Brussels, International — Less than seven months ago, Avaaz and Greenpeace started collecting signatures for an unprecedented EU-wide citizens’ initiative aimed at the European Commission and calling for a moratorium on GM crops until safety testing is improved. On 28 September the target of one million signatories was hit, and signatures continue to pour in from across Europe.
A passerby in front of a Greenpeace banner reading "Keep our food safe! Stop GMOs" during an action in front of the Council against GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
The petition is the first to be presented as a 'citizens' initiative', a principle enshrined in the EU Lisbon Treaty since December 2009 allowing one million European citizens to formally request that the Commission take legislative steps to address their demands. The more than one million signatures come from every country in the EU and reflect the dominant public opposition to GM crops. 
Avaaz Executive Director Ricken Patel said: "This is a massive step for European democracy. European citizens have given President Barroso more than a million reasons to listen to the public and act with precaution rather than cave to the private interests of the GM industry. Europeans are deeply concerned that a handful of GM companies are determining Europe's agricultural future, and have embraced the new 'citizens initiative' to re-insert a democratic voice into EU food and farm policy."
Avaaz and Greenpeace are informing Commission President José Manuel Barroso of the successful initiative today and request a personal handover of the petition and signatures in the coming weeks. The organisations expect the Commission to act swiftly to address the concerns of European citizens, EU governments and independent scientists. As well as calling for a moratorium on all new approvals of GM crops until the EU authorisation system is strengthened, the initiative calls for the establishment of "an independent, ethical, scientific body" to assess the impact of GM crops. 
Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss said: "People from all corners of Europe know that GM crops are bad for food and farming. Europeans are fed up with Barroso's Commission pushing through GM crops in the face of public rejection - the Commission cannot ignore them. The strong support for this citizens' initiative shows that Europeans want to see a moratorium on GM crops until scientific and ethical problems are solved."
The initiative was launched following the authorisation by the Commission of a BASF antibiotic-resistant GM potato in March. This decision disregarded a unanimous request by European countries in December 2008 to strengthen environmental safety testing and address the impacts of GM crops on the lives of farmers and consumers.  Several countries are now taking the Commission to the European Court of Justice over its decision to authorise the GM potato. 
To go to the petition:
http://www.avaaz.org/en/eu_gmo/ or www.greenpeace.org/gepetition
 In the only European-wide poll on public opposition to GM crops, almost 60% of Europeans expressed their concern. Eurobarometer (2007), p. 65: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_295_en.pdf
 Recent revelations in the French media have cast serious doubt on the independence, integrity and scientific authority of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which is at the centre of EU safety assessments on GM crops. According to the reports, Diana Bànàti, president of the EFSA board since 2006, had hidden her previous senior role at the International Life Science Institute, a lobbying organisation which includes several biotechnology companies, such as Monsanto and BASF. For more information, see: http://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2010/09/29/la-presidente-de-l-autorite-europeenne-de-securite-des-aliments-appartient-a-un-lobby-industriel_1417442_3244.html
 On 26 September, several EU ministers questioned the legality of a Commission proposal to grant European countries the right to ban GM crops within their borders without improving safety testing. But EU legal experts have questioned the legal strength of these bans, exposing the Commission’s intentions to use the proposal to circumvent national opposition to GM crops and concerns on their effects. See: http://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/press-centre/press-releases2/agriculture-ministers-discuss-GM-reform-27-09-10
 The original legal challenge was lodged by Hungary in May. Austria, Luxembourg, Poland and France have since announced that they are backing the challenge.