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by Liam Kirkaldy
24 September 2015
SNP faces criticism over GM ban

SNP faces criticism over GM ban

The SNP has faced further criticism over its decision to ban Genetically Modified (GM) crops, following a report from the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) warning the move was made “without expert scientific advice”.

First Minister’s Questions (FMQs) saw Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson question the scientific basis for the ban, saying it was based in “vote chasing” rather than expert advice.

The FM responded by listing the other European states – including Germany – which followed Scotland’s lead in banning GM crops, while arguing the move will protect the reputation of Scotland’s food and drinks industry.

The exchange in FMQs followed an advice paper from the RSE, calling for “a rational debate” on the ban, with the Society pointing out Genetic Modification could lead to lower use of pesticides, while higher yielding crops could offer a solution to increasing global population.

It also warned the ban could impact on the level of scientific research being carried out in Scotland and Scotland’s ability to attract and retain pioneering researchers.

The paper says: “Recognising that GM technology is a contentious subject, the RSE is concerned that the Scottish Government announcement included emotive language likely to fuel negative public perceptions. In addition, there is disappointment that the announcement was presumptive; assuming hostile public opinion despite the latest evidence which shows that acceptability of GM foods is increasing.

“The RSE is also concerned that the proposal was apparently made without expert scientific advice. This, the RSE believes, could mean that opportunities presented by GM technologies are not taken into account.”

In FMQs, Davidson said: “This is not just about GM crops – this is about her approach to government. It’s vote-chasing, political calculation – it’s not science, not industry and not jobs.

“But in this case there was no prior consultation with Scotland’s scientific community, the food and drink sector or the farming industry.

She added: “If the First Minister is so confident of the advice she based her decision on, then she should publish it.

“I suspect there’s far more polling and focus grouping than scientific papers.”

But while Davidson questioned the ban, the Scottish Green party welcomed it, while urging the Scottish Government to go further on labelling to provide consumers with clarity about products from animals fed on GM crops.

Patrick Harvie MSP said: “The RSE has an important voice in this debate, particularly at a time when the post of Chief Scientific Advisor has been vacant for so long. Their paper raises important questions, but we must remember that this question isn’t only a matter of science. GM technology has economic and social consequences which must be addressed, as well as the environmental factors.

“The economic consequences of GM technology are likely to involve even greater corporate control of the food chain than we see today. Allowing a few multinational companies to research and produce such crops - often the same companies selling fertilisers and pesticides to our farmers - would tip the balance too far in their favour. Their aim will always be profit, not tackling food poverty or inequality.

“Consumers have been let down too many times by governments, regulators and industry resulting in successive crises which have undermined public trust. Scotland has an economic opportunity to pursue conventional and organic food production in a way that reduces environmental impacts, supports small independent producers, and provides high quality products for local consumption as well as export.”

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