Genetically modified (GM) plants: questions and answers

The Royal Society commissioned a report into what people want to know about GM plants, and then drew on a panel of independent scientists.

What are genetically modified (GM) plants? Is genetic modification safe? Where are GM crops grown and eaten?

Food security is one of this century's key global challenges, as noted in our earlier report Reaping the Benefits, and due to the scale of the challenge, we should really think carefully before we rule out any technology that might help deal with the problem. The questions and answers given here are intended to provide a resource to those who are interested in what GM is, how it is used and potential future uses.

The Royal Society commissioned Ipsos MORI to find out what people want to know about GM plants, and then drew on a panel of expert, independent scientists to answer your questions. We hope that these answers explain the science behind GM and help you form your own view.  

Find out about the Royal Society's other work on genetic technologies.

Explore 18 questions about genetically modified (GM) plants

  1. What is genetic modification of crops and how is it done?
  2. How common are genes in food?
  3. How does GM differ from conventional plant breeding?
  4. What about unforeseen consequences of GM?
  5. Which genes have been introduced into GM crops so far and why?
  6. What GM crops are currently being grown and where? 
  7. Where are GM crops being eaten?
  8. Is it safe to eat GM crops?
  9. Could eating GM food have an effect on my genes?
  10. Have GM crops caused damage to the environment?
  11. If we grow GM crops will they cross breed with other plants?
  12. What can be done to prevent cross breeding of GM crops? 
  13. Might there still be unexpected and untoward side effects?
  14. How are GM crops regulated?
  15. Who is paying for GM crop development and who owns the technology?
  16. Are there examples of where GM has not delivered the promised improvements in crops?
  17. What new GM crops are being developed?
  18. What methods other than genetic improvement can improve crop performance?

Further reading 

The Council of Science and Technology: GM Science Update (PDF)