Bioprospecting in Antarctica
The study states that bioprospecting is taking place, and the potential for an increase in these activities exists, although the absence of clear rules is problematic for all stakeholders. Companies have not made it a priority to focus their attention on Antarctic samples, due to high costs and significant risks. Rules regarding access, sample ownership, benefit-sharing and intellectual property rights would provide more certainty, and the paper recommends the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting now consider this issue carefully. It should be in the interest of the international community as a whole to develop a framework under which the commitments of the Antarctic Treaty are honoured, and the opportunity for developing necessary products or processes maintained.
The authors find that existing international policies governing bioprospecting activities elsewhere are of limited value in answering the above issues. Regarding a possible Antarctic legal framework, the use of Antarctic genetic resources needs to take account of complex jurisdictional issues raised by the ATS.
Important issues that the ATS does not clearly address include:
- ownership of Antarctic genetic resources
- legitimate acquisition of these resources by scientists
- measures scientists have to take to protect the resources
- the feasibility and partners of any benefit-sharing arrangements
- ownership of the commercial product resulting from the genetic resources
- the relationship between the ATS and other international policies
- the consistency of bioprospecting with Article III of the Treaty.
Other key topics that require more information include:
- information regarding existing and planned bioprospecting activities in Antarctica
- information regarding current and planned commercially orientated research involving Antarctic biota
- a working definition of bioprospecting.
Developing measures on bioprospecting in Antarctica requires conceptual agreement about the overall aims of any regulation and the type of management system that is desirable, feasible, practical and equitable.