No patents on Rothamsted GM wheat? Or humbug?

June 2012

The scientists who are testing GM wheat at Rothamsted research facility have pointed out that their research is publicly-funded and claim that the results will not be patented. The first part's true. You the tax-payer is paying them to create GM wheat whether you like it or not. But is the lack of intention to patent it real or just good PR?

Well ...

  • The lead scientist of the GM wheat project told Farmers Weekly that companies were 'very interested' in what they were doing and were 'keeping a watching brief', and that 'it could be that we generate very good intellectual property for commercial development in the interests of the UK and European agriculture and business.'
  • Add to this that the wheat which has been genetically transformed is not of a type widely used in the UK and the pest it is designed to repel is not much of a problem here either (see THE MEDIA DEBACLE AROUND THE ROTHAMSTED GM WHEAT TRIAL - June 2012).
  • Add to this, also, that the GM wheat being trialled contains two antibiotic resistance genes and a herbicide-tolerance gene not acceptable for use in Europe.
  • And another thing, the herbicide to which the GM wheat has been made tolerant (i.e. glufosinate, banned in the EU due to toxicity and reproductive effects on mammals) happens to be manufactured by biotech giant, Bayer.
  • Oh yes, and Rothamsted's website tells us proudly that “Our portfolio of industrial partners includes global agri-biotech companies such as Syngenta, Dow Agrosciences, Bayer Agriculture, BASF and Monsanto ...” and that “The quality and impact of our input is such that we have been very successful in building long-term relationships with our partners”.
This sounds very much as if Rothamstead is only too aware that its GM wheat will never be accepted in Britain and isn't even trying to create one which would be grown here. Our very own biotech scientists have their eye very firmly on lucrative overseas markets (in places where the people get less chance to have their say) and on harnessing the clout of their industrial pals.

Let's face it, to generate that 'very good intellectual property for commercial development', keep up the successful 'long-term relationships' with those partners, and sell GM wheat profitably abroad, Rothamstead will need patents.

But, yes, claiming not to be interested in patenting the invention is good PR.

  • Jonathan Matthews, The inside story on the GM wheat trial debate, The Ecologist, 25.05.12
  • James Randerson, The GM debate is growing up, Guardian, 12.06.12
  • Behind the GM Wheat Trial, Institute of Science in Society Report 20.06.12

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