CEO's Blog - 9 August 2017

Strong language between North Korea and the United States of America is not unusual.  Some would say that the language is for the benefit of the media and the soundbite world that we live in today.  Each side needs to show its strength with neither wanting to be seen to back down.  It is hoped that behind the scenes quiet diplomacy is working away to find how both sides can save face and ultimately move forward.

But what have the tensions between North Korea and the United States of America to do with the political world in which NFU Scotland operates?  Indirectly, we all need a stable world and instability in one area can often have indirect consequences elsewhere.  

However, the strong language used by each side and the fact that each has a very different view of the world is an analogy to the debate that has reared its head once again on biotechnology and GM crops.

Too often a discussion on this is politicised or comes down to soundbites.  What we need is a proper, informed, rational discussion.  Rather than taking sides, defending a position or knocking down someone else’s view, let us talk out into the open without fear of criticism or stigmatism about what benefits or disadvantages growing these crops or using this technology could have for Scottish agriculture and the different sectors.  

We should also involve the rest of the Scottish food and drink industry.  What would a decision mean for how Scotland the brand is perceived?  Would rejection of new biotech or GM crops give us greater ability to sell our products for a premium price?  Or would rejection deny us a tool to innovate and perhaps deliver a product with even stronger environmental credentials?  

Yes, even on the environment, the choice is not black and white.  We need to discuss whether new varieties – such as a GM blight-resistant potato - represent the start of another green revolution or a threat to the Scottish environment.  If everyone else starts using such varieties and Scotland’s policy diverts, then let’s be open about what the impact will be on our specialist seed potato sector, Scottish agriculture in general and the even bigger picture of Scotland’s food and drink sector.

We need always to be thinking about new ways to do things.  If we don’t, we will get left behind by others.  We have some marvellous Scientific research establishments in Scotland that are world-leading at innovating and, if permitted, could develop and impart that knowledge to our industry.  Of course, simply because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do it.

Ultimately, Governments should have the right to determine whether we can use new technology or not.  We live in a democracy and they are our elected representatives, charged with considering what is best for all the people of this country.

But for things to genuinely move on, it is in everyone’s interests that we move away from strong language, rhetoric and chest thumping and start debating in a rational manner the impact of our choices on biotechnology.

Author: Scott Walker

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About The Author

Scott Walker

Scott Walker became Chief Executive of NFU Scotland in August 2011. He was previously Policy Director at NFU Scotland, a position to which he was appointed in 2004. He is a member of the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board representing employers' interests. He is a member of Scotland Food & Drink executive group. He is a member of the National Project Assessment Committee for the Scottish Government Food Processing Marketing and Co-operation Grant Scheme.

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