Scottish farmers fear a commercial disadvantage if gene editing bill is passed in England

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A cross border row could soon develop over genetically engineered crops, with farmers in the south of Scotland warning they may be at a commercial disadvantage.

The UK Government wants gene edited crops be grown in England, arguing it could make produce more resistant to disease.

The Scottish Government however, says it has no plans to do the same.

A Bill has been introduced at Westminster, which would allow the practise in England.

Ministers are urging nations throughout the UK to follow suit, but so far other governments in the union oppose it.

Robert Neil is a farmer in the Scottish Borders, and is chair of the agricultural business event company AgriScot.

He says he is frustrated that he could be at a disadvantage compared to family members farming in England.

"In theory they [English farmers] will be able to produce a tonne of grain at less cost and less inputs.

"We have to put chemicals on these crops to suppress disease, but if you've got a gene that is not susceptible to disease then it's a win win situation.

"The English guys will have an advantage over Scotland if they're allowed to go ahead with it and we're not.

"You know cost of production in Scotland will be a lot more than it is in England."

Gene editing differs from genetic modification (GM).

Gene editing is where plants and crops can be produced with beneficial traits that could occur through natural processes but in a more efficient and precise way. Whereas genetically modified food is where genes from one species are introduced to another.

It is a distinction made in the Bill in Westminster.

For example, in Norwich, scientists are producing tomatoes with high amounts of vitamin D, which could be among the first gene edited products on sale if the Bill is passed.

The Soil Association, like many environmental groups, opposes gene editing.

A spokesperson for the group said: "We feel that gene editing is simply a PR rebranding of GM and the underlying issues remain the same.

"We're deeply disappointed that the UK government has chosen to go down this road of deregulation.

"It won't do anything to diets, the overcrowding of animals or the overuse of chemical pesticides."

The Scottish Government says it remains against gene editing and fears it could damage the country's reputation for high quality produce.

It has also accused the UK government of undermining devolution, as the Internal Market Act would give gene edited crops grown in England the right to be sold in Scotland.

The NFU Scotland shares that concern but says the answer is for gene edited crops to be grown on both sides of the border.

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