ABS Policies in Canada

3) Support Ethical Scientific Research and Development

Science and technology (S&T) is at the core of ABS policy. ABS is predicated on developments in biotechnology that facilitate the development of genetic resources.

Well designed ABS policies can encourage scientific research through privatepublic partnerships that feed some benefits of commercial research back to organizations and institutions involved in conservation research and management. This has already been shown to be the case in a number of instances internationally, where ad hoc arrangements have been made. By establishing a formal and uniform ABS approach, the benefits can become systemic. Early results in countries like Australia suggest that this approach works. However, most of the benefits will be non-monetary such as increased knowledge, training opportunities and support for conservation of biodiversity, either in situ or in ex situ collections and museums.

The work of scientists in both the public and private sectors is likely to be impacted in two significant ways. The first and most obvious is that they will likely be required to go through more formal processes before collecting genetic resources regardless of whether they are working for commercial benefit or not and may face civil or criminal sanctions for not complying with ABS regulations in some jurisdictions with national ABS measures.

In Canada, traditional knowledge of the medical uses of biodiversity is a potential resource for innovation. Canadian Aboriginal groups are well aware of the risks that unprotected sharing of knowledge poses, and are likely to want to have agreements in place before they participate in the bio based economy. It will also be important that scientists working with Aboriginal groups understand that ABS rules may also apply in situations where traditional knowledge is involved and may have to revisit their relationship with aboriginal partners.

The second issue is one that will need to be managed thoughtfully. Since ABS policy hinges on the identity of the origin of genetic resource, a system will need to be implemented to track genetic resources so that, as benefits arise, they flow back to the provider. However, devising a system to track all genetic resources used by researchers may be very burdensome and could be a hindrance to innovation. A well thought-out strategy must be implemented in order to allow research to proceed while ensuring the fair sharing of benefits.