Natural Science Collections and Access and Benefit Sharing


Genetic resources (e.g. animals, plants, microorganisms) are a key element of the work of CETAF members. They are used by a broad range of people, facilities and institutions (e.g. botanic gardens, academic researchers, private companies) for different purposes (research, commercialization) across many sectors (e.g. biodiversity research, agriculture, pharmaceutical, horticultural, cosmetics, biotechnology). Where these genetic resources come from is important: countries that provide genetic resources have sovereignty over the material found within their borders. If researchers utilize these genetic resources, benefits arising should be shared in a fair and equitable manner between providers and users. Many countries have laws setting out conditions under which access to genetic resources is granted. The international legal framework for the benefit sharing as well as the access to genetic resources is provided by the Nagoya Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which was adopted in 2010 and entered into force in 2014.

The rules on access and benefit sharing (ABS) under the Nagoya Protocol apply when research and development is carried out on genetic or biochemical composition of genetic resources, irrespective of whether this is used to increase scientific knowledge and understanding or develop commercial products. Providers and users negotiate mutually agreed terms that are based on prior informed consent. The Nagoya Protocol also creates incentives to use genetic resources sustainably and therefore conserve biodiversity. The EU is a Party to the Nagoya Protocol, and the provisions of the EU Regulation on ABS and its Implementing Regulation apply to all Member States. Non-EU countries with CETAF members - Norway and Switzerland - are also Party to the Nagoya Protocol.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has established the ABS Clearing-House. This is a global platform to exchange legal documents, policy measures, examples of national implementation, tools to monitor the conservation of genetic resources, best practices and other information concerning the Nagoya Protocol. It also provides contact details of National ABS Focal Points, who can provide information on their country’s requirements. It is a key tool to facilitate implementation through enhancing legal certainty and transparency on procedures for access and benefit-sharing, and a key tool for CETAF members.

ABS and Natural History Collections

All additions to CETAF collections should be accompanied by correct documentation, where countries from which specimens originated had permit or ABS requirements at the time of collecting. This applies to both donations and material acquired by other means, such as purchases. When agreeing terms with a provider country, it is important to ensure that the ways in which collections allow the material to be used are permitted, e.g. loans, sequencing, publication of results. Obtaining such documentation is of particular importance for material collected after October 2014 when the Nagoya Protocol came into force, since the collection-holding institution or researchers using the collections may be called on to make a declaration to their national Checkpoint including reference to such documents. 

Curators will have to implement a system that records and links to the individual specimen a range of information: the terms and conditions under which the biological material was accessed, any uses that might be prohibited by the conditions or trigger benefit sharing, any benefits shared, and supply to third parties (e.g. loans).

The EU ABS regulation is of utmost importance to natural history collections and the associated research, since it will affect the way both are organised. In an example provided by the European Commission, researchers have been studying several fungi of the Ecuadorian rainforest, such as Pestalotiopsis microspora. They found that these fungi can break down the widely used plastic, polyurethane. In other words, they can digest plastic. The discovery suggests that there may be a wide range of effective waste-consuming microbes in existence. Any benefit created from this breakthrough should be shared with the country of origin of the genetic resource (the fungi) utilised in that discovery. The research organisation concerned would have to exercise caution to ensure they abide by conditions agreed with the provider if commercialisation is in prospect.   


CETAF Code of Conduct and Best Practices

As a response to Article 20 in the Nagoya Protocol, and Articles 8 and 13 of the European Regulation on compliance measures for users from the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilisation in the Union, CETAF has developed and adopted a Code of Conduct for Access and Benefit-Sharing (ABS). The principles and practices stated in the Code of Conduct are designed to fully support CETAF members’ operations as taxonomic collection-holding and non-commercial biological research institutions in complying with ABS legal and ethical requirements.

All member institutions have agreed to implement the CETAF Code of Conduct & Best Practices which was developed by CETAF’s Legislations and Regulations Liaison Group. That means for example that in order to obtain prior informed consent, CETAF members will provide a full explanation of the purposes for which biological material will be used and how genetic resources will be utilised. It will subsequently take any steps reasonably possible to ensure that the biological material was acquired in accordance with the applicable law.Cover CETAF Code of Coduct on ABS

Due to the not-for-profit nature of the work of CETAF members, benefits arising from their research are rarely monetary. Hence, benefit-sharing typically involves non-monetary benefits, such as include scientific training, education, capacity building, technology transfer, collaboration on scientific work programmes and the mutual sharing of research results and publications.



Recognition of the CETAF Code of Conduct and Best Practice

CETAF has already produced a set of BEST PRACTICES and submitted it for recognition to the European Commission early in 2016, revised it following first assessment received and re-submitted it on the 30th November 2015. This will provide the overall framework to guide practitioners and researchers within the CETAF community (and those others following same mechanism) in complying with ABS requirements in their daily work.  “Best practices" in the sense of the ABS Regulation (Art. 8) are procedures, tools or mechanisms, developed and overseen by associations of users or other interested parties, which – when effectively implemented – help users of genetic resources to comply with the obligations of the EU ABS Regulation. Once recognised as such by the Commission, best practices will be included in a dedicated register.

A number of Parties of the Nagoya Protocol that share great provisions of genetic resources to users in Europe, including providing countries such as Brazil and Peru, have also explored the CETAF Code of Conduct & Best Practices guidelines as their main reference.

The Society for the Preservation for the History of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) and the Global Genome Biodiversity Network (GGBN) have aligned their practices to the CETAF Code of Conduct & Best Practices.


Guidance Documents

A guidance document on the scope of the EU ABS Regulation was adopted on 22 August 2016 and published in the Official Journal on 27 August 2016. A report on utilisation practices among the upstream actors (collections, researchers at universities, etc), prepared by a contractor, was one of the many elements that fed into this guidance document. Additional sectorial guidance documents on Cosmetics, Animal Breeding, Plant Breeding, Biocontrol, Pharmaceuticals, Food and Feed, Biotechnologies have been drafted and discussed while two others, specifically addressing Research and Collections, are currently under development.

ABS Consultation Forum

CETAF, via the General Secretariat and the CETAF Legislations and Regulations group, made an application to join the European Commission ABS Consultation Forum (accepted on the 21 December 2015). Representatives attended the first meeting of the forum on 21 January 2016, and the second meeting on 6 March 2017.

The ABS Consultation Forum is providing advice and expertise to the European Commission and its Directorate-General for Environment in relation to the implementation of ABS legislation and is facilitating coordination with Member States and multiple stakeholders on this issue. 

Being a member of the ABS Consultation Forum, CETAF is in a prime position to comment and raise awareness among other stakeholders and the Member States of the importance of collections and the research carried out on them, as a means to broaden scientific knowledge of biodiversity and natural resources. Members of the CETAF community will be engaged in the development of drafts for specific Guidance Documents on both Research and Collections.