Development Of Agriculture And Cultivation Of Plant Crops Biology Essay

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The development of agriculture has been an instrumental factor in the expansion of human civilisation (Tzotzos, Head & Hull, 2009). Plants originally selected for cultivation had properties well-suited for growth and consumption. Since then farmers have bred crops selectively in order to produce varieties with beneficial traits such as high yields and ease of cultivation. Selective breeding is regarded as conventional agricultural practice. Twenty years ago, a new technology, genetic modification, was introduced. Crops with a wider scope of desirable characteristics can now be produced more efficiently and with more precision than conventional agriculture can achieve.

The creation of a GM crop

Simply put, a gene from one organism coding for a specific, beneficial trait is inserted into the genome of a recipient crop. The recipient will then express the desired trait and, if that gene was extracted from a different species, can be referred to as a 'transgenic' crop. Expression of the inserted gene will often cause the crop to produce a new protein, often referred to as an 'inserted protein'.

There are two widely used methods for creating a transgenic crop; first, biolistics and second, through the use of the bacteria Agrobacterium tumefaciens (Figure 1). A selectable marker gene will also frequently be transferred to enable successfully transformed plants to be identified. The marker tends to be a specific antibiotic resistance gene; hence only transformed plants will survive on exposure to the relevant antibiotic.

Figure 1: Diagram summarising the Agrobacterium and biolistic (particle gun) methods for the creation of a transgenic crop (Chrispeels & Sadava, 1994).

The benefits of GM technology

To date, the majority of GM crops have been engineered to be pest-resistant or herbicide-tolerant (Tzotzos et al., 2009). A field of herbicide-resistant crops can be sprayed with herbicide which will remove the weeds without damaging the crops. Similarly, insect-resistant crops reduce the necessity for the spraying of pesticides so fewer damaging chemicals are released into the environment (Kumar et al., 2010). Yield losses to pests and weeds are therefore reduced resulting in more reliable crop production (Tzotzos et al., 2009). Cultivation of GM crops can also reduce soil erosion as a result of the low-tillage soil preparation associated with GM seed-sowing (Tzotzos et al., 2009). Hence current GM crops are associated with mitigating the environmental pressures caused by intensive agriculture.

Future transgenic crops are likely to bring a wealth of additional benefits including improved nutritional content, drought tolerance, disease resistance and reduction of post-harvest losses through preventing premature ripening and pest damage in storage (Tzotzos et al., 2009). Such crops accordingly have the potential to improve diet and food supply across the world and to assist in the feeding of the rising global population.

Current spread of GM crops

Globally, 130 transgenic crop varieties have been approved for cultivation, the majority of commercially cultivated plants being soy, maize, cotton, and rapeseed varieties (GMO Compass Database, 2011). GM crops are planted in 19 countries outside of the EU over a steadily increasing area, currently 134 million hectares (GMO Compass, 2010). However in Europe, only two crops have been approved for cultivation, Monsanto's MON 810 Maize in 1998 and BASF's Amflora potato in 2010 and, contrary to global trends, cultivation of transgenic crops is restricted to 95,000 hectares over six member states (Eurobarometer, 2010).

Since transgenic crops are a relatively recent innovation, it cannot be stated with absolute certainty that their cultivation will have no detrimental consequences. This uncertainty has seen the issue of GM crops become mired in confusion and controversy in Europe, where the benefits of the technology take a backseat to the perceived risks. This essay aims to explore some of the barriers preventing the embrace of transgenic crops in Europe and to consider whether the current exclusion of GM crops in Europe can be justified.

Potential health risks to humans

The idea of consuming a crop which has it's origins in a laboratory is an unpalatable prospect for many, particularly in light of the growing view that organic, 'naturally grown' food is better for us (ref?). By contrast GM food is seen as 'unnatural' and consequently as potentially unsafe. Realistically, there are few pathways by which transgenic crops could prove harmful to humans. Two biologically viable sources of risk are discussed below.

