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6 August 2017, 08:24
Scotland's opt-out on growing genetically modified (GM) crops must be protected after Brexit, the Rural Economy Secretary has said.
Fergus Ewing has written to UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove seeking assurances that EU opt-out provisions on the cultivation of genetically modified crops will continue after the UK leaves the bloc.
The Scottish Government announced in 2015 it would ban GM crops and request Scotland be exempted from European consents for their cultivation.
In the letter Mr Ewing said the opt-out was "extremely important" for Scotland's food and drink industry.
He welcomed a commitment made by Mr Gove in a speech last month that environmental protections would not be weakened after Brexit but raised concerns about "caveats" in the speech.
Mr Ewing's letter said: "While it did not mention GM specifically, it is these caveats and the amount of emphasis you place on science as being at the root of environmental policy, as opposed to evidence, that concern me.
"Science is indeed an important driver of innovation in delivering agricultural and environmental outcomes, and the Scottish Government is committed to scientific research in Scotland.
"However, there are many types of evidence, of which science is one, that are important to consider in any policy development, for example socio-economic evidence.
"With this and the lack of any reference to GM policy in the Conservative manifesto in mind, I ask you to confirm that the GM opt out provisions will continue to exist post-Brexit and that the UK government will not attempt to impose the cultivation of GM crops on Scotland against our will.
"At the same time, it is vital that the labelling of GM food and feed products is not weakened so that consumers can exercise choice."
Mr Ewing also renewed calls for powers over agriculture and environmental policy to be transferred to Scotland after Brexit.
Currently there are no GM crops grown commercially in the UK but some GM commodities, such as soya used for animal feed, are imported.
A Defra spokesman said: "The government's view remains that policy and regulation of GM products should be science-based and proportionate."