Scottish ministers are planning to formally ban genetically modified crops from being grown in Scotland, widening a policy divide with the Conservative government in London.
Ministers in Edinburgh are to apply to use recent EU powers that allow devolved administrations to opt out of a more relaxed regime, which is expected to increase commercial use of GM crops around the EU.
Backed by agribusiness, scientific bodies and the National Farmers Union, ministers in London have already signaled that they plan to allow commercial cultivation of GM crops such as maize and oilseed rape in England, despite significant resistance from consumers and environmental groups.
The Scottish government announcement on Sunday did not say whether this new legal power would extend to a ban on scientific and experimental research, but a spokeswoman confirmed that laboratory research on GMOs would continue.
Scottish scientists, including those at the James Hutton Institute and the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, have taken a leading role in GM research. The Scottish government’s former chief scientific officer, Dame Anne Glover, who became the European commission’s chief scientific adviser before the position was abolished, is a keen advocate of GM crops.
The spokeswoman for the Scottish government said:
“These changes would not affect research as it is currently carried out in Scotland, where the contained use of GM plants is permitted for scientific purposes, for example in laboratories or sealed glasshouse facilities.’’
“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.”
Richard Lochhead, the Scottish government’s minister for the environment, food and rural affairs.
“There is no evidence of significant demand for GM products by Scottish consumers and I am concerned that allowing GM crops to be grown in Scotland would damage our clean and green brand, thereby gambling with the future of our £14 billion ($22 billion) food and drink sector.”