Royal Society launches GM crops guide answering UK public’s questions

24 May 2016

The Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, launches GM Plants: questions and answers, a fact-based Q&A-style guide that is intended to answer the questions that the UK public have about genetically modified (GM) crops. The online booklet is accompanied by an animation explaining the basic science of GM, compared to conventional plant breeding.

An extensive study published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in the USA last week (Tuesday 17 May) found no substantiated evidence of risks to human health or the environment  from GM crops.

The World Bank says that the world needs to produce at least 50% more food by 2050 to keep up with population growth. As part of the debate about what kind of agriculture and food systems can provide the food that we need, the Royal Society has drawn on the expertise of its Fellows and others who are authorities in plant science to summarise the scientific and technological evidence about GM crops to help people make up their own minds about the technology.

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

To identify the topics people most wanted to know about Ipsos MORI carried out a series of focus group discussions around the UK, the result of which was a set of 18 priority questions.

Featured questions include:

  • Which genes have been introduced into GM crops so far and why?
  • Is it safe to eat GM crops?
  • Have GM crops caused damage to the environment?
  • What GM crops are currently being grown and where?
  • Could eating GM crops have an effect on my genes?
  • Who is paying for GM crop development and who owns the technology?

Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, says, “GM is a contentious subject and not all public discussion has been informed by independent scientific evidence. At the same time, there is a debate about how to ensure that we have sufficient food, grown in as sustainable a way as possible, to feed the world's growing population.

“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.”

The Royal Society will hold a series of public panel discussion events – Growing tomorrow’s dinner – should GM be on the table? – across the UK over the summer and autumn. The first two events take place at the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 6 June 2016 and at Belfast’s The Black Box arts venue on 29 June 2016. Further information about attending is available here.

In the Royal Society’s report Reaping the benefits (2009) the Society set out its position that a range of technologies will be required to address the challenge of sustainable and sufficient food and agriculture, and that GM is one of the technologies that could be used. It will not be sufficient on its own but it may be useful for addressing some of the challenges facing agriculture.