Photo: Dave77459, Flickr
"Heart-smart" bacon? "Healthy" hamburger? Monsanto thinks it's found a way to make red meat better for you, and that's got some overseas environmental activists worried.
The biotech giant has genetically engineered a type of soybean that contains a plant-based version of omega-3, the fatty acid that has been shown to improve cardiovascular health. Omega-3 is typically found in seafood; hence, all those recommendations to eat more fish.
But what if you could ditch the salmon fillet and get your dose of omega-3 from, say, sausage instead?
That's exactly what Monsanto had in mind when it began replacing regular soybean feed with its omega-3 enhanced soybeans and feeding it to livestock. The result? Meat that contained higher levels of omega-3.
So the company did what any self-respecting multinational corporation would do: it filed patents on the "derived benefits" of feeding animals its proprietary product.
Food products normally aren't granted patent protection. According to a story filed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, "the new patent applications have touched a raw nerve among those who see them as an attempt by the company to exert control over the food chain."
"There's been a much more liberal approach to patenting food, and this patent raises issues about that," Dr. Matthew Rimmer, an Australian expert in agricultural intellectual property, told ABC. "Jurisprudence in the United States takes a very expansive view of patentable subject matter."
For its part, Monsanto says it has no diabolical plans to control the world's food supply. "Monsanto does not intend to take ownership of livestock or fish or to sell company-branded milk, meat or eggs enriched with omega-3s to consumers," the company posted on its website in June.
But some activists are having a tough time taking the company at its word. As a rep from Greenpeace Australia told ABC, "As a community, we need to decide whether we want our most basic foods to be owned by chemical companies."