GM-free Scotland, and getting closer

November 2015


Photo Creative Commons
On August 9th 2015, GM-free Scotland moved a step closer to reality.

Taking a "very brave step ... given the political power of the GM-crop proponents"* Scotland will not grow GM Crops.

How this became possible arose due to an unprecedented, and total, lack of consensus by EU Member States: they have never reached the required qualified majority either in favour or against any draft GM authorisation proposed by the Commission.

This recurrent "no opinion" limbo has meant all 67 GM food and feed authorisations have been granted by default.

The legal uncertainty and distrust generated by this unique situation led to EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vylenis Andruikaitis, being tasked with reviewing the laws which had ended up obliging the Commission to authorise genetically modified organisms (GMOs) even when a majority of national governments opposed them.

Andruikaitis' solution was that, after a sound science-based positive assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the Commission should retain responsibility for granting GMO authorisations. Member States could then, however, take their own national circumstances into account to restrict or prohibit the use of the authorised GMOs in food or feed in their territory. 
Note that "own national circumstances" means (according to French law) environmental and farm policies, land use, economic impact or civil order. The case made by a Member State for a GM ban cannot be justified by reasons which conflict with the EFSA science-based opinion on safety.

In keeping with the new EU law, Scottish Rural Affairs Secretary, Richard Lochhead, explained that
"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".
He voiced his concern that "allowing GM crops to be grown in Scotland would damage our clean and green brand, thereby gambling with the future of our £14 billion food and drink sector". Lochhead stressed his belief that "GM policy in Scotland should be guided by what's best for our economy and our own agriculture sector rather than the prorities of others", and pointed out that Scottish food and drink attracts a premium price abroad for its high quality. Scotland will now be able to ban the cultivation of the one GM maize already approved. Then, as new crops come through the regulatory pipeline Scotland will have an opportunity to seek exemption from any authorisation that they receive.

Needless to say, the pro-GM gloom-and-doom brigade sprang into action:  
  • one molecular genetics scientist pronounced it "a sad day for science and a sad day for Scotland"
  • Scotland risks gaining a reputation for being "anti-science", turning our backs on science, so much so that top researchers (in GM presumably) will go elsewhere
  • the Scottish Government prefers superstition to science and its approach to GM foods is "Neanderthal"
  • the ban is "too hasty", and "the public mood has been guessed not gauged"
  • the ban will damage business growth and future prosperity
  • Scottish farmers won't get to benefit from the promised increased yields and profits, nor from all those environmentally-friendly GM attributes
While the Royal Society of Edinburgh was busy accusing the Scottish Government of using "emotive language likely to fuel negative public perceptions" of GM, Scotland's former chief science advisor was warning of "apocalyptic" consequences of the ban (and both went on to repeat just about every piece of misinformation routinely spread by the biotech lobby).

Illogically, since Member States aren't allowed to ban GM on safety or scientific grounds, everyone and his uncle insisted there was "no evidence of (GM) health risks", "no examples of (GM) adverse consequences", and GM crops are "safe for humans, animals and the environment" (but not very safe for our £14 billion food and drink sector). First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, was accused of "admitting" the decision wasn't based on scientific evidence. Farmers won't be able to take advantage of the GM dream while their competitors will get all the (imagined) GM benefits. Our wealth creation will go West. And, don't forget the "starving millions" that futuristic GM not grown in Scotland was going to feed.

How seriously should we take all this?

Is poor little Scotland heading for a GM-free apocalypse while the rest of the world is laughing all the way to the bank?

Well, as one Scotsman reader quipped "Scotland has joined Switzerland in banning genetically modified crops ... If we continue down the Swiss road, we could end up a small independent nation with a wealth-tax and holes in our cheese".

The route Scotland is taking hardly seems a lonely one. We've quickly been followed by Latvia, Greece, Germany (the EU's largest economy), France (the EU's largest grain producer and exporter), Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Bulgaria, Denmark, Italy, Slovenia and Serbia; also Wales and Northern Ireland.

Russia it seems is playing follow-my-leader too.  


OUR COMMENT

Dear, dear. There are an awful lot of sad, anti-science, Neanderthal, countries heading for that GM-free apocalypse. 

Despite all this supporting, and rather large, European appetite for a clean, green, GM-free, image, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland still have Westminster and its spin machine to contend with.  
Take a minute to assure the Scottish Government that GM-free is good. Your MSP (www.writetothem.com) will pass on your message.

* Professor Carlo Leifert, Newcastle University School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development

SOURCES
  • GM crop ban, http://news.scotland.gov.uk, 9.08.15
  • Scotland to ban GM, Thin Ice, Issue 37, September 2015
  • Statement (by Vytenis Andruikaitis), http://ec.europa.eu, 13.07.15
  • Scientists support Scottish GM crop ban, Open letter, GM Watch 4.09.15
  • Hannah Parry, Scotland to ban genetically modified produce while EU-approved controversial crops are to be grown in England, Daily Mail, 9.08.15
  • Scotland to ban GM crop growing, BBC News, www.bbc.co.uk, 9.08.15
  • Rob Edwards, Scotland bans GM crops to protect the nation's 'clean, green' brand, The Herald, 9.08.15
  • Letters to the Editor, Scotsman 11.08.15, 18.08.15, Metro 11.08.15
  • Tom Peterkin, Farmers alarmed at SNP pledge to ban GM crops in Scotland, Scotland on Sunday, 9.08.15
  • Scott Macnab, Scotland risks being 'anti-science' with GM ban, Edinburgh Evening News, 24.09.15
  • RSE Calls for a Rational GM Debate, Royal Society of Edinburgh Press Release, 24.09.15
  • Lindsay McIntosh, Sturgeon admits GM crop ban was not for scientific reasons, The Times, 11.09.15
  • Ilona Amos, Leading scientists hits out at Scots GM food ban, and Editorial,The Scotsman, 15.08.15
  • French says asked EU to opt out of GMO maize cultivation, Reuters 17.09.15
  • Distrust over EU GM crop approvals grows as at least 15 countries move towards national bans, Greenpeace Press release, 1.10.15
  • Slovenia and Serbia Give Green Light to GM Crop Bans, Sustainable Pulse, 29.08.15
  • Govt decides to ban GMO food production in Russia - deputy PM, Russia Today, 18.09.15

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