Genes Make Me Look Fat!

Piggy Picture

In February 2005, Monsanto Company (Monsanto), a multinational agricultural and biotechnology company that holds patents on a variety of products, including biotech seeds, bred wheat, soy plants, and advanced traits and technologies for crops, sought a patent for a pig. More specifically, they sought a patent on the lifespan of pigs that are bred using a natural selection method to produce animals that grow faster and produce more pork than their normally bred counterparts. But can you patent a combination of techniques that farmers may have been using for centuries?

Monsanto filed its pig patent application with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva, Switzerland. The company claimed that it would patent a gene marker for a pig trait,  and then looked to protect their ownership rights in more than 160 countries, including the United States.  Monsanto’s intent was to patent the methods behind the breeding as well as the eventual offspring.

The patent request was exposed by Greenpeace researcher Christoph Then, who monitors patent applications for the environmental advocacy organization and expressed concern with Monsanto’s efforts to control genetic resources.

Monsanto’s pig patent efforts triggered a firestorm of controversy (as you might imagine) about whether a company should be able to get patent protection for parts of the genetic materials of a pig. It even led to the production of a documentary called “Patent the PIG?,” which detailed Monsanto’s attempts to secure patent protection and the business of genetics.

Two years after the pig patent fracas, Monsanto sold Monsanto Choice Genetics to Newsham Genetics LC, a company based in West Des Moines, Iowa. This sale included all swine-related patents and patent applications, officially taking Monsanto out of the pig business. But the question still remains whether a company will be able to patent a breeding process that has been used for many years. Only time will tell.

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