Scottish Daily Mail
GM ban could harm food and drug research, experts warn
SCOTLAND risks missing out on the development of vital new drugs and foodstuffs because of a ban on genetically modified crops, experts will warn today.
some of the biggest names in european science have demanded an urgent meeting with snP ministers after uniting to condemn the prohibition.
The scottish government has said that it is not prepared to ‘gamble with the future’ of the food and drink sector.
But in an open letter to Food and environment secretary Richard lochhead, leading advocates of gM outlined the consequences of the ban, which comes after two decades in which scotland has played a pioneering research role.
The letter, signed by the renowned Rowett Institute of nutrition and Health among other big names in the scientific community, states: ‘Your announcement that the scottish government proposes to ban cultivation of all gM crops, regardless of current or future scientific evidence about the benefits of particular applications, risks constraining scotland’s contribution to research and leaving scotland without access to agricultural innovations which are making farming more sustainable elsewhere in the world.
‘As you and others have indicated, this decision is political and not based on any informed scientific assessment of risk.’
Adding that it is an approach that ‘surprises and disappoints many s ci entists and nonscientists’, it points to research on such problems as potato blight and tree diseases.
The letter asks if scientists will now be ‘prevented from making further contributions in future’, and goes on: ‘By banning (gM crops) this country would be prevented from benefiting from future innovations in agriculture, fisheries and healthcare and consigned to continued use of the old. we are thus extremely concerned about the potential negative effect on science in scotland.’
Until this year, eU countries were subject to rules restricting gM crop growing. But after the restrictions were eased in January, scotland has chosen to opt out. The Uk government is among those pushing for more freedom to experiment with gM crops and eventually approve their cultivation.
The scottish government’s stance has been condemned by farming union nFU scotland as well Professor Muffy Calder, the snP administration’s former chief science adviser.
Professor Calder, who stood down in December and has not yet been replaced, has said the ‘ apocalyptic’ decision could threaten scotland’s £14billion food and drink industry.
The gM ban, she said, had left her ‘disappointed and angry’ and did not appear to be based on ‘scientific evidence’.
Mr lochhead said: ‘I will be happy to meet representatives of the science community and reassure them that these changes will not affect research as it is currently carried out in scotland, where the contained use of gM plants is permitted for scientific purposes, such as in laboratories or sealed glasshouse facilities. However, just because gM crops can be cultivated in scotland it doesn’t mean they should be.
‘we respect the views of those in the scientific community who support the development of gM technology and the debate on the future of gM will no doubt continue. However, scotland’s £14billion food sector has a reputation for a clean and green image across the world and allowing the cultivation of gM crops could damage that unique selling point.’
‘Disappointed and angry’