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Back to the field

Resolution makes researchers' access to genetic patrimony easier

MIGUEL BOYAYANScientific research in biodiversity is a case of relevant public interestMIGUEL BOYAYAN

The Genetic Patrimony Management Council (CGEN), of the Ministry of the Environment (MMA), has allowed researchers access to the genetic patrimony in private areas, banned since 2001. At the time, the federal government published Provisional Measure [PM] nº 2186-16 which, with the intention of protected biodiversity, caused veritable havoc to the researches that involved natural assets, since it submitted to the same draconian rules both scientific activities and those connected with commercial exploitation. “Before going into the field, researchers had to present to the CGEN the planned itinerary, with the date and place of collection, and the authorization, in writing, of the owners of the areas to be visited”, says Miguel Trefaut Urbano Rodrigues, from the Biosciences Institute of the University of São Paulo (USP). With Resolution nº 8, published in the Official Gazette of October 8, the MMA is starting to make the situation more flexible, allowing scientists greater mobility. “This decision is aresult of the work that, with the help of some researchers, we are carrying out with the Council”, says Carlos Alfredo Joly, the coordinator of the Biota-FAPESP program, and since May one of the representatives indicated by the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SPBC) to join the CGEN in the capacity of a guest.

The CGEN’s resolution does not have the power to alter the rules defined in 2001, but it does place research activities in the provisions laid down in article 17 of the PM, which provides for waiving “prior approval of their owners” for cases of “relevant public interest”. Accordingly, when characterized as a “case of relevant public interest”, the access of researchers to the components of the genetic heritage to be found in a private area is allowed, provided that their activities, cumulatively, contribute to the advancement of the knowledge of biodiversity in the country, and do not show any previously identified potential for economic use, as occurs with bioprospecting activities.Now, the researcher responsible communicates to the CGEN his intention of investigating, but will only have to present the geographical coordinates of each collection point, as well as the list of the duly identified material collected, up to 180 days after the expedition. If any samples collected show a potential for economic use, the institution that is sponsoring the research must advise this fact to the Council for a Contract for the Use of the Genetic Heritage and Sharing of the Benefits to be formalized, as provided for in the PM.

“This is the first step for improving the situation of the researchers”, says João Paulo Capobianco, the MMA’s secretary for Biodiversity and Forests. The Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama) is also preparing a normative instruction to facilitate the collection of research material, likewise flexibilizing the authorization process. “This measure is going to make the collection process more agile”, he adds.

Draft law
Probably by the end of the year, the MMA will forward to the National Congress a set of suggestions to be incorporated into the Draft Law on Access to Genetic Resources – the author of which was originally the Minister of the Environment herself, then a senator, Marina Silva – and which is now in the Chamber of Deputies. “We want to perfect the project, incorporating positive innovations, so as to guarantee rigorous instruments for protecting biodiversity, without being a burden for researchers”, claims Capobianco.