The Scottish Government’s former chief science adviser has warned its decision to ban genetically modified crops could have “apocalyptic” consequences and threaten Scotland’s food and drinks industry.
Professor Muffy Calder, who stepped down from the role in December and has yet to be replaced, said she is “disappointed and angry” at Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead’s decision to opt-out of European Union consents for some GM crops.
Mr Lochhead said on Sunday that GM crops could “damage our clean and green brand, thereby gambling with the future of our £14 billion food and drink sector”, and may lead to a “consumer backlash”.
But Prof Calder said this does not appear to be based on scientific evidence, and she warned the decision could be even more damaging by leaving key cash crops such as potatoes, soft fruits and whisky ingredient barley susceptible to disease.
Scottish crops could be exposed to diseases which “could come and wipe us out”, she said.
Prof Calder said: “I meant it in an apocalyptic sense.
“I’m not expert in the area, but everyone knows that there are diseases, there are blights that can affect crops.
“One of the motivations for GM crops is to develop more disease-resistant crops, and another motivation is so that you have to use less pesticide.
“If we’re not looking for other ways to make our crops resistant, it does leave us open, and maybe someone else will be able to develop something that is resistant .”
She added: “The ban seemed to be based on a perception of demand and fear of consumer backlash, not on any scientific evidence about GM crops themselves.
“It’s fear of the unknown, based on some unscrupulous articles in the very early days about potential health risks which have really not been well founded and there has been no evidence ever since.”
When asked if the decision could threaten the whisky industry, Prof Calder said: “That is an implicit conclusion one could draw from it.
“I’m not saying that, but what I am saying is to have a blanket ruling saying we can never investigate these means we’re cutting off a whole lot of avenues that other countries will explore and it doesn’t seem to be for scientific reasons.”
She has urged the Scottish Government to heed the advice of Professor Nigel Brown, a former member of the Scottish Science Advisory Council and chairman of the Genome Analysis Centre, who said there are “no examples of adverse consequences so far”, and that GM crops are kinder to the environment as they require fewer pesticides.
Prof Calder has also called on the Scottish Government to publish the scientific basis for its decision, and any studies it has done to substantiate its fears of a public backlash.
“If this is based on a perception of consumer demand where is the evidence for that, where is the social science that has been done for that? I’m not aware of it.
“As a general point, if you’re making policy then you should indicate the basis upon which you made the policy.”
She said she is not aware of any research of this nature being done while she was chief scientific adviser.
“I was not asked about this and the Scottish Science Advisory Committee was not asked either,” she said.