Legislation came into force across Europe this month (October) designed to ensure that countries whose genetic resources, including plant material, are used to advance knowledge or for commercial gain, share in any benefits that the material may bring.
The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilisation, is an international treaty that forms part of Convention on Biological Diversity (better known as the Rio Convention), which was drawn up to help protect and conserve global biodiversity and ensure the sustainable use of genetic resources.
Signatories to the regulation, which includes the UK, will use a series of checks to track how genetic resources are used. These checks will include scrutinising patent applications where it’s suspected that genetic resources from another country have been used. For these patents to progress, applicants will need to prove that agreements relating to the collection and use of the genetic resources are in place with the host country. Alternatively, they will need to show that they have carried out 'due diligence' to check that the material falls outside of the scope of the legislation.
The UK Government has yet to announce the steps it will take to enforce the EU regulation in England and Wales, although penalties would not apply to genetic resources acquired before 12 October 2014, when the regulation came into force.
Those who plan to use plant material collected from the wild from other countries for research or commercial purposes will need to prove that the plants were acquired before the legislation came into effect.
Although it is highly unlikely that the Nagoya Protocol will directly affect gardeners on a day-to-day basis, it is possible that it may have an impact on specialist nurseries, especially those that acquire wild plants from other countries.
Speaking about the scope of the legislation, John David, RHS Head of Horticultural Taxonomy, said: 'While the RHS supports the intention of the legislation, many uncertainties remain as to how the regulation will work in practice, and what implications it will have for those using wild collected plants in horticulture.
'The RHS is concerned that people may not be aware of the details of the regulation and the penalties its breach may carry. It is important that this information is communicated thoroughly and quickly.'
Find out more about the Nagoya Protocol and the Convention on Biological Diversity.