigs which is linked to increased (erm, whatever the pig equivalent of yield is I guess – something worthwhile breeding for anyway). (Scientists looked at pigs which had good characteristics, bred them, looked at the offspring which had good characteristics, examined the genetic code for pieces which segregated preferrentially to the awesome pigs, and then characterized these pieces of genetic code – with the end result that breeding pigs based on them either having or not having this particular marker leads to pig awesomeness without all the tedium of having to measure the actual pigs (this is a gross oversimplification, more aimed at being vaguely amusing than actually telling the story))

    No pigs were genetically modified.

    Nice try.

  13. Dan S Says:

    To Will S,

    Honestly this post offends me. Not out of supposed loyalty to any particular company but as a Biological Sciences student who has spent countless hours and late nights studying virology and genetics and I’m sure that any student or professor with my knowledge would feel the same way.

    I don’t even know how to begin addressing your comment. It’s as you made the fantastic leap “Monsanto” -> “Pig patent” -> “Pig = Swine” -> “Swine flu” without any regard whatsoever for baseline scientific knowledge, epidemiology or logic.

    Do you have any justification at all for how identifying a marker in the swine genome would affect the combination of hemagglutinin and neuraminidase in an influenza virion? Do you have any evidence of this supposed correlation between the existence of a patent and the transmission of an epidemic? If so, please share it.

    Forgive me if I sound snarky, but come on! There are people who devote their lives to studying things like this? Do they really deserve to be subjected to these blind accusations?

  14. Brad Says:

    Seed Vault Question

    Sorry for the delay.

    Contrary to popular internet conspiracy theories, Monsanto is not involved in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svalbard_Global_Seed_Vault

    The vault is designed to protect various varieties of seed from regional and global disaster. For instance, if there were a prolonged drought in sections of Asia, varieties of rice could be lost. The vault is designed to ensure such varieties remain, and valuable genetic resources and heritage are not lost.

  15. Edward Says:

    In response to Will S and the follow up comments his post generated, I thought this Time.com article would be a good read for all as well.

    “Swine Flu: Don’t Blame the Pig”, by Jeffrey Kluger, 4/29/2009.

    http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1894703,00.html?cnn=yes

  16. Chris H. Says:

    Will’s comment reinforces Kate’s point about conspiracy theorists. Gimme a break!

  17. Agmates Says:

    G’day Monsanto,

    Thank you for posting the link to this article from our post on the Patent a Pig documentary.

    Agmates is Australia’s largest online rural & regional community and certainly the issues presented in the documentary are disturbing.

    Pleased to hear that Monsanto is not planning to monopolize the worlds food chain from “Seed & field to fork.”

    I do plan to run a series on your court battles with Canadian farmer Percy Schmieser. It is reprehensible that you are suing North American farmers if the facts in the video are correct. This is particularly relevent to Australian farmers as we are just starting to see trial plantings of GM Canola in some of our states.

    On Agmates we do not subscribe to conspiracy theories. We are a community of farmers and rural oriented people who are committed to advancing the best interests of rural & regional communities.

    We have no axe to grind with Monsanto or any other biotechnology company that is doing the right thing by our farmers and citizens.

    Hence I thank you for providing the link to your post and the link to the BBC.

    Cheers
    Agmates Founder
    Steve Truman

  18. Kate Says:

    Steve,
    I can’t be sure if it was a Monsanto employee that posted that link on your article but I am glad that you found the post useful!

    I’m also thrilled to here that Agmates represents farmers on the web. The increasing visibility of agriculture on the web is refreshing, especially when farmers are given the opportunity to tell their story directly.

    I understand your feelings about the case involving Percy Schmeiser. The hollywood versions spin a tale that is quite frightening, however, Monsanto values its customers. Farmers drive our business.

    If you are interested, here are the 3 court cases about Mr. Schmieser and Monsanto. Contrary to the hollywood versions of this story Monsanto does not sue farmers for trace amounts of our patented trait that are present due to inadvertant means, such as pollen drift, which I believe is one of several explanations that Mr. Schmeiser presented. Interestingly, the court ruled that none of Mr. Schmeiser’s proposed explainations could reasonably explain the large presence of Monsanto’s patented trait in his field, which was around 95-98% of his crop.

    Here are the court cases:
    2001: http://decisions.fct-cf.gc.ca/en/2001/2001fct256/2001fct256.html

    2002: http://decisions.fca-caf.gc.ca/en/2002/2002fca309/2002fca309.html

    2004: http://scc.lexum.umontreal.ca/en/2004/2004scc34/2004scc34.html

    If you are interested you can find Monsanto’s comments on Mr. Schmeiser’s cases here: http://www.monsanto.com/monsanto_today/for_the_record/percy_schmeiser.asp

    Also, if you have any questions regarding this case I would be glad to help. You can email me at fortherecord(at)monsanto.com. If you aren’t comfortable emailing we also have a page about how we handle patent protection of our traits: http://www.monsanto.com/seedpatentprotection/

    Thank you for the comment!
    Kate

  19. Agmates Says:

    G’day Kate,

    Thanks for your reply and the links.

    Have since been advised by one of our members that they posted the link to this blog, so that clears that up. Rojo is an Australian Farmer and has planted Roundup ready canola.

    Have read the court finding that you supplied a link to – thanks.

    Have just published an article with a Video of Percy Schmeiser explaining his side of the story and the comment from Rojo and another of our members JeffT.

    Here is a link.
    http://www.agmates.com/blog/2009/05/08/monsanto-v-canadian-farmer-percy-schmeiser-roundup-ready-canola-video/

    Please feel free to add your / Monsanto’s side of the story / comments. You can do so without fear of being abused. We don’t allow that on our forums.

    We play the ball not the man or woman – as the saying goes. We are only interested in the facts as the stand and discovering what they are.

    Cheers
    Your Agmate – Steve Truman

  20. Deborah Rubin Says:

    Brad Says:

    April 30, 2009 at 9:22 am
    Seed Vault Question

    Sorry for the delay.

    Contrary to popular internet conspiracy theories, Monsanto is not involved in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svalbard_Global_Seed_Vault

    The vault is designed to protect various varieties of seed from regional and global disaster. For instance, if there were a prolonged drought in sections of Asia, varieties of rice could be lost. The vault is designed to ensure such varieties remain, and valuable genetic resources and heritage are not lost.

    ———————–
    Or if the Mexican landraces of corn are all contaminated by gmo traits…

  21. Gwenn Says:

    Your post does not explain WHY Monsanto is patenting the genetic marker in pigs. If the company does not own any livestock operations, why go after this patent?

  22. Kate Says:

    Gwenn,
    Thanks for the question – I should have perhaps stated this more clearly in the post but Monsanto is not pursuing this patent. The business was sold over two years ago. There are no new or current patents being filed by Monsanto for pigs, gene markers on pigs, or any other livestock of any kind.

    All research, patents, and technology were sold to Newsham Choice Genetics in 2007.
    Kate


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