Eat Your GM Cereal

images (2)Predictably, as soon as the Scottish GM opt-out was announced a crowd of overnight experts appeared. Some people just have an unswerving devotion to scientists and, in a fragile and confidence-sapped democratic culture this emerges as a quaint belief in a sort of ‘Expertocracy’. With a slightly useless political class, we defer, endlessly.

Men in White Suits are ALWAYS right, just because they always have been. The central message is: Obey. Added to this social thought experiment is the potent belief that everything’s pretty much fine. This is UK:OK Agriculture. Some of the chief complainers are averse to any Scottish policy innovation. What would we know? Alex Massie, after at least 24 hours googling ‘GM’ emerged as one such mighty expert positively dripping with disdain in The Times about ‘cranks’. Others are just a bit confused.

Most of this is a form of inferioirism. It starts from the premise that we probably don’t know what we are talking about so, best do nothing. It then doffs its cap to established forces, so Big Farma agribusiness and the Barbour jacket-wearing lobby have credibility, small farmers, shoppers, ordinary folk don’t. Eat your GM Cereal.  But under the softest of examination, the case dissolves.

What Problem Does GM Solve?

The first question to put to GM enthusiasts is What Problem does it Solve? Most don’t really know but quickly latch on to the idea that GM will ‘feed the world’ by increasing yield and stopping world hunger.

This has a wonderful logic as it shifts the GM industry from it’s stereotype as being driven by Monsanto and a handful of avaricious proprietorial power-hungry multinationals to a benign force driven by kindness. But the logic is fatally flawed.

If you are in a bar with 34p and the beer costs £4.50, it doesn’t make any difference if up from the cellar comes another 20 cases of beer. It’s still something you can’t afford. Producing more of something doesn’t make it more accessible.

As food historians know well during famines in Ethiopia, Ireland and India at different times, food was being exported even as people starved. So the entire edifice of the GM ‘yield’ argument and the compulsion to produce more food is wrong. It’s social justice that is absent, not lack of food or failing crops.

GM is a technical solution to a social problem. As it stands our food system is a horrendously wasteful one:

“Each year 1.3bn tonnes of food, about a third of all that is produced, is wasted, including about 45% of all fruit and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals, 20% of dairy products and 20% of meat. Meanwhile, 795 million people suffer from severe hunger and malnutrition.”

In this context you have to have areal cheek to put forward the idea that the answer is to produce more. Nor is this just a matter of the ethics of waste: ‘The environmental impact of food loss and waste is high. The carbon footprint of food produced and not eaten is estimated at 3.3 gigatonnes of CO2, meaning that if food waste were a country it would rank as the third highest national emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China.’

Global Resistance

Far from Scotland being some kind of parochial outlier, we have in fact joined a global resistance. India has not approved a single genetically modified food crop for human consumption. Only four African nations—South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt, and Sudan permit the commercial use of products that contain G.M.O.s. Other countries involved in bans and restrictions throughout the world include: Italy, Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal, Greece, Spain, Switzerland, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Brazil and Paraguay.

We’re not isolated, we’ve joined a global movement. That’s what happens when you start thinking for yourself.

As Peter Melchett from the Soil Association explained: “England’s ideological support for GM started under Tony Blair – he publicly stated his belief  in GM food whatever the public opposition, because he believed it was right. England became a strongly pro-GM country and successive governments maintained that reputation. This is bizarre. There is a huge and growing global market for guaranteed non GM agricultural products.”

Melchett then goes on to detail how English farmers have just won a contract for the single largest export (25,000) tonnes of oilseed rape in more than 20 years. The company involved placed it because of assurances about lack of GM contamination. That’s the sort of business that would and will come to a European country with a GM-free stamp of approval.

Despite Massie and his ilk oozing a patronising certainty, we stand on the brink of a bolder more forward-focused food policy that should include local food as the centre-piece of public procurement, a plan that connects food, health and education, an understanding of the potential of the circular economy, and a commitment to taking charge of our appalling public health record.

That’s a game-changing opportunity that manifests the idea of innovation and self-determination and is proof positive of the idea that we can do things better, now and more so after independence. This is what scares people. This isn’t anti-science – this is anti-corporate control of every aspect of our food system.

Civil Society

We can’t do better than endorse and support the statement from Nourish Scotland which states:

  • As citizens in Scotland, and organisations of citizens, we believe that GM technology and the way that it has been used in the last twenty years:
  • concentrates power and control in the global food system, with a handful of companies dominating the market for seeds and pesticides
  • makes small farmers run faster to stand still, increasing input costs for seed and herbicides while global commodity prices are falling
  • reduces diversity of food, seeds and plants and the resilience of local food economies
  • has stolen the limelight from other more viable, less risky scientific solutions for more sustainable modes of production and distribution of food

We underline the precautionary principle that the Scottish Government upholds – that the potential risks from GMOs to public health and our environment outweigh any potential benefits of the technology.

As stakeholders in Scotland’s food system, we recognise the importance of protecting and enhancing Scotland’s reputation for good, clean food.

We are aware that many of our major export customers have concerns about GM, while many EU member states including Germany and France are likely to join Scotland in opting out of GM food growing.

We note that Scotland’s world-class seed potato industry cannot afford any risk to its reputation for high quality seed – which includes many blight resistant varieties developed through conventional breeding techniques.

We encourage the Scottish Government to build on this decision by supporting closer co-operation between Scotland’s farmers, growers, fisherfolk, and Scotland’s people to tackle the central challenge of ensuring that everyone can feed themselves and their family well, without degrading the environment.

We want to see food for people – rather than food as a commodity – at the heart of Scotland’s vision for agriculture. Diversity of crops and food, farming with nature, not against nature, and short food chains between producers and citizens are the keys to Scotland becoming a good food nation – and a global contributor to fair and sustainable food for all.”

The Commercial Case

GM is an old failed technology that has been over-promising for 30 years. One of the central myths propagated by its supporters is that ‘there was a lot of fuss a few years ago but its everywhere now and no-one really minds.’

In the National, Professor Nigel Brown, President of the Society for General Microbiology wrote: ‘Slowly but surely there is an increasing acceptance of GM crops.’ This just isn’t true. The Food Standard Agency issues results from regular polling earlier in the year. Opposition to GM foods was at its highest since these polls began. It’s a technology that nobody wants and nobody needs. There is no country in the world where GM food is labelled in response to public demand and sold in the retail market.

The reality is that the science is hotly contested. What the Scottish Government has done is highly significant – it’s a bold move that needs supported and understood by progressive Scotland, but also needs to be extended and made part of a rounded joined-up food policy.

That’s where the real debate lies.

The people that argue that the complete divorce of food from place, season and nature has been a wholesome success need to make that case in the court of human experience. They will fail because however much money is plied in to the process, realty and lived experience intervenes.


Comments (111)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Dominic Berry says:

    I’m really glad Scotland did this. Quite beside the scientific issues, I always got the feeling that when I was being accused of being “anti-science”, what I was really being recognised for was that I don’t see human progress as bound up with establishing John Locke’s theory of Property as a dominant religion, and the sovereignty of big business, big ag and big science.

  2. Dominic Berry says:

    I’m really glad Scotland did this. Quite beside the scientific issues, I always got the feeling that when I was being accused of being “anti-science”, what I was really being recognised for was that I don’t see human progress as bound up with establishing John Locke’s theory of Property as a dominant religion, and the sovereignty of big business, big ag and big science. When we see any significant technological achievements by GM, instead of revenue from farmers accused of stealing seed which blew onto their land, or farmers who couldn’t keep up with the payments because the yield gained wasn’t quite what the salesman promised, after that, we’ll know if we’re looking at the next generation of food tech or the next Enron implosion.

  3. James Coleman says:

    Really good article. Cuts right through the GM Food Lobby assertions.
    Was really shocked by the food waste figures when so many in the world are starving. And I know I contribute to the waste by buying too much at any one time and having to throw stuff away because it has gone off before I eat it. I must cut my purchases. But can’t something be done on a wider scale to reduce waste?

    1. R. Eric Swanepoel says:

      What do you mean by, ‘Can’t something be done on a wider scale?’ It’s up to each and every one of us. I work for a small food-growing charity largely funded by the Climate Change Fund. One of our aims is to reduce food waste. We encourage people to report their food waste and shall be feeding (!) the information back using a social norms approach (, because people are influenced by what their peers are doing. This shows great promise. Core message: many people, just like you, are aware of the issue and doing something about it.

      Great article, Mike. I have long campaigned against GM, and not least the BBC’s relentless championing of it.

  4. Ian says:

    I’m sorry if this post is long, but it’s a complex issue.

    What is GM? Genetic Modification…

    We have been modifying plants and animals – deliberately – by a number of techniques for at least 10,ooo years.
    Almost none of the plants we eat or grow in our gardens are natural. Likewise the animals we keep for food or as pets.

    First we modified the genetics of plants and animals by selective breeding; choosing the ones with the characteristics we desired most and cross-breeding them to (hopefully) produce better plants & animals. This is a slow and uncontrolled process as often characteristics that we did not want are passed to the next generation, and – with inbreeding – undesirable characteristics which were not apparent become a problem in later generations. Although we have done this for millennia this became the exciting science of the 16th century and onwards when some of our oldest varieties were created. But we don’t farm many of those anymore. This is not what most people mean by GM. it is not banned. I can’t imagine anyone thinks it should be.

