Scottish rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said on Sunday: “Scotland is known around the world for our beautiful natural environment - and banning growing genetically modified crops will protect and further enhance our clean, green status.
“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 [€19.76bn] food and drink sector.”
The Scottish government will submit a request to the EU that it be excluded from any EU consents for GMO cultivation – including the already approved GM Monsanto maize MON810 and six other crops pending approval.
The move took advantage of the recently approved European GM law allowing member states to ‘opt out’ of cultivation on their soil while allowing other pro-GM countries, such as England and Spain, to speed up authorisation of new crops.
A spokesperson for the Scottish government told us the ban would not impact GM research, which would continue in Scotland under controlled lab conditions at institutions like the James Hutton Institute and the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health.
The ban revealed the marked difference between Edinburgh and Westminster GM policy, with the UK’s conservative government already announcing plans for commercial cultivation of GM crops such as maize and oilseed rape in England.
Asked if this was a political move to distance itself from Westminster, a spokesperson told us: "The Scottish Government firmly believes that GM policy in Scotland should be guided by what's best for Scotland’s economy and our own agricultural sector rather than the priorities of others."
Organic and anti-GM group the Soil Association praised its decision.
Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, told us the move saw Scotland joining a growing movement of countries and regions rejecting GM.
"If England wants to have any hope of maintaining a healthy food and farming industry, it also needs to cultivate the 'natural, high-quality' and 'clean and green' reputation that the Scottish government has rightly said they are determined to protect. Scotland's determination to keep out GM crops is good news for the UK as a whole, because it sets a high standard that England, Wales and Northern Ireland must now live up to."
The Scottish government said a 2014 Public Attitude to Science survey found that of people who considered themselves well informed about GM, 40% thought the potential risks outweighed the benefits. This group had concerns about health and the long-term effects of GM crops.
"Food and drink producers in other countries have also reported moving away from GM because of a consumer backlash," the spokesperson said.