How do we ensure that genetic material for vaccines and viruses, which could help fight the current threat of Mexican swine flu, are transferred and shared effectively? The material used to develop a vaccine could be transferred by using a Standard Material Transfer Agreement (“SMTA”) of the International Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (the “International Treaty”) – despite the material being used neither for food nor for animal feed.
However, many developed nations, including the United States (which incidentally is not party to the International Treaty) have objected to the use of the SMTA claiming that it’s broad provisions lead to unacceptable delays during times when a serious health threat is posed. This has meant that a considerable amount of material has been distributed without the use of an SMTA.
Developing countries fear their natural resources may be used to create a vaccine, but then the benefits will not be shared with them. Or, an additional risk could be that materials given to the World Health Organization (“WHO”) with the intent to prevent a pandemic could be transferred to private companies for the manufacture of vaccines and then perhaps used for different purposes.
Despite objections being made by some countries regarding the use of the SMTA in the sharing of viruses, the WHO Secretariat is already exploring this possibility, and is considering whether there are any lessons to learn from the use of an SMTA in access and sharing of benefits within the multilateral system of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture created by the International Treaty.
The question is: despite these specific reasons for not wanting to use the SMTA, is it not true that something should anyway be done to the language of the document as it is too broad?
The original blog post was written by Francesca Re Manning with contributions from Peter Munyi. Both Francesca and Peter are consultants to CAS-IP.