First European Citizens’ Initiative delivered to Commissioner Dalli

A million Europeans demand a moratorium on genetically modified crops

Press release - December 9, 2010
Brussels, Belgium — Today, Avaaz and Greenpeace delivered the first ever Citizens’ Initiative inspired by the Lisbon Treaty to Health Commissioner John Dalli. Since December 2009, the citizen’s right of initiative is enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty, allowing a million citizens from a significant number of member states to ask the European Commission to change European law [1].

Europe's health commissioner John Dalli takes a barrage of questions from the press after receiving the petition from Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss (right) and Avaaz campaign director Alice Jay (middle)

Avaaz and Greenpeace have collected over a million verifiable signatures from all 27 member states, based on the ECI criteria proposed by the Commission. The petition calls on the Commission to ban genetically modified (GM) crops until a new independent, ethical, scientific body is established to assess their impact. This echoes a unanimous demand by the 27 member states' environment ministers in 2008 [2] and is aimed at replacing the widely-criticised European Food Safety Authority [3].

The petition was launched in March following the Commission's approval of an antibiotic-resistant GM potato, despite significant scientific concerns and disregarding dominant public opposition to GM crops [4]. Several countries are now taking the Commission to the European Court of Justice over its decision to authorise the GM potato [5].

Avaaz Executive Director Ricken Patel said: "This is a massive step for European democracy. European citizens have given the Commission more than a million reasons to listen to the public and act with precaution rather than cave to the private interests of a handful of GM companies who are influencing Europe's agricultural future. We expect the Commission to seriously consider and address the concerns of European citizens, EU governments and independent scientists. The massive and rapid response shows that citizens are excited to engage with this new democratic instrument to re-insert a democratic voice into EU policy."

Greenpeace European Unit director Jorgo Riss said: "With this initiative, over a million people across Europe have set the EU a clear democratic test. The question is whether the EU will address real concerns on GM crops or whether it will take the side of the chemical industry lobbyists. Europeans expect safe food and sustainable farming. The EU is still unable to guarantee this. Until safety issues of GMOs are examined by independent experts, all GMO authorisations should stop."

European Parliament lead rapporteur, MEP Gerald Haefner, said: "The Lisbon Treaty has handed citizens the right of initiative. I'm glad to see they are already making use of it, as the Avaaz/Greenpeace petition shows. The ball is now in the court of the European Commission, which should give this GMO petition the political attention it deserves as the first European Citizens' Initiative since the treaty came into force."

To mark the handover, Avaaz and Greenpeace met today with Commissioner Dalli to inspect a giant 3D farm field created by the world-famous pavement artist Kurt Wenner in front of the European Commission's Berlaymont building headquarters. ENDS

A Q&A briefing is available here.      To view the petition, click here.

Other contacts:

Brianna Cayo Cotter +0032 470 636677,
Alice Jay  +34 608 934971,


[1] Since entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, a million citizens may sign a petition inviting the Commission to submit a proposal. This is the citizens’ right of initiative. To date, the EU institutions have not yet finalised the procedures for the application of this initiative. However, the citizens’ right of initiative is directly applicable, according to a legal opinion by Professor Ludwig Kramer (College of Europe, University College London, University of Bremen). The opinion is available here.">">here.

[2] The Environment Council unanimously voted to require the Commission to substantially strengthen the EU’s GM risk assessment procedure.

[3] EFSA’s failings are many. In 2008 it signed a two-year mandate to improve its knowledge on the long-term environmental risk assessment of GM plants, publicly acknowledging its inability to fulfill legal requirements. In 2004, EFSA classified antibiotics affected by GM potato Amflora as having “no or only minor therapeutic relevance in human medicine.” In 2005, the World Health Organisation classified the same anti-bacterials as “critically">">“critically important”, a position confirmed by the European">">European Medicines Agency. EFSA’s independence is frequently called into question. Most recently, president of the board Diana Bànàti was recently forced to resign a senior role at the International Life Science Institute (ILSI), a lobbying organisation which includes several biotechnology companies. For more information, click here.">">here.

[4] This October, the EU’s own public opinion polls revealed that opposition to GM food had risen again, to 61% (Eurobarometer).">">Eurobarometer).

[5] The original legal challenge on the approval of the GM potato was lodged by Hungary in May. Austria, Luxembourg, Poland and France have since announced that they are backing the challenge.