1) Allergenicity of the introduced protein

Allergenic proteins occur naturally in many foods, for example caseins in milk and storage proteins in nuts. An allergic reaction involves an immune response against the allergen in question. Individual people each produce a different set of IgE antibodies. If an individual is exposed to an allergen with the relevant IgE binding sites on its surface, IgE will bind, triggering an immune reaction (Goodman et al., 2008). The unintentional transfer of a gene encoding an allergenic protein into a crop could result in the GM plant containing new or increased levels of allergens than its conventionally-farmed equivalent. The commercial availability of such a crop could increase the prevalence of allergies among consumers.

Take the example of the protein 2S albumin and the conferral of allergenic properties to soybeans (Nordlee, 1996). Soybeans are low in the essential amino acid methionine. It was hoped that, by transforming soybeans with the methionine-rich protein 2S albumin from Brazil nuts, the requirement for methionine supplements in animal feed would be reduced (Goodman et al., 2008). Skin-prick and IgE-binding tests of the modified soybean on human volunteers with Brazil nut allergies showed a positive reaction to both Brazil nuts and transgenic soybean extracts (Nordlee, 1996). This demonstrates that the introduction of one protein is sufficient to confer any allergenic properties of the donor organism to the recipient.

However GM crops undergo rigorous allergenicity assessment during development, following EU-recognised guidelines (Codex, 2003). First, the protein selected for insertion should not have a history of allergenicity. Bio-informatic comparison of the amino acid sequence of the selected protein with databases of known allergenic and toxic sequences will indicate whether that protein is likely to pose allergenic risk. Any project in which the amino acid sequence of the protein in question has either >35% identity over 80 amino acids or >50% identity over the whole length with a known allergenic protein should be scrapped according to….

Second, the protein can be evaluated for IgE-binding using sera from individuals allergic either to the source of the allergenic protein or to the sequence of the matched allergen. The 2S albumin-soybean was abandoned at this stage after failing the IgE-binding test. Third, the resistance of the protein to digestion by pepsin will be tested; food allergens tend to be stable in the presence of pepsin (Goodman et al., 2008). These tests should ensure the GM crop will not be a source of either an existing or previously unknown allergen enforced by?.

There are numerous studies on various commercially available transgenic crops which conclude that they will not induce allergic reactions (Kim et al., 2009, Nakajima et al., 2010, Kim et al., 2006). One study frequently cited by opponents to GM crops reported that one human volunteer showed a positive skin-prick test in response to GM soy but not non-GM soy (Yum et al., 2005). However, this one anomalous result is insufficient evidence on which to base a conclusion that GM soy is more allergenic than non-GM soy. Of the 49 subjects tested in that study, 13 tested positive for a conventional soy allergy but only 8 to a GM soy allergy. It remains the case, 20 years on from the introduction of GM crops, that no reputable, documented source has shown that an approved GM crop has caused allergic reactions as a result of the introduced protein.

Compliance with assessment guidelines has thus proved successful in preventing any allergenic transgenic crops from reaching the market. Accordingly, it is highly unlikely that such a product will reach the latter stages of development, let alone the market, in the future without allergenicity being detected. Furthermore, given the rigorous safety inquiry carried out before a GM crop is approved for cultivation, no crop with insufficient allergy testing will be authorised for sale or import in Europe.

It bears remembering that the introduction of new allergens to the European market is an existing risk for non-GM products. Any new, exotic foodstuff entering the market introduces numerous new proteins into our diet some of which, as was the case with the kiwi fruit (Lucas et al., 2004), may prove to be allergens. Furthermore, non-transgenic, severely allergenic foods such as peanuts are readily available. It therefore seems objectively unjustifiable that GM crops should be singled out over fears of allergenicity as a ground for barring GM crops from the European market.

2) Transfer of antibiotic resistance to bacteria in the gut

Human consumption of GM foods raises the question of whether transgenes can be taken up by our gastrointestinal bacteria. Of particular concern has been the potential transfer of selectable marker genes to gut flora, driving the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and reducing the effectiveness of drug treatments.

