Accessing Genetic Resources in Canada
What is Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS)?
'Access' means how someone gets to use a genetic resource that they do not own, for example a scientist seeking the permission of a government department to collect samples on Crown Land. In this case, the scientist is gaining access to a genetic resource by getting permission from the Crown to collect samples from their land.
Benefit sharing means how, if a genetic resource is used as described above, the provider and the user of the genetic resource share the benefits arising from the use of the genetic resource. For instance, in the example mentioned above, if the scientist finds that a plant they accessed is rare, or produces a good chemical product, then there are benefits in knowing more about the plant, or from the production and sale of the chemical.
A third part in Access and Benefit Sharing is referred to as mutually agreed terms. This means that the person who gives permission to access, and the person who wants permission to collect must both agree to the "terms" under which collection can take place as well as agreeing to the terms for sharing benefits from any research done with the genetic resource. The government department responsible might agree that there is benefit in increased scientific knowledge about a particular plant. In this case the benefit from the use of the genetic resource (increased scientific knowledge of a particular plant) is shared through the publication of the scientist's research, and the increased knowledge which comes from it. The boxes below provide some examples of how this could work.
How ABS could work:
Frequently, the economic and social benefits of research using genetic resources (for instance in the development of new medicines) can only be realized through cooperation between providers and users of genetic resources. In light of this, the Convention on Biological Diversity calls for countries to establish conditions to facilitate access to genetic resources, to ensure that it is based on the informed consent of the provider country before access takes place, and that access is granted on terms mutually agreed by the provider and the user countries. Policies which deal with access to genetic resources and the sharing of the benefits which arise from their use are usually called access and benefit sharing policies, or ABS.
In 2002, the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted the Bonn Guidelines on Access to Genetic Resources and Fair and Equitable Sharing of the Benefits Arising out of their Utilization, as voluntary guidance to countries in developing their domestic Access and Benefit Sharing policies. The Bonn Guidelines also introduced a direct link between genetic resources and the traditional knowledge of Aboriginal and local communities which is related to those genetic resources.
Many countries, such as Australia, South Africa and India have established domestic policies on access to genetic resources and sharing benefits arising from their use, and many others are in the process of developing their domestic policies. More than 100 countries have ratified the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which includes an ABS regime for specified genetic resources for food and agricultural uses. In addition there is ongoing work under the Convention on Biological Diversity to develop an international regime on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit Sharing for Genetic Resources by 2010.
- What is Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS)?
- Purpose of this paper
- Glossary and key concepts
- Issue 1: Developing ABS policy in Canada
- Issue 2: Implementing ABS policy in Canada
- Issue 3: Traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources
- Incorporating your responses into the decision making processes
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