SNP and Green ministers have been accused of putting their “constitutional obsession” ahead of Scotland’s food security.

The attack on the Scottish Government comes as ministers south of the border are set to table legislation tomorrow which would allow farmers to plant crops that have been edited to be more resistant to disease or need less water or fertiliser.

While the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill was first touted in the wake of Brexit, the UK Government is speeding up the process over fears about the impact of Russian blockades preventing the export of wheat from Ukraine.

World wheat prices have jumped 25 per cent in the past six weeks and there are fears over food security.

Andrew Bailey, the Governor of the Bank of England gave MPs an “apocalyptic” warning last week, saying that it was a “major, major worry” for the UK and the developing world.

The use of gene editing or “precision technology” in the UK was initially stopped by a 2018 ruling from the European Court of Justice which determined it should be regulated in the same way as genetically modified organisms (GMO).

The Scottish Government has long been opposed to the cultivation of GMO, saying they threaten the “clean, green status of Scotland’s £14 billion food and drink sector.” 

Their policy is “to stay aligned with the EU, where practicable”. 

However, NFU Scotland said there was a significant distinction between genetic modification and gene editing which the Scottish Government needed to recognise. 

Gene editing, a relatively recent technology, involves switching genes on and off by snipping out a small section of the plant's DNA. 

Genetic modification involves putting genes in, sometimes from a completely different species.

NFU Scotland President Martin Kennedy said: “Scottish farmers and crofters, backed by some world-leading research facilities here in Scotland, have always shown themselves to be early adopters of new farming technologies.

“NFU Scotland believes precision breeding techniques such as gene editing have considerable potential to deliver benefits for food, agriculture and climate change to build on the significant amount of work that farmers and crofters are already undertaking to establish more sustainable and resilient farming systems.

“New technologies, including the likes of gene editing can help address positively some of the big challenges Scottish agriculture faces, including how we respond to the climate emergency and address biodiversity loss.

“We firmly believe that precision breeding techniques as a route to crop and livestock improvement could allow us to grow crops which are more resilient to increased pest and disease pressure brought about by our changing climate and more extreme weather events.

"It would also allow us to use new breeding techniques to breed more productive, efficient animals that need less inputs to protect their welfare.  This could be crucial in enabling our farmers to become truly sustainable.”  

Scottish Conservative Shadow Rural Affairs Secretary Rachael Hamilton said the government risked leaving Scottish farmers behind. 

She said: “The SNP-Green Government’s continued refusal to alter their stance on gene editing flies in the face of expert opinion. They are putting their constitutional obsession above the interests of our farming industry.   

“I have met with the Roslin Institute, the NFUS, the James Hutton Institute and other experts who could not be clearer about the benefits of gene editing.  

“SNP-Green Ministers are now going to leave our farmers behind at a time when they need our full support. Scottish farmers are going to be looking on enviously to their colleagues south of the border with this legislation coming into force.   

“It is time for them to finally listen to experts and ensure gene editing is given the green light in Scotland.” 

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland’s policy on GMOs has not changed. We remain opposed to the use of GM in farming, to protect the clean, green brand of Scotland’s £15 billion food and drink industry.   

“We are aware of current debate around new genomic techniques and how these relate to existing GM legislation, and we note in particular the ongoing consideration of this at EU level. The Scottish Government’s policy is to stay aligned with the EU, where practicable, and we are closely monitoring the EU’s position on this issue.   

“We are also exploring potential impacts of the UK Internal Market Act in this area. The Scottish Government remains wholly opposed to the imposition of the Act and will not accept any constraint on the exercise of devolved powers. We will continue to engage with Defra, Wales, and Northern Ireland to ensure that devolved competence are respected.” 

Meanwhile, tomatoes that boost the body's vitamin D could be among the first gene-edited crops allowed on sale in England.

Researchers in Norwich created the plants by turning off a specific molecule in their genetic code.

Prof Cathie Martin, who led the research at the John Innes Centre, said that the development could be hugely beneficial.

"With humans, half an hour in the sunshine every day is enough to make enough vitamin D. But a lot of people don't have that time outside and that's why they need supplements. The tomatoes themselves could provide another source of vitamin D in their diet."