    Often mutations arise in nature. We think of mutations as a bad thing, but they can bring about useful changes too. Sometimes the mutations are hard to understand. Sometimes they’re so easy they’re in the High School Biology syllabus. E.g. polyploidy – this is a condition where instead of having the usual 2 sets of chromosomes in each of its cells, the organism has 3, 4, 5 or more sets in each cell. Polyploid organisms tend to be bigger, tougher faster growing than their ‘normal’ counterparts; they’re the stuff of nightmares! In the wild polyploid plants can outcompete other plants and alter entire ecosystems. This has happened many times; one of the best studied examples in the UK is a polyploid marsh grass which slowly spread around our coasts stabilising salt marshes and drying them out so the sea recedes. There are towns in England which were previously seaside resorts with a beach and a promenade but now are several miles from the sea. We didn’t do this – it’s natural…
    Most of our crop plants are polyploid. Every strawberry, grain of wheat, or apple you have ever eaten is a polyploid mutant. Goldfish are polyploid. Not only are bananas polyploid mutants – they’re all identical; clones. But this is not what most people mean by GM. It is not banned.

    Later we developed more advanced techniques which enabled us to create hybrids by a process called somatic fusion – fusing individual cells of completely unrelated organisms to make a new organism with characteristics of both. Again, it’s very uncontrolled as we cannot predict which characteristics the new hybrid will have. This still isn’t what most people call GM. It’s not banned.

    In the 1930s plant breeders, tired of waiting for new characteristics to appear by random mutation, realised they could create those mutations themselves. Plants were bombarded with radiation (usually gamma rays or x-rays) or dosed with mutagenic chemicals. This creates changes throughout the DNA which are not well understood and cannot be predicted. Unsurprisingly, most of the new plants produced were disfigured and useless, but a few were enormously useful. Over the last 80 years over 3,000 new varieties of plant were produced this way and well over 1,000 are in regular production around the world. Some are starting to go out of fashion and are now considered to be traditional, heritage varieties. At one time Golden Promise barley was used almost exclusively to make the finest Scottish beers and Whiskies – it was created in the ’60s using gamma rays. Now only 2 distilleries still use it because most farmers have moved on to newer varieties which produce a greater yield. Soon it may be extinct and lost to our whisky industry who claim it gives better flavour. This not what people mean by GM. This technology is not banned.

    Finally, plant breeders realised it would be better to be able to control the DNA of crop plants. Rather than waiting for new mutations to arise by chance or randomly altering DNA or merging existing plants in an uncontrolled way… why not modify a single characteristic. A single gene. So that we know exactly what changes have been made to the plant. So they looked for a desirable characteristic – the ability to grow faster, or produce a bigger crop, or have a higher nutritional value, or yes.. to be resistant to herbicides – and then transferred just that single gene into the plant we wished to alter. Producing a new strain, identical to the old one except for that one single characteristic. No more dangerous random changes to the DNA, no more undesirable characteristics appearing in the next generation. The correct name for plants & animals
    produced in this way is transgenic. This is what most people mean when they say GM. So we banned that. Because it sounds scary.

    GM has nothing whatsoever to do with processed junk food (McDonald’s pride themselves on their non-GM and often organic ingredients).

    GM has nothing to do with pesticides – some GM plants varieties are grown with more pesticides, others require less; just like non-GM crops, they vary. If you don’t like pesticides, buy organic food on which only a limited range of older (and in some cases, more toxic) pesticides are used. There is no health or nutritional benefit to eating organic but some evidence that organic farms have more wildlife – to me this is a good thing and if you are willing to pay for there to be more wildlife I thank you for your donation.

    Monsanto, however much you may dislike them are not the only company producing GM plants – there are some in Scotland. Banning GM in an attempt to thwart Monsanto is like banning computers because Apple have too much control over the market and don’t pay any taxes. Except that Monsanto make lots of other products too likle non-GM seeds, pesticides, weedkillers (you may have used some in your garden) and fertilisers. They’ll happily sell us those if we ban GM.

    There are no GM/transgenic animals in our food chain (there are some in trials but none have been licensed anywhere in the world – they are undergoing much stricter safety testing than any animal has ever undergone before and are a long way from being licensed).
    There are a few varieties of transgenic plant which have undergone the same safety testing that any new plant undergoes (and then some extra) and been given licenses. At present, none of these are relevant to Scottish agriculture so it seems easy to ban them. After all we’ve been waiting 30 years and little useful has come from GM/transgenics… but remember, mutation breeding started in the ’30s. Most of the useful varieties it produced started to appear in the ’60s. Mutation breeding was being abandoned as a technology in favour of much more controllable transgenics. But now many plant breeders are turning back to mutation breeding (with radiation, mutagenic chemicals and poorly understood changes to DNA) because it isn’t what people call GM and nobody wants to ban it.

    There are lots of GM organisms in widespread use though; GM bacteria produce all of the insulin to treat diabetes. GM fungi make rennet for vegetarian cheeses. We haven’t banned those either. Perhaps we should?

    Studies show that 4 out of 5 people oppose GM food and would like to see it banned or clearly labelled so they can choose. The same studies show that 4 out of 5 people would like to see food with DNA in it clearly labelled. It would be simpler to label table salt as “DNA free” – everything else you eat contains DNA.
    And there’s the problem – ignorance breeds fear. And it’s hard to fight because there is so much misinformation spread by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

    I hope I’ve helped some of you to understand a little better so more of us know what we’re talking about. Now we can have a rational discussion on whether we should exempt ourselves from what could be the next revolution in farming (or it could be a damp squib) or whether we want our farmers and biotech industry to be a part of it.

    1. Paul Carline says:

      Really? No evidence that eating organic food is healthier for us? Complete tosh. You fail to mention the scientific evidence that eating GM foods is harmful, even lethal to lab animals. Your ‘science’ is specious. GM techniques involve a gross assault on organisms that cannot be compared with any other method for producing new varieties. You dont mention the utter failure of the transgenic cotton experiment in India which ruined thousands of farmers and led to many suicides. And no connection between GM and pesticides? Really? Just coincidence that Monsanto produces both?

      1. Ian says:

        “Really? No evidence that eating organic food is healthier for us?”

        Absolutely none. Ask The British Nutrition Foundation. Please feel free to provide a link if you can find some. There are plenty of unsubstantiated claims, but they are just that – not evidence. Organic food isn’t even pesticide free – it just allowed a narrower range of pesticides (generally those which are older and less effective. In one or two cases those which are considered less safe than more modern alternatives.)

        “You fail to mention the scientific evidence that eating GM foods is harmful, even lethal to lab animals”

        I fail to mention that eating some plants has been shown to be harmful. GM plants are no more or less harmful than any other plants – that’s why new plant varieties are tested and licensed before they can be grown. That’s why blanket banning the technology is pointless. Test each variety as we usually do.

        “the utter failure of the transgenic cotton experiment in India”

        93% of cotton grown in India is GM – sounds like a success.
        Why not read the real story rather than believing a one-sided version of events:

        “ connection between GM and pesticides..”

        They are two different technologies. Banning GM because you don’t like pesticides makes no sense. It’s like banning all chocolate because you don’t like Nestle selling infant formula. It would make more sense to control the problem rather than another product made by the same manufacturer (and may others).

        1. Fraser says:

          Thanks for that comment Ian. I am saddened that for a supposedly informed society such as the one we have in Scotland there is still such widespread resistance to GM foods. I think a lot of it stems from poor scientific literacy among the public plus the use of terms like “Frankenstein food” being used a lot when I was growing up. GM foodstuffs (and textiles) have been used extensively and successfully across the world for decades yet there is still scepticism, verging on fear. The idea that a pesticide treated “organic” (a nonsense term) carrot is in anyway healthier than a GM carrot bred to have latent resistance to pests without the need for chemicals or sprays is ludicrous! I imagine the vitamin, fibre and carotine levels are pretty much identical!

          I do however oppose the monopolization of the technology by large companies who may or may not strong arm farmers into using their products. I also think the level of food waste in the developed world is truly appaling and the Scottish government would be wise to dealing with this problem too, just as they successfully dealt with over use of plastic bags.

          As a final point, the idea of not using GM plants in Scotland in order to preserve our ‘natural beauty’ is also daft, the grouse moors of Scotland are some of the most artificial rural landscapes in the UK. Here I think the government should pursue a rewilding program, and get the countryside fully back into public hands!

          1. Ian says:

            Ironically the pesticide most commonly used by organic farmers is a suspension of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) – it’s permitted in organic farming because it’s a naturally occurring soil bacterium and it’s effective as an insecticide because of the proteins it produces.

            The protein producing genes have been transferred into a number of GM crops including Bt cotton, Bt maize, Bt soya and Bt potatoes so there is less need to spray the crop with insecticides – but apparently that’s dangerous and not allowed under organic rules!

  5. Broadbield says:

    So, Mike, what exactly is your expertise? What science degrees do you have? Expert in maths, statistics perhaps? Seems to me you are one of the predictable “overnight experts” who doesn’t understand the science. As I pointed out previously there is a comprehensive article in Wikipedia. This is all a bit like the mmr fiasco.

