Guide: Making Sense of GM

Crop improvement, whether by GM or conventional breeding, is just one component of a wider social and economic debate about agriculture, food and the environment. But unless there is better understanding and well informed discussion about GM, it will be impossible for the public and policy makers to judge what crop technologies can contribute to food security and natural resource and climate change management; and it will be even harder for the research scientists in our institutes to increase our knowledge and deliver on the urgent demands of agriculture.

There are some big gaps between perception and reality. For example, conventional plant breeding already exploits crosses between plants that would not occur in nature or induces random mutations artificially with radiation or chemical agents, so it isn’t really more “natural” than GM. “Eating genes” is something that everyone does every day, whether they eat GM foods or not. GM crops are grown in 23 countries, so the world isn’t and can’t be “GM-free”. Discussion about GM also seems to have become a proxy for other much-needed discussions about food shortages, economic power of multinational corporations, food safety, farming systems and trade agreements, which go far beyond this technology and its applications

This guide was produced by Sense About Science in collaboration with BBSRC, the Genetics Society, the Institute of Biology, the Institute of Food Research, the John Innes Centre and the Lawes Agricultural Trust. Published: 9 February 2009

Reprinted in 2009 with support from the John Innes Centre, the National Farmers’ Union and the Royal Agricultural Society of England.

Reprinted in 2011 with support from the Biochemical Society, the Genetics Society, the James Hutton Institute, the John Innes Foundation, the National Farmers’ Union and the Sainsbury Laboratory.


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