Scottish Daily Mail

GM ban could harm food and drug research, experts warn

- By Alan Simpson Scottish Business Editor

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’

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