Bulgarian GMO protesters:
Third world war comes in your plate

SOFIA, Bulgaria, March 25, 2004 (ENS): Bulgarians worried about the environmental and public health impacts of genetically modified crops and foods brought their concerns to the front door of the National Parliament in Sofia today, while inside legislators were hearing the second reading of the Draft Law on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

"The Third World War comes in your plate," they argue, fearful that the liberalization of GMOs will have adverse consequences for "the agriculture, environment, health and social and economic life in the country."

On February 12, the draft law passed first reading. The legislation sets up a commission to regulate the release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment of Bulgaria, and permits genetically engineered foods on the market using European Union standards. Both the environment and agriculture ministries would have some oversight of genetically modified crops.

No vote was taken on the legislation today.

Organizers of the demonstration, the Bulgaria Free of Genetically Modified Organisms Coalition, are demanding a moratorium on any decisions about introducing genetically modified crops and foods into the country at least until Bulgaria joins the European Union.

Bulgaria will not be one of the 10 countries that will join the European Union on May 1, but Bulgaria is on track to become an EU member in the near future.

The European Union last year adopted new laws in preparation for the introduction of genetically engineered crops and foods. Two new EU laws will come into force on April 18. One of them will lift the moratorium and the other will introduce strict rules on the tracing and the labeling of genetically modified components in foods.

Before Bulgaria can become an EU member, the candidate country must bring its own laws into harmony with existing EU law.

The most recent EU assessment of Bulgarian progress towards accession comes in a report by the European Commission to the Council of Ministers in November 2003.

The Commission says that in the field of foodstuffs Bulgaria has adopted all EU laws up to the year 2000 and now needs to adopt EU laws passed from 2001 onwards, improve its training programs, to implement hazard analysis and control, and to upgrade its laboratories. "More efforts are needed to ensure appropriate control of genetically modified and novel food," the Commission wrote.

The demonstrators say that the draft law being considered by Parliament is imperfect and that "its many gaps could lead to risks and dangers for the people and environment."

Scientists, Green Party politicians, and representatives of environmental organizations, united under the coalition slogan of "Bulgaria - GMO Free Zone," say the draft law was developed under the influence of multinational corporations.

They say that if the law is passed Bulgaria would be used as a testing place for genetically modified organisms and a "Trojan horse" for the supply of genetically modified foods and crops in Europe.

The demonstrators are insisting that the law must protect Bulgarian citizens and nature, rather than multinational business interests. Their concerns parallel those of citizens across the European Union who have continued to resist transgenic foods despite government reassurances.

Under the Bulgarian draft law, licenses to work with GMOs will be issued after risk assessment under EU standards, Professor Atanas Atanasov from the Agrarian Biological Institute of the Ministry of Agriculture told the Bulgarian News Network on March 7.

Atanasov said the assessment would make sure that GMO creation, testing and commercialization would not endanger human health and the environment.

Last September Atanasov told a meeting of EU and Eastern European scientists that the first Bulgarian genetically modified crops will be ready by 2007. Most probably they will be tomatoes, alfalfa, barley, and tobacco, modified to make them more resilient to diseases, pests and pollution, he explained.

Laboratory tests were nearing completion, he said then, and the modified varieties must still be field tested.


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