Several criteria must be met in order for a gene transfer event to occur. First, the transgenic DNA must survive in the gastrointestinal tract. An in vitro study simulating the mammalian stomach and small bowel found 4% of transgenes from modified soy and maize did survive in digestive conditions (Martín-Orúe et al., 2002). In seven human volunteers with surgically removed colons (ileostomists) fed GM soya, a small proportion of the transgene (maximum of 3.7%) survived in all participants (Netherwood et al., 2004), though DNA did not survive in healthy volunteers. These studies indicate that portions of transgenes can survive, particularly in compromised individuals albeit that this is a rare event.

Secondly, the surviving DNA must contain the intact transgene. In the gastrointestinal tract, DNA is released from plant material and broken down by digestive enzymes making it highly unlikely that bacteria will be exposed to sequences containing the intact gene (Lorenz & Wackernagel, 1994). In those studies where potential survival of the transgene was suggested, in no case is there evidence either of intact transgene survival or pre-existing gene transfer of a functional transgene to bacteria. Uptake of a gene into bacteria is unlikely given the infrequency of natural transformation in many species (Davison, 1999). The foreign gene must then avoid degradation by bacterial restriction endonucleases and be incorporated into the genome; again, highly improbable (Davison, 1999).

It is therefore unsurprising that no evidence exists of bacteria in the gut having incorporated antibiotic resistance markers from transgenic crops into their genome under natural conditions (EFSA, 2007). The fear that the gut may act as a source for antibiotic-resistant bacteria appears unfounded, particularly when the absence of selection pressure from the relevant antibiotic is considered (EFSA, 2007). There is no selective advantage in possessing a resistance gene where the antibiotic is not in use; hence any integrated gene is highly unlikely to be inherited.

It is important to put the extremely remote risk that GM crops pose in this capacity in perspective; horizontal gene transfer of antibiotic resistance is far more probable in the natural environment (Keese, 2008) where it is already widespread. Screens for resistance to common antibiotics in numerous bacteria strains from non-GM soil samples showed each strain was resistant to an average of seven antibiotics (D'Costa et al., 2006). In contrast to the risks posed by naturally-occurring soil reservoirs of antibiotic resistance, the risk of gastrointestinal flora becoming a source of antibiotic resistance is insignificant.

To further mitigate any risk that resistance genes could be passed either to bacteria in the gut or soil microbes through GM crops, antibiotic resistance markers are categorised under European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) guidelines (EFSA, 2004). Resistance genes where the relevant antibiotics are not used in medicine, such as the nptII gene and kanamycin resistance, are recommended for unlimited use. For a commercially cultivated crop, the selectable marker should not confer resistance to a medicinal antibiotic.

The production of marker-free crops is also possible through excision of the selectable marker gene, once successfully transformed plants have been identified. A favoured method, site-specific recombinase-mediated excision, involves cleaving the DNA on each side of the marker gene, removing the marker and ligation of the cut ends (Hare & Chua, 2002). This ensures the excision event is inherited in a significant percentage of the progeny line and has proven successful in many agricultural crops (Natarajan & Turna, 2007). Continued development of excision techniques, in order to improve their efficiency and precision, could see marker-free crops become common place.

Given the rarity of each event necessary to transform gastrointestinal bacteria with DNA from transgenic crops, and the lack of evidence that such an event has occurred, the concern that health problems may be caused by pathogens which have gained antibiotic resistance to exposure of GM crops appears unfounded. The development of successful marker excision procedures should be prioritised and their use advised in EFSA guidelines. This would negate this particular health concern and provide a useful step towards public acceptance of GM crops.

Environmental Risks

Wide scale cultivation of any crop, transgenic or not, will impact on both the immediate agricultural ecosystem and the wider 'natural' environment. The potential effects on non-target organisms and problems caused by gene flow are two of the most frequently cited environmental reasons for non-adoption of GM crops.

1) Effect on non-target organisms

Non-target organisms include any species inadvertently harmed by the cultivation of GM crops including beneficial organisms such as pollinators, natural enemies of pests, soil organisms and non-target herbivores (Kumar et al., 2008). This is of particular relevance where a crop has been engineered to express a protein toxic to a specific pest. Ingestion of the crop could prove directly toxic to other organisms (Conner et al., 2003) or cause indirect effects such as reduced fecundity (Conner et al., 2003, Craig et al., 2008).

