Schmallenberg is Scotland’s latest unwelcome import

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Because something has been expected doesn’t make it 
welcome. That applies to last week when the inevitable happened and the first confirmed case of Schmallenberg disease in Scotland was reported in a beef calf in Dumfries-shire.

The disease, named after the area where it was first found, is spread by midges and can cause abortions and foetal abnormalities in sheep and cattle.

More than 1,500 cases have been reported in the UK since the disease was first confirmed more than a year ago, with many more in the south of England where the particular midges that spread the disease are more active in weather that is generally – with this spring an exception – warmer.

One case was reported in Northumberland by the end of February – and infection was expected to reach Scotland because of midge activity last autum. Now it has.

A surveillance scheme is in operation and the search for a vaccine continues. The disease is not notifiable and there are no livestock movement restrictions but it makes sense not to bring stock in from areas of the UK with a known high incidence of Schmallenberg.

Three weeks ago I wrote about genetically modified crops and food, concluding that I was generally in favour and that decisions on their use should be on scientific grounds.

My reading of it is that most science of the past 20 years backs GM as a useful plant, and animal, breeding technique and that there have been no harmful effects on consumers. I don’t say that growers of more than 100million hectares of GM crops world-wide can’t be wrong, but it is an indication that outside the UK and European Union, GM is in demand.

Ross Boston, of the Green Shop in Berwick, disagrees. He argues, that “every independent study ever done on GM foods has shown severe damage to fertility, internal organs and immune systems of animals fed on GM.” Over the years, I can only surmise we must have been reading different scientific reports.

The long-time owner of a successful organic business, he also castigates “industrial” agriculture for looking for ever-greater profits from ever-more resources using fewer workers on lower wages. What is stopping organic from feeding the world, he suggests, is poverty. Nor does he think much of my idea that the important thing is to eat home produced foods whether or not they are organic.

In short, Mr Boston and I are unconvinced by each other’s argument.True believers refuse to be swayed and the arguments about GM, organic and wind farms will run and run.

The same might be said of arguments about Europe’s common agricultural policy. On one level, governments argue about whether paying multi-billions of euros in farming support each year is sustainable, at another, they argue about how those multi-billions should be distributed.

What is certain is that where the argument starts has little relation to final decisions. Could the same be true of GM crops?