Brazil Enacts New Biodiversity Law
Brazil holds a bounty in its rainforests. The diversity of its flora and fauna has been the source of ingredients for cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and natural products. Scientists have learned much from their study of the rainforests, and there is more to learn. Yet research and business interests frequently tangle with legal restrictions that block the pillaging of Brazil’s natural resources. Now, a new biodiversity law in Brazil seeks to strike a better balance between research and conservation.
In May, President Dilma Rousseff signed a law that establishes formal procedures governing how businesses and researchers work with the environment. The law replaces a 2001 biodiversity statute, which some saw as inadequate at best, and complex and bureaucratic at worst. Companies saw the older biodiversity law as difficult to navigate; the nation’s indigenous peoples thought the law did not go far enough to compensate them for products made from the environment.
So lawmakers designed the new legislation to address these shortcomings. They created a more efficient way for researchers to pursue their work, while also retooling the process to compensate the indigenous peoples. Under the previous statute, biodiversity research access had to be granted by a national council. The new law, however, only requires that companies register in an online database. Also, the sharing of any benefits from research and commercialized products had previously been negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Now, responsibility for the handling of benefits falls to the product manufacturer, and profits are disbursed through a national trust fund.
The Union for Ethical BioTrade acknowledges that some of the indigenous peoples are criticizing the law for not going far enough to protect them. But the law, as written, is designed to protect their rights, while also allowing businesses to benefit. The new biodiversity law aims to streamline the bureaucratic process, which should in turn encourage more research. President Rousseff said that the new law will guarantee that companies can ‘“without conflict, troubles or disputes,” use the genetic heritage and associated traditional knowledge in Brazil,’ according to Cosmetics Design-Europe.
Many countries are establishing formal rules about how biodiversity is accessed for research and how the benefits from such research are shared. France, India, Mexico, Morocco, and South Africa are among those nations that have passed biodiversity laws. With such a rich and diverse environment, it is appropriate for Brazil to join them. Brazil’s natural resources hold untapped potential to bring the country economic benefit. In passing a new biodiversity law, Brazil’s government ensures that the country can not only reap those economic benefits, but also protect their source.