About 100 protesters demonstrated today in front of the European Patent Office (EPO) in Munich against a patent filed by international brewing groups Carlsberg and Heineken. Activists of about 40 activist groups including international coalition No Patents on Seeds! submitted their appeal against a patent on a malting barley variety, which was produced by crossing two already existing breeds.
The activists claim that patents should only be granted in relation to genetical engineering and not conventional breeding. "This patent is obviously absurd: random mutations are not an invention", says Lara Dovifat of Campact, a non-profit, non-governmental citizen's movement. "Nobody should be allowed to acquire our food crops via patents, whether it's brewing barley, rice or wheat."
In April 2016 two patents filed by Carlsberg and Heineken were granted by the EPO for a mutated form of malting barley containing enzymes to develop more distinctive, flavor-stable beers. Beer produced from the new barley contains less dimethyl sulfide (DMS) that can give beer an undesirable cooked sweet corn taste.
A third patent was granted in September 2016. It covers malting barley with a lower content of linoleic acid, allowing cooler temperatures during boiling of the wort to remove stale flavors.
Since appeals against a patent must be filed within 9 months after the approval, the protesters waited until the end of the 9-month period to collect as many signatures against the patent as possible. Already in November last year, the alliance appealed the first two patents, which were granted in April (inside.beer, 19.11.2016).
At the end of June, the Administrative Board of the European Patent Office consisting of 38 countries will meet in The Hague/Netherlands to strengthen the existing prohibitions in patent law. Plants and animals, whose breeding is based exclusively on crossing and selection, may not be longer patented. However, the draft of the agreement allows for far-reaching exceptions. Plants or animals, which exhibit random mutations, are still patentable. This also applies to the malting barley.
According to the activists, the proposed decision is inconsistent with an opinion of the European Commission of November 2016. At that time the European Commission reaffirmed a 1998 EU directive that plants and animals resulting from "essentially biological" breeding could not be patented. However, the Commission's pronouncement is not legally binding.