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June 01, 2005

Nellie McAdams

Ecologic Institute, Berlin, Germany


I received a PILP Summer Stipend to intern with an international, environmental think tank Ecologic in Berlin, Germany. Specifically, I researched the role that the FAO’s new treaty, the ITPGRFA (International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture), might play in the existing international, intellectual property system. The ITPGRFA creates and provides an enforcement mechanism for an international benefit-sharing system for the plant genetic material of 56 staple crops for food and fodder. Many of the parties to the ITPGRFA had formerly allowed individuals to claim exclusive rights to the commercialization and use of such genetic information by means of intellectual property rights. Without such a treaty, plant breeders using this IP system often prevented farmers, especially small farmers in developing nations, from having free access to seeds, which, ironically, often originated in developing countries.

The European Commission hired Ecologic to recommend policies that would promote international sustainable development. My work package within this project was to identify possible synergies between the existing international treaties (especially those concerning IP, such as TRIPS) and the ITPGRFA that developing nations could use to reap the greatest benefit from the ITPGRFA at the least cost. To that end, I researched the functions and interrelations of international treaties and organizations, applied the purposes and infrastructural requirements of the ITPGRFA to this existing network, and began a series of expert interviews to determine the course that developing countries should take in implementing ITPGRFA. The project is ongoing, but for more information on Ecologic see www.ecologic.de

I am eternally grateful to PILP for giving me the opportunity to sample a work experience in the field of law that interests me most – environmental, agricultural law. Before my internship, the adjective “international” would also have modified my interest in law as well. However, while researching international governance I discovered that I prefer working directly with small communities to manipulating the (often impotent) international treaties that affect those communities. Through local actions, hope to achieve farther-reaching impacts on public consciousness.