NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Developing Nations Blocking Research

December 2, 1999

Researchers in the developed world are increasingly running into roadblocks thrown up by third world governments that refuse to let scientists remove animals, plants and crops for research.

For example, Ecuador is saying no to a request by Abbott Laboratories to collect frogs used in developing a promising painkiller. Secretions from the skin of the frog have been used by Amazon rain forest tribes for generations to make poison blow darts. Ecuadorian officials content the country which is the source of the frog -- and the natives who discovered the frog -- should share in whatever proceeds may accrue from the sale of the drug.

Similarly, National Institutes of Health scientist John Daly -- who isolated the Ecuadorian frog chemical -- has spent three years trying to get clearance from Panama to collect frogs with a cardiac stimulant in their skin. He gave up on Venezuela.

  • The Convention on Biological Diversity -- forged at the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 -- established that nations have sovereignty over their genetic resources and are entitled to "fair and equitable sharing of the benefits."
  • Since then, the Philippines, Costa Rico, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela have adopted laws controlling access to genetic resources and requiring compensation.
  • Dozens of other countries, including Brazil and India, are considering legislation or are using existing authority to regulate the taking of samples.
  • Even the U.S. has begun seeking compensation for collecting micro-organisms in national parks.

"Ultimately, things on certain species will not be done because they'll be extinct before the countries can do it themselves," laments Daly.

Supporters of the biodiversity convention had argued that by granting compensation to countries, their governments and people would be more likely to preserve the species. But the result has been a proliferation of red tape scientists encounter in their quest for the species.

Consequently, some U.S. drug companies are turning to synthetic substitutes.

Source: Andrew Pollack, "Biological Products Raise Genetic Ownership Issues," New York Times, November 29, 1999.


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