Growing genetically modified crops will be banned in Scotland after ministers decided they are not prepared to "gamble with the future" of Scotland's £14 billion food and drink sector.

The Scottish Government will request an opt-out from European consents for the cultivation of GM crops, including an EU approved variety of genetically modified maize and six other GM crops that are awaiting authorisation.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: "Scotland is known around the world for our beautiful natural environment - and banning growing genetically modified crops will protect and further enhance our clean, green status.

"There is no evidence of significant demand for GM products by Scottish consumers and I am concerned that allowing GM crops to be grown in Scotland would damage our clean and green brand, thereby gambling with the future of our £14 billion food and drink sector.

"Scottish food and drink is valued at home and abroad for its natural, high quality which often attracts a premium price, and I have heard directly from food and drink producers in other countries that are ditching GM because of a consumer backlash.

"That is why I strongly support the continued application of the precautionary principle in relation to GM crops and intend to take full advantage of the flexibility allowed under these new EU rules to ban GM crops from being grown in Scotland.

"The Scottish Government has long-standing concerns about GM crops - concerns that are shared by other European countries and consumers, and which should not be dismissed lightly.

"I firmly believe that GM policy in Scotland should be guided by what's best for our economy and our own agricultural sector rather than the priorities of others. I recently kicked off a national discussion on the future of Scottish agriculture, and welcome views from all sides of the GM debate."

Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: "Opting out of growing genetically-modified crops is the right move for Scotland.

"Cultivation of GM crops would harm our environment and our reputation for high quality food and drink.

"GM is not the answer to food security, and would represent further capture of our food by big business. Scotland has huge potential with a diverse mix of smaller-scale producers and community food initiatives, and we need to see those grow further.

"While the Scottish Government's decision is a step in the right direction, we need to see ministers go further. Most consumers want meat, eggs and dairy labelled to show whether they come from animals fed on GM feed. The Scottish Government needs to challenge big retailers to improve their labelling so that we have real choice as shoppers."

Huw Jones, professor of molecular genetics at agricultural science group Rothamsted Research, said: "This is a sad day for science and a sad day for Scotland.

"GM crops approved by the EU are safe for humans, animals and the environment and it's a shame the Scottish Parliament think cultivation would harm their food and drink sector.

"If approved, this decision serves to remove the freedom of Scottish farmers and narrows their choice of crop varieties to cultivate in the future."

Responding to the announcement, Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "It is very good news that Scottish ministers are taking that stance. It is certainly in Scotland's interests to keep GM out of Scotland."

The Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett said: "This is wonderful news for the people of Scotland, for Scotland's environment and particularly for farmers."

Peter Ritchie, director of the sustainable food campaign Nourish Scotland, also welcomed the move.

He said: "GM technology is closely associated with heavy use of glyphosate, a herbicide recently classified as probably carcinogenic."