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Sofia, 21 November 2003

EU Farm Commissioner Fischler sees “good progress” in Bulgaria's EU preparations

Speaking during his visit to Bulgaria today, Franz Fischler, EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries, expressed satisfaction with the good collaboration between the Bulgarian administration and the Commission. He encouraged Bulgaria to continue the transposition of the regulations of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). “It is our clear objective to welcome Bulgaria as a member of the EU in 2007. I would like to congratulate Bulgaria on the work achieved so far and on the good progress described in the last version of the Commission's Regular Report. In order to make headway in our accession negotiations, the Commission will make a proposal regarding key issues in agriculture, such as direct payments, reference quantities or rural development in 2004. The development of administrative capacity is of utmost importance. The SAPARD experience has to be maximised.

During his visit, Commissioner Fischler participated in a conference on organic farming in Plovdiv. Since 1998, organic farming in Europe has grown by some 30% per year. The market for organic produce is estimated to be growing even faster, and some of the EU's key consuming countries are still importing significant amounts of produce. “Bulgaria hopes to become Europe's organic food basket. From what I have seen so far, I have no doubt that there is considerable potential. Bulgaria, and indeed the Plovdiv region, is a good example of the potential that could be harvested from a switch to organic. You've got the right climate, you've got lower labour costs than the EU-15, and you've used relatively little fertiliser and pesticides over the last decade, all of which lends itself naturally to organic agriculture. And the political support and the ambition is there too. But rhetoric is not enough. I would urge Bulgaria to identify comprehensive strategies and regional action plans for the development and marketing of your organic sectors. This doesn't just mean promoting it amongst your farmers, it also means introducing consumer information campaigns as well, and letting the public know why these unique and consistently high quality products are worth paying the money for”, Mr Fischler stressed.

The Commissioner also addressed the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). “The issue of co-existence, and the importance of giving European farmers the “freedom to farm” has, quite rightly, provoked much debate, and it is another issue that the action plan will address. Whilst we in Europe are often quick to vilify biotechnology, there are no two ways about it - it is becoming more and more commonplace and, managed responsibly, it also has enormous potential.

I believe that the issue of co-existence is another example of where we in Brussels should step back a few paces to allow national and regional authorities to determine what is the most efficient and cost-effective method of preventing the admixture of GM and other crops. The measures taken must address regional specifics such as the location of farms, the crops involved, the local climatic conditions etc. There are also the legal aspects to consider.

The EU has no power when it comes to private liability law, so it is up to the Member States to explore the possibility of providing insurance schemes that cater for the accidental admixture of GM and non-GM crops”, Mr Fischler concluded.

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