German farm minister rejects pig patent | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 18.04.2009
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German farm minister rejects pig patent

German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner has come out strongly against a European patent application for a test to check pigs for a gene that makes them produce more meat.

A group of pigs romps across a field of dandelions

Farmers worry about the effect on their livlihoods

"Breeding livestock through cross-breeding and selective breeding must remain a patent-free zone," Aigner is quoted as saying in a pre-released interview with the Sunday edition of the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,

"It would not be acceptable for a firm to patent a genetically altered animal and afterwards demand license fees from breeders, whose animals exhibited this gene," she said.

Hundreds of people demonstrated earlier this week in front of the European Union patent office in Munich against the patent, which is owned by the US company, Newsham Choice Genetics, whose initial application was approved last July.

Protesters and pigs gathered outside the European patent Office in Munich

Farmers and environmentalists have been protesting against the patent

Farmers, environmentalists and politicians say the patent opens the door to further commercial exploitation of bioengineering processes and undermines the livelihoods of farmers.

German states favor ban

Following this week's protests, the major German farming states of Bavaria and Hesse have also come out in favor of a blanket ban for both plant and animal patents.

Aigner also said there was "clearly room for improving current European patent law."

Germany is the world's fourth largest meat producer and almost a quarter of the European Union's pork is raised in the country. Pork also plays a key role in the German diet - from sausages and cold cuts, to ham hocks and hearty roasts.

Christoph Then, a patent expert with Greenpeace, said his organization feared that a growing monopolization of animal and plant breeding would lead to a small number of companies dominating the market and dictating prices.

Not really genetic technology?

The Newsham pig testing kit was originally developed by US biotech company, Monsanto, which was recently in the news after Germany banned the use of its genetically modified corn.

A plate of stuffed pork stomach with mashed potatoes

A German culinary highlight: stuffed pork stomach with mashed potatoes

The kit allows farmers to identify a particular gene in pigs that yields robust animals with body fat and meat proportions sought by the pork industry. Once pigs with the gene are identified, farmers can select them for intensive breeding.

Christoph Then argues that the process involved here is only a selective breeding tool, not genetic technology, and therefore should not be patentable.

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