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May 9, 2010

EU Commission Does Not Oppose Request to Ban GM Crops From Madeira

The New York Times' Green Inc. Column reported on 9 May that the European Union Commission had not opposed a request by Portugal to allow Madeira to be "GM Crop Free."  Madeira is an archipelago of islands 500 kilometers off the coast of Africa that remains under the control of Portugal and is therefore a remote part of the European Union. 

In 2009, Portugal submitted a request to the EU Commission requesting this "unprecedented ban on growing biotech crops" and in early May 2010, the EU "quietly let the deadline pass for opposing Portugal’s request."  Madeira is now the first "E.U. territory to get formal permission from Brussels to remain entirely free of genetically modified organisms."

One of the motivations behind the ban was concern for the preservation of Madeira's natural resources including the forest of subtropical laurisilva (laurel) trees.  In 1999, the United Nations designated these a World Heritage Site.  Forests such as these were once common in the Mediterranean region of Europe but have been destroyed.

The New York Times cites an "internal [EU] memorandum seen by the International Herald Tribune that noted that "the deadline in the Madeira case pass[ed] without a formal assessment and more fanfare because that could create misunderstandings and send confusing signals at a time when Europe was reconsidering its approach to cultivating GMOs."

The New York Times also notes that this case marks an "unofficial beginning of a new — and potentially highly contentious — policy that would give European nations and regions far greater freedom to decide when to ban such crops."  This allows countries and regions that do wanted to plant [biotech crops] more freedom to do so.

"John Dalli, the E.U. commissioner for health and consumer affairs, is expected to present details of the new policy by summer, and he will almost certainly have the full backing of José Manuel Barroso, the president of the commission, who suggested the policy last year."

Photo Credit:  Satellite photo of the Island of Madeira (dark green patches are the protected laurel forests), courtesy of NASA.

Kanter, James. "E.U. Signals Big Shift on Genetically Modified Crops," New York Times, Green Inc. Column, 9 May 2010.

About Margaret


CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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