No More GMO Crops In Scotland: Nation Bans GMO Farming, But Genetically Modified Imports Will Still Be Sold

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Scotland has taken an extra step in its efforts to protect its natural environment. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

In compliance with its new environmentally conscious branding campaign, the Scottish government has announced it will formally ban growing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Although this is a significant move forward for anti-GMO groups in Scotland, it doesn’t mean the country is completely GMO-free just yet.

According to Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead, the move is meant to enhance Scotland's “clean, green status,” he said in a statement. Lochhead also claims the change has come by public demand and follows in the footsteps of similar GMO bans made by other European countries, such as Italy and Germany. However, according to farming leaders in Scotland, the ban is somewhat disappointing.

"Other countries are embracing biotechnology where appropriate and we should be open to doing the same here in Scotland," said Scott Walker, chief executive of farming union NFU Scotland, as reported by the BBC. "These crops could have a role in shaping sustainable agriculture at some point and at the same time protecting the environment which we all cherish in Scotland."

The Scottish ban on GMO farming, however, does not affect exported goods, making Scotland not yet completely rid of GMO products. It also does not affect the way GMO products are labelled in shops, although Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone has proposed taking anti-GMO legislature one step further by ensuring that all GMO products be properly labelled, the BBC reported.

Ironically, although Scotland has banned the farming of GMO crops, it continues to lead the world in lab-based GMO research, The Guardian reported. Dame Anne Glover, a spokeswoman for the Scottish government recently explained the new ban will have no effect on current GMO research being conducted in Scottish labs.

A GMO is any type of organism, plant, or animal whose genetic material has been manipulated through genetic testing. Soybeans are the world’s most abundant GM crop, but other widespread GM crops include rapeseed (canola), wheat, and maize. Many argue that genetically altering crops is the next step in the evolution of farming and believe it is no different from the cross-breed farming that humans have been practicing for thousands of years.

There is a difference, however, between GM farming and traditional cross-breeding. GM farming involves physically changing the genome of the crop by strategically adding or deleting certain genes. This is a technique that scientists have only recently figured out how to accomplish. The technique hasn’t been around long enough for us to fully understand the consequences, although the FDA and other international health organizations continue to back the safety of GMO products. Despite this, GM farming opponents fear that altering the genome of plants could have long-term health consequences for humans.

GMOs, however, do serve an important purpose that may hit closer to home than you might think: They keep our favorite treats (like wine and chocolate) affordable. Many plants, such as coffee beans and oranges, have faced major declines in crop yields because of foreign and deadly bacterial diseases. For example, two fungal infections called frost pod and witches’ broom have become so out of control among cocoa bean farms that experts fear without GM beans resistant to the fungus, the cocoa bean may become entirely extinct, Bloomberg reported.

Along with the health concerns, the move to ban GM farming in Scotland also has economic motives. Lochhead believes ensuring Scottish goods are free from GMOs is best for both the Scottish economy and the future of its agriculture.

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