• A POSTnote on the international treaty on plant genetic resources, will look at optimising crops for agriculture.
  • It will examine how regulating information from selective breeding and ‘omics’ technologies, could promote sustainable and fair crop production.
  • This POSTnote has now been published.

The objectives of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture are the conservation and sustainable use of all plant genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of their use. However, technologies and methods for synthesising genetic materials are raising questions about the applicability of governance regimes for plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) that were established primarily to deal with the exchange of material genetic resources. Technologies for generating and analysing large quantities of genotypic, phenotypic and environmental data are evolving at accelerating rates; so too are technologies and methods for synthesising genetic materials. This ‘omics’ revolution in the biological sciences has considerable disruptive potential for changing the flows of information, the nature of partnerships, and the range of products and benefits that can be generated through PGR conservation and applied plant breeding. A range of collaborations and open‐access data repositories have recently been criticised for facilitating uses of genomic data in ways that allow commercial users to take advantage of genetic resources without having to share their benefits as prescribed by international access and benefit‐sharing laws. The laws in question require users to share monetary benefits in exchange for access to, and use of, material genetic resources in the development of new commercial products; they do not extend in scope to genetic sequence information. Governments of developing countries and NGOs are calling for new international obligations that would have significant implications for the way in which research and development in the agricultural sector is perceived and conducted.

A POSTnote on this subject will summarise current debates around PGFRA and the relevant technologies, and the possible future options for governance