    1. John Craig says:

      The most obvious problem most people have in this matter I would imagine,is who’s behind the science. Almost inevitably up comes a list of the usual big money corporations. What is their motivation in funding research ? The boardrooms of those companies aren’t full of philanthropists discussing how to dispose of company profits to the benefit of mankind. So what is their motivation? What element of risk are they prepared to take with a dubious product which might not raise it’s problems for several years ? What serried ranks of Legal Eagles do they have at their beck and call ? What levels of government can be bought ? Which big investors can be given the nod as to where to put their money? There’s a survival mechanism deep in the human Psyche which is in danger of becoming extinct; it’s called common sense. There’s a hole in the ground which might contain a snake or a pot of gold. Put your hand in to become rich or dead. Avarice makes you take the risk. Common sense says on you go greedy boy.

      1. Broadbield says:

        I agree, scientists and academics aren’t always the independent, objective observers they portray themselves as being, but neither are journalists or members of the public. That’s simply human fallibility. What I object to is the trashing of the “scientific method” in favour of hokum, such as in the first two paragraphs.

        It may seem counterintuitive, but science proceeds by being wrong. Someone, comes up with a hypothesis, the world is flat, there are a few sceptics, but generally the hypothesis is accepted since it seems to fit observational data, until eventually a weight of counter evidence suggests that an alternative hypothesis is a better explanation…and so on. The scientific method is the best we have for advancing knowledge and I much prefer it to individual prejudice. The problem is human input, not the method.

        The two articles on GMO’s are the kind of things people have been writing about Climate Change or Evolution. So, should we all consign Climate Change and Evolution to the dustbin? We also get the same kind of vitriolic, insulting responses we saw from “Mike” in the previous article (is this the same Mike as the author of the articles?), rather than reasoned discussion. Human input again. Graham

        1. Me Bungo Pony says:

          The problem is, Broadbield, GMOs are not some gizmo that we can give a try and then discard if it turns out not to do what it was supposed to. It is something that, once out there, will be there for eternity. If you’re right, and GMOs are a godsend, then “phew …. dodged a bullet there”. If you’re wrong, then ………………… !?

          I do not agree with Ian’s analysis either. Selective breeding within a species or across closely related species is merely humans hi-jacking nature and accelerating natural processes. What we call GM in this current debate (and I think Ian is being a bit disingenuous in equating the other “natural” processes with transgenic modification) is wholly unnatural and sees genes being inserted into the genome of one organism that originated in a wholly unrelated species. For example, fish DNA being inserted into cereal DNA which simply could not happen in nature. I think it is only natural (sic) that people would wish to take a step back from that.

          It is not as if the economic argument has been made for these crops. After decades of promises, and ever more bizarre combinations of species, they have shown no significant increase in yield. Even that insignificant increase is rendered pointless as there is no shortage of food in the world. It just a little bit more to ultimately waste. Why take the risk of permanently damaging “Earth’s genome” if there is no economic advantage?

          But, of course, there is one economic advantage. The advantage to multi-national corporations. Splicing specific genes from one species into another gives them the opportunity to patent the subsequent organism. Actually “patent life”. The more they can corner the market in “life”, the bigger their profits. They can make increasingly impoverished growers pay for their “product” and put “exclusivity clauses” in the contract that bind the growers to them for years. Ultimately, these companies could control the planet’s food supply as more and more domestic plants and animals get “patented”. And why should they stop there? Why not splice a meaningless beetle gene into a deer, patent it, and then supplant the natural deer population with your “product”. By “patenting” the wild, you can charge people to hunt and even view your “products”.

          There’s more to this issue than simply what goes in your Weetabix.

      2. Mike says:

        No John the problem is we’ve been down this road too many times before with the likes of the Nuclear Industry the Tobacco Industry various pharmaceutical companies and the immoral mostly dishonest extensive lobbying getting new products to market entail.
        They all present us with credible sounding science and expert looking individuals with silver tongues and extensive vocabularies which makes sound byting a doddle.
        But in the end its all the same. We need to get our product making profit yesterday and we don’t care what we have to say and do to get it there. If 10 years or 20 years or 30 years down the line we find a serious problem who cares we’ve made our Trillions and can retire away from the fall out.

    2. I have spent ten years researching Scottish food policy and problems in health and sustainability. It doesnt make me an expert, but my whole argument is that expertise should be utilised by civil society.

      1. G says:

        “I have spent ten years researching Scottish food policy and problems in health and sustainability. It doesnt make me an expert, but my whole argument is that expertise should be utilised by civil society.”

        Do you think Ministers should have utilised scientific expertise when considering this decision?

        1. Me Bungo Pony says:

          They did.

          1. G says:

            Have you got a link to reports commissioned by the ScotGov on GM crops?

            I’ve only seen statements from the former Chief Scientific Advisers criticising this decision and condemning the lack of consultation.

          2. Me Bungo Pony says:

            Is that the only way governments interact with the wider world G? Through the commissioning of reports? Why are you simply able to cite personal statements but I need to cite reports? I too have seen personal statements in favour of the government position. Why is that not good enough? You made the initial ludicrous implication they did not get scientific advice. Can you prove the they did not seek advice from “scientists”?

          3. G says:

            If Ministers utilised scientific advice then there will be formal records of this. Evidence based reports will have been written and submitted for ministerial reading and civil servants will have kept records of both the report and the ministerial opinion on them. This is how government works, there is always a document trail.

          4. Me Bungo Pony says:

            And I’m supposed to have access to all this am I? I note you do not claim it does not exist though.

          5. G says:

            You said Ministers had utilised scientific advice. How do you know this if you’re not aware of any records that they have?

          6. Me Bungo Pony says:

            Because the Scottish Govt does not exist in a cocooned vacuum with no interaction with the outside world. Of course they have had access to advice on this subject from many sources; scientific, social and economic. As you say, it is the way govt works. On the basis of that they have come to the conclusion that “currently” there is no advantage to Scotland in allowing these products in the soil.

            On what basis (other than the subjective claims of pro GMO people) do you believe that the Scottish govt studiously avoided scientific advice (of which there is plenty out there) on this issue?

          7. G says:

            ‘On what basis (other than the subjective claims of pro GMO people) do you believe that the Scottish govt studiously avoided scientific advice (of which there is plenty out there) on this issue?’

            Both former CSAs are openly in favour of GM crops and argued for them while in their position. The SNP have left the CSA position unfilled in the run up to this decision on banning GM crops, despite the closing date for applications being in April

            This begs the question, were they waiting to make this decision before they had an advisor who would disagree with them on this (as almost all mainstream scientific experts do)?

          8. Me Bungo Pony says:

            Do “almost all mainstream (there’s a loaded term) scientific experts” agree? On what basis do you make that assertion? What do they agree on exactly?

            The Government made its decision on more than just the scientific arguments. It was also looking at the economic ones too. There is no economic advantage to these crops and it is easily argued that they could damage the “Scottish brand”. Something that is worth a huge sum of money to the food (and, by default, the agricultural) sector.

            When there is controversy over the nature of these crops and no evidence they improve yield while possibly damaging a key sector of the Scottish economy, why get all hot and bothered over a “current” stance over them? The people, industry and soil are not in any way damaged by the decision. Why all the hoo hah? Because it is “anti-science”? What an incredibly vacuous accusation.

          9. G says:

            So to summarise, you don’t know on what advice the Scottish Government reached this decision, despite claiming that you did.

          10. Me Bungo Pony says:

            Oh they did alright. That’s for definite. What weight they attached to it when coming to their decision (when social and economic issues are included) is the question. On the other hand you cannot prove they didn’t ….. despite claiming they didn’t. So a bit of an impasse.

          11. Ian says:

            They appear to have consulted almost nobody. Organisations they didn’t consult include:

            The Biochemical Society, British Society of Plant Breeders, The Institute of Food Science and Technology, John Innes Centre, National Farmers Union National Institute of Agricultural Botany, National Institutes of Bioscience, Public Research and Regulation Initiative, Robert Gordon University, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Society for Applied Microbiology, Society for Experimental Biology, Science Council, Sense About Science, The Sainsbury Laboratory, UK Plant Science Federation, University of Dundee, University of Edinburgh & The Roslin Institute.


          12. Me Bungo Pony says:

            Are they legally bound to consult all these organisations? Were they ignorant of the work of these organisations? Was there some compulsion to do what these organisations want? The answer to all these questions is NO!

            Were there other factors which the Scottish Govt gave greater emphasis to? YES!

  6. john young says:

    Do people really believe that the Agri business has the good of mankind at the heart of it,s ethos believe that and you will certainly be of the “it,s not that they believe nothing ,they will believe anything”troupe,you do not have to be an “expert” if the trail is about money/profit you just know there will be something devious about it.Remember Dr Brzinszkhy spelling might not be bang on from Texas/USA where else that could and did treat certain cancers without chemo/radium with very little side effects if any,result he was jailed by the Pharmas/FBI only to be released when those he treated took to the streets,we need more people with wisdom be they scientists or bus drivers.

