Scotland's betrayal - Executive criticsed for backing GM crops in England (8/3/2004)

Scotland's betrayal - Executive criticised for backing GM crops in England

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Executive criticised for backing GM crops in England
The Herald, March 8, 2004

THE Scottish Executive has been accused of double standards after it emerged ministers will back the commercial growing of genetically modified maize in England and Wales, while urging farmers north of the border to boycott it.

Margaret Beckett, the UK agriculture minister, is expected to announce the go-ahead for large-scale growing of GM maize later this week.

In order for this to happen, the plant must first be admitted to the UK seed list, a step which requires the explicit consent of the Scottish Executive.

However, while the executive appears content for the crop to be grown elsewhere in the UK, ministers intend to ask farmers to back a voluntary GM-free zone in Scotland.

The crop can be grown as far north as the Borders.

The Scottish Green party said ministers were engaged in a "smokescreen", and only a UK-wide ban on GM crops would keep Scotland GM-free, as pollen could blow over the border.

Mark Ruskell, MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife and Green environment spokesman, said: "It is totally contradictory to approve GM maize for commercialisation through the seed list but then publicly state that it shouldn't be commercialised in Scotland.

"It is either safe for growing across the whole island or not. That is the point of having a UK-wide seed listing process."

Roseanna Cunningham, SNP environment spokeswoman, added: "The Scottish Executive must say no to GM crops in Scotland. Instead of waiting for Margaret Beckett to make a decision for the whole of the UK, the executive must make up its own mind.

"The Scottish Executive minister must make a decision based on what the people of Scotland want, and that is no GM crops north of the border."

It is understood Scottish ministers are more sceptical about the merits of GM crops than Westminster colleagues.

Allan Wilson, Scottish environment minister, has managed to introduce a harder edge to Ms Beckett's forthcoming speech, including a passage about public concerns.

The government believes it is not legally or practically possible to make the whole country GM-free, but voluntary opt-out zones are feasible.

George Lyon, Liberal Democrat MSP for Argyll and Bute, and past president of the National Farmers Union in Scotland, praised the executive and urged farmers not to grow GM maize.

"We've been through enough food scares without shooting ourselves in the foot for a technology that consumers don't want," he said.

An executive spokesman confirmed ministers discussed the issue last Friday, but a final statement was still pending.

Executive's compromise to avoid GM split

SCOTTISH ministers have agreed a compromise deal with the UK government to allow genetically modified crops to be grown in England but not in Scotland, it emerged last night.

Under the deal, the Scottish Executive will try to make Scotland GM-free by persuading farmers not to plant any GM crops.

But they will stop short of imposing a ban on GM crops because this would effectively impose a ban on the whole of the UK, something the government in Westminster does not want.

The two administrations were split on the issue but the compromise will allow both to follow different paths - GM in England, none in Scotland - without causing a major rift between them.

Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, will announce this week that GM maize will be allowed in the UK. If the Scottish Executive were to formally object to this policy, it would have the effect of banning GM crops from the whole of the UK because the whole country has to be in agreement on the policy.

What the Executive will do instead is announce it is backing the UK government's line but then try to impose a voluntary ban on the growing of GM crops in Scotland.

A senior Executive source said the growing of maize was only really feasible in the south of the country and that there had not been much enthusiasm for GM crops from Scottish farmers.

He added that the Executive would try to convince farmers to refrain from planting any the maize, with the aim of making Scotland GM-free.

But the source admitted that the success of this policy rested on persuasion rather than legislation, and there was nothing to stop farmers in the south of Scotland experimenting with GM maize if they wanted.

The Greens immediately condemned the Executive deal as inadequate. "It may sound like the Executive is doing something, indeed it is welcome to hear ministers suggest that they are against GM, but the real story here is that they have fallen short of the action needed to stop it," said Mark Ruskell, the party’s environment spokesman.

He added: "Environment minister Allan Wilson and Jack McConnell [the First Minister] still have the power to prevent GM maize getting on to the UK seed list, yet they have decided to cave in to Beckett. This is a face-saving exercise and a rather poor one at that. The Executive is engaged in thinly-veiled spin aimed at covering up the lack of meaningful action."

The SNP also urged the Executive to take a tougher stand. Roseanna Cunningham, the SNP's deputy leader, said: "The Scottish Executive must say no to GM crops in Scotland. Instead of waiting for Margaret Beckett to make a decision for the whole of the UK, the Executive must make up its own mind. The Executive minister must make a decision based on what the people of Scotland want - and that is no GM crops."

News of the compromise deal came as an environmental group claimed it had "disturbing" evidence of contamination of traditional crops from GM seeds.

Friends of the Earth said research in the United States suggested traces of genetically modified DNA were present in at least half of all conventional maize, soya and oilseed rape in the US.   

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