The Nagoya Protocol and plant science

Categories: intellectual property
Comments: 1 Comment
Published on: January 28, 2014

There is some legislation struggling through the EU at the moment that could have a big impact on UK plant science – not least, a potential mountain of paperwork for sharing certain genetic material. It is the EU Regulation to implement the Nagoya Protocol, a section of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). For those of you who (like me!) are new to regulations surrounding plant genetic material and breeders’ rights, I’ve given a simple background summary before explaining the new goings-on.

The Convention of Biological Diversity

The CBD is based on the principle that biodiversity is valuable – scientists and industrialists have been ‘bioprospecting’ for centuries, hoping to find something of scientific interest, and preferably also economic worth. The CBD reaffirmed the sovereign rights of a country over the genetic material found within its boarders, and aimed to ensure the states that signed up to it conserved their own biodiversity, used its components sustainability, and shared benefits arising from it responsibly and fairly. It came into force in 1993 after 168 parties had signed up, and now covers over 180 countries.

The Plant Treaty

A second significant agreement linked to the current Nagoya Protocol discussions is the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (often referred to more easily as ‘The Plant Treaty’), which sets out special treatment for 64 important agricultural crops that between them provide 80% of human food globally. It was adopted in 2001 and recognizes the rights of all stakeholders in significant plant genetic material – the country of origin, scientists, breeders and farmers. Now, 13 years on from the adoption of the treaty, there is a well established Standard Material Transfer Agreement for access and benefit sharing of genetic materials, which is relatively simple to use, pragmatic and well understood by the plant breeding community. 

The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits from their Utilization

Since 1993, the CBD has seen updates and changes – we’re now well into the 2011-2020 Strategic Plan for Biodiversity. The Nagoya Protocol is one such change. The secretariats of the CBD and the Seed Treaty have been working together to establish a new access and benefit sharing (ABS) system for a number of species, including some important vegetable species. The Nagoya Protocol was adopted by certain CBD parties in 2010, but has not yet been adopted by the European Union.

Europe and the Nagoya Protocol

The European Commission drafted a Regulation to implement the Nagoya Protocol last year. The European Parliament made several controversial changes to the original Protocol, which were debated at three meetings between the Parliament, Council of Member States, and Commission. The changes, which some groups felt extended the Regulation beyond the requirements of the Protocol, include retroactive application of the legislation; deletion of best practices; removal of Union trusted collections intended to facilitate compliance for small and medium sized businesses; the establishment of a Union benefit-sharing fund; and the introduction of multiple checkpoints including application for IP protection.

The Commission, Parliament and Council eventually agreed on a draft proposal. It states that users of plant genetic resources, including academic researchers, will have to identify (or negotiate) and officially record a large amount of information about the genetic resource they use – but retroactive application of the legislation and enforced patent application were both removed.

The final Regulation, which we can expect to be the same as the agreed draft, is crucial to the UK vegetable breeding sector. The rules for breeders in Europe will be laid down by this EU implementation of the CBD Nagoya protocol, which may harm rather than benefit research, innovation and commercialization of genetic resources. Researchers and breeders may be reluctant to attempt the red-tape obstacle course imposed by the new requirements.

Intellectual property blog IPKat has several excellent posts on this topic. I highly recommend you read them if you are interested or concerned about what the new regulations will be and what they mean. Researchers should read this one in particular on the ‘Obligations of Users’ section as in this regulation, ‘Users’ are essentially defined as ‘researchers’ (Article 3,8a). 

Thanks to Penny Maplestone for providing comments and to IPKat for writing the only recent articles of the Nagoya Protocol EU Regulation I could (easily) find online.

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  1. […] How will the EU's implementation of the Nagoya Protocol affect plant scientists? An overview of regulations regarding plant genetic material.  […]

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