Банкеръ Weekly

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NO ADMITTANCE FOR THE IGNORANT IN GENETICS

LAW ON GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS TO BE DISCUSSED ON SECOND READINGNo admittance for the ignorant in geometry, read a sign above the entrance of Plato's Academy in Ancient Greece. The Ancient Greeks obviously realized that men possessing lower degree of knowledge were not entitled to some particularly responsible occupations. Today a similar text, though slightly modified, should be placed at the entrance of the Bulgarian Parliament when discussing the so-called bill on genetically modified organisms. And because the ignorant have always prevailed in everything in Bulgaria, the discussion regarding the second reading of the bill in the parliamentary Commission on the Environment and Waters, dragged on for more than half a year. The bill was voted by the MPs at first reading back on December 12, 2003. Since then nearly all provisions of the future law have caused arguments and disagreements in the commission.Most people do not make a difference between genetically modified organisms, which are products of gene engineering, and mutants. The issue provides fertile soil for populism and has been brilliantly exploited almost everywhere in the world. TV and cinema screens abound in horror films about genetically created monsters which conquer our planet, and in mass media you could find titles like Mutant Foods Legalized, while environmentalists from various NGOs (which easily turn into anti-government), predict apocalyptic pictures. Work on the above-mentioned bill began in 1998 with the participation of a number of experts and continued until it was moved for discussion to Parliament on July 23, 2003. The draft was not bad, experts claim, but it did not really guarantee the safety we aim at. The passing of such a law is an explicit requirement of the European Union (EU), included in Directive 2001/18/ of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, dated March 12, 2001. On 64 pages it regulates everything, related to the intentional release of genetically modified organisms in the environment. Its stipulations are practically imperative and it could be said without exaggeration that the Bulgarian draft bill strictly follows them. Its main aim is to guarantee that the presence of genetically modified organisms in the country is absolutely risk-free both for the environment and people's health. A key moment in the draft bill is the fact that the State's policy in the sphere of genetically modified organisms shall not be set by the Government, but by two ministers - of the environment and of agriculture. The PM from the NMSII Teodora Litrova and Svetlin Belchilov failed to impose their proposal that this delicate matter should be entrusted to the Council of Ministers. A special consultative commission will be set at the ministry of environment to advise the minister whether certain genetically modified organisms could be released in nature and on the market. However, the minister will have the last say. The draft bill was considerably improved between the first and the second reading, MP Evdokiya Maneva claims. In her words, they guarantee there will be no uncontrolled release of genetically modified organisms in Bulgaria. For example, the members of the expert commission will give their stances only in written in order to furnish documentary evidence fro their proposals that will be the basis for the ministers' decisions. The latter will not be authorized to make a decision for the release of genetically modified organisms without a positive stance from the commission. As a precautionary measure, the position of the commission will be taken with full consensus. Even if a single member disagrees with its stance, it won't be released. Another important detail is that the commission won't have the right to extend a positive stance for the release of a genetically modified organism into the environment if there are restrictions in the EU. Moreover, the MPs made a list of cultures with which any gene experiments are forbidden. The list includes the oil-bearing rose, cotton, wheat, all sorts of fruits and vegetables... Practically, the major spectre of agricultural products is excluded from the sphere of work with genetically modified products. The fines, projected in the bill are quite pretty high. The release of a genetically modified organism in the environment without a permission is sanctioned by a fine of BGN10,000 to BGN50,000, and in some cases could even reach BGN60,000.Genetically modified organisms will be controlled by a special laboratory with the Ministry of the Environment and waters. According to some deputies, this is wrong. These are not the standard chemical laboratories, which are at the disposal of the ministry, Ms. Maneva explained. Such labs are very expensive and they work on the basis of serious scientific experiments that could be effected by highly qualified experts alone. We do not possess the necessary equipment. The right decision would had been to authorize either a lab with the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences or with a scientific institute. It could be a private lab as well. Now, due to purely populist considerations, an absolutely helpless administrative structure will be set up, Ms. Maneva added.

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