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Monsanto joins Greenpeace in opposing EU sperm patent

In an unusual alliance, US agbiotech company Monsanto of St. Louis, Missouri, joined environmental group Greenpeace Germany, based in Hamburg, and European Parliament member Hiltrud Breyer (of the Green Party) in opposing a patent granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) in Munich.

The patent¬ónumber EP 1257168¬ódeals with freeze drying mammalian sperm cells that have been the object of a sex selection. It was granted last February to US company XY of Fort Collins, Colorado, specializing in dairy cattle sex selection. Since then, the existence of such a patent has raised the alarm because it covers the sperm cells themselves.

In a broad resolution adopted on October 26, the European Parliament said the XY patent “constitutes an infringement” of the EU Directive forbidding patenting parts of the human body, and asked the European Commission to oppose the patent “without delay.” When the Commission failed to comply before the November 2 deadline, Hiltrud Breyer, chair of the Parliament’s Working Group on Bioethics, filed her own opposition. Greenpeace had done the same a few days before. And Monsanto also filed a last minute opposition, claiming XY invented nothing new, and therefore should not have received a patent.

In its resolution, the EP also insisted the EU ban on patenting products using human embryos should be interpreted to include human therapeutic cloning. EPO president Alain Pompidou, however, responded with a statement saying the EPO’s independent board of appeals will decide on how to interpret the European Patent Convention in the coming months.

doi:10.1038/nbt0106-11

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