The Scottish government will this week make an unprecedented intervention in Brussels to try and help ban genetically modified (GM) crops throughout Europe.
The environment minister, Michael Russell, is planning to back a controversial bid by the European environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, to block applications to grow GM maize from three multinational companies.
The move is likely to heighten tensions with Westminster, which has been increasingly irritated by Holyrood's anti-GM stance. It will also annoy the GM industry - but delight environmentalists who want to see Europe stay GM-free.
There has been an effective moratorium on GM crops in the European Union, with none approved for cultivation since 1998. This has sparked fierce conflict with the US, which regards the ban as a breach of free trade rules.
Now Syngenta, Dupont and Dow, three of the world's most powerful agricultural companies, are seeking permission for two types of GM maize, known as Bt-11 and 1507. They had expected their applications to be approved by European commissioners, most of whom are thought to favour GM crops - including the UK trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson.
But in October Dimas revealed that he was opposing the applications because the damage the crops could do to the environment was "irreversible" and "unacceptable". There was evidence of potential harm to butterflies, food chains and water life, he said.
Since then commissioners have been unable to agree on the applications, with a decision being postponed twice. Meanwhile, anti-GM groups across Europe have mounted a major campaign in support of Dimas, particularly asking governments to publicly back him.
That is the call to which the Scottish Nationalist government is now going to respond. "We think that the commissioner's stance is worthy of support," Russell told the Sunday Herald.
"The Scottish government is profoundly opposed to the cultivation of GM crops in Scotland. Our policy is that there is no place for them and we resolutely oppose them."
According to Russell, the precautionary principle should apply. "We don't know enough about the risks," he said. "Scotland's reputation is based on having a clean and clear environment. This reputation would be sullied if GM crops were grown here."
Russell is planning to write to Dimas this week, offering him the backing of the Scottish government. This will not please the London government, which is more supportive of GM crops.
But it was warmly welcomed by environmentalists yesterday. "This is really excellent news," said Pete Riley, campaign director of the umbrella group, GM Freeze.
"It's good to see the Scottish government lining up to keep Scotland GM-free and to support moves to keep Europe GM-free. It will give encouragement to the millions of consumers and farmers across Europe who have serious misgivings about GM crops."
The Green MSP Robin Harper pointed out that Greens across Europe were delighted at the stand being taken by Dimas. "GM food is not wanted and not needed, and could have uncontrollable consequences for the environment," he said.
"The agribusiness multinationals must not be allowed to use their allies on the commission like Peter Mandelson to overturn this. We fully support the minister's stance, which is in stark contrast to the previous Labour/LibDem coalition's attempts to allow cultivation of GM in Scotland."
The GM industry, however, was less complimentary. "This seems a little superficial," commented Nathalie Moll, executive director of Europabio, which represents over 80 GM companies in Europe.
She argued that Dimas was breaching EU procedures by ignoring the all-clear given to the GM maize crops by the European Food Safety Authority. "If his proposal goes ahead, it will set a precedent for other commissioners not to respect the approved procedures," she said.
GM food should be a matter of choice, Moll argued. "It should be on the shelves so that consumers have freedom of choice. I don't think that governments should deprive them of that."