Farming: Scotland wary of joining UK stance on breeding bill

The Scottish Government has revealed it has no intention of instantly jumping on the offer to join in with the high profile precision breeding bill which began its journey through Westminster yesterday.

Following a written request from Defra Secretary, George Eustice made to the SNP/Green administration at Holyrood to join with the UK Government’s plans to take forward the legislation which would bring the commercial development of gene edited crops and livestock a step closer, the Scottish Government said it had noted the intention, but added:

“The UK Government’s invitation to participate in the Bill comes without them having shared the content with us, and we will therefore need to scrutinise it carefully to consider the implications for Scotland.”

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A spokesperson said that this included identifying the potential impacts which the UK Internal Market Act would have in this area, adding:

“The Scottish Government remains wholly opposed to the imposition of the [Internal Market] Act and will not accept any constraint on the exercise of devolved powers.”

Fears had previously been raised that the Internal Market Act would mean that while the Scottish Government could still continue its moratorium on the growing of crops developed by precision breeding techniques, they would be unable to control the sale and use of such produce on this side of the border.

And this was recognised in the request for joint action on the issue, with Eustice stating that such an approach would ensure consistency in food regulation and the approach to the precision bred organisms across the UK - a tactic he said would uphold the priority of ensuring consumer safety.

*The UK Government’s proposed legislation was widely welcomed by the scientific community and yesterday the newly launched Science for Sustainable Agriculture (SSA) group said it applauded early action by the UK Government to diverge from “restrictive EU rules on precision breeding technologies”.

However the high level group of political, scientific and industry leaders urged the Government to do much more to put scientific rigour and evidence at the heart of Britain’s food and farming policies – warning that a failure to do so could risk sleepwalking the nation into its own food crisis.

With its good soils, temperate climate, highly skilled farming sector, and world-leading science

base, the report says Britain could utilise science and innovation to increase its food production capacity in the face of heightened food security concerns - while at the same time mitigating and adapting to climate change, protecting biodiversity and conserving precious natural resources.

It said that freed from the restrictive influence of over-precautionary EU regulations, Britian could become an international hub for agri-science excellence and innovation.

But it also warned of what it viewed as of a policy drift towards lower yielding farming systems, and even ‘re-wilding’ of productive farmland, as the Government ignored the outputs of its own four-year research programme into sustainable intensification.

SSA said its aim was to promote a conversation ‘rooted in scientific evidence, rather than ideology’, while exposing, comment upon and challenging unscientific positions or policy decisions in relation to sustainable agriculture.

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