GM crops: Scotland and Westminster set for stand-off over ‘gene-editing technology’

Written by Margaret Taylor on 26 May 2022 in News

UK government ministers write to Scottish counterparts but get seemingly chilly response

Credit: Arturs Budkevics/Pixabay

The Scottish Government has rebuffed the UK government’s attempt to extend new laws on the use of technology to cultivate genetically modified crops across the whole of the UK.

Westminster this week introduced the government’s Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, which it says will “remove unnecessary barriers to research into new gene editing technology”, which it said had previously been held back by EU rules.

Yesterday, environment secretary George Eustice and Scottish secretary Alister Jack wrote to Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon and rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon noting the strength of Scottish innovation centres such as the Roslin Institute and James Hutton Institute and inviting the Holyrood government to “join us in taking forward this legislation”.

“We want to enable researchers and commercial breeders across the UK to be leaders in the development of crops that are more nutritious, beneficial to the environment, more resilient to climate change, and crops and animals that are resistant to disease and pests,” they wrote.

They also noted that the “precision breeding technologies” envisioned in the bill would have “great potential to enhance food security and help this country and communities around the world to adapt to the impacts of climate change and reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, enabling natural resources to be used more sustainably and efficiently”.

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The Scottish Government has long been opposed to genetic modification in food production, announcing a ban on genetically modified crops in 2015. When the UK was part of the European Union, formal authorisation had to be given at the EU level before such crops could be cultivated and the Scottish Government went on to ask to be excluded from that process in 2018.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said that it notes that the UK government is introducing a bill “to amend the definition of a GMO [genetically modified organisms] in England” and that it would not accept having that imposed on Scotland.

“The UK government’s invitation to participate in the bill comes without them having shared the content with us, and we will therefore need to scrutinise it carefully to consider the implications for Scotland,” the spokesperson said. “This includes identifying the potential impacts of the UK Internal Market Act in this area. The Scottish Government remains wholly opposed to the imposition of the act and will not accept any constraint on the exercise of devolved powers.”

Last year Professor Dame Anne Glover, who was chief scientific adviser to the Scottish Government between 2006 and 2011 and Chief Scientific Adviser to the President of the European Commission from 2012 to 2014, said the Scottish Government’s stance on genetically modified foods does not make scientific sense.

In an interview with PublicTechnology sister publication Holyrood she said that while the government’s stance was that there was not enough evidence to say GMO food is safe, her position is that “all the evidence would say that because of the enormous amount of regulation around genetically modified food it is safer than other foodstuffs”.


About the author

Margaret Taylor is a journalist at PublicTechnology sister publication Holyrood, where a version of this story first appeared. She tweets as @MagsTaylorish.

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