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Scotland will ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops

Government says potential benefits don't outweigh risks to Scotland's 'clean and green brand'

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The Scottish government has announced plans to ban genetically modified (GM) crops from being grown in Scotland, as part of an effort to protect its "clean and green brand." In a statement released Sunday, Scottish Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said the government would pursue the ban under new EU regulations that allow states to opt out of growing approved GM crops.

There is broad scientific consensus that foods from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are safe to eat, and GM crops are widely grown across Asia and the Americas. GMO advocates say they could boost global food production, but the issue remains divisive in Europe, amid concerns over their environmental impact.

"GM policy in Scotland should be guided by what’s best for our economy."

Lochhead echoed those concerns Sunday, saying the potential benefits of GM crops don't outweigh environmental risks, and pointing to low demand for GM crops among Scottish consumers. The English government has already stated its intent to allow some GM crops to be grown for commercial purposes.

"The Scottish government has long-standing concerns about GM crops – concerns that are shared by other European countries and consumers, and which should not be dismissed lightly," Lochhead said. "I firmly believe that GM policy in Scotland should be guided by what’s best for our economy and our own agricultural sector rather than the priorities of others."

Ban will not extend to research

Scotland's ban would cover EU-approved GM maize and six other crops that are awaiting approval, but The Guardian reports that it would not extend to GM crops used for scientific research. "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," a government spokeswoman tells the paper.

The move has been welcomed from environmental groups, but Scotland's farming union expressed disappointment, saying the ban would put Scotland at a disadvantage. "Other countries are embracing biotechnology where appropriate and we should be open to doing the same here in Scotland," Scott Walker, head of the farming union NFU Scotland, tells the BBC. "These crops could have a role in shaping sustainable agriculture at some point and at the same time protecting the environment which we all cherish in Scotland."