Laura Stewart: We must all stand up against the powerful GM lobby

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AS FOOD continues to find itself near the top of the economic, political and social agenda, forthright comments from UK food minister Owen Patterson and Murdo Fraser MSP this week clash with Scottish Government policy, which opposes the cultivation of genetically modified crops.

We urge the Scottish Government and the country’s food and agriculture community to defend our current position, which acknowledges that cultivation of GM crops could damage Scotland’s rich environment and threaten our reputation for producing high-quality and natural foods.

Studies have demonstrated that GM crops do not offer a sustainable solution. Instead, they lock farmers into depending on costly inputs from a handful of powerful chemical companies and, undoubtedly, bring the production of food further under corporate control. Instead of reducing pesticide use, data from the US suggests that more potent chemicals are used on these crops than on non-GM alternatives.

Farmers and the public deserve to choose the kind of future they want for our food, agriculture and countryside, and the risks they are willing to take. But once GM crops are out in the environment, they cannot be contained, so they deny that choice. Meanwhile, regulators don’t undertake good enough safety checks or even ask whether new technologies are in the public interest.

We are committed to preserving people’s choice through our organic standards and we are campaigning for labelling for products from animals fed on GM feed. Instead of investing in failed technology, that has not lived up to the hype surrounding it, we must support and encourage practical, innovative research that addresses real needs, is genuinely sustainable and puts farmers in control of their own livelihoods.

As we approach the Year of Natural Scotland, our natural image remains one of the country’s biggest assets. Food and drink is Scotland’s fastest-growing export sector, and tourism is vital to our economy. If we are serious about growing this success and celebrating Scotland’s food traditions, we must all continue to stand up against the powerful GM lobby.

• Laura Stewart is director of the Soil Association Scotland