The public is entitled to expect that government policy be based on sound evidence rather than superstition.
Richard Lochhead, Cabinet secretary for rural affairs, food and environment, and John Swinney, Cabinet secretary for finance, constitution and economy, announced last Sunday that they would ask for an opt-out for Scottish agriculture on the use of GM crops on the basis that it would demean the supposed green and clean character of Scottish agriculture and protect the Scottish food and drink industry. Neither of these are based on evidence.
Current GM crops offer both the potential of removing the need for pesticides and the introduction of no-till agriculture whose greenhouse gas emissions are substantially lower than organic agriculture and near those of woodland.
Mr Lochhead should know this, and if he doesn’t, should he be agriculture minister?
Scotland’s agriculture is necessarily marginal and needs novel adapted crops developed through GM to provide comparative advantage. Also, we see no evidence that growing GM crops has any influence at all on food and drinks exports of those many countries that do grow them; in fact, the opposite is likely the case.
Scotland’s whisky industry depended for many years on a malting barley developed through radiation mutation at Sellafield.
But it is the message, conveyed we note on a Sunday in the middle of August, that concerns us equally. The message is that Scotland is not a progressive country that it is not the place for scientific enterprise and invention when government diktat and policy, based in this case on superstition because there is no scientific evidence that supports it, is too feeble and timid to lead.
The potential future developments in biotechnology of crops are enormous and Scotland has the scientists to exploit it for the benefit of all. But leadership is needed; not the kind illustrated here that will put Scotland into an economic and scientific backwater. The increasing world population indicates the market potential.
Sustainable intensification of agriculture, using all facets of biotechnology, is essential to decoupling mankind from the natural world so that both can live equally side- by-side.
(Dr) Keith Dawson
(Prof) Tony Trewavas FRS FRSE
Scientific Alliance Scotland
North St David Street