Revolutionary breakthroughs in genetic engineering during the last two decades have enormously increased the ability of scientists to manipulate genetic material. This is clearly reflected in the development of transgenic crops and animals. Such genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and living modified organisms (LMOs) do have enormous economic potential but also raise serious issues related to bio-safety and environmental imbalance. The hazards of accidental release of modified organisms can have unpredictable consequences. There could be epidemics for humans, livestock or plants. In a developing country like Pakistan, these problems can become unmanageable. Alternately, the accidental release of modified organisms can also cause the complete extirpation of vulnerable creatures including man. Genetically modified food, is food prepared from genetically modified seeds.
A great deal of emphasis has been laid on the need to establish a strong regulatory system for the control of possible risks associated with the use and release of LMOs. On the other hand these new technologies carry a lot of potential in increasing the food production for the rapidly rising population and also carry the promises of reducing the costs of agricultural inputs.
Chapter 12: Access and Benefit Sharing of Biological Resources
Since time immemorial, communities have traditionally used plants and animals for their livelihood this included collection, growing, and raising varieties of food crops, livestock, and medicinal plants. The value of these genetic resources and the associated traditional knowledge has attracted a lot of attention in recent years especially after the Rio summit of 1992 in which the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) was negotiated and adopted by most of the countries. The CBD came into force in 1993and has three objectives i.e. conservation, sustainable use and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge. As a result of the intergovernmental negotiations the national governments became the legal owners of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge and countries started to develop policies and legal instruments to protect, promote and mange them.
The challenge however, remains how to convert these resources and the associated knowledge into modern economic wealth in an ecologically sustainable and socially equitable manner. In the pre-CBD era access to genetic resources and the associated traditional knowledge was considered freely available to all. The multinational pharmaceutical industry takes the lion’s share of the profits. The issue of access and benefit sharing remained under intense negotiation (and still are under the aegis of the CBD Working Groups) the Bonn Guidelines on access and benefit sharing were adopted as voluntary guidelines by the CBD after extensive negotiations.
Article 8 (j) and Article 15 are the two main Articles of the CBD that deal with the issue of traditional knowledge, indigenous communities, and access and benefit sharing respectively. Article 15 provides the framework for national governments to implement ABS mechanisms that regulate and protect knowledge and genetic resources, and facilitates access in a way that ensures fair and equitable benefit sharing out of these resources. Bonn Guidelines BG were adopted in the sixth Conference of Parties 2002 at Kula Lumpur, Malaysia. BG address Prior Informed Consent PIC of the holders of traditional knowledge for all bio-prospecting activities, that has to be on mutually agreed terms MAT and mechanisms for equitable sharing of the benefits.
There are no exact estimates of the market value of the commercial products that are derived from biological resources/ traditional knowledge—one estimate puts the vouched value at 500 to 600 billion US $. The Australian Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Study Centre has put up its analysis on the potential negative impacts of ABS on the industry due to the reasons discussed above and highlights possible benefits that may accrue to the indigenous communities on business as usual basis. The other divergent view is held by the mega-diverse countries led by India and Brazil that insist on having the international regime on Access to biological Resources and Benefit Sharing (ABS) with compulsory certificate of origin with all patent applications of new products/ inventions that are derived from Traditional Knowledge (TK). Pakistan has the opportunity to devise its national policies on ABS keeping in view the international scenario. The Biodiversity Working Group constituted by the Ministry of Environment is the relevant forum to consider all the policy options
Key concepts and definitions
For a better understanding of the terms used in all documents related to this subject it is proposed that appendix H may be viewed for key concepts and definitions. These definitions are mainly reproduced from the text of the CBD and are agreed by the parties to the CBD after lengthy negotiations. The following Articles deal with the issues related to the third aim (equitable benefit sharing) of the CBD:
Article 8 (j)
States that parties will, subject to national legislation, respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of knowledge holders; and encourage the equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of such knowledge.
Article 10 (c)
This Article addresses the customary use of biological resources in accordance with traditional cultural practices, support the local populations to develop and implement remedial actions in degraded areas and encourage cooperation between the government agencies and the private sector for developing methods for sustainable use of biological resources.
This Article addresses the facilitation of the exchange of information including the indigenous and traditional knowledge
This Article addresses the promotion of international technical cooperation in the field of conservation and sustainable use including traditional and indigenous technologies.
According to this Article each contracting party shall endeavor to create conditions to facilitate access to genetic resources for use by other parties and not to impose restrictions counter to the objectives of the CBD. The access to the genetic resources shall be on mutually agreed terms (MAT) and subject to prior informed consent (PIC) of the contracting parties. The commercial benefits arising from genetic resources shall be shared in a fair and equitable way on mutually agreed terms (MAT).
Each party shall take legislative and other measures for access to genetic resources and transfer of technology including technology protected by patents and other intellectual property rights on MAT.
Promotion and advance priority access on a fair and equitable basis the results and benefits arising from biotechnology based on genetic resources. The Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety to which Pakistan is a signatory deals in detail the issues related to this Article of the CBD.