Frequently asked questions
Here you will find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about agricultural biotechnology in general, and links to further information. For further information about agricultural technology research in the UK, please use the tabs to the left.
“GM” stands for genetic modification. For thousands of years farmers have selected plants with the characteristics they want, such as extra seeds in a pod or the ability to survive in the cold. By crossing the best plants, they hoped to produce better varieties. GM allows chosen individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, including genes between non-related species. Such methods can be used to create GM crop plants.
In the UK, no GM crops are currently commercially cultivated – however several small scale trials are underway at public research institutes and through privately funded initiatives. In 2011, there were 72 trials notified to the EU GMO registration directive.
18 million farmers in 28 countries planted more than 181 million hectares in 2014, up from 175 million in 27 countries in 2013.
GM is used extensively in North and South America but is also popular in India, China, Australia and several African countries. Use of the technology is limited in Europe but can be found in a number of countries including Spain, Portugal and Sweden.
The testing process is rigorous and prescribed by law. Any GM foods and feeds intended for sale or cultivation in the European Union are subject to a rigorous scientific safety assessment which is undertaken by independent scientists from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). However, the final decision for authorisation still rests with EU Member States, which vote on European Commission proposals. No GM crops are currently approved for cultivation in the UK although they are grown elsewhere in the EU.
There is no evidence to suggest that GM food is any less safe than conventional food. In fact, it is tested far more rigorously than many conventional products. Over 2 trillion meals have been consumed over the past 13 years containing GM ingredients without a single substantiated case of ill health.
In 2011, the European Commission released a compendium of 50 research projects on the safety of GMOs over the last decade. The Commission funded research from 130 research projects involving 500 independent research groups over 25 years, concluding that “There is, as of today, no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.”
Genetic Modification in agriculture is the engineering of a crop’s DNA, usually through the introduction of a new trait, to make a plant more resistant to certain pests, diseases, or environmental conditions, or improving the nutrient profile of the crop.
In agriculture, genome editing refers to the deliberate altercation of an existing piece of DNA within a crop, in order to improve the functionality of the plant (i.e. become resistant to certain diseases, pests, etc).