Bulgaria parliament bans GMO crops to soothe fears

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s parliament voted on Thursday to tighten a law that effectively banned cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops for scientific and commercial reasons in response to public fears.

The ruling center-right GERB party decided to drop a planned moratorium on GMO production because the new law would keep the European Union member GMO-free, deputies said.

Non-government organizations, farmers and citizens have rallied for over two months against the government’s initial plans to replace a ban with a licensing regime, which they feared would flood the poorest EU member with GMO crops.

The protesters and a number of political parties, including some of GERB’s rightist allies in parliament, had said biotech and other industries were behind the planned regime ease and called on the government not to give in to corporate pressure.

Growing public resistance forced the ruling party, elected last July, to abandon its initial plan, saying it only aimed to comply with the EU legislation.

“There will be no field on the country’s territory where GMOs can be cultivated,” Kostadin Yazov of GERB’s parliamentary group, said.

Authorizing GMOs for consumption, processing or cultivation in Europe is a politically charged subject with many openly hostile to what they call “Frankenstein foods.”

A March survey by state-funded pollster NPOC showed 97 percent of Bulgarians wanted their country to be GMO free.

The new law bans GMO cultivation in nature protected areas and large buffer zones around those areas and fields with organic crops which effectively means scientific experiments and commercial cultivation will be impossible in the Balkan country.

The amendments also forbid growing crops approved by the European Commission such as the genetically modified potato, Amflora, developed by German chemical maker BASF, and three genetically modified maize types, made by U.S. biotech firm Monsanto.

Under the law, fines for perpetrators were raised to up to one million levs ($698,300). Protesters said they were happy with the new law.

Bulgaria’s parliament also approved tighter regulations for labeling products with GMO contents after checks by the health ministry showed that hundreds of food products had such ingredients above the allowed quantity.

Editing by James Jukwey