The Scottish Government has been slammed for threatening the livelihoods of farmers after Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing demanded Scotland’s ban on growing genetically modified (GM) crops be retained post-Brexit.
Mr Ewing wrote to Defra Secretary Michael Gove to make the request, claiming the commercial success of the Scottish food and drink industry was built on the country’s reputation for quality, provenance and its ‘natural larder’.
The decision to ban the crops in 2015 was criticised at the time by scientists and NFU Scotland, with the then vice-president and current president, Andrew McCornick, worried about how Scottish farmers would compete with the rest of Britain if it allowed them to be grown.
In his letter to the Defra Secretary, Mr Ewing said he was concerned about the emphasis Mr Gove placed on science being at the root of environmental policy, not evidence.
“Science is indeed an important driver of innovation in delivering agricultural and environmental outcomes”, it read.
“However, there are many types of evidence, of which science is one, which are important to consider in any policy development, for example socio-economic evidence.”
Peter Chapman, the Scottish Conservative Shadow Rural Economy Secretary, told Farmers Guardian the ban was a ‘political decision’ which could put Scottish farmers out of business.
“The argument here is not about Brexit”, he said.
“There are already countries within the EU which allow GM. This is a UK issue, not an EU issue.
“It will have to be resolved, however, as Scotland’s farming industry would not remain competitive if England and Wales chose to go down a different route.
“One example would be if GM blight-resistant potatoes were developed – something which is actively being pursued.
“The Scottish seed potato sector would simply not survive if they were cultivated elsewhere and we continued with the ban on GM crops.”
NFU Scotland’s deputy director of policy, Andrew Bauer, said: “We believe any decision made should be based on sound science, and whilst we recognise there is a diversity of opinion on this subject, the key to making the right decision is to rationally assess the pros and cons of the underpinning science.”