Scotland says no to GMOs

In a move that has garnered praise from environmentalists and sharp criticism from farmers, Scotland announced Sunday that it would move to ban the growing of genetically modified crops throughout the country.

“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, Scotland’s Rural Affairs Secretary, said in a recent article.

The move further distances Scotland from the policies of the UK, which has been slowly softening its stance on GMO crops. While some GMOs are imported for use in animal feed, currently no genetically modified crops are grown anywhere in the UK.

According to the article, this could change soon, however, as ministers in London, supported by scientific bodies, the National Farmers Union, and agribusiness, have announced plans to begin the cultivation of genetically modified crops like maize and oilseed rape throughout England.

Then, last January, the European Union passed a law that allows member states to individually opt out of growing GMOs within their borders, even if the crop is approved by the larger EU governing body. Since then, Germany, France, Belgium, Poland, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Greece, and Luxembourg have enacted full or partial bans on the cultivation of GMOs within certain regions or throughout the country as a whole, the article states.

And these countries are not alone. As of 2013, at least 26 countries around the world had total or partial bans on genetically modified crops, including China, India, Mexico, and Russia. In the U.S., GMO bans are often considered the discretion of local government and municipalities in Hawaii, California, and Oregon have enacted bans.

This comes contrary to a broad array of scientific bodies, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association, and the European Commission, who agree that genetically modified crops are no more a threat to public health than conventionally-bred crops.

The environmental ramifications of genetically modified crops are less cut-and-dry than the public health questions, the article states, but studies have shown GMOs to be both potentially beneficial and detrimental to the environment, based largely on the way they are used.

Despite this, a majority of the European public in general is opposed to their use in agriculture. The article states that a report from 2011 found that genetically modified crops were one of the most contentious areas of public opinion, on par with nuclear power and the use of animals in research. In the same survey, 59% of those questioned said that they felt “not informed” about GMOs.

According to the article, this is another potential aspect the Scottish government took into consideration prior to announcing the ban.

“Scottish food and drink is valued at home and abroad for its natural, high quality which often attracts a premium price, and I have heard directly from food and drink producers in other countries that are ditching GM because of a consumer backlash,” Lochhead said in the article.

Environmentalists praised Scotland’s decision to ban GMOs from the country, a move that they argue will help preserve the country’s image of producing high-quality goods. The move garnered criticism from the National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS) however, whose chief executive Scott Walker said that the government was basing its policies on unsubstantiated claims.

“Other countries are embracing biotechnology where appropriate and we should be open to doing the same here in Scotland. Decisions should be taken on the individual merits of each variety, based on science and determined by whether the variety will deliver overall benefit. 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.”

Andrew McCornick, vice-president of the NFUS, also criticized the ban, telling the Scotsman that he feared it would make Scottish farmers less competitive if farmers elsewhere — especially in the UK — use GM crops.

“There is going to be one side of the border in England where they may adopt biotechnology, but just across the River Tweed farmers are not going to be allowed to,” McCornick said in the article. “How are these farmers going to be capable of competing in the same market? It is certainly won’t be delivering a level playing field with other countries.”


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