NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Biological Treaty That Backfired

May 7, 2002

The Convention on Biological Diversity was enacted nine years ago to conserve the diversity of species on earth, while allowing their exploitation for such things as new medicines. However, biologists say the international agreement is seriously impeding biologists' efforts to catalogue and comprehend those species.

  • Scientists complain that the treaty has spawned paralyzing biological bureaucracies that believe that any scientist collecting samples -- whether for a drug company or a dissertation -- is bent on stealing genetic material and making a fortune.
  • In other words, the treaty is keeping biologists out of the forests -- for example, in 2000, Brazil stopped all exports of biological samples.
  • In attempting to control research by drug and biotechnology companies, countries are harming even the most basic field work -- even observational studies of wildlife in which nothing is taken away.
  • Another unintended consequence, say critics, is that keeping biologists out of the forests plays into the hands of the forces of uncontrolled development. "If a tree falls in the forest and there's no biologist there to hear it, it definitely doesn't make a sound," one said.

Source: Andrew C. Revkin, "Biologists Sought a Treaty; Now They Fault It," New York Times, May 7, 2002.


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