Natural Science Collections and Access and Benefit Sharing



Genetic resources (e.g. animals, plants, microorganisms) are a key element of the work of CETAF members. To know the Origin of these genetic resources is important: not only for countries that provide genetic resources and have the sovereignty over the material found within their borders, but also for collections that store them or researchers using them. If genetic resources are utilised, benefits arising should be shared in a fair and equitable manner between providers and users. Many countries have laws setting out conditions under which access to genetic resources is granted. The international legal framework for the benefit sharing as well as the access to genetic resources is provided by the Nagoya Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which entered into force in 2014.

The Nagoya Protocol creates incentives to use genetic resources sustainably and therefore conserve biodiversity. The EU is a Party to the Nagoya Protocol, and the provisions of the EU Regulation on ABS and its Implementing Regulation apply to all Member States. All home countries of CETAF members – EU-Member States, Norway and Switzerland - are also Party to the Nagoya Protocol.

CETAF supports the aims of the CBD, the Nagoya Protocol, the CBD’s Global Taxonomy Initiative and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

ABS and Natural History Collections

Proper documentation of samples stored in CETAF collections is a prerequisite not only for good collection management, but also for a key feature for good referenced research collections. Linking permits, such as research or collecting permits with specimens is part of the routines in CETAF collections. This applies to material acquired by all means, such as collecting, donations, bequests and purchases. Access and Benefit-Sharing (ABS) requirements are adding a new dimension, as utilisation of collection material now needs to be recorded. Also, the exact ways in which collection material can be used under agreed permits, e.g. loaning, sequencing, publication of results, needs to be considered. Documentation is of particular importance for material collected after October 2014 when the Nagoya Protocol came into force, since the collection-holding institution or researchers using the collections may be called on to make a declaration to their national Checkpoint including reference to relevant ABS information.

CETAF members are currently implementing systems to record and link a range of information to individual specimens and samples: the terms and conditions under which the specimen was accessed, any uses that might be prohibited by the conditions or trigger benefit sharing, any benefits shared, and supply to third parties (e.g. loans). 

The EU ABS regulation is of utmost importance to natural history collections and the associated research carried out at CETAF institutions, since it affects the way both are organised. 


CETAF Code of Conduct and Best Practices

CETAF members have been engages in ABS matters since at least 2000. Not only as a response to Article 20 in the Nagoya Protocol, and Articles 8 and 13 of the European Regulation on compliance measures for users from the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilisation in the Union, CETAF Members have developed and adopted a Code of Conduct for Access and Benefit-Sharing (ABS). The principles and practices stated in the Code of Conduct are also designed to fully support CETAF members’ operations as taxonomic collection-holding and non-commercial biological research institutions in complying with ABS legal and ethical requirements.

All member institutions have agreed to implement the CETAF Code of Conduct & Best Practices which was developed by CETAF’s Legislations and Regulations Liaison Group. That means for example that in order to obtain prior informed consent, CETAF members will provide a full explanation of the purposes for which biological material will be used and how genetic resources may be utilised. It will subsequently take any steps reasonably possible to ensure that the biological material was acquired in accordance with the applicable law.Cover CETAF Code of Coduct on ABS

Due to the not-for-profit nature of the work of CETAF members, benefits arising from their research are mostly non-monetary. Hence, benefit-sharing typically involves non-monetary benefits, such as scientific training, education, capacity building, technology transfer, collaboration on scientific work programmes and the mutual sharing of research results and publications.


In addition to the best practices, the downloadable annexes include a use statement, a glossary, a list of monetary and non-monetary benefits, practical advice for ABS management in museums, herbaria, and botanic gardens, templates for different material transfer agreements, and a data use statement. 



Recognition of the CETAF Code of Conduct and Best Practice

On 10 May 2019 with a decision by the European Commission, the CETAF Code of Conduct and best practices have officially been recognised as the first best practice on ABS.

CETAF had submitted its set of best practices for official recognition to the European Commission in 2015, revised it following first assessment received and re-submitted it on the 30th November 2016. The Code of Conduct and Best Practices provides the overall framework to guide practitioners and researchers within the CETAF community (and those following the same principles) in complying with ABS requirements in their daily work.  “Best practices" in the sense of the ABS Regulation (Art. 8) are procedures, tools or mechanisms, developed and overseen by associations of users or other interested parties, which – when effectively implemented – help users of genetic resources to comply with the obligations of the EU ABS Regulation. Since the document has been recognised by the European Commission, it was included in a dedicated register of best practices as the first and so far only entry.

The Global Genome Biodiversity Network (GGBN) has aligned its practices to the CETAF Code of Conduct & Best Practices.


Guidance Documents

A guidance document on the scope of the EU ABS Regulation was adopted on 22 August 2016 and published in the Official Journal on 27 August 2016. A report on utilisation practices among the upstream actors (collections, researchers at universities, etc), prepared by a contractor, was one of the many elements that fed into this guidance document. Additional sectorial guidance documents on Cosmetics, Animal Breeding, Plant Breeding, Biocontrol, Pharmaceuticals, Food and Feed, Biotechnologies have been drafted and discussed while two others, specifically addressing Research and Collections, are currently under development.

ABS Consultation Forum

CETAF, via the General Secretariat and the CETAF Legislations and Regulations Liaison Group, made an application to join the European Commission ABS Consultation Forum (accepted on the 21 December 2015). Representatives attended the first meeting of the forum on 21 January 2016, and the second meeting on 6 March 2017.

The ABS Consultation Forum is providing advice and expertise to the European Commission and its Directorate-General for Environment in relation to the implementation of ABS legislation and is facilitating coordination with Member States and multiple stakeholders on this issue. 

Being a member of the ABS Consultation Forum, CETAF is in a prime position to comment and raise awareness among other stakeholders and the Member States of the importance of collections and the research carried out on them, as a means to broaden scientific knowledge of biodiversity and natural resources. Members of the CETAF community will be engaged in the development of drafts for specific Guidance Documents on both Research and Collections.


The Nagoya Protocol (NP), and the EU Regulation to implement it, have now been in force for more than three years, and the number of countries party to the Protocol has exceeded 100. CETAF members are managing the requirements of the Protocol in various ways, including through implementing the CETAF Code of Conduct and using the tools developed by the CETAF ABS team.

To present the CoC and Best Practices, to debate key elements of the ABS workflow and share experiences, questions and ideas on how to implement best practices, and to discuss particular ABS issues, including declarations under the EU Regulation and the developing guidance documents form the Commission, CETAF regularly offers training excercises. Training material will be available for download here.