  7. Gordon says:

    The initial reason for my urge to comment was in defence of ‘scientists’. I’ve always felt ‘scientists’ is a lazy term, used far too often in a media that is afraid to rise above their simplistic, lowest common denominator journalism. ‘Scientist’ in the context of this article could cover specialists researching medical issues, pharmacology, environmental sciences, microbiology, agriculture, agrichemicals, animal and plant breeding, nutrition or pathology, for example. In each of these fields, there are many more avenues of research, and more importantly, a number of opposing conclusions reached from the masses of data produced. So apart from ‘scientists’ being too vague a term to use in many cases of journalism, stating that ‘scientists claim…’ is like stating that all politicians have the same opinion, or that all economists (or journalists) agree with each other.
    Right, that’s the ranting pedantry out of the way. I would like to add that I fully support the Scottish Government’s cautious wait-and-see approach to GM crops, and hope they are sung enough to withstand the inevitable pressure and bullying from the agrichemical multinationals.

  8. Muscleguy says:

    You, me and everyone else commenting on here is genetically modified. I found the evidence for this accidentally while trying to clone the tail end of a chicken gene. I picked and analysed 96 more candidates, sequenced them and threw them at the database (Actually I BLASTed them at the database). None were what I was after but one stood out. All had pages and pages of hits across the animal, plant, protist, bacterial, archaeal and viral kingdoms of life. Except that one. It had three human hits, one to the genome and two ESTs (Expressed Sequence Tags) showing it was turned on in some contexts. And Anopheles gambiae, the malaria mosquito. The source for it was a chick embryo.

    It did not hit our closest relative, chimpanzees whose genome was on the database or other mammals like mice. It did not hit fruit flies, dypterans like the mosquito, nor zebrafish or anything else.

    So we had two close commensals, humans and chickens and a vector, the mosquito. We did not inherit it from our common ancestor with chimps or mice. So the mosquito gave it to us, probably via a virus.

    I never published it because I had other things to do, I never did get that bit of that chicken gene either. But it shows how easy it is to stumble over lateral gene transfer which is what we call GM when Nature does it. The process is rife, yet Life on this planet has steadfastly failed to devolve into ‘grey goo’.

    This policy is anti-science because it says we are not going to listen to any arguments, no matter how reasonable, how reasoned, how much evidence of advantage. The Scottish Government will not listen, does not want to listen. Yet they want us to continue to research in the area and to sell GM organisms to the world. Organisms that are too dangerous, apparently, for us to use, but fine and dandy for export.

    The stench of hypocrisy comes from this policy.

    1. Broadbield says:

      I agree – anti-science. There’s loads of “external” dna in humans, most of it doing nothing. It’s disheartening. Most of the arguments don’t distinguish between the scientific issues, which can be evaluated on empirical evidence and other issues, such philosophical, economic, emotional or political. For example, the “greed” of agri-companies has nothing to do with the science per se. Companies may affect the conclusions of those writing papers and doing the research, but these conclusions should be evaluated on scientific grounds.

      One further point, and why I am highly sceptical of lay peoples’ uninformed opinions is that probably few of the experts they are relying on have gone to the original research and examined it critically. So those who are against GMO’s can always find some “expert” to trash it.

      I wonder how many on here have gone to read the Wiki article? Just one quote from that extensive article: “The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.”

      –American Association for the Advancement of Science[1]

      1. Muscleguy says:

        My family and I are living proof. We bought and ate flavrsavr tomato paste when it was, briefly, for sale in supermarkets before they were forced by threats including firebombing from the radical Greenies to take it off from sale thus denying us our choice to buy it. They were constantly in the media bleating that they did not choose to buy GM food, fine, I’m with them in that choice. But mine to eat it in a fully informed manner (I was then working the Laboratory of Eukaryotic Molecular Genetics at the NIMR, making transgenic mice by and large).

        The number of ill and under informed people who think transgenes act like viruses on steroids I have encountered and argued with online is depressing. But then the media who jumped on the hysteria and fed it did not help to inform people either. Everything we eat is full of dna, full of genes, many of which are alien to us. Yet we do not transform into triffids everytime we eat a vegetable stir fry or a decent salad. Yet still people are convinced one forkfull of ‘frankenfoods’ and they and their children are doomed.

        BTW thanks for your support.

        1. Me Bungo Pony says:

          It doesn’t matter Muscleguy. None of the current batch of GMOs deliver what they are supposed to deliver. All they do is allow huge multi-nationals to patent crop species and, eventually, have a huge influence/control over the World’s food supply.

          All your scientists (not “all scientists” as has been claimed on this thread) say is that the current batch wont harm you if you eat it. So what. Neither does the non GM stuff. Until the GM stuff actually outstrips the non GM stuff, there is no point to it. And, consequently, no point to people getting all het up by the Scottish Govt’s current stance which is based on not harming the “Scottish brand” by contaminating it with unpopular, unproven GM products.

          1. Muscleguy says:

            I was talking about this to my Bioinormatician daughter in New Zealand. She laughed at the idea that a long industrialised, nuclear power using and leaking, nuclear arms hosting, nuclear vessel hosting and leaking, acid rain and Chernobyl fallout affected country can, in contrast to NZ sell itself as ‘clean and green’ and I agree with her (I grew up in NZ). This idea is just so out of touch and bogus it beggars belief.

            I’m not saying all Scottish produce is thereby tainted just that the idea of selling stuff to the world on that basis is on a hiding to nothing. After Chernobyl NZ venison exporters had to rethink their marketing strategy. Their venison sold in the EU was under the ‘Black Forest’ brand which implied it might be tainted. They had to rebrand it.

            So colour me unimpressed by this argument from the Scottish government or your uncritical parroting it as though I did not read it in the article above. Must try harder.

          2. Me Bungo Pony says:

            Its all about perception though, isn’t it Muscleguy? You can rant and rave about how brilliant GM is (because much of “current” scientific “thinking” is that it is safe), but if the public don’t want anything to do with it the sensible thing is to block it until that situation changes ….. if it ever does (as “current” scientific “thinking” may change its mind ….. fatty foods and thalidomide anyone?).

  9. sandy ritchie says:

    Anti fracking…but polute the seas from off shore drilling for oil. Now it’s anti GM crops but accept that our food stuffs are polluted with pesticides…that are known to have caused tens of thousands of deaths and many more cases of I’ll health. Whereas how many deaths and I’ll health has GM crops cause….zilst. A title of one of my favourite bands comes to mind regarding GM crops…”fear of the dark”….

  10. Jess says:

    Really good article! I agree wholeheartedly that the key to solving world hunger lies in proper distribution of food and the minimisation of waste, not increasing yield.

    I’d just like a bit of clarification on one paragraph.

    “Only four African nations—South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt, and Sudan permit the commercial use of products that contain G.M.O.s. Other countries involved in bans and restrictions throughout the world include: Italy, Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal, Greece, Spain, Switzerland, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Brazil and Paraguay.”

    What is Egypt’s stance on the matter? Does it permit the commercial use of products that contain GMOs or is it involved in bans and restrictions?

    1. Ian says:

      Every nation in the world has some restrictions on GM organisms. In most cases this is not licensing certain GM strains (i.e. treating them the same as non-GM strains) or a local authority banning them (that really is gesture politics).

      Only 3 have banned them: Russia, Saudi Arabia and Scotland.

    2. Ian says:

      “Egypt takes a permissive approach to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and its public policy does not oppose growing, importing, and exporting genetically modified crops. Egyptian activists have voiced their rejection of this policy. Egyptian laws do not contain restrictions on researching, producing, or marketing genetically modified crops and food products”

  11. Me Bungo Pony says:

    Whatever the pros and cons of these “products”, I cannot understand the vehemence of those on this thread who support them. So what if Scotland “currently” does not allow them in its soil? There is no economic necessity for it as they do not increase yield or demonstrably do what they say they will do. The only people this decision hurts (if anyone) are the huge multi-nationals who want to control their patented products and make $bns out of them. Personally, I don’t want to see the World’s food supply controlled by a few mega corporations. I don’t think that will be good for anyone but the afore mentioned corporations. A perfectly reasonable point of view.

    For many who voice opposition to the Government position (not all by any means) it is simply a reflex anti “anything the SNP do” reaction. For them, if the SNP had unfortunately agreed to allow transgenic crops on Scottish soil, they would have been just as vehemently against that position too.

    1. Phil says:

      The point is, as with most scientific revolutions we don’t yet know what the potential benefits are.
      The most compelling case for GMO is not that it increases yield (as stated in this article) but that it gives you the means to tackle the main health issues relating to poverty, through minor genetic changes in produce.

      The clearest case of this is ‘golden rice’. One of the main health issues in developing countries is a lack of vitamin A in diet. This is responsible for the majority of cases of blindness in the world along with many other life destroying ailments. Golden Rice, genetically enhanced to increase the Vitamin A content of rice could potentially iradicate dietry caused blindness. This is why the Chinese government is very interested in it.

      But this is not the only benefit. GMO could reduce ‘first world’ health issues, such as obesity, heart disease and cancers by modifying food so that it has less harmful effects.

      Caution and pragmatism is needed as is regulation of business, but to ban it completely is silly and morally questionable given the potential benefits to people’s lives.

