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6-Regulation: Malaysia drafted biosafety and ABS bills

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Malaysia's Biotechnology: A Question Of Putting The Horse Before
The Cart
SOURCE: Bernama, Malaysia, by Santha Oorjitham
DATE:   16 Jul 2004 

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Malaysia's Biotechnology: A Question Of Putting The Horse Before The Cart

KUALA LUMPUR, July 16 (Bernama) -- There has been a lot of talk and
excitement about biotechnology being the next wave of industrial wealth
to be tapped by the corporate sector as well as governments, and Malaysia
is no exception in pursuing the same trend.

With the launch of Bio Valley and the wooing of foreign partners and
investors in biotechnology, Malaysia hopes to host many more local and
foreign ventures on an even larger scale.

To prepare for this, the mega-diverse country is drafting laws to protect
its rights and its resources -- a move akin to putting the "legal horse"
before the "biotechnology cart".

"In order for biotechnology to fly, there is an urgent need for us to
implement two fundamental bills...on biosafety, and access and benefit-
sharing," said Adib Rahman, principal assistant secretary in the
Conservation and Environmental Management Division of the Ministry of
Natural Resources and Environment.

The division serves as the secretariat for the National Biodiversity-
Biotechnology Council, which is chaired by the Prime Minister and
includes all 13 chief ministers and nine Federal ministers.


The Biosafety Bill was presented to the Cabinet in January, Adib said,
and the Cabinet approved it to be tabled in Parliament.

They are now preparing it for tabling in Parliament, which could be
sometime this year, at the discretion of the Minister of Natural
Resources and the Environment, Datuk Seri Adenan Satem.

The Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) Bill is taking longer, Adib said,
because a regime on ABS is still evolving at the international level.

But in the meantime, in order to avoid bio-piracy, Malaysia is drafting
its own legislation to regulate access, protect its resources and
intellectual property rights and ensure fair and equitable sharing of
benefits from the use of its genetic resources.

What are the new laws likely to contain?

"The Biosafety Bill is to assess that the products are safe to use and
safe for the environment, humans and animals," said Adib.

"What we are doing now is...coming up with a law that will put a safety
screen on all products before they are marketed. We don't want to be
guinea pigs."

Under the bill, products must be introduced to a "competent authority"
comprising representatives from the Ministry of Natural Resources and
Environment, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture & Agro-Based
Industries, Ministry of International Trade & Industry, Ministry of
Domestic Trade & Consumer Affairs and the Ministry of Science, Technology
and Innovation.


For the ABS bill, Malaysia is looking at state legislation in East
Malaysia. The Sarawak Biodiversity Access, Collection and Research
Regulation 1998 (amended 2001) for example, requires a Research Permit,
Export Permit, Sales Permit for protected species and Ethnobiological
Research Permit from the relevant activities involving local biodiversity.

Those conducting such activities without permits can be fined and/or jailed.

The permits are issued by the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC), which is
also compiling registers of traditional knowledge, in the Bidayuh
community for example.

"We have to have a register of traditional knowledge," Adib said, "so
that if the knowledge is used, the benefit can be shared. The onus is on
the government to act in trust for the community and negotiate on their

The SBC had gone on high alert on thefts of wild orchids in the famed
Mount Mulu National Park when three Japanese tourists were fined RM1,500
in default three months' jail each for taking out 31 wild orchids from
the park area.

These tourists, who pleaded guilty, were charged under a section of the
Wild Life Protection Ordinance, 1998.


Malaysia is also studying laws in India, the Philippines and South America.

"Basically, the principle is free access for all Malaysians," explained
Adib. "You can still pluck flowers and go fishing. But you have to go to
the competent authorities...if there is any bioprospecting involving
foreigners, when resources are taken out of the country and when
resources are commercialised."

In such cases, the authority will want to know the location and will
require an Environmental Impact Assessment to ensure sustainable
harvesting, among other things.

The Selangor-based Global Environment Centre's director, Faizal Parrish,
called for more protected areas for biodiversity and stricter enforcement
to prevent poaching.

"We need strict limits on extraction amounts and/or a move towards
cultivation," he added.

Parrish suggested "user pay" schemes which could channel funds to
conservation, as well as financial incentives for the states to conserve
their biodiversity resources.

He agreed that there should be documentation of species with potential
uses which would help to protect the intellectual property rights of
indigenous people and ensure benefit-sharing.

"Besides benefit-sharing, we hope the rights of the indigenous community
to their land will be respected," said Miri-based Borneo Resources
Institute (BRIMAS) assistant project coordinator, Mark Bujang.

"It is not clear what happens to the indigenous people when researchers
go into their customary land," he said, noting that when something
valuable is found, the state has the power to gazette a reserve or
protected area there.

For example, Bujang said, after a joint venture between the Sarawak state
government and the National Cancer Institute found a bioactive compound
in the bintangor (calophyllum lanigerum) tree which could be developed
into an anti-AIDS drug and which has since moved into clinical trials,
two of the sub-species were gazetted as protected species.

The activist said there was confusion among the indigenous people about
which sub-species were gazetted and which could be harvested.

"They had mainly used it for timber but the Penans used the bark for
medicinal purposes, for stomach aches and other pains," he explained.


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