The Need to Devolve Food and Farming
Last month the Scottish Government embarked a continuance of its long-held policy on GM food. Q a backlash with scribes like Euan McColm foaming at the mouth and Alex Massie chipping in with a grand parochial ignorance.
Now, to the embarrassment of many of these pundits, Scotland’s food and agriculture policy lies at the very heart of mainstream continental food policy with nineteen of the 28 EU member states having applied to keep genetically modified crops out of their territory, and more on the way.
The AP reported:
“Denmark, Luxembourg, Malta and Slovenia made last-minute applications for such a ban, the EU Commission said. They thus join Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, France, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Poland in seeking to keep the genetically modified crops out of their fields. Britain is also seeking a ban for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, leaving only England to willingly allow GM crop cultivation. Belgium has opted to keep its French-speaking Wallonia region GMO-free.”
So far so good, and if it leaves considerable (GM) egg on the face of unionist scribes then all the better. But there’s a problem.
As Eve Mitchell of Food and Water Europe writes:
“Formally speaking, Scotland will now ask the (pro-GM) UK Government to ask the European Commission to ask any company seeking approval for a GM crop in Europe to exclude Scotland from said approval under the mechanism introduced earlier this year. It will also use the new law to ask for an opt-out of crops already authorised or in the approvals queue. Democratically-elected governments having to go cap-in-hand to GM companies for permission not to grow their products is, of course, a democratic outrage, but it’s not the only one. Despite the clear rejection of GM crops by three of the four countries that make up the UK, the UK Government consistently votes in favour of GM crops and imports at the EU level. UK Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Elizabeth Truss regularly rubs salt in the wound saying things like, “I think GM crops have a role to play here in Britain.” So pinned between a deal with GM companies on a crop ban and pro-GM Westminster, who could blame Scotland for grabbing the chance she has to get what she needs when bigger boys are trying to steal her lunch money? Mr Lochhead’s position is perfectly reasonable: “I firmly believe that GM policy in Scotland should be guided by what’s best for our economy and our own agricultural sector rather than the priorities of others.” Hear, hear. It’s also canny: “Scotland should stay focussed on niche and high value markets, rather than commodities where we know we cannot compete.”
In other words despite the devolution of food and agriculture to Scotland, we still need to go through the UK as members state when European decisions or discussions are being had. This is unacceptable.
Eve Mitchell again: “It’s a shame the National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS) isn’t more vocal about protecting its members from these threats rather than toeing the GM line and trying to insist that a lack of GM crops will harm Scotland’s competitive advantage in a global market quietly turning its face away from GM foods.”
In other words, as in all fields and sectors of Scottish life you need to confront the establishment at home as well as the Westminster elite. And, whilst the range of European countries opting out is a huge success, it’s not a complete picture.
Even pre-TTIP those national demands must now be put to the big agricultural multinationals, including the likes of Monsanto and Dow. The agro companies have the right to oppose calls for these GM products to be banned from individual member states. If they do then member states can still invoke “substantial grounds”, for example specific environmental or agricultural issues, for a ban. At present the legislation crucially allows member states to ban GMOs on environmental policy considerations, even if the crop has already been cleared on health and safety grounds at the EU level. So far only one GM crop is cultivated in the European Union – Monstanto’s MON 810 GM maize.But there are also eight pending applications for GMO cultivation in the EU, including renewal of the MON810 authorisation. On top of that, 58 GMOs are authorised for import into the EU for food and feed uses, rather than for cultivation.
The GMO opt-out was intended as a way of promoting GM foods. It’s been a spectacular failure for the lobby and a great success for ordinary citizens. Now we need to put pressure for food and agriculture to be properly devolved and allow Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to have their own voice in Europe. But we also need to be able to expose and restrict GM food in animal feeds and have full transparency in our food systems.