Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has admitted that her government’s recent decision to ban the growing of GM crops in Scotland was “not based on scientific considerations.” Her admission came in a letter after she was quizzed on what scientific advice she had received.
Earlier this year the EU relaxed its strict regulations on the growing of genetically modified crops in a bid to make cultivation of the crops more commercially viable. But the changes to the law allowed for jurisdictions to opt out of the relaxation, keeping in place tight rules and regulations on what may be grown.
In August Scotland chose to use that opt-out, cementing its reputation for anti-economic environmentalism.
However, at the time of the decision the post of Chief Scientific Adviser was vacant. As it was unclear whether Louise Heathwaite, the scientific adviser to the rural affairs department, was consulted, Murdo Fraser, a Scottish Conservative MSP, wrote to Ms Sturgeon to clarify whether Professor Heathwaite’s advice had been sought and, if so, what her opinion was, The Times has reported.
In her reply, Ms Sturgeon confirmed that Prof Heathwaite was consulted, but did not disclose what advice she offered the Ministers.
“The decision that the Scottish government took, therefore, was not one based on scientific considerations, but, rather, one which took into account the wider ramifications that GM crops might have for Scotland,” Ms Sturgeon wrote.
“Professor Heathwaite was consulted on the scientific background that was made available to ministers prior to the decision but, as we have always said, that was not the primary factor in reaching the conclusion.”
When the policy was first announced, Richard Lochhead, the Scottish secretary for the environment and rural affairs declared: “There is no evidence of significant demand for GM products by Scottish consumers and I am concerned that allowing GM crops to be grown in Scotland would damage our clean and green brand, thereby gambling with the future of our £14 billion food and drink sector.”
It was a view reiterated by Ms Sturgeon when she was pressed on the subject at First Minister’s Questions last week. “We value the clean, green environment that supports our food and drink sector,” she said.
Mr Lochhead’s announcement was met with fury from the scientific establishment in Scotland, who joined forces to pen a letter warning that the policy “risks constraining Scotland’s contribution to research and leaving Scotland without access to agricultural innovations which are making farming more sustainable elsewhere in the world”.
Last night, Mr Fraser, the Tories energy spokesman, said: “The SNP appears to be admitting this significant decision has not been made on scientific grounds. So if it hasn’t been made on scientific grounds, on what basis has it been made?
“People will conclude the ideology and dogma of the left is dictating key environmental and economic decisions – that is a flabbergasting state of affairs. And while this letter says the adviser was indeed informed, it doesn’t detail what the reaction was. Presumably, that omission tells its own story.
“No wonder the SNP cannot recruit a new chief scientist if this is the way they treat scientific advice.”