Scottish ministers have been accused of ignoring scientific evidence after they announced plans to ban the growing of genetically modified crops in Scotland.

The SNP government said that it was not prepared to "gamble" with the future of Scotland's £14 billion food and drink sector.

But experts said the decision marked a "sad day" for science.

Opponents of GM crops question their impact over the longer term.

But supporters say they are safe and pose no threat to the environment.

The European Union currently approves crops for cultivation.

But Scottish ministers will now request an opt-out.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: "Scotland is known around the world for our beautiful natural environment - and banning growing genetically modified crops will protect and further enhance our clean, green status.

"There is no evidence of significant demand for GM products by Scottish consumers and 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.

"Scottish food and drink is valued at home and abroad for its natural, high quality which often attracts a premium price, and I have heard directly from food and drink producers in other countries that are ditching GM because of a consumer backlash.

"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 Scottish Government has long-standing concerns about GM crops - concerns that are shared by other European countries and consumers, and which should not be dismissed lightly."

The move was backed by Friends of the Earth and the Scottish Greens.

But Huw Jones, professor of molecular genetics at agricultural science group Rothamsted Research, said the announcement marked a "sad day for science and a sad day for Scotland".

He said that GM crops approved by the EU were safe for humans, animals and the environment.

"It is a shame the Scottish Parliament think cultivation would harm their food and drink sector," he added. "If approved, this decision serves to remove the freedom of Scottish farmers and narrows their choice of crop varieties to cultivate in the future."

Farmers also reacted angrily.

Scott Walker, NFU Scotland Chief Executive said: "Other countries are embracing biotechnology where appropriate and we should be open to doing the same here in Scotland.

“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.

“What we want is an open debate that then allows decisions to be taken from an informed positon reflecting current technology."

But the Green Party welcomed the decision.

MSP Alison Johnstone said: "Opting out of growing genetically-modified crops is the right move for Scotland.

"Cultivation of GM crops would harm our environment and our reputation for high quality food and drink."