THE Scottish Government’s decision to ban cultivation of genetically modified crops north of the Border has split the science community.
Last night the Scottish Government was under increasing pressure to rethink the ban after a group of nearly 30 leading scientific organisations became the latest to warn of the possible “negative impact” it could have on food, healthcare and scientific research.
[Researchers are] just as emotional as anyone elseProf Brian Wynne
The fears were raised in an open letter to letter to rural affairs, food and environment secretary Richard Lochhead, who last week announced the decision to outlaw GM crops in Scotland to protect the “clean, green” image of its £14 billion food and drinks industry.
The signatories included the Roslin Institute, creators of Dolly the Sheep, the European Academies Science Advisory Council and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Spearheaded by the charity Sense About Science, the letter came hot on the heels of predictions by Scotland’s former chief scientific officer Muffy Calder that outlawing GM could have “apocalyptic” consequences for the country and the planet.
But now a professor specialising in perception of environmental risk has described the pro-GM campaign by fellow academics as akin to a “religious crusade” peddling visions of “damnation”.
Professor Brian Wynne, an emeritus professor at the University of Lancaster, said: “The GM debate is not black and white. It’s not just a binary option – either we have GM crops or we don’t. It’s far more complicated than that.
“The kind of language that has been used in the past few days, not just by Muffy Calder but also in the letter from Sense About Science, it’s like an obsession with GM.
“It’s a bit more like a religious crusade. The idea that if we don’t have GM then somehow it’s dereliction and hell and damnation and starvation is total rubbish.”
He says the scientific community is the least qualified in “understanding the limits of their own knowledge”, their judgment often clouded by their own research interests.
“We’re not trained at doing that in any systematic way at all during our scientific training. We get immersed in all sorts of commitments, including particular scientific paradigms or beliefs which do have alternatives.”
He claims his fellow researchers are “just as emotional as anyone else”.
Last week Prof Wynne joined campaigners including Friends of the Earth Scotland in a letter of support for the ban organised by Nourish Scotland, a charity working towards improving fresh food in Scotland.
EU rules dictate that GM crops must be officially authorised before they can be cultivated. But an amendment brought into force earlier this year allows member states and devolved administrations to restrict or ban the practice within their territory.
“Just because GM crops can be cultivated in Scotland it doesn’t mean they should be,” said Mr Lochhead.
“We respect the views of those in the scientific community who support the development of GM technology and the debate on the future of GM will no doubt continue.
“However, Scotland’s £14bn food sector has a reputation for a clean and green image across the world and allowing the cultivation of GM crops could damage that unique selling point.”