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Diversity and Change in the Commercial Use of Genetic Resources: Implications for Access and Benefit Sharing Policy

S. Laird, R. Wynberg


A wide range of sectors are engaged in the research and development of commercial products from genetic resources. They include the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, seed, crop protection, horticulture, cosmetic and personal care, fragrance and flavor, botanicals, and food and beverage industries. Each sector is part of a unique market, undertakes research and development in distinct ways, and uses genetic resources and demands access to these resources very differently. Despite a surge of interest in bioprospecting arrangements in the 1990s, there have been surprisingly few such studies in the last decade, and understanding of these activities remains limited at the very time an international agreement on access to genetic resources and benefit sharing (the so-called Nagoya Protocol) has been finally adopted by the United Nations.

This paper results from a study undertaken to fill gaps in current understanding of ABS partnerships, collaborations and contractual agreements in the range of sectors using genetic resources. Through multiple stakeholder interviews, detailed case study analyses, and review of contracts and agreements, the study examined the nature of these relationships, and whether and how they achieve the objectives of sustainable use and equitable benefit sharing. A central finding, discussed in this paper, is that the activities that fall under ‘bioprospecting’ and ‘ABS’ are extremely diverse; there are large differences both within and across sectors in the ways genetic resources are used and benefits are shared. At the same time, the constant and rapid pace of scientific and technological advances, and less dramatic but still significant market and legal changes, mean that any ABS policy framework must be carefully developed to reflect and adapt to changing realities. Sustainable use, conservation and equity are complex goals in any scenario, but in the ABS policy
arena achieving these goals is far more challenging given the diverse and changing nature of the activities to be regulated.


Bioprospecting, access, benefit sharing, industry sectors, Convention on Biological Diversity

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