Studies on a variety of organisms have found GM crops to have no detrimental effects on non-target organisms and certainly none which compare unfavourably with conventional pesticides (Marco et al., 2010; Kumar et al., 2008, Mulligan et al., 2010). The common bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) contains many insecticidal proteins which have been harnessed for expression in GM crops (Tzotzos, Head & Hull, 2009). Modified Bt-maize, which expresses the Cry1Ab protein against lepidopteran pests, was concluded to be non-toxic to a range of non-target organisms (Vaufleury et al., 2007). Similarly, ingestion of Bt toxins Cry1Ab and Cry3Aa in predatory Coleoptera failed to reveal any increase in mortality resulting from exposure to the toxins even at unrealistically high doses (Porcar et al., 2010). Interaction of organisms with transgenic plants does, however, present a pathway by which genetic material escapes into the environment. Traces of transgenic protein from GM leaves were detected in snail tissues then passed in faeces to the soil (Vaufleury et al., 2007) but at a level so minimal that no adverse effects on local organisms were discernable.

In another study, Monarch butterfly larvae were initially found to experience reduced appetite, growth and higher mortality when fed on leaves coated with Bt-corn pollen (Losey et al., 1999). The concentrations of Bt-protein ingested by the larvae under investigation were unrealistic and the evidence was deemed insufficient to conclude that the crop is harmful under natural conditions (Pleasants et al., 2001). Subsequent study has re-iterated that Bt-toxins pose no threat to the Monarch butterfly (Dively et al., 2004) and indicates that Bt crops compare favourably with many commonly used insecticides containing λ-cyhalothrin, exposure to which does reduce survivorship (Stanley-Horn et al., 2001).

There is a lack of evidence to support concerns that non-target organisms will be harmed through realistic exposure to GM crops at any point in the food chain (SIGMEA). The same cannot be said for conventional pesticides (Desneux et al., 2007). Accordingly, it would be unjustifiable to cite this as a reason for not adopting GM technology.

2) Gene flow

Gene flow refers to the transfer and incorporation of genes from one population into another through pollen or seed movement (Andow & Zahlen, 2006). This commonly occurs between non-GM crops and their wild relatives (Ellstrand et al., 2003). It is therefore unsurprising that there is evidence of gene flow between transgenic crops and related wild populations (Lu et al., 2008). There was significant media coverage recently when populations of wild transgenic canola were found in the U.S. (Gilbert, 2010). However, the question here is not whether gene flow can occur but whether the consequences pose a significant risk to the environment.

Transgenes have been shown to function in wild plants as they do in cultivated plants (Stewart et al., 1997, Mason et al., 2003, Vacher et al., 2004) conferring on those plants the same beneficial traits. This has raised concerns about feral crops, competitive strains of wild crop plants which could spread rapidly, out-compete native plants and invade previously unsuitable habitats.

If crops of the same species but expressing different herbicide-resistance genes are grown in close proximity to a wild population there is the potential for multiple hybridizations to occur producing weeds with stacked resistance genes (Senior & Dale, 2002). If such a plant subsequently possessed a selective advantage in its natural habitat a population of 'superweeds', resistant to multiple herbicides and hence difficult to eradicate, may evolve. However herbicides are unlikely to be applied away from the agricultural environment hence these plants will not have a selective advantage and undergo population growth.

In cases where it is suggested that hybrids do have increased fecundity relative to the wild population (references) it bears noting that 20 T.P. Hauser et al., Frequency-dependent fitness of hybrids between oilseed rape (Brassica napus) and weedy B-rapa (Brassicaceae), Am. J. Bot. 90 (2003), pp. 571-578. Full Text via CrossRef | View Record in Scopus | Cited By in Scopus (30)the studies were conducted under agricultural-style conditions where hybrids expressing a crop transgene are more likely to have a selective advantage over their wild counterparts. It does not necessarily follow that hybrids will have the same selective advantage under natural conditions. Hybrid herbicide-resistant sunflowers have been shown to exhibit less damage from pests and increased seed production (Snow et al., 2003) in relation to wild sunflowers. Though increased seed production by no means guarantees increased population size and subsequent weediness.

