ADOPTING genetically modified crops could help Scotland achieve its ambitious carbon neutral targets, according to Scottish Conservative MSP Peter Chapman.

Biotechnology is a subject which has been politically taboo in Scotland under the SNP, said Mr Chapman, but may be a topic that will attract increasing interest in the agricultural industry in the post-Brexit landscape, particularly as Scotland has set ambitious targets to become 90% carbon free by 2050 and the environmental impact of its farms will be under scrutiny.

During the ‘Climate Emergency’ debate in Holyrood last week, North-east MSP Mr Chapman told the chamber that farming should be part of the solution to climate change rather than part of the problem.

“It is largely our farmers who will plant the extra trees which we need to counter climate change,” he said. ~It is farmers who will put mitigation measures in place to restore peat bogs. It is on farmers’ land that wind turbines and solar panel farms are located.”

When asked whether exploring GM could be a possible solution, he agreed: “I absolutely think GM is part of the solution, but it is a fair way down the road. We have turned our back on it for the last 15 years where we could have been getting useful input from some of our excellent colleges and universities – but it is a taboo subject as far as this SNP government is concerned,” he concluded.

A Scottish Government spokesperson has since confirmed that it ‘remains committed to ensuring no GM crops will be grown in Scotland’.

ScotGov stressed that the views of the scientific community were valued, acknowledging cutting-edge GM science being undertaken across Scotland – but its focus remained on preventing the cultivation of GM crops in the open air.

Responding to this political divide, NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick argued that the industry needed to be more open to new technologies like gene editing, and alluded to potential benefits such as improved productivity and a reduced need for chemical intervention.

“The global population is growing at an exponential rate and our need, as farmers, to produce more food in a manner which is still environmentally beneficial has never been higher. Farmers, crofters and growers need to be open to new technologies which can aid in this improved productivity if we want to continue to move forward and be successful.

“It is important that we define the clear differences between Genetically Modified Organism and Gene Editing technologies,” stressed Mr McCornick. “GMO is where genetic material from one organism is added to another organism, whether plant or animal. Gene editing is where you are working with the genetic material within one plant or one animal and editing it for beneficial outcomes.”

However, the deputy director of Soil Association Scotland, David Michie, refuted any movement in favour of lifting Scotland’s prohibition on GM crops.

“Evidence from the US shows that GM has been a boon for agribusiness – Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta – without significantly benefitting farmers,” claimed Mr Michie. “We should, instead, encourage farmer-led innovation, such as Scotland’s Rural Innovation Support Service, which enables farmers to find local solutions to global problems.

“Through Soil Association Scotland’s Farming for the Future programmes we support and enable farmers to work with nature in ways that increase their profitability and farm resilience. Agroecological methods such as investing in soil health, supporting biodiversity by minimising chemical inputs, restoring peatland and integrating trees on farms, reduce farmers’ reliance on costly inputs and help them optimise production, whilst locking up carbon.

“It’s not a binary choice between food production and environmental outcomes – rather the two are inextricably linked,” he concluded.