      1. Me Bungo Pony says:

        Fair enough Phil, but the current Scottish Govt stance does not preclude further research into the potential of GMOs. It only prevents the current examples from being planted in Scottish soil. This is what I find so ridiculous about many of the posters who are “outraged” by this stance. The Scottish Govt is not banning everything to do with GMOs, only the planting of the unproven stuff that mega-corps want to foist on us at the moment …… all for their own profit and future monopolies.

      2. Stephen says:

        Golden Rice is looking a little tarnished:

        The human species would never have reached 7 billion people if it took $100 million to develop one crop variety. In the 2nd article above, some of the legal implications of GM become very clear. We’re not talking about buying a packet of seeds from the garden shop, or saving them from last year here (especially as GM companies have put terminator genes in to the seeds to stop them being available for future cropping as farmers have done for centuries) we are talking legal arrangements, patents, very large and powerful pharmaceutical companies and a lot of money for someone.

        To me the whole GM thing is yet another Techno-geek out on a miracle product (GM) which, like fusion power, is going to sort out our problems without us having to change our way of life, social structures or any kind of social justice. When there is now a shocking amount of obesity in the world as well the staggering level of food waste mentioned in the main article can you really put your hand on your heart and say “Right. Clearly, the solution to human malnutrition is for us to genetically manipulate certain crops and then all 7 billion of us will be adequately fed”. Hmmm.

        As is stated in Arundhati Roy’s current book on capitalism – “… the richest 100 Indians own assets equivalent to a quarter of the nation’s GDP, while 80 percent of Indians live on less than 50 US cents a day.” So, will GM help them? Or rather than tinker with symptoms, how about a government that redistributes that wealth and restructures society to allow dignity for all and a dramatic reduction in malnutrition? Of course that requires a government with vision and guts, changes to the law, offending the wealthy (who have the power) and more. GM crops is a standard capitalist quick-fix “solution” that addresses none of these issues. If those Indians on 50 cents a day can’t afford enough food, what good will GM do for them?

        GM is the wrong answer to the wrong question.

        1. Phil says:

          Some good points, but some confused issues. There are two separate arguments here. 1) GMO production and development 2) Big business and their monopoly control over GMO.

          It’s akin to saying, because big pharma is bad and utterly immoral in creating a monopoly over life supporting/ enhancing drugs then we should abandon all production and all market distribution of life supporting drugs (they need some sort of finance to exist in the first place). That because in the developing world big pharma charges obscene and unaffordable prices for anti retroviral drugs then we should turn our backs on their production. That because they flood the market with their product giving other no chance to participate then then market needs to be shut down.

          The simple inescapable fact is that you need some mode of production. How is the issue. This is where legislation should be targeted. This is where the Scot govt, the UK the EU, UN and more importantly collective civil society (transnational) is important and efficacious. The issue is breaking the link, the monopoly and the behaviour of big business. This is what the Scottish government ought to be doing – this should underpin their policy agenda (it doesn’t!). Instead of banning GMO for everyone they could instead take the lead by helping small scale and medium scale farmers in Scotland through the EU precautionary principle whereby tarrifs and production can be protected! If there is a legal challenge – fight it! One of the myths in the world is that we live in a completely free market system. We don’t. Govt’s can shut out all manner of business if it wants to (the Chinese, Koreans, Venezulans, Brazilians, Cuban, Japanese, Americans, EU do it all the time. And TTIP won’t change this contrary to assumptions – may even help!) This action of banning by the Scot govt prevents ‘anyone’ from producing GMO, not just Monsanto et al.

          It isn’t an either or. It is possible, ‘given the political will’ to both tackle the problems of globalization while reaping the benefits. Scotland banning GMO will not stop Monsantp and will have zero effect on the wider pressures. Eventually, Scotland, due to economic realities will be forced to accept their order of things (why nations are kind of obsolete vis a vis shifting transnational capital flows and mobile multinational companies). Instead why doesn’t the Scottish government address the issue of the system of patents and the monopolistic unfairness and imbalance of the system? Alex Salmond is foreign affairs spokes person!!! Instead of noising up the UK all the time why doesn’t he do something useful (would convert many more people to independence if he did!!!) Why doesn’t he add to the many voices in the developing world who see this as the issue rather than the wholesale banning of the free market production of drugs and now GMO?

          And there is another aspect that hasn’t been addressed; the reality of climate change. The general consensus seems to be that the increase in volatile weather systems will have a major impact on food production. The debate is set in the parameters of the past not what will be happening in the future. GMO may become vital in a very short space of time.

  12. Helena says:

    Great article. I know where I want my food to come from and it ain’t the tampered with sort making huge $’s and £’s for a few folk who would probably not be consuming GM food either! Oh no, they will have their food straight out of the garden grown by their servants.

    Good on the Scottish government. We need to develop and grow more via small farms, and community land and to empower people in urban and rural communities to grow their own, collectively as well as individually.


    What is the trend in paving over, gravelling and decking gardens about? People need educating on how to grow food, and flowers for pollination. The plastic grass trend is just sick too, what a disgrace. I saw a guy with a pump spray covering the whole of his small gravel patch with pesticide a couple of days ago, my god, so sad to see that!

    Keep GMO’s at bay, why mess with nature? We are already screwing up our kids’ futures, it has to stop somewhere.

    1. Angus says:

      You wont be wanting any bananas, watermelons, corn, strawberries, soy, sugar, papayas, sweet potatoes and almost all fruit and veg that you eat which is sold anywhere. We’ve been genetically modifying food since agriculture began. We’ve just developed a more efficient and faster way of doing it than relying on breeding in and out traits. Even organic food is genetically modified.

      1. Me Bungo Pony says:

        “Naturally” modified Angus. NOT artificially modified.

  13. Mr. Verloc says:

    Elsewhere you mention you’ve spent 10 years researching Scottish food policy. I’ve read “The Fife Diet”.

    The thing is, Locavore-ism is the stuff of art manifestos. GM is potentially (not here, not now) – but potentially – a class of techniques that could be very useful in crop science. No, you’ll never find proof of this. But what you need to justify a ban on scientific grounds, especially when experts are objecting, is proof to the contrary. “Ban now repeal later” is nonsensical.

    Clearly there is a huge amount of healthy skepticism about agribusiness and the way it uses GMO diffused among the public in Scotland. Yet instead of proscribing Monsanto, the SNP are warming to TPP. And meanwhile, it would seem, science policy is becoming a vector for propaganda anti-capitalist, nationalistic attacks on agribusiness. This is jingoistic, anti-intellectual and dangerous. If civil society has so much expertise, let it be used responsibly to keep regulating GMO.

    1. I don’t use the term ‘locavorism’ Mr Verloc but my project – and may like it – saved thousands of tonnes of C02e. Not the stuff of art manifestos. In fact our Food Manifesto gathered cross-party support when it was presented in parliament. If you want to know more you can read my book ‘Scotland’s Local Food Revolution’. ‘Anti-capitalist attacks on agribusiness’ you say. Sounds about right.

      1. Broadbield says:

        Yes, but you confuse the issues which can be settled on a scientific basis with those that are philosophical, and essentially untestable. And I am equally skeptical of your “experts” as you are of the scientists. (following your own guidance on the matter as they don’t exactly look like independent, objective observers)

        Here’s the science again, in case you missed it: “The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.”
        –American Association for the Advancement of Science[1]

        Personally, I am agnostic on the issue – I grow and eat organic wherever possible, and where not we buy local where the source is known. But I am against the trashing of science as the lackey of big business. I too am anti- globalisation, but there are many more worthy things to ban, such as tobacco.

        1. Muscleguy says:

          Hmmm, I’m a lifelong non smoker but banning tobacco? You do know I hope that along with Arabidopsis, the thale cress, tobacco is a model scientific organism, a mouse of plant science. Shall it exist only in laboratories? but who will stop the temptations of the gardeners to earn a few extra knicker and sell some seeds to outsiders? or will the laboratory have to spend big and burn carbon to keep desperate smokers at bay?

          And if that scenario does not persuade you then if we accept your illiberal proposal then how long before the growing of barley to brew beer or make whisky falls to the same logic? Must grapes only be eaten? Rice never fermented and distilled? Potatoes never make vodka again? I do not care to live in your utilitarian world, devoid of any pleasures.

      2. Phil says:

        Sorry Mike, but this is highly selective cherry picking of evidence again. ‘locavorism’ or whatever you call it is not in anyway universally supported as you imply. For starters cross party committees in Holyrood are dominated by the SNP so not really balanced int he way select committees in WM are (a problem of Scottish democracy that needs addressing).

        Also the notion that local production reduces CO2 and carbon emissions is highly contested. There is ample evidence that local food production, due to the small scale and non optimality of it increases energy consumption. (Long distance marine shipping is low energy- cars and trucking is high energy CO2)

        e.g) 1)growing fruit in greenhouses in northern climates rather than growing them in sunny southern climates then exporting them increases energy consumption as greenhouses are very high in energy consumption = the small scale means more short trips and truck and car usage.

        2) Scale production allows for high density urban planning – reducing energy consumption and making non base load green energy sources more efficacious (the smaller more dense the energy need the less energy is consumed and the more diverse the energy sources can be. Localism doesn’t begin to address the simple fact that most people live in cities without the space or means for local production so is utterly impractical for most of the world.

