The Scottish government’s GM-free zone policy is creating division, frustration and resentment in a country which has a global reputation for being at the forefront of agricultural advances and plant breeding.
And at a time when livestock farmers are struggling with spiralling feed costs, and food security has a higher profile than at any time since the last war, the pros and antis appear to be lining up for a second-round battle which the biotechnology companies are determined to fight all the way.
The one-year-old SNP administration and its conviction that Scotland should be prepared to take an independent stance on the controversial technology have prompted the NFU Scotland president, Jim McLaren, to call for urgent talks with environment minister Mike Russell in a bid to persuade him to change one of his government’s main policies.
But while Mr Russell told Farmers Weekly he was “always willing to have a debate”, he went on to condemn as “unreliable” the technology already used by 12 million farmers in 22 countries.
“There is a lack of reliable science, there is a potential risk to the environment, and the subsequent damage to the reputation of Scottish produce, should there be a problem,” the minister said. “And even if there was greater faith in the science, the reputational damage would pose such a threat there would be a positive disadvantage.
“A situation exists where there is a level of GM in food which we, alas, in European terms have to accept. But there is a big difference between that and saying we have to give up the fight.”
According to Jim McLaren, however, there is a fatal flaw in the Scottish government’s argument.
“It would be a case of having to reverse from where we already are, because retailers’ shelves are full of GM tomato paste or imported meat products, and many of the livestock produced in Scotland are fed on GM crops, so we need to get real on what we’re actually doing at the minute,” he stated.
The industry will not go against the informed opinion of consumers, but he believes restrictions have already cost the country a global advantage.
“When we do come to adopt the technology in the future, it’s almost certain that it will be work that has been developed in other countries, and I’d have far more faith in technology developed in Scotland and the UK than any developed in either North or South America,” he said.