August 18, 2015 | by Aamna Mohdin
Scotland announced earlier this month that it will ban the growing of genetically modified (GM) crops, and scientists have now responded. Nearly 30 organizations have signed an open letter urging the Scottish government to rethink the ban, which could have a “negative effect on science.”
The organizations include the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Roslin Institute and the European Academies Science Advisory Council. The letter, addressed to Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead, describes the ban as a “political” decision that is “not based on any informed scientific assessment of risk.” The open letter argues that by banning GM crops in Scotland, “this country would be prevented from benefiting from future innovations in agriculture, fisheries and healthcare and consigned to continued use of the old.”
The ban follows a recent ruling by the European Union that allows individual nations to restrict the cultivation of GM crops in their territory. Member states are allowed to ban GM crops on grounds other than the risks already assessed by the European Food Safety Authority. National governments can ban GM crops on a number of factors that range from protecting a particular ecosystem to avoiding the contamination of GM organisms in other products.
Professor Alan Alexander, General Secretary of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, said in a statement: “As a national academy charged with the ‘advancement of learning and useful knowledge’ we are strongly committed to evidence led policy making. We are concerned that the scientific case for well regulated use of biotechnology has not been sufficiently heeded.
“Scottish Government statements implying that GMOs are ‘unethical’ have given an anti-science message that may prove to be very damaging to the long established outstanding reputation of Scotland within the international scientific community.”
The letter highlights the contributions GM research can make, from developing potatoes that can reduce fungicide use to making oilseeds enriched with omega-3, which could provide Scotland with a more sustainable source of feed for salmon farming. The signatories urge Lochhead to meet with them to discuss their concern on the ban that “surprises and disappoints many scientists and non-scientists alike.”
Sense about Science, who published the letter, are urging people to email Lochhead and ask him to meet with researchers. The campaign group told Science Magazine that there’s a lot of “anger and disbelief” as Lochhead made his decision without public consultation.
Lochhead has responded to the open letter and is happy to meet with the group of scientists. The BBC reports that he plans to “reassure them that these changes will not affect research as it is currently carried out in Scotland, where the contained use of GM plants is permitted for scientific purposes, such as in laboratories or sealed glasshouse facilities."