06 November 2003

S2M-560 Agriculture

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-560, in the name of Mark Ruskell, on the future of Scottish agriculture, and three amendments to that motion. Timing will have to be a bit more precise in this debate, because we are a minute or two behind the clock.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I thank Mr Fergusson for those warm and unexpected words.

I would like to address the subject of scientists, politicians and the wider public. Scientists are objective. If they are not, they are not scientists. Their job is to inform the decisions that others make. Let us not pretend that the scientists make the decisions. Sometimes in this debate, it has seemed as if the scientists are making the decisions and we are simply to fall into line with them. Let us go back to basics: the scientists must inform the decisions that we make.

If the public are opposed to GM crops, they may express their opposition rationally or they may do so irrationally. Frankly, it disnae matter. We still have to take account of the public's view.

Mary Scanlon (Highlands and Islands) (Con): Will Stewart Stevenson give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry, but I have only three minutes.

Of course, we have had genetic modification over thousands of years, in animals and in crops. That was done by using the natural processes of evolution but speeding them up, by denying a future to those animals and crops that were not heading the way that we wanted and by selecting and promoting those that were. Now, however, we are using technology that brings new risks. We see from the example of Dolly the sheep that the modification of genetic structures can create weaknesses in the resulting organism that have adverse effects. The same will undoubtedly be true of crops. We breach the cell wall to introduce viruses and genetic modifications, and doing that leaves a weakened structure. That is the source of some of the difficulties that we undoubtedly face.

We and the broader public have difficulties with the subject of risk. Statistically, how likely is it that something adverse will happen, and what will the impact be when it does? Is there a management plan for when that impact is too great? In this debate, there are huge issues around those questions. How would we manage a situation in which Scotland goes down the GM crop road and then concludes that doing so was the wrong answer? There is no such management plan—no one has come up with one. That is why, while the jury may be out on this particular debate, the burden of proof has to lie with the prosecution, and the case of those who prosecute the benefits of GM crops has not been made. We must not proceed.


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