        There are benefits to projects like the Fife Diet, but they tend to be associated with healthy living and education over nutrition and what food is.

        1. Thanks for educating me on these subjects of which I know nothing

          1. Phil says:

            A very grown up response.

            Plus there is the elephant in the room. Local food production is economically unsustainable. The Fife diet cost a staggering 1 million pounds in public money to support, for very little return. On those figures it’s near on impossible to see how potential energy saving benefit (if there is any) isn’t overwhelmingly offset by the energy used in the wider economy too generate 1 million pounds.

  14. Phil says:

    The self righteous, ‘I’m right and everyone else is wrong’ ‘moral outraged’ tone of the article just puts me right off – it’s just bad journalism and belongs in the Daily Mail. The truth is that GM is contested, there are benefits and there are hazards. To dismiss the prevailing scientific evidence (there are many respected ‘independent’ bodies who offer cautious optimism from BMA, to the Royal Society, AMA AAAS and many others in Europe, Asia and the Americas – they are not all stooges of big business and to claim so is absurd and the worst kind of conspiracy theory nonsense.) as Mike and the Scottish govt are doing is ‘anti science’. But this isn’t to say there aren’t issues, primarily the ‘use’ of the technology, for whom and by whom. Here I think many are in agreement that if big agri-business gains a monopoly, Monsanto et al, then it helps no one. However, this is a question of regulation over ‘use’ and over monopolies within industry. For this reason most sensible governments (contrary to Mikes assertions) have not banned GMO outright but instituted a gradualist approach based on research and government controls. Also not all GMO is the same, it is a diverse technology with many different incarnations and to adopt this blanket, quasi religious, fundamentalist zealotry of Mike Small is no better than those who refused to listen to Gallileo.

    Every major scientific revolution has been accompanied by a ‘moral panic’ that ignores the dispassion of scientific method and the pragmatism of probability (logically the only way we can progress) – If we refuse to accept the prevailing science for GMO then we may as well pack up and give in to superstition and pseudo science everywhere as that is the logically consistent end.

  15. john young says:

    Phil most if not all have some sort of dealing with the likes of the Monsanto,s of this world,as I have said previously “follow the money” this will tell you how ethical it is,look at the pharmaceuticals and how they have fcuked up,look at the military/industrial complex another monster,it is all about profit and more profit,ow can they claim that therewill be no side effects they don,t know but they will make something up to fit their purpose anyways,I wouldn,t trust any of them.

    1. Phil says:

      Fair enough, I’m no cheerleader for big agri business, but more pro science.

  16. arthur thomson says:

    I’m supporting the Scottish Government on this.

    I have no useful knowledge of the subject but I like the idea of the Scottish Government taking an independent stance. Of course, I am not in the least surprised at the reaction to it – that they are not bright enough to have weighed up the pros and cons. How could they be?

    But I fancy that this is actually a political decision that takes into account of a whole lot of factors outside of the scientific debate. And I think they are right to take the political stance they are taking.

    1. Ian says:

      As the news about this story continues to be reported it looks increasingly like Richard Lochhead made this decision as you say, based on ” a whole lot of factors outside of the scientific debate”.

      In fact it looks like the scientific debate was not taken into account at all. The only ‘stakeholders’ quoted in the SctoGov’s statements as supporting it are The Soil Association (who clearly have a vested interest in promoting organic farming) and FoE. There is no evidence of scientists having been consulted (the office of Chief Scientific Advisor is currently vacant but the previous occupants do not support the ban) and the National Farmers’ Union seem unimpressed.

      A fortnight ago Richard Lochhead announced:

      “I have a vision for a more productive, innovative, profitable and green future for Scottish farming and now is the ideal time to consider how we might best achieve that.
      “That is why I recently launched a discussion document on the Future of Scottish Agriculture with the aim of prompting conversations across Scotland about what we want farming to look like in this country and what we need to do to deliver this vision.
      “It is crucial that everyone with an interest in agriculture, including people who live in rural communities as well as those who work in the sector, are able to have their say.”

      After an incredibly short consultation period it appears he has announced what his vision is without waiting to find out what all the stakeholders views are.

  17. Clydebuilt says:

    There’s a political force that deplores any difference developing between Scotland and England. That’s the main thrust behind the SNP Bad reaction.
    I m strongly in favour of the Scottish Government’s stance. Our food exports success is based on a high quality offering. Bring in G.M and our exports won’t be in such demand.

    1. Dair says:

      “Our food exports success is based on a high quality offering. Bring in G.M and our exports won’t be in such demand.”

      Macallan, globally the second biggest selling malt whisky, famously use Golden Promise barley in their whisky.

      Golden Promise barley was a product of the early bio-tech industry – the genes of an existing barley variety were deliberately mutated using gamma radiation. You can make up your on mind whether this fits the “pure and clean” brand image – but it doesnt appear to have harmed one of our premium food & drink brands. On the contrary, some people long for the days when that was the only barley they used.

      1. Me Bungo Pony says:

        Golden Promise was a radiation induced mutation of an existing breed. Radiation is THE major cause of “natural” mutations in nature. Golden Promise was not the product of artificial transgenic procedures and so not a “GMO” as we understand it in the context of this debate. All scientists did back then was accelerate a natural process. Not terribly efficient but not transgenic either. But then again, to date, transgenic varieties have singularly failed to deliver on any of their promises …. so not very efficient either. Although they are efficient in allowing mega-corps to patent species and set them on the way to controlling the World’s food supply. I don’t know about you, but I’m not relishing that prospect.

        1. Dair says:

          “Golden Promise was a radiation induced mutation of an existing breed.”

          Correct – you understood what I said, well done.

          “Golden Promise was not the product of artificial transgenic procedures and so not a GMO”

          Well it was articial (i.e. made or produced by human beings) and it’s not clear the Scottish Government definition of GMO doesnt cover it.

          Oh, and horizontal gene transfer happens in nature too.

          “transgenic varieties have singularly failed to deliver on any of their promise”

          citation needed

          1. Me Bungo Pony says:

            (1) You mis-quote me. The full quote is; “Golden Promise was not the product of artificial transgenic procedures and so not a “GMO” AS WE UNDERSTAND IT IN THE CONTEXT OF THIS DEBATE”. That final clause is pretty important to the point.

            (2) Horizontal gene transfer does occur in nature, but what is being done is not natural. The use of radiation just accelerates a natural process. Transgenics is a direct human replication of a process that happens rarely in nature and, like most natural mutations, is more likely to kill the host than improve it.

            (3) There are plenty of sources that will confirm GM crops have not lived up to expectations (to quote Kezia “Google it). If they had, those results would be shouted from the rooftops and would form part of the argument on this thread. Its complete absence speaks volumes.

            (4) I don’t care about the “science” (speaking as a “scientist”). Its the socio-economic problems associated with the ability to patent crops, etc that bother me. A relatively few NeoCon capitalists in charge of the World’s food supply should worry everyone.

    2. G says:

      Using GM ingredients in cheese hasn’t harmed that part of the agricultural industry. Why should it be true of any other?

      1. Me Bungo Pony says:

        But do they advertise the fact GMOs have been used? If not, why not? Do they fear it will damage the products appeal? If so, it kind of proves the Govt’s point.

          1. Me Bungo Pony says:

            I don’t see any mention of GMO in that blurb Dair. Why don’t they mention it? And anyway, Golden Promise is not an artificial transgenic breed.

  18. Colin Brown says:

    I’m with Me Bungo Pony about 5 hrs ago on this: “The Government made its decision on more than just the scientific arguments. It was also looking at the economic ones too. There is no economic advantage to these crops and it is easily argued that they could damage the “Scottish brand.”
    Some might call this populism, especially as it seems to be anti-science which annoys me as much as other commenters. But I’d see declaring Scotland’s food products to be GM-free as upselling, and if that stops being an economic benefit, a ban can be reversed – but only in that direction, and once.

  19. Tony Rozga says:

    Good article. The stats on food waste are shocking. I remember being at an NFU meeting one night and a senior member was lecturing us on food shortage and people facing starvation globally. His point was that we must not put a cap on agri subsides for individual farmers, expansion and greater scale is good. I told him that we waste annually, enough food to feed something like 1billion people. He just laughed and said that can’t be true. Then they go on and moan how they can’t get young folk to work on their massive soulless farms. Agri-Biz and agriculture are two totally different things.

  20. Dair says:

    @Bungo Pony

    “I don’t see any mention of GMO in that blurb Dair. Why don’t they mention it? And anyway, Golden Promise is not an artificial transgenic breed.”

    Oh, so you would expect them to actually say “GMO” the same way, say, carrots are labelled “F1 Hybrid” (they must print it in very small text – cause i’ve never noticed it) . Maybe it’s because they, and everyone else, thinks nothing of it.

    For why Golden Promise is relevant – see my previous response with the link to the Scot Gov definition of GMO.

    Also, I’m not the only one who thinks it’s relevant

    1. Me Bungo Pony says:

      Bottom line Dair, Glengoyne have not “boasted” about using GMOs in their product as you claim. They have highlighted their use of a breed of Barley. No one reading the blurb would be aware of the breed’s origin (despite it NOT being a GMO within the context of this debate). So we are still waiting for evidence of anyone “boasting”, or even informing, people of GMOs in their product. Why?

