INTERVIEW-Bulgaria repeats no GMO pledge, public unconvinced

* Ruling party pledges to keep GMO food out-minister

* Proposed 5-year ban on cultivation fails to calm fears

* Minister says cannot support organic farming in recession

SOFIA, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Bulgaria's farm minister reassured worried people on Wednesday that the government would not allow genetically modified (GM) food in shops but stopped short of saying whether Sofia would declare the Balkan country GM-free. Miroslav Naidenov told Reuters in an interview a five-year moratorium on cultivation of GM crops drafted by his ruling centre-right GERB party last week should be enough to soothe public fears provoked by new legislation.

But non-government organisations, farmers and citizens, who have rallied against GM crops in the past weeks, said in a statement the proposed moratorium was "a political PR and manipulation" aimed at bypassing public concerns.

They said they would stage a demonstration in front of parliament on Thursday to press deputies not to replace a ban on GM crop cultivation with a licensing regime.

The changes that sparked public fears envisage lifting a ban on growing GM crops for scientific and commercial reasons in the environment but the cultivation of such crops would only be possible with the authorisation of a special committee.

The new government, elected last July, has said the legal changes, approved by parliament at first reading, were aimed at complying with the EU laws and should be adopted along with the moratorium.

"The cultivation of such crops and their use to make food for people, which is now scaring the society, has never been an object of consideration," Naidenov said.

"This (moratorium) is a commitment of the ruling majority for five years, so far we have kept our promises and people must calm down. There are much more serious things (to worry about)."


Authorising GMOs for consumption, processing or cultivation in Europe is a politically charged subject with many openly hostile to what they call "Frankestein foods."

In Bulgaria, green groups, organic farmers and a number of political parties, including some of GERB's rightist allies in parliament, say Sofia must not liberalise its GMO legislation and give in to pressure from biotech and other industries.

The government has said it has not received any requests for cultivation of GM crops and denies any corporate pressure.

Critics argue GMOs threaten biodiversity, could contaminate conventional crops, and also pose a health risk.

Naidenov said as a consumer and parent he had "big concerns" about GMO food but added he was ready to listen to arguments of the biotech industry, too.

"For the time being, we...must not raise the issue at all and it is unacceptable to offer GMO food to people and GMO food to the Bulgarian market," he said.

"At the same time I hear the opinion of the other side. We cannot stop science and development. I do not accept calls to also stop experiments in laboratories."

Green groups have called on the government to support organic farming instead. But Naidenov said the government could not afford to set aside money in times of deepening recession for a sector that was unlikely to help raise competitiveness.

"It it is very important not to get carried away by fashion. Every lev must go for conventional farming in times of crisis particularly when we have huge reserves of unused potential." (Editing by James Jukwey)