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Scotland Is Banning Genetically Modified Crops

Scotland’s rural affairs secretary says that he refuses to “gamble with the future of our £14 billion food and drink sector” and will request to opt-out of any European Union consents for the cultivation of genetically modified crops.

by Phoebe Hurst
Aug 11 2015, 12:15pm

Photo via Flickr user eleda 1

As debate over the labelling of genetically modified products rages in the United States and scientists express concern over the development of mosquito-eliminating "supercharged" GMOs, Scotland has taken a clear stand against genetically engineered foodstuffs.

Last week, Scottish rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead announced that he will request for Scotland to be excluded from any European consents for the cultivation of GM crops, saying that he refuses to "gamble with the future of our £14 billion food and drink sector."

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Lochhead told the Press Association: "Scotland is known around the world for our beautiful natural environment—and banning growing genetically modified crops will protect and further enhance our clean, green status."

As well as citing Scotland's image as a clean, green, farming machine as justification for the formal ban on GMOs, Lochhead added that there was "no evidence" of demand for genetically engineered crops among Scottish consumers, and that the government had longstanding concerns over their cultivation.

A recent European Union amendment means that member states and devolved administrations can restrict or ban the cultivation of GMOs in their territory. Lochhead's request to opt-out of EU crop consent, which allows GM crops to be grown after they have been formally authorised, would cover a variety of genetically modified maize and six other GM crops currently awaiting EU authorisation.

Lochhead's stated aim to protect Scotland's "clean" food and drink sector coincides with the recent rebrand of the county's edible output. Several Scottish tourism bodies have already designated 2015 as "The Scottish Year of Food and Drink," championing the country's seasonal produce and traditional dishes (and downplaying the whole deep-fried confectionary thing.)

As well as being seen to bolster Scotland's claim as a natural food destination, the GMO ban has been welcomed by environmental groups.

"If you are a whisky producer or breeding high quality beef, you ought to be worried if you don't want GM, but it is going to come to a field near you and you were worried that there was going to be some contamination. It is certainly in Scotland's interests to keep GM out of Scotland," said Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland.

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However the decision has been criticised by many Scottish farming groups, who argue that a ban on the cultivation of GMOs would put the country's farmers at a disadvantage and may impair crop sustainability.

National Farmers Union Scotland chief executive Scott Walker said: "Other countries are embracing biotechnology where appropriate and we should be open to doing the same here in Scotland," while Huw Jones, professor of molecular genetics at Rothamsted Research said that the decision marked a "sad day for science."

Indeed Scottish scientists have long taken a leading role in GM research, with the Scottish government's former chief scientific officer Dame Anne Glover being an outspoken advocate of GM crops. The Scottish government has not yet revealed whether the ban will extend to scientific research on GMOs, but a spokeswoman stated that "the contained use of GM plants is permitted for scientific purposes, for example in laboratories or sealed glasshouse facilities."

While the debate over GMOs' place on our dining tables is far off being resolved, it seems Scotland will no longer start its day with a bowl of genetically modified porridge oats.

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