In April 1987, the Patent and Trademark Office of the USA ruled that all animals that have been genetically alerted through various biotechnological techniques, such as gene insertion, can be patented. By the fall of 1987 there were already 15 animal patents pending.
The European Union Directive on biotechnology patenting (98/44/EC) was adopted in June 1998 after ten years of controversy and public protest. It allows for the patenting of plants and animals, as well as elements isolated from the human body (cells, genetic sequences, etc.). The Netherlands voted against it, while Italy and Belgium abstained. Although it is officially Community law, most EU countries have so far failed to implement it. A legal motion calling for its annulment was tabled by the Dutch government in October 1998. A few months later, Italy and Norway joined the proceedings in support of the Netherlands. In 2000, France called for an interpretation of the directive from Brussels, while the German government vowed to seek its renegotiation. However, in June 2001 the Advocate General of the the European Court of Justice (ECJ) concluded that the motion to annul the directive should be dismissed, i.e. rejected. Technically, this is not the end of the proceedings, as the ECJ must issue a final decision. However, it is widely expected that the Court will uphold the conclusion of its Advocate General.
If measures are not taken to prevent patenting of life-forms the impact on wildlife world wide will be devastating. This is because through biotechnology, farm animals will be modified genetically so that they will be able to adapt to presently unsuitable tropical, arid, wetland and other habitats. They will be made resistant to various diseases (such as sleeping sickness) to which they are presently susceptible, in the same manner in which indigenous wildlife species are now disease-resistant. The patenting of genetically modified animals will as a consequence escalate the rate of destruction of wildlife habitat, accelerate the decline in biodiversity, and some predict, lead in the direction of the end of the natural world.
As a consequence of patent protection, the livestock industry will have the incentive to expand rapidly into new and hitherto unexploitable or inaccessible wildlife habitats. This final transformation of remaining wilderness areas and the consequent reduction of biodiversity worldwide, will be intensified further by the introduction of patented, genetically engineered plants, likewise adapted to new habitats.
The sweeping patents granted to one agrochemical giant Agracetus Inc. (W R Grace and Co.) on cotton and soybeans show that the intellectual property system as applied to biotechnology products and processes is out of control, posing serious threat to global food security and the well-being of small farmers. It is shocking that a patent can be applied to an entire crop or food species. This is an outrageous example of bio-piracy.