  21. Douglas says:

    I know nothing about GM crops, agriculture etc, but what I can do is read a text, and, clearly the SNP are making sure to distinguish Scotland on this matter as every other from England…the Catalans recently banned bullfighting for the same reason….

    Is this how you win independence? I don’t think so….these things often backfire…

    Can we have a language academy and not the pathetic gesturism of CS’s most recent Scots Language report? A piece of trash you could have written on the Edinburgh-Glasgow train…and translated into Scots too…is there a Scots grammar?

    If so, can I see it please? How do I get my hands on a copy? Or is just Janet Archer that has one? Who decided on the grammar of the Scots leid? Is the past participle of the the verb “to go” went or gone? The Scots say “I’ve went to the bank/pub/bookies”…which is it, Janet?

    Why did nobody ask the people – why was there no “consultation”, that SNP fetishistic word – on what appears to be the official grammar language of the Scots Leid as per planet Creative Scotland?

    The Catalans, when they decided on restoring their language, held a literary congress. People turned up in their thousands with words on scraps of paper…tradesmen, priests, workers, porters and bell-boys….they made it into not just a debate, but THE debate…

    Turns our there is a grammar of the Scots Leid, and only the insufferable suits at CS know what it is….again, we go down on our knees to these people of superior learning and culture and English accents and beg, please, to be enlightened…

    Sorry…off topic….but I am beginning to get thoroughly sick of the SNP and their defining everything in regard to England…

    1. Me Bungo Pony says:

      I don’t see the SNP bringing England into this Douglas. It is only their opponents who are even hinting at some sort of “anti-English” angle to this. So why not just get sick of them forever trying to wangle it into each and every decision the ScotGov make?

  22. Dair says:

    “(1) You mis-quote me… That final clause is pretty important to the point”

    And I dealt with that point. The context of this debate is a legal decision taken by the Scot Gov which means the legal definition of a GMO is relevant. Said legal definition does not limit GMOs to transgenics.

    EU Definition – “organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or recombination.”

    Artificial mutation is covered neither by mating nor recombination.

    “(2) Horizontal gene transfer does occur in nature, but what is being done is not natural”

    But blasting barley with gamma rays is?

    “Transgenics is a direct human replication of a process that happens rarely in nature and, like most natural mutations, is more likely to kill the host than improve it.”

    Gamma radiation has a bit of a reputation for that too.

    “(3) There are plenty of sources that will confirm GM crops have not lived up to expectations (to quote Kezia “Google it”). ”

    To quote rational people down the ages “you made the claim – it’s up to you to provide the evidence to back it up” (oddly that’s how science works)

    “(4) I don’t care about the “science” (speaking as a “scientist”). Its the socio-economic problems associated with the ability to patent crops, etc that bother me. A relatively few NeoCon capitalists in charge of the World’s food supply should worry everyone.”

    Well that’s fine and I would probably agree with some of that – however, I’m not sure banning the growing of crops helps much. And it’s certainly not the justification the Scottish Gov gave for the ban (not that they gave much of a justification)

    1. Me Bungo Pony says:


      (1) You deliberately misquoted me ….. why? To make a false point.

      (2) a. Exposure to radiation IS a natural phenomenon that we are ALL exposed to ALL the time. We are NOT subject to another creature’s DNA being inserted into our own on a day to day basis …… or even a generation to generation basis.

      b. ALL natural mutations are infinitely more likely to kill the host than improve them. I did NOT exclude radiation from my point.

      (3) a. I made the claim and I stand by it. If you can’t be bothered to “Google it” that’s your problem. I’m sure others are not so reticent about checking it out. Frankly, I’ve got better things to do than spend all my time doing it for you. But here’s a fact from Nature (International weekly Journal of Science);

      “Since the late 1990s, US farmers had widely adopted GM cotton engineered to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate, which is marketed as Roundup by Monsanto in St Louis, Missouri. The herbicide–crop combination worked spectacularly well — until it didn’t. In 2004, herbicide-resistant amaranth was found in one county in Georgia; by 2011, it had spread to 76. “It got to the point where some farmers were losing half their cotton fields to the weed,” says Holder.”

      b. And we’re posting on an internet thread. We are not “doing” science.

      (4) a. How does the allowing of GMO crops in Scottish soil help anything? Research has not been banned, only commercial cultivation.

      b. The Scottish govt did give its main reason for banning cultivation as the damage it could do to the “Scottish brand”. There is a lot of public resistance to GMOs which is why nobody publicises the use of GMOs in their products.

      PS Why are you so het up about this? It is such a minor thing. If GM crops finally come good (and I wont hold my breath on that one) it is a matter of months for Scottish growers to “catch up”. It may well turn out even better for them as many of their competitors could be stuck in contracts with the current duff GM stuff while they will be able to go straight in with the brand new “good” stuff.

      1. Ian says:

        “We are NOT subject to another creature’s DNA being inserted into our own on a day to day basis …… or even a generation to generation basis”

        I’m confused by this statement.. are you expecting to find yourself subject to genetic engineering experiments in which new DNA is combined with your own on a daily basis? Nobody has any plans to do any such thing – you watch too much Sci-Fi.

        Or, do you mean consuming DNA – in which case you already do that on a daily basis. Almost every piece of food you consume contains another organism’s DNA and you insert it into your stomach and intestines.

        1. Me Bungo Pony says:

          I don’t understand your problem with what I have written. I think you have misunderstood. Perhaps you should read it again in conjunction with Dair’s post that it replies to.

  23. Garrett says:

    If you like eating tons of roundup keep eating it-If you don’t want to eat this controversial pesticide you must understand that its not just the GM crops that are soaked in it-any food that is not Organic is probably is Roundup produced, from cattle or any animal feed – GM corn to Oats and Potatoes that are not GM are still produced using Roundup- The other main concern I have of GM crops is that pollen is infecting non GM crops from afar and what’s the distance deemed safe by Science is not a recommended 50m separation – bees and wind don’t understand the metric system!

    1. Dair says:

      Roundup (Gylphosate) is a herbicide – you can buy it any garden centre – it isnt a GMO and it hasnt been banned.

      1. G says:

        Glyphosate is also remarkably safe to use at typical concentrations, breaks down quickly in water, and does not persist in soil for more than a year or two. These are some of the reasons why it is so widely available in garden centres for home use, it requires no special care and no need to worry about the significant long term consequences of using it, there do not appear to be any.

        It also works very effectively.

        1. R. Eric Swanepoel says:

          No. The more glyphosate is studied (by those without a commercial interest in its sales), the more its dangers are revealed. The French Government has banned its retail sale following the WHO’s declaration that it is probably carcinogenic to humans (

          For me, howver, the most powerful argument is that it is harmful to biodiversity and an integral part of an unsustainable, resource-guzzling system of agriculture (agro-industry). It must go.

          Here’s a nice, gentle introduction to an alternative to agro-industry: .

        2. sandy ritchie says:

          Glyphosate safe to use?…that depends on what safety information you read. It may be relatively safe…and the point of use. However there are many papers pointing out that residues found in common food stuffs may have long term health effects. Pesticide residues are found in most foodstuffs but should be kept within “safe” limits. These safe limits are often reviewed downwards when new scientific research indicates that harmful effects are shown even at the former “safe” levels.

          1. G says:

            I’m not aware of any evidence that glyphosate is harmful at the levels at which users are exposed to, let alone traces left on plants that are consumed (simply washing these would be sufficient to remove any significant trace amounts too). The compound has been around since the 70s, and nobody has ever managed to prove direct evidence of harm to humans or other animals at normal exposure levels.

            PS Glyphosate is a herbicide, rather than a pesticide, not that this is relevant to toxicity, but it is to exposure, as herbicides have very different usage patterns.

          2. sandy ritchie says:

            Glyphosate has acceptable daily limts (adi) set at various levels depending on the country ..3 mg per kilo body weight in EU. It also has a maximum residue level for food stuffs…again depending on country. Environmental and food safety lobbies provide research that Glyphosate residues may cause chronic health effects. Washing will not remove all the residues.

          3. G says:

            Sandy, quite apart from glyphosate residues not being present at anywhere close to legal limits in food, washing will removed residues. It’s water soluble!

        3. Me Bungo Pony says:

          It works very effectively ….. until GM crops developed to be resistant to it pass on their gene to the weeds surrounding them. Then it becomes worthless and the poor growers are left with a crop being choked by weeds they cannot kill. A scenario that has come to pass with cotton growers in the USA.

          1. Dair says:

            Increasing weed resistance to herbicide is a problem which has existed since the introduction of herbicides.

          2. Me Bungo Pony says:

            I agree Dair, but the combination of one particular herbicide and the artificially modified crop developed to resist that herbicide has led to the extremely rapid development of weeds also resistant to that herbicide …. in the exact locations of the GMOs. Two things could have caused this. Either the extreme evolutionary pressure of over-use of a particular herbicide has led to the rapid development of a new species of plant (unlikely in the time scale involved) or the weed has acquired the resistant trait from the GMO it is in close proximity to (much more likely).

            Either way, the use of a GMO has led to unlooked for (but eminently predictable) adverse consequences. Consequences that life on Earth will have to live with until the sun explodes. A good reason for being cautious when it comes to their use.

