SCOTTISH Government plans to ban genetically modified (GM) crops were broadly welcomed by environmental groups and campaigners yesterday.

However there were stark warnings from academics who claimed it marked a “sad day” for Scottish science.

The decision to use new rules allowing countries to opt out of growing EU-authorised GM crops will see Scotland cease cultivation of all GM crops, including the variety of genetically modified maize already approved, and six other crops awaiting authorisation.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said the decision was taken to protect Scotland’s food and drink sector, reportedly worth £14 billion to the economy. He said growing GM crops in Scotland would be “gambling with the future” of the sector.

There was support for the government from Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland. He said: “The Scottish government has been making anti-GM noises for some time, but the new Tory government has been trying to take us in the direction of GM being used in the UK, so it is very good news that Scottish ministers are taking that stance.

“If you are a whisky producer or breeding high-quality beef, you ought to be worried if you don’t want GM but it is going to come to a field near you and you were worried that there was going to be some contamination. It is certainly in Scotland’s interests to keep GM out of Scotland.”

There was some criticism that the Scottish Government had taken the decision when no chief scientific advisor was in place. Professor Muffy Calder left the post in December 2014.

Huw Jones, professor of molecular genetics at agricultural science group Rothamsted Research: “This is a sad day for science and a sad day for Scotland.

“GM crops approved by the EU are safe for humans, animals and the environment and it’s a shame the Scottish Parliament think cultivation would harm their food and drink sector.

“If approved, this decision serves to remove the freedom of Scottish farmers and narrows their choice of crop varieties to cultivate in the future.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government defended its decision and denied there would be a negative impact on Scottish research.

“These changes would not affect research as it is currently carried out in Scotlabd where the contained use of GM plants is permitted for scientific purposes ,” she said.

Andrew McCornick, a vice-president of the National Farmers Union Scotland, claimed the move would impact on Scotland’s ability to compete with other countries: “My personal view is this is simply going to make us less competitive. It means that other countries are going to adopt this – and I would call it biotechnology rather than GM – and that will affect our efficiency and our farmers’ ability to compete with our neighbours.

“There is going to be one side of the Border in England where they may adopt biotechnology, but just across the River Tweed farmers are not going to be allowed to. How are these farmers going to be capable of competing in the same market? It certainly won’t be delivering a level playing field with other countries.”

Social-ecologist Mike Small said it was wrong to claim this was a “new policy”. Rather this move was “the continuation of a long-held policy”, he said.

Small wrote: “In 2013 the Scottish Government laid out the following principles which guide their opposition: The precautionary principle – insufficient evidence has been presented that GM crops are safe. The preventative principle – the cultivation of GM crops could tarnish Scotland’s natural environment and damage wider aspects of the Scottish economy such as tourism and the production of high quality, natural food. The democratic principle – science-based decision making cannot replace the will of the people. There is no evidence of a demand for GM products by Scottish consumers.

“The fact that the Scottish Government has put together these sound, well-reasoned principles to guide their opposition gives us real hope that Scotland can be a strong voice against the pro-GM lobby in the years to come, and we can focus our attention on building a sustainable food system for the next generation.”