Scotland to ban growing GM crops – Expert reaction

Scotland plans to ban the growing of genetically modified crops with its government intending to request that the country be excluded from European consents of GM crops.

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 10.56.47 amOur colleagues at the UK Science Media Centre gathered reaction from UK-based experts.

Scottish National Party rural secretary, Richard Lochhead, said an opt-out would protect Scotland’s “clean and green brand”.

Prof Rob Edwards, Head of the School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Newcastle University, comments:

‘This would seem like a hasty decision based on the potential for public good and confronting the major issues we face in sustainable agriculture and horticulture in the UK.  We need to produce more nutritious and healthy food, with reduced inputs and a need to minimise the impact of farming on the environment.

“The climate change models suggest the northern agricultural areas of the UK will be more strategically important in providing us all with food in the future in the coming decades.

“Unless I am missing something there are no magic bullet solutions based on our current farming practices that offer to square those challenges in the time scale we need to work to.

“Surely to future proof your food industry on the global stage all technology options should remain open.” 

Dr Joe Perry, former Chair of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) GMO Panel, comments:

“It’s time Governments stopped equating an anti-GM stance with care for the environment. GM crops can be of benefit to the environment if regulated sensitively. Furthermore there is no reason to ban them on safety grounds. Blanket bans like this are irrational.”

 Maurice Moloney, Chief Executive Officer, Global Institute for Food Security, Saskatchewan, Canada and Former Chief Executive of Rothamsted Research, comments:

“This decision might seem to be symbolic, as the only GM crop grown in Europe is insect-resistant maize. Maize is not a significant crop in Scotland. However, the second GM species approved for use in Europe is a potato, which is much more relevant to Scotland and its farmers. Breakthrough science from the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich recently showed the effective protection of potatoes against the potato famine disease, late blight. Potato blight in wet years still decimates the Scottish potato crop and requires frequent spraying of fungicides.  For Scotland to deny to its farmers such a critical innovation and to deny consumers the possibility of reducing pesticide use is irresponsible. Positioning a nation in this way gives it an international reputation for being a science-free zone, not the modern Scotland that it aspires to be.”

Prof Ottoline Leyser, Director of the Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge, comments:

“It is ironic that Ministers have justified their decision by stating that they are not prepared to “gamble with the future” of Scotland’s food and drink industry, because that is exactly what they are doing. In the short term, this is a zero risk, eye-catching announcement that will have no impact whatsoever, because there are currently no approved GM crops available that are suitable for cultivation in Scotland. In the long term, however, when products such as blight resistant potatoes eventually reach the market, Scottish farmers will find themselves at a serious disadvantage. But maybe this is not such a gamble- a week is famously a long time in politics, so when the time comes, no doubt an elegant U turn can be effected.”

[Professor Glover has requested that journalists use her comment in full on this occasion. If that is not possible can you not use it.]

Prof Anne Glover, University of Aberdeen and former Chief Scientist to the European Commission, comments:

“I am not aware of the full context of the SG ban on GM crops so it is not possible to make detailed comments.  Generally, it would be hard to justify a ban on the grounds of safety as GM technology for plant breeding is supported by a global scientific consensus with regard to safety. With appropriate choices, GM technology can offer one approach to sustainable farming by reducing the need for chemical inputs which benefits the consumer, the farmer and the environment.”

Prof Huw Jones, Professor of Molecular Genetics, Rothamsted Research, comments:

“This is a sad day for science and a sad day for Scotland. GM crops approved by the EU are safe for humans, animals and the environment and it’s a shame the Scottish Parliament think cultivation would harm their food and drink sector. If approved, this decision serves to remove the freedom of Scottish farmers and narrows their choice of crop varieties to cultivate in the future.

Declared interests

Prof Rob Edwards: None received

Prof Ottoline Leyser:

Employment and paid consultancies

Director, The Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge

Company of Biologists, Editor of “Development”

European Research Council, grants board member

Ad hoc payments for one off consultancies for universities and research institutes, funders etc.

Gatsby Foundation, Plant Science Advisor

Norwich Research Park Science Advisory Board

Current Opinion in Plant Biology, Co-Editor in Chief

Biotechnology and Biological Science Council occasional committee work

Other organisations (unpaid)

Umea Plant Science Centre: Advisory Board Member

Gregor Mendel Institute, Vienna: Advisory Board Member

Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tubingen: Advisory Board Member

European Molecular Biology Organisation: Member

Athena Forum: Chair

Clare College, Cambridge: Fellow

Society of Biology: Fellow and Education

Royal Society: Fellow and Council member, Chair, Science Policy Advisory Group

National Academy of Science, USA: Foreign associate

Leopoldina: Member

International Plant Molecular Biology: President

British Society for Developmental Biology: Chair

Sense About Science: Plant science panel member

Science and Plants for Schools: Grant holder

International Plant Growth Substances Association:  Council member

Numerous academic Journals: Advisory Editorial Board member

Science Media Centre: Trustee

Current Research Funding

Gatsby Foundation

European Research Council

Others: None declared