Fears grow GM crops will be forced on Scotland
Rob Edwards, Environment Editor
Sunday Herald, 18 Jul 2010
The UK Government's "respect" agenda towards Scotland could be wrecked by disagreements over growing genetically modified foods, following a new move by the European Commission.
The commission last week proposed a law that would enable countries to back or ban genetically modified (GM) crops. The Scottish Government fears this will allow ministers in London who are pro-GM crops to force them on an unwilling Scotland.
The European proposal is designed to end a 12-year split between states that has virtually frozen GM farming across Europe. Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Ireland have banned GM crops, but Spain, Sweden, Holland, the Czech Republic and the UK are in favour.
UK Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has pronounced herself a supporter of GM foods “in the right circumstances”. Before she became a minister, she was director of a pro-GM food and biotechnology consultancy.
SNP MEP Alyn Smith said the commission’s proposal “totally undermined” the Scottish Parliament and Government. “The respect agenda, such as it is, will be thrown out the window if the resolutely pro-GM coalition in London authorises cultivation in Scotland against the clear wishes of the majority in Holyrood and the nation as a whole,” he said.
"The commission has failed to come up with a common strategy for the European Union, so it is having a go at salami slicing. Then, once something is authorised in one part of the EU, it hopes the single market will do the rest.”
According to Smith, the SNP is not against GM just for the sake of it. “We are simply not persuaded that the oft-promised advantages of GM cultivation are worth the risk for an untested technology when Scotland is renowned for healthy, quality produce,” he said.
Environmental groups expressed similar fears. Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “It's far from clear Scotland will be able to maintain its progressive position on GM under these new rules.
“Despite the Scottish Government’s popular opposition to GM, key decisions over commercial growing might be retained by Westminster. Even if the powers to prevent commercial growing do prove to be open to Scottish ministers, the new rules are limited and open to corporate legal challenge.”
Pete Riley, director of the campaigning organisation GM Freeze, warned the legal position was complex. "The Scottish Government should take the best legal advice and listen to the electorate before making any policy decisions,” he said.
Helen Wallace, director of the independent watchdog GeneWatch UK, said Scottish farms could become contaminated with GM from crops grown in England. Canadian farms had suffered because of such contamination from America, she said.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in London is still examining the EC proposals for GM crops. “The details of Government policy on GM are still to be determined, but all policies will be based on robust evidence,” said a spokesman.
He pointed out that Scotland currently had devolved powers to prevent GM research trials and to specify the distances between GM and non-GM crops. In the last few months Defra has given the go-ahead to two research trials for GM potatoes in England.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are very interested in the commission's ideas for permitting local discretion over whether cultivation is permitted. We will examine the detail of the proposals to determine how this might work in practice.
“We remain fundamentally opposed to the cultivation of GM crops without firm scientific evidence that it poses no threat to the wider environment.”