THE Scottish Government’s rejection of new gene-editing legislation has been criticised by farmers and scientists.

Over the weekend, environment secretary Màiri McAllan dismissed the UK government’s proposed Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, which seeks to ease regulations around the relatively new technology.

George Eustice, the Secretary of State at the Department for the Environment, food and rural affairs, had asked his counterparts in Edinburgh and Cardiff to back the new law

He claimed the technology could help"tackle the challenges of our age.”

However, Ms McAllan reiterated that the Scottish Government’s position on gene editing is to stay aligned with the EU's regulatory regime, which, effectively, means gene editing is classified as a category of genetically modified organism (GMO).

Martin Kennedy, the president of the NFU Scotland, said he was disappointed by the decision.

He told The Herald that precision breeding techniques had “considerable potential to deliver benefits for food, nutrition, agriculture, biodiversity and climate change and build on the significant amount of work that Scottish farmers and crofters are already undertaking to establish more sustainable and resilient farming systems.”

Mr Kennedy said the union would now look to Brussels where the EU has recently launched a consultation decoupling gene editing from GMO. 

The UK government’s new legislation was welcomed by Professor Lesley Torrance, the Director of Science at the James Hutton Institute.

She said crops derived through precision breeding techniques such as gene editing could also be “derived by traditional breeding and are thus indistinguishable from crops bred conventionally”.

Prof Torrance added: “Understanding how traits are controlled in crops is crucial to addressing the very real threats posed to our future food security: we need to develop crops quickly which can adapt and are resistant to climate change and pests and whose cultivation is more environmentally friendly.

“The application of precision breeding research is already happening in some countries which may result in crops which are easier to grow, more climate positive, require less use of biocides and fertiliser and potentially more economically viable. 

"It will be up to the consumer to weigh up the merit of these different approaches and we need to do the science and provide the evidence that helps with those decisions”.

The debate has been overshadowed by a constitutional row over the controversial internal market act, which means that items that meet regulatory standards in one part of the country must be allowed to be sold elsewhere in the UK.