Admiration for the Scottish Ban on GMO crops
To the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment,
26th August 2015
Dear Mr Lochhead,
The Scottish Ban on GMO crops
We are writing to express our admiration for your recent announcement regarding a ban on GMO crop plantings in Scotland (1). We understand that this is simply a formalisation of a de facto ban that has been in existence for many years, and we have greatly admired the manner in which the Scottish and Welsh devolved administrations have worked together, with cross-party support, to prevent GMO plantings in spite of the strongly pro-GM stance of successive governments in Westminster. At the same time we have been saddened by the manner in which the UK Government has systematically ignored the wishes of Wales and Scotland in almost every EU vote relating to GM crops and foods. Those pro-GM votes, often based upon highly suspect safety evidence, have never truly represented the wishes and sentiments of either the science community or of civil society.
Yours is a brave step, and we hope that it will be followed by similar announcements from Wales and Northern Ireland, although England is probably a lost cause! We are gratified that Germany has already followed suit (2), and we are confident that there will be many more announcements from other EU member states between now and 2nd October.
We note that your announcement has been attacked by certain sections of the "science establishment" and even by your past Chief Scientific Advisers Prof Anne Glover and Prof Muffy Calder, on the grounds that it is "unscientific" and based on ideology (3). Sadly, we have very little respect for those two professors or for scientists with strong vested interests in the GMO "enterprise", since they appear to be in a permanent state of denial about the huge amount of peer-reviewed evidence in the public domain relating to actual harm arising from the direct and indirect use of GMOs (4). We do not understand why otherwise sensible people seem to think that GMOs represent "progress" and that there is a scientific consensus on GMO safety. There is no consensus within the science community (5), and there is now such a powerful public backlash against GMOs and agrichemicals like glyphosate that the only sensible scientific and political option is simply to get rid of them. Members of the public have a better appreciation of scientific issues than they are often given credit for, and they have an instinctive appreciation of what the Precautionary Principle means. In our view, you are perfectly justified in this context in invoking that Principle in the formulation of your GMO policy.
We will never accept that either the EC or EFSA has the right to pronounce definitively on the safety of GMOs, or that "the science and the risk assessments are already done". Their past assessments are way out of date, and are deeply flawed, and science constantly moves on. Despite what the EC rules may say, member states and competent authorities MUST maintain the right to question the science and to demonstrate that it is defective.
We completely disagree with Muffy Calder that long experience has shown GMOs to be safe, and we disagree with her that the Scottish Government needs to consult with GMO "experts" and with experts in "dialogue" whose role would presumably be to educate the ignorant members of the public! The Professor does not seem to understand that GMOs are different in law from non-GMOs, and that they are not just the products of a particular breeding technique. She also does not seem to understand that your ban is not just an unscientific "blanket ban" on all GMOs, but a carefully targetted ban which involves the naming of all 8 GMOs that are either approved or in the approvals pipeline (6).
In conclusion, in our estimation your ban is very well founded in science; is based upon a well-judged appreciation of the competitive advantage that will accrue to Scotland in the future; will have no negative effects on Scotland's science research community or on its reputation; and demonstrates a laudable respect for the wishes of the people of Scotland. We agree with you that there is no demand for GMO crops or foods, and on that basis alone your decision is a "no-brainer."
We wish you all all success with the practicalities of bringing this ban into force in the coming months.
Dr Brian John
on behalf of GM-Free Cymru
GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health
Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., and Charles Benbrook, Ph.D.
N Engl J Med 2015; 373:693-695August 20, 2015