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[BARILOCHE] Monsanto cannot block Argentina's soy meal exports to European Union (EU) countries, the EU's Court of Justice announced earlier this month (6 July), even though the meal is made using a technology that the company has patented in Europe.

The world's largest seed company attempted to stop the exports, arguing that Argentinean soy meal infringed the European patent, even though it had previously allowed the technology to be freely used in Argentina.

Monsanto holds European patents for Roundup Ready (RR) technology, which makes a transgenic soybean plant resistant to the widely used herbicide glyphosate. But Argentina argued that the patents only applied when the transgene was used for protecting living plants from the RR herbicide.

The EU's highest court upheld this, ruling that RR technology did not apply to products derived from soy containing the patented DNA sequence in a residual state.

"A European patent can only be relied on in relation to an invention which actually performs the function for which it is patented," the EU said in a press release.

"That a derived product of soy contains 'residual DNA information' means that there are some 'prints' of the resistance genes that made the live plants resistant to the herbicide, but these are not active in the soy meal," Alberto Díaz, director of the Industrial Biotechnology Center at the National Institute of Industrial Technology, Argentina, told SciDev.Net.

Díaz said the ruling would make it easier to market the main soy products that Argentina sells to the EU, like flour and oil.

Argentina is the world's second largest producer of this kind of transgenic soya, behind the United States, and ahead of Brazil.

Although GM seeds are used widely there, Monsanto never patented the technology in Argentina where the seeds were sold under licence by a US company which was later acquired by seed and grain importer Nidera, from Buenos Aires. Instead, Monsanto made its profits in Argentina from selling patented RR herbicide used with RR soybean.

"Monsanto simply wanted to be paid for the use of our technology," said a Monsanto press release, adding that since the growers who use the technology in Argentina do not pay for it "Monsanto has looked [through this case] for alternative ways to collect for the use of our technology and obtain a return on its research investment."

Link to EU court ruling

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