EU GM crops talks could cause cross border battle

NEW legislation which will give European Union member states a greater say over whether or not they grow genetically modified (GM) crops was met with a mixed response yesterday – and Scottish farmers could find themselves centre stage in an ideological tussle between the Scottish and UK governments.

The growing of GM crops has sparked protests over the years. Picture: TSPL
The growing of GM crops has sparked protests over the years. Picture: TSPL

The legislation – which was originally tabled in 2010 – was yesterday given the backing of the European Parliament, and, subject to final approval by European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, could be in force as early as this spring.

However, while the UK government has been keen to see the technology made widely available, the Scottish Government has reasserted its opposition, claiming that growing GM crops would “harm the clean, green image” of Scottish food.

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Although GM crops can be banned for a number of reasons on top of health and environmental fears, such as planning requirements and socio-­economic impacts, the legislation has been drawn up to address issues at state level – and the powers available for Scotland to enforce an effective ban are far from clear.

A Holyrood spokeswoman said yesterday: “The Scottish Government believes that GM policy in Scotland should be guided by what’s best for our economy and our own agricultural sector rather than UK priorities … there is no evidence of significant demand for GM products by Scottish consumers. To grow GM crops in Scotland would damage our clean and green brand.”

If Scotland does adopt a different approach to England, the requirements for enforcing strict buffer zones to prevent cross-contamination together with any controls on the free flow of goods between Scotland and England could create a logistical nightmare for farmers.

Condemning the agreement as “a toxic guddle”, SNP MEP Alyn Smith said he believed Scotland would have the power to ban growing GM crops.

However, he admitted doubts remained and indicated that difficulties could arise if any ban was challenged in the courts – and said the law did nothing to prevent the circulation of GM products into Scotland or even for labelling of products containing GM material.