The Scottish government has decided to ban genetically modified crops to ensure Scotland maintains its ‘clean, green status’. This phrase, symbolic of what we are supposed to want to preserve, has not been defined, and we have no way of discerning exactly how it relates to the consequences of GM crops. Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Scottish National Party Member, announced the policy as Scotland’s stance, ahead of the government’s request to be exempted from EU-authorised GM crops.
None of the reasons given for the prohibition follow from the evidence we have about GM crops nor from countries’ experiences with them. One anti-GM-crop writer, Mike Small of Bella Caledonia, remarkably complained we are falling foul of an ‘expertocracy’ because of our ‘unswerving devotion to scientists’. He has also given a number of reasons why we should support the prohibition of GM crops in Scotland. Among those were that GM crops are a long-term economic disaster for farmers; do not increase yield potential; increase pesticide use; and have not been shown to be safe to eat. These claims are simply wrong.
If we take a look at a meta-analysis conducted last year of the impacts of genetically modified organisms we see that the agronomic and economic benefits of GM crops are large and significant. The positive feedback we hear from people in developing countries is reflected in the studies as we find that yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries. It concludes that, on average, GM technology has increased crop yields by 21%, reduced pesticide quantity by 37% and pesticide cost by 39%, and meant average profit gains of 69% for GM-adopting farmers.
The World Health Organisation has verified that all GM foods available in the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. People have been consuming them for decades in the United States and in 2014 GM crops made up 94% of soybean acreage, 93% of all corn planted, and 96% of all cotton. For as long as populations have consumed them no resulting effects on human health have been shown in the countries where they have been approved.
While farmers in the rest of the UK are looking to take advantage of GM technology, farmers in Scotland are concerned by the Scottish Parliament’s backwards policy; spokespeople for the agricultural industry say it will impede their efficiency and competitiveness. They are right: Scottish farmers will not be capable of competing in the same market as their neighbours if shut off from technological advances just as other countries are adopting GM crops.
To give any credence to Mike Small and similar superstitious claims would be to completely go against accepted evidence and rationality. So if Scottish politicians follow through with the GMO prohibition without any credible counteracting evidence that it would be harmful for Scotland, it will not only hold the country back, but the boundaries of scientific research will be redefined and Scotland might lose its leading research experts to more supportive political environments.