ALISTER Jack has used a visit to a farming tech centre to reiterate calls for Scotland to embrace controversial gene-editing science – despite Holyrood’s opposition.

The Scottish Secretary met workers at the James Hutton Institute in Invergowrie, Perthshire, on Monday where he was pictured being shown around the research hub.

In a statement released after the visit, Jack again called on the Scottish Government to allow English legislation to apply north of the Border, bringing gene editing into Scottish farms.

The National:

He had previously signed a letter – along with Environment Secretary George Eustice – urging the Scottish Goverment to back the UK Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill. 

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The Scottish Government is opposed to the policy on the grounds it diverges too greatly from EU standards, with environment minister Màiri McAllan saying introducing gene editing could harm increase “compliance costs” and harm “future trade” with the bloc.

Ministers are also concerned that, despite Holyrood’s opposition to genetically-modified food, it could be forced into Scottish shops anyway because of the impact of the Internal Market Act which allows foods approved in one part of the UK to be sold everywhere.

Since Brexit, the UK Government has sought to decouple gene editing from the broader concept of genetic modification.

The National:

The Tories are currently pushing through legislation which would legalise gene editing, saying it would result in products “which could have occurred naturally or been produced by traditional breeding” – a claim dismissed by anti-GM campaigners.

On his visit to James Hutton Institute, the Scottish Secretary said gene editing could keep food costs down.

Jack said: “It was a real privilege to visit the James Hutton Institute and hear from some of the top scientists working in Scotland about their research to improve our food security.

“That includes technologies such as gene editing, which has so much promise in keeping food costs down for families, as well as giving Scottish farmers a huge boost.

“We are legislating to allow the use of gene-edited crops in England, and I repeat my offer to the Scottish Government to work with them to ensure that farmers in all parts of the UK can benefit from this technology.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson: "Scotland wants to ensure that we operate to the highest environmental standards, and that we protect the strengths of Scottish agriculture and food production.

“The use of genetic technologies is a complex and emotive area and the UK Government’s own public consultation last year rejected the changes to the regulation of GM that it is now pursuing.

“The Scottish Government has a number of concerns about the UK Government's Precision Breeding Bill and how this will impact on devolved matters. The regulation of genetic modification is a devolved area of responsibility and the views of stakeholders in Scotland must be central to how those regulations apply to new genetic technologies such as gene editing.

“In Scotland, we will be taking careful note of the European Commission’s ongoing consideration of the issues involved, including the outcome of the public consultation it has conducted. The development of environmental policy in Scotland will continue to be driven by the pursuit of the highest standards.”