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Tory MP says Scottish farmers are being blocked from growing healthier, cheaper food

By David Porter

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Scottish farmers are being blocked from growing healthier, cheaper food by SNP Ministers, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Conservative MP Andrew Bowie has warned.

MP Andrew Bowie
MP Andrew Bowie

The UK Government’s Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill will allow food producers to use precision breeding techniques with the aims of growing hardier crops, lowering carbon emissions, and benefiting public health.

Gene editing (GE) makes natural precision breeding of species faster and cheaper, and is unrelated to genetic modification which introduces DNA.

GE has been backed by Scottish farming chiefs and world-leading research institutes such as James Hutton and Roslin.

However, SNP, Green and Labour MSPs refused consent for the provisions of the bill to be enacted in Scotland.

This means farmers and researchers may be unable to take advantage of the technology, while food grown south of the border can do so.

Mairi McAllan, SNP environment and biodiversity minister, claimed on January 25the bill is a “pervasive attack on devolution” by the UK Government.

And she confused gene editing with genetic modification, stating: “Genetic modification is a complex and emotive issue and the speed with which the UK Government has sought to make changes has been alarming for many people.”

The National Farmers Union Scotland and Agricultural Industries Confederation said they were disappointed by the block.

West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Conservative MP Andrew Bowie said: "This technology offers a route towards food security, lower prices for farmers and consumers, and greener practices.

“Food producers across the UK want these changes made and they do not appreciate being made a constitutional football by the SNP.

"Farmers and research institutes – including Roslin and James Hutton in Scotland – want access to this technology, and I would suggest politicians start listening to the experts.

“If they don’t, our food producers and life sciences sector could be left on an uneven playing field when supplying their biggest market—the rest of the United Kingdom.”

The National Farmers Union Scotland said it was disappointed that the Scottish parliament refused consent.

Martin Kennedy, its president, said that precision breeding techniques such as gene editing “have considerable potential to deliver benefits for food, nutrition, agriculture, biodiversity and climate change”.

He added: “Gene-edited organisms do not contain DNA from different species, and instead only produce changes that could be made slowly using traditional breeding methods.

“Plant and animal breeding can be used to produce ‘better’ crops and livestock.

"These can have characteristics that will benefit animal welfare, public health, the environment, and farmers.”

The Agricultural Industries Confederation, which represents more than 230 agricultural suppliers, said a ban on gene editing in Scotland would create “unnecessary divergence” from the English supply chain.

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