Genetically modified crops are to be banned in Scotland.

The rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead says the move will protect Scotland's 'clean, green status'.

The ban will see Scotland formally opt out of the European Union’s pro-GM farming regime. The Scottish Government will be applying to Brussels to be excluded from approvals for GM crops across Europe.

Under EU rules, GM crops must be formally authorised before they can be cultivated in any EU nation.

Allowing GM would threaten the nation’s “clean and green brand” and be “gambling” with Scotland's £14 billion food industry, according Lochhead.

His stance has been enthusiastically welcomed by food campaigners, though some urge him to go further. Farmers and the GM industry, however, have reacted with disappointment, criticising the minister for foreclosing future options.

New European Union rules earlier this year permit member states and devolved administrations to restrict or prohibit newly approved GM crops within their territories. Countries can also apply to be exempted from a GM maize that has already been approved and six other crops awaiting approval.

Lochhead announced today that the Scottish Government intends to submit a request that Scotland is excluded from all European consents for the cultivation of GM crops. Banning GM would help protect and enhance the reputation of Scotland’s beautiful natural environment, he said.

“There is no evidence of significant demand for GM products by Scottish consumers. I am concerned that allowing GM crops to be grown in Scotland would damage our clean and green brand, thereby gambling with the future of our £14 billion food and drink sector.”

Lochhead pointed out that Scottish food and drink attracts a premium price abroad for its natural high quality. “I have heard directly from food and drink producers in other countries that are ditching GM because of a consumer backlash,” he added.

“That is why I strongly support the continued application of the precautionary principle in relation to GM crops and intend to take full advantage of the flexibility allowed under these new EU rules to ban GM crops from being grown in Scotland.”

The Soil Association, which promotes and certifies organic food, was delighted. “This is really wonderful news for the people of Scotland, for Scotland's environment and particularly for Scottish farmers,” the association’s policy director, Peter Melchett, told the Sunday Herald.

“Scotland is joining a growing movement of countries and regions all over the world rejecting GM crops because they threaten the environment, human health and farmers' livelihoods. Scotland's determination to keep out GM crops is good news for the UK as a whole, because it sets a high standard that England, Wales and Northern Ireland must now live up to.”

Pete Ritchie, director of the sustainable food campaign group, Nourish Scotland, also backed Lochhead’s move. “GM technology is closely associated with heavy use of glyphosate, a herbicide recently classified as probably carcinogenic”, he said.

“Nourish Scotland would encourage ministers to go further and join other governments such as France and Denmark in supporting organic food and farming, as organic livestock products do not rely on imported GM animal feed.”

But Scott Walker, chief executive of the National Farmers Unions in Scotland, argued that other countries were “embracing” GM. “We are disappointed that the Scottish Government has decided that no GM crops should ever be grown in Scotland,” he said.

“Decisions should be taken on the individual merits of each variety, based on science and determined by whether the variety will deliver overall benefit. These crops could have a role in shaping sustainable agriculture at some point and at the same time protecting the environment which we all cherish in Scotland.”

The Agricultural Biotechnology Council, which represents the six leading GM multinationals - BASF, Bayer, Dow, Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta – was similarly critical. “It is very easy for the Scottish Government to ban GM while there are currently no GM crops available for Scottish farmers,” commented the council’s chair, Dr Julian Little.

“But it will be interesting to see whether their response will change when they find Scottish farmers are at a competitive disadvantage to farmers south of the border.”