The European Parliament recently recognized the intellectual property right of indigenous communities to local biodiversity. The ensuing rules affect European companies and foreign subsidiaries in Europe. Before the regulation become EU law, it also must be approved by the European Council of Ministers.
Known as the Nagoya Protocol, this UN convention on biodiversity was announced in 2010 and is still attracting signatories. So far, it has 92 signatories and has been ratified by 20 nations. Ratification by 50 nations is required for it take effect. Neither the United States nor Canada have yet signed, although many European nations, including the UK, have agreed to the protocol. It is hoped that with written guidelines, biopiracy cases – like those involving the Enola bean in Mexico and the Pelargonium sidoide in South Africa – may dwindle.
The protocol is positioned as providing greater legal certainty and transparency for the suppliers and users of genetic resources and ensuring benefit sharing after products are developed. As such, it won the early support of BIO, the (Biotechnology Industry Association), saying, “Assuming nations implement the Protocol appropriately, we can meet the joint goals of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.” EuropaBio had no statement on the protocol.
Not every organization is pleased, though. As Garlich von Essen, secretary general of the European Seed Association said in a statement, “We are disappointed with the outcome. Not enough attention has been paid to the specific nature of plant and animal breeding, despite a strong call from a large alliance of organizations from the agricultural sector and even a respective proposal from the Parliament’s own Agricultural Committee.”
Yet, as French member of the European Parliament Sandrine Bélier, who sponsored the proposal, said earlier in the year, “If there is no significant level of international cooperation, biodiversity lies exposed to the threat of the divergent economic interests of the suppliers and users of genetic resources.” After the vote, Bélier told EurActiv that adoption remained uncertain because of the vested interests of the pharmaceutical industry. "90 percent of genetic resources are in the south and 90 percent of the patents are in the north," she said.