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Scotland is to ban the growing of genetically modified crops, the country's rural affairs secretary has announced.

Speaking on Saturday, Richard Lochhead said the Scottish Government intends to submit a request to be excluded from any European consents for the cultivation of GM crops, taking advantage of new EU rules allowing countries to opt out.

There is currently one variety of genetically modified maize approved in the EU and there are six other crops awaiting authorisation.

Lochhead said that banning the growing of genetically modified crops would protect and further enhance Scotland’s "clean, green status".

Dr Laura Bellingan FRSB, director of science policy at the Royal Society of Biology, said:

"It would be a huge pity if Scotland did not remain open to embracing the kinds of technological advances that its excellent universities and others could contribute to productive farming.

“Genetic modification is not in principle at odds with farming practice and food production that provides environmental benefit. Being open to case by case decisions on the use of safety-tested crops could provide more opportunity to discuss and consider potential benefits and impacts on the public, producers and the environment.”

Professor Ottoline Leyser FRSB, director of the Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge, said:

"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 Huw Jones FRSB, professor of molecular genetics, Rothamsted Research, said:

"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."

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

"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."

Read more on biotechnology from the Royal Society of Biology:

Position Statement on plant biotechnology from the UK Plant Sciences Federation
RSB response to the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee inquiry into GM foods and application of the precautionary principle in Europe
Policy Lates: The Precautionary Principle
Parliamentary report identifies major flaws in EU regulation of GM crops
Innovation and GM: Managing risk and supporting UK life sciences
Council for Science and Technology releases GM crops report
Environment Minister speaks in favour of GM