A FORMER chief scientific advisor to the Scottish Government has hit out at ministers for banning genetically modified crops.

Professor Anne Glover, who held the role between 2006 and 2011 and has also worked as chief scientific adviser to the president of the European Commission, said it was not clear what evidence the policy was based on and warned that the move could harm Scottish agriculture.

Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead has said that banning the growing of genetically modified (GM) crops would protect Scotland's "clean, green status".

But Professor Glover, currently on a sabbatical in Germany from her role as Vice-Principal External Affairs and Dean for Europe at the University of Aberdeen, said it was "not possible to equate 'clean and green' with anti-GM."

She added: "Traditional agriculture is heavily reliant on substantial chemical input to fertilise and protect from pests and disease. Judicious choice of GM varieties could reduce the need for such heavy chemical input thus reducing negative impact of agriculture on the environment.

"By banning GM crops, the Scottish Government have removed, for example, the possibility of growing blight resistant GM potato in Scotland (a major crop for us) which would remove the need to spray Scotland's potato crop multiple times during the growing season with chemical fungicide.

"A smart nation like Scotland with outstanding international scientific credentials should be harnessing knowledge to deliver sustainable farming with minimal impact on the environment. Selective use of GM crops could be a valuable approach to greatly reducing the chemical input which is common in today's agriculture whilst still maintaining or improving yields.

"This seems like a missed opportunity for Scottish agriculture to use the best available (EU safety approved) technology to make Scotland a leader in world agriculture."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman responded by saying food and drink producers in other countries had seen a consumer backlash as a result of using GM crops.

She added: "There are currently no GM crops grown in Scotland and there is no evidence of significant demand for GM products from Scottish consumers.

"Scotland has a global reputation for naturally high quality food and drink which often attracts a premium price and therefore allowing GM crops to be grown in Scotland could damage our clean and green brand and our £14bn food and drink sector. That is why the Scottish Government strongly supports the continued application of the precautionary principle in relation to GM.

"The new EU rules allow for countries to opt out of GM consents on a case-by-case basis and so the Scottish Government intends to request that Scotland is excluded from European consents for the cultivation of GM crops, specifically the variety of genetically modified maize already approved and six other GM crops that are awaiting authorisation."