The American biotechnology firm, Monsanto, has applied for a patent for pig breeding in 160 countries. The patent is for specific parts of the genetic material of pigs which Monsanto's genetic researchers have decoded. If this patent is granted, pig breeding would be possible with the approval of the company.
Farmers and breeders are naturally alarmed because these genes have long existed in the great majority of their pigs. Using DNA tests they can prove that there is no new invention in the patent applications but that, instead, granting this patent would be to allow a part of nature to fall into the hands of a single company.
Monsanto's influence on the patent offices is huge. If the patent is approved, money will have to be paid to Monsanto for every pig in the world carrying this genetic marker. This has long been the case for certain feedstuffs, such as genetically modified maize. Many farmers in the US have already become dependent on the company.
It is not merely a question of money, however, but also a question of the risk posed to consumers. In America, as in Europe, cases of infertility in animals fed with genetically modified maize are becoming increasingly common. No-one yet knows what effects such products are having on humans.