It is estimated that 55% of the world's scientifically stored plant genetic resources is controlled by institutions in industrialized countries, 31% by institutions in developing countries and 14% by international agricultural research centres.
A single USA company (Agracetus Inc of W R Grace and Co) has been granted patents on all genetically engineered varieties of cotton and soybeans within the EEC/EU until 2010. In 1994 it also had a patent pending for transgenic rice and is understood to be working on patentable processes for groundnuts, maize and beans. This could lead to monopoly control of improvements in some of the world's major food crops, posing a serious threat to global food security and the well-being of small farmers.
In the Netherlands, the 'seeming' diversity of food products for sale in supermarkets can be deceptive. Supermarkets offer lots of potatoe-based processed products; but from the 50 or so potatoe species grown in the Netherlands, supermarkets only use one, called Bintje.
The European Patent Office, (EPO) decided in 1996 to grant Monsanto patents on the genetically engineered food crops. Even though patents on seed and plant varieties are against the european patent rules, the EPO granted Monsanto full property rights to GE varieties of maize, wheat, rice, soybeans, cotton, sugar beet, rape, sunflowers, potatoes, tobacco, tomatoes, poplars, pines, grapes and apples. Legal experts, including the German minister of justice, have questioned the legality of this kind of patent.