  24. Anton says:

    “By their deeds shall ye know them” is not a bad principle in my view. And given that most of the world’s cotton is GM, I’d hazard a guess that most of those reading and posting on this site are happily sitting in front of their computers wearing (amongst other things) genetically modified underpants.

    My point is simple. There’s a lot of hypocrisy and posturing on this issue. I don’t for a moment disagree with Mike Small’s suggestions for better husbandry. But these proposals don’t exclude properly controlled developments in the field of GM. A blanket ban as advocated by the Scottish Government and supported by this site would seem to be an extreme position.

    Unless, Mike, you can assure us that you only wear nylon next to the skin?

    1. Kathleen says:

      I’m not in a position to buy only organic cotton clothes, or the land to grow a fibre crop. My probably-GM-clothes are one of a hundred other compromises. It’s not hypocrisy for people to make compromises while working for the changes that would mean we don’t have to make them anymore. Who is there that doesn’t?

  25. Kenny says:

    “If you are in a bar with 34p and the beer costs £4.50, it doesn’t make any difference if up from the cellar comes another 20 cases of beer. It’s still something you can’t afford. Producing more of something doesn’t make it more accessible.”

    I suggest the author reads up on the laws of supply and demand. They can be found in any basic economics textbook, often in the first chapter.

    Egregious errors like this are really undermining this site’s credibility.

    1. John Craig says:

      you’ve got me beat with your observation that an “Egregious Error” has been committed in the above statement. Could you please explain.

      1. Kenny says:

        John, do you imagine that the price of something is unaffected by the quantity supplied?

    2. Me Bungo Pony says:

      You misunderstand Kenny. In the metaphor, there is already an over-abundance of beer. There is more than enough beer to go round and still you are unable to afford it. Adding to the over-abundance doesn’t help matters. “Supply and demand” only goes so far. Other factors come into play in complex economic systems.

      1. Kenny says:

        MBP, if the pub owner had to get rid of all that beer quickly he might well lower the price. However, it’s an artificial and rather bizarre metaphor. It’s not usually an individual pub that sets the market rate for beer and if more beer was produced by suppliers then the price in all pubs would very likely fall. The author is falling into the familiar fallacy of treating an individual household as if it were an entire economy.

        Even if there is an over-abundance of food produced in Scotland, which is questionable, improving productive efficiency (which is what we’re really talking about) should lower the cost of it. Of course there are lots of factors beside supply and demand, yet the food market does seem to be a generally competitive one where these laws hold.

        1. Me Bungo Pony says:

          I think you are being a little too literal in your critique of the metaphor. A metaphor is not meant to be tested to that extent. It is only an illustration of a point.

          Within the “feed the world” issue, the problem is not too little food to go round. It is the fact it is all going to a few wealthy places where a huge amount is wasted. The waste the wealthy few generate could adequately feed the rest of the world.

          There is plenty of supply and there is masses of demand in the “starving” countries …. but, crucially, not enough money. Money will trump “supply and demand” every time. You can produce as much “supply” as you want, while the “demand” in the 3rd world grows, but until the 3rd world gets money (or some mechanism of redistribution is introduced) they will continue to starve.

          Hooray for neo-con capitalism 🙁

          1. Kenny says:

            “There is plenty of supply and there is masses of demand in the “starving” countries …. but, crucially, not enough money.”

            Demand, by definition, must be backed up with purchasing power. So when you say there is masses of demand that is, by definition, wrong. There is need, yes, but when economists talk about demand that is not what they mean. The starving countries may need food but if they have no money to buy it there is, by definition, no demand for that food.

            To understand the laws of supply and demand you have to appreciate this. Demand does not mean the same as need, or want. No money, no demand.

            It’s very important to know this distinction because (in theory anyway) free markets will ensure supply and demand come into equilibrium. Economists use this to make free markets sound almost magical. However, the fact that markets generally supply what is demanded does not mean that markets will even meet basic needs.

          2. Kathleen says:

            I’m not well read on economics – so this is curiosity, not sarcasm.

            The article isn’t using the term “supply and demand”.

            You’ve agreed markets generally supply what is demanded, (in the economics sense of demand), but that this does not meet people’s basic needs.

            What was the egregious error?

          3. Me Bungo Pony says:

            “Demand, by definition, must be backed up with purchasing power. So when you say there is masses of demand that is, by definition, wrong. There is need, yes, but when economists talk about demand that is not what they mean. The starving countries may need food but if they have no money to buy it there is, by definition, no demand for that food”.

            A more chilling illustration of how dysfunctional the market economy is would be hard to find.

            You are, however, making a mockery of your original claim. You originally claimed the theory of “supply and demand” works ….. now you say it doesn’t for the poor and starving….. but that it is still relevant because the poor and starving do not fulfil the financial criteria for inclusion in the market economy. Which is what the article basically highlighted as being the reason GMOs are unnecessary when it pointed out “producing more of something doesn’t make it more accessible”. So, as Kathleen asks, what was the “egregious error”?

            An insignificant increase in the supply of crops to the developed world (an already saturated market) by the use of GMOs “may” benefit the likes of us financially to an imperceptible degree, however, it will NOT “feed the world” as the producers and supporters of GMOs try to pretend.

      2. John Craig says:

        Thank you Me Bungo Pony,
        other factors include the product being wilfully withheld from the market to generate demand, or simply to assert dominance over an impoverished section of society. Supply and demand most certainly does not work for people with nothing, far less 34p.

    3. Kenny says:

      Let me make my position clear. I don’t believe that the laws of supply and demand will feed the poor. They can help to explain why the poor are not fed but they are not prescriptive. They ‘work’ in the sense that they have predictive power, not in the sense that they eliminate all wants.

      If you increase the supply of something through productive efficiency you almost always make that thing cheaper and more accessible. That’s why you are able to read this on a computer. Not everyone in the world can afford a computer but still, computers are more accessible than they once were, because productive efficiency increased the supply and lowered the cost. Now the real world is complex and certain forces, e.g. monopolies, tariffs, price-fixing may stop things becoming more accessible but as a general rule it’s pretty accurate. The more of something there is the lower its price. That’s why air, despite being vital for human existence, costs nothing. Do you seriously think that if we tripled world food production that would make no difference to world poverty?

      The egregious error is to flat-out deny this. I quote: “Producing more of something doesn’t make it more accessible.” It’s not qualified, just an outright denial.

      I’m seriously quite shocked at the content of the article. It’s along the lines of, ‘damn those men in white coats and their science! What do they know?’ And apparently the basic laws of supply and demand, which are generally accepted by economists of left and right (they’re probably the least controversial concept in economics), are also to be cast aside.

      Now, the GM debate is certainly intricate and I’m not suggesting it should be decided purely by scientists or economists. But that doesn’t mean we should engage in idiotic anti-science polemic like that in the article, or just cast aside basic economic concepts that are accepted by just about everyone.

      I’m going to be removing BC from my bookmarks as I believe it has become an embarrassment to the independence movement. The writing has always had a studenty agit-prop feel but the quality of writing in recent articles has been truly atrocious. This article, by attacking science generally, is moving into religious cult territory. And in this discussion I feel like I’m trying to explain that the earth is round.

  26. Kathleen says:

    From the scotsman today

    “Professor Brian Wynne, an emeritus professor at the University of Lancaster, said: “The GM debate is not black and white. It’s not just a binary option – either we have GM crops or we don’t. It’s far more complicated than that.

    “It’s a bit more like a religious crusade. The idea that if we don’t have GM then somehow it’s dereliction and hell and damnation and starvation is total rubbish.”

    He says the scientific community is the least qualified in “understanding the limits of their own knowledge”, their judgment often clouded by their own research interests.

    “We’re not trained at doing that in any systematic way at all during our scientific training. We get immersed in all sorts of commitments, including particular scientific paradigms or beliefs which do have alternatives.”

    He claims his fellow researchers are “just as emotional as anyone else”.”

    1. Ariel Poliandri says:

      Professor Brian Wynne: Emeritus professor of what? Science? or some shady discipline such as “cultural studies”?

      1. Kathleen says:

        He’s professor of Science Studies. Science is a cultural activity.

  27. Ariel Poliandri says:

    What a full load of leftard manure!
    At least allow me to congratulate Mike for not falling on the scaremongering non-sense of “untested technology it surely causes cancer and little kittens dead”.
    “The first question to put to GM enthusiasts is What Problem does it Solve?” What problem does Nicola solve? What problem does whiskey solve? The later may even made the former nicer to the eye brrrrrr. Even if they don’t solve any problem there is no reason for banning them (except in the mind of a totalitarian leftards who think it is their prerogative to tell everybody what, when and how to do things).
    “If you are in a bar with 34p and the beer costs £4.50, it doesn’t make any difference if up from the cellar comes another 20 cases of beer. It’s still something you can’t afford”. Fair enough but if there is no beer it doesn’t matter if you have 100 quid you’ll still be thirsty.
    “GM is an old failed technology” So why do you need to ban it Mike? Are farmers some kind of goo drivelling idiots that will buy it anyway? Even if they lose money?

    1. Me Bungo Pony says:

      Well that was pretty offensive 🙁

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.