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Anti-GM crop petition tops million signatures

by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) Oct 6, 2010
More than one million signatures have been gathered in a legal bid to "freeze" GM crop cultivation in the European Union, but a Brussels official said Wednesday the complaint would be passed to "political" advisers.

Environmental campaigners Greenpeace and Avaaz announced that the online petition target had been crossed, seeking to use a new citizen charter created under the European Union's Lisbon Treaty to put authorisations on hold.

However, the leading expert on the European parliament committee handling questions surrounding GM farming, German Green lawmaker Gerald Hafner said there could be a legal challenge.

Under Lisbon, if a million citizens from a broad base of EU countries lend their names to moves to change the law, the European Commission, the bloc's day-to-day executive, is obliged to consider the grievance.

The idea was to bring Europe closer to the people.

Campaigners were planning to hand the petition file -- launched in March -- to commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso on Wednesday, and are specifically seeking a moratorium while independent ethical and scientific experts consider the impact of GM cultivation.

"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," said Ricken Patel of Avaaz.

"The commission cannot ignore them," added Greenpeace's Jorgo Riss.

It could take until the spring of next year to obtain a formal response from the commission, with an EU source suggesting that the role of Greenpeace could undermine the citizen provision in the eyes of some opponents.

Another official at the commission admitted that Brussels "cannot ignore" such a large protest but said there could be no freeze on existing procedures while it was examined.

Said Frederic Vincent, spokesman for EU health commissioner John Dalli: "It's out of the question to halt the processes for authorising cultivation or commercialisation."

Fifteen GM crops are currently seeking authorisation. Environment ministers from around the EU will try next week to settle controversial commission plans allowing individual EU nations to opt out of cultivation in exchange for not blocking crops' development on other territories.

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