This Scorecard is due to be updated in 2018
Biotechnology and genetic engineering is a fast growing research and industrial sector with vast potential for new technology and products. The medicinal applications are extensive and include the development of treatments to cure intractable disease. It could also contribute to the development of new materials and processes for manufacturing industries. The current most contentious application, however, is the use of genetic modification (GM: see definition below) to develop new varieties of food crops. This question focuses on GM Organisms because this heavily debated topic is a concern to many consumers.
Selective breeding for certain traits over several generations within a population of plants or animals is an ancient form of genetic engineering. GM might be seen, therefore, as a faster way to achieve beneficial results. Proponents argue that GM crops will reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides, improve drought resistance, have lower production costs and obtain higher yields. As a result, they contend that GM crops have the potential to solve world food shortages. Proponents also maintain that some GM crops could provide health benefits, e.g. certain strains of modified rice contain vitamin A and iron.
Though GM foodstuffs are traded globally, governments have differed in their responses to GM food. In Europe, where consumer response has been cautious, the European Union (EU) has introduced regulations concerning the testing and labelling of GM food. In the United States, by far the largest producer of GM crops, consumers appear more comfortable with GM food and US government requirements for the testing and labelling of GM food is less strict than in Europe. In the developing world, the impact of GMOs is potentially even greater and so the risks and opportunities are correspondingly higher. There is a lack of capacity in most such countries to regulate or monitor GMs.