Foreword from Venki Ramakrishnan PRS

For a rational debate about whether or not society should make use of new technologies or scientific methods, it is necessary to have access to reliable information so that all interested parties can make judgements about whether the procedures work, whether they are safe and what advantages or disadvantages they offer. Genetic modification of crops is one such technology.

In the United Kingdom half of the population do not feel well informed about genetically modified crops (GM crops) and a further 6% have never heard of them. 

As the UK’s national academy of science, the Royal Society has drawn on scientific experts to answer a number of questions about scientific and technological issues relating to GM crops.

The answers draw on a wide range of evidence and give some specific examples. In general it is important to recognise that when the GM method is used the crops produced should be assessed on a case by case basis. GM is a method, not a product in itself. Different GM crops have different characteristics and it is impossible, from a scientific point of view, to make a blanket statement that all GM is good or bad.

GM is a contentious subject and not all public discussion has been informed by independent scientific evidence. This discussion has taken place against a backdrop of the debate about how we ensure that we have sufficient food, grown in as sustainable a way as possible, to feed the world's growing population. Our goal with this project is to present the scientific evidence in an accessible way. We commissioned Ipsos MORI to help us identify the issues people want to find out about and what questions they have. 

A lot is known about GM, but scientists do not have answers to every question and it is important to be clear about what is known and what  is not known. In our answers we explain the science of GM. We do not address all the nonscientific issues in relation to GM crops, which include broader socio-economic issues such as the availability and pricing of food, including politics and transport, and issues of trust in businesses and politicians.

We recognise that our answers will not end the controversy, but we hope that they will inform people about the science and allow those who might previously have felt excluded from the discussion to form a view.

Venki Ramakrishnan

President of the Royal Society

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Page last updated: May 2016

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