Agriculture and the environment

Genetic modification

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are officially defined in Scotland as 'organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or recombination.'

The Scottish Government has long been opposed to the cultivation of GM crops in the open environment. 

Genetic modification in plants is often concerned with improving their ability to survive in particular harsh environments, to provide greater resistance to pests and diseases, to improve nutritional qualities, and to create tolerance to certain herbicides. GM plants have also been developed to produce compounds of potential industrial use.

The most common GM plants that have been developed and commercialised so far are GM maize, soya, oilseed rape and cotton that have been modified to provide resistance to certain insect pests and/or tolerance to herbicides. There are currently no GM crops grown in Scotland. 

Enforcement in Scotland

In Scotland, three sets of domestic regulations, originally stemming from the implementation of wider EU legislation, regulate the use and release of GMOs, grant powers to authorised officers for enforcement, and create penalties for non-compliance.

Local authorities are responsible for the enforcement of traceability and labelling requirements and for sampling and testing food and feed for GMOs. The GM Inspectorate and SASA are responsible for ensuring compliance with the regulations governing the deliberate release into the environment of GMOs in Scotland.

GM notices - unauthorised release of GMOs

These provide information about reported incidents of unauthorised release of GM organisms and the action taken by the GM Inspectorate.
There are no current GM notices but you can read about previous GM notices in the archive.

Research releases

Organisations who wish to conduct research using GMO material must apply for consent to do so. To apply for consent please contact:

GM Inspectorate
Roddinglaw Road
EH12 9FJ 

Telephone: 0131 244 8853



The application of GMO technology is strictly regulated.

Scottish GMO legislation establishes the conditions for the development, use or marketing of a GMO or a food/feed product derived from GMOs. To protect health and the environment, a GMO or a food product derived from a GMO can only be put on the market in Scotland after it has been authorised on the basis of a detailed procedure based on a scientific assessment of the risks to health and the environment.

GM authorisation in Scotland adopts a precautionary, case-by-case approach where the scale of release is related to the level of risk. Broadly speaking the three levels of authorisation are:

  • contained use - this means GM research experiments carried out within a contained environment, for example a laboratory or glasshouse, under the terms of The Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) Regulations 2014. In Scotland, the Health and Safety Executive and the Scottish Government act as a joint competent authority and both organisations are responsible for signing any contained use consent. The Health and Safety Executive considers the risk to the operator and the Scottish Government considers the risk to the environment or ecosystem from any release,
  • research releases - this means deliberate releases to the environment authorised under Part II of The Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release) (Scotland) Regulations 2002. These are small scale releases carried out under tight control. Many research releases involve trials of GM crops in field plots but, increasingly, research releases can include medical trials of GM pharmaceuticals such as vaccines administered under controlled conditions in hospitals and clinics. A GMO will only be released into the environment when a competent authority is satisfied that the release will be safe for human health and the environment,
  • commercial releases - this means deliberate releases to the environment authorised under Part III of The Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release) (Scotland) Regulations 2002, or under the Genetically Modified Food and Feed Regulation, 1829/2003. This type of authorisation covers import and use of a GMO for food or feed and non-food use and it can allow commercial scale growing of a GM crop. Commercial releases are authorised by Scottish Ministers. However, all new crop varieties (GM and non GM) also have to be approved as suitable for agriculture via the National List trials route.

The Genetically Modified Organisms (Traceability and Labelling) (Scotland) Regulations 2004 require that any intentional use of GM ingredients in food and feed at any level must be labelled. A GMO that has not been approved in Scotland is not allowed at any level (zero tolerance) in food and feed for sale in the Scotland. In summary:

  • GMOs, including food and feed products derived from GMOs, placed on the market must comply with labelling and traceability rules
  • if a food or feed contains or consists of GMOs, or contains ingredients produced from GMOs, this must be indicated on the label
  • however, products produced with GM technology, for example cheese produced with GM enzymes and products such as meat, milk and eggs from animals fed on GM animal feed, do not need to be labelled

Scottish/UK regulations


Scottish Government GM Policy Team
Saughton House
Broomhouse Drive
EH11 3XD 

Telephone: 0300 244 9503


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