A CONTROVERSIAL ban on genetically modified crops was introduced as a "bold decision in the national interest" without any evidence that it would harm the country's food and drink sector.

The Scottish Government has repeatedly come under fire over the move, which it said had been designed to protect the 'clean and green status' of the country's growing food and drink industry rather than on the basis of scientific evidence.

At First Minister's Questions, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has accused Nicola Sturgeon of "vote chasing and political calculation" over the decision, after the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) became the latest organisation to raise concerns saying the Government risked being branded "anti-science".

In a press briefing following the session, Ms Sturgeon's official spokesman said it was "obvious" that allowing GM technology, which he described as "by its very nature hugely controversial", would endanger the reputation of the Scotland's valuable food and drink sector.

However, he failed to present any evidence to back this up and said he was not aware of any economic modelling that was carried out prior to the decision being taken.

He added: "Sometimes you have to be bold and take decisions that you think are in the national interest, and that's what this was about. If ministers sat on their hands, and decided that they weren't going to take any decisions until they had a report, scientific or otherwise, telling them what to do, you guys would be saying 'when are you going to get you're finger out and do something'. Sometimes you have to take bold decisions and do what you think is right for the country."

According to the RSE, evidence points to a growing public acceptance of GM crops. It said GM technology could offer environmentally friendly farming opportunities, while expressing fears that the ban would harm scientific research and the Scottish economy.

RSE fellow, Professor Nigel Brown said: "Scotland is renowned for its world-class scientific research therefore it would be regrettable to stigmatise an area of exciting development which provides real scope for global benefit.

"The RSE recognises that the Sottish Government supports science and innovation as the bedrock of the Scottish economy and as a key basis for

policy-making, therefore it would welcome the opportunity to contribute to a wider debate around the use of GM."

Challenging Ms Sturgeon at Holyrood, the Tory leader branded it a "poorly thought-out decision", saying the RSE was the latest of about 30 scientific, academic and farming organisations to raise concerns about the move.

"This isn't just about GM crops, this is about her approach to government," Ms Davidson said. "It is vote-chasing, political calculation, and it is not science, it is not industry and it is not jobs.

"In this case there was no prior consultation with Scotland's scientific community, there was no prior discussion with Scotland's food and drink industry, and there was no consideration whatsoever with Scotland's farming industry."

Ms Sturgeon said that several countries, including Germany, Hungary and Austria, had followed Scotland's lead in banning GM crops. She said she would consider the RSE report "very carefully".

The SNP leader added: "Our scientific advisor was consulted on the scientific background, which was made available to ministers prior to this decision, but that was not our primary factor in reaching a conclusion.

"We took the decision we took on GM crops because we wanted to protect our food and drinks sector, and protect the clean, green environment on which the success of that sector depends. It is everything to do with jobs and it is everything to do with industry."