Hybridisation can increase weediness naturally without the influence of a transgene; a hybrid combination of two Eurasian Tamarix species in the U.S. is now widespread and fairly resistant to control methods (Gaskin & Schaal 2002). Similarly, development of resistance to herbicides frequently occurs in conventional agricultural systems ((reference). With regular exposure to herbicides, any plant with a naturally-arising resistance gene would have a selective advantage. Since there remains no evidence that transgene flow facilitates problematic weediness in the wild and the likelihood of a problematic situation arising is no greater for GM than non-GM crops, gene flow related risks should not deter transgenic crop cultivation in Europe.

However as the absence of gene flow in either direction between GM and non-GM crops cannot be guaranteed, a secondary problem arises: how to keep transgenic DNA from being incorporated into non-GM crops maintaining consumer's freedom of choice between a GM and non-GM product. EU guidelines therefore take gene flow into account, stating that a non-GM product is permitted up to 0.9% adventitious presence (AP) of transgenic material. In order to comply with this, gene flow must be limited as far as possible, isolation distances of 50m between GM and non-GM crops are thought to be more than sufficient to ensure that 0.9% AP is adhered to (Devos et al., 2008, Beckie & Hall, 2008).

Hence the main issue associated with GM crops and gene flow is a regulatory one. If the predominance of transgenic crops in Europe increases, a heterogeneous landscape of GM and non-GM planting zones may make it harder to comply with co-existence regulations. Globally there remains clear separation between the genotypes of related wild and cultivated plants (Pascher et al., 2010F). Therefore, provided planting is carefully planned to comply with the isolation distance and wild crop populations in proximity to GM fields are limited, transgene flow will remain limited and will pose no undue threat to the environment.

European Union (EU) regulations

The European regulations surrounding the cultivation and import of GM crops are extremely strict, significantly more so than the rest of the world. As a result only 36 of 130 GM crop varieties are authorised for entry into the EU (GMO Compass Database, 2011).

One serious issue is the length of time it takes for a GM crop to receive authorisation by the EU. Once an application is received, a lengthy process to authorisation or refusal, involving multiple committees, follows. A detailed, six month safety assessment of the crop is carried out by the independent EFSA. The decision then passes to politicians and the process is aptly summed up by Agricultural Minister Mariann Fischer Boel who said 'Month after month, GMOs receive a clean bill of health from EFSA, but then get stuck because Member States cannot reach any qualified majority, so first the relevant committee decides nothing; then the Council decides nothing; and finally, the Commission grants authorisation, as laid down in the rules' (Fischer Boel, 2009). Deferred approval can create a further stumbling block. Authorisation for the cultivation of maize Bt11 and 1507 was deferred by the European Commission (EC) in 2008 against EFSA recommendations (EFSA, 2008, EFSA 2), urging further EFSA review and causing frustration in the scientific community (Hodgson, 2008). In spite of further reports from the EFSA concluding that no risk is posed by the cultivation of either variety, decisions on whether to grant approval for cultivation have yet to be reached (EFSA, website). This highlights the inefficiency and complexity of the EU system.

Approval of a new GM crop by the EU takes an average of 3 years as opposed to 1 in the U.S. (Wager & McHughen, 2010), with the majority of the decision-making process involving no new input of scientific information. As a result there is now a backlog of applications (Wager & McHughen, 2010). This problem will worsen as crops with stacked traits apply for approval; a new authorisation process must be undergone even where the component transgenes have been authorised. This backlog is likely to prevent Europe benefiting from the most recently developed transgenic varieties.

Even after the EC grants approval, member states can prohibit cultivation of GM crops domestically. In 2008 the French government declared a ban on cultivation of Bt-maize MON810 despite the crop having been cultivated on French soil without incident in previous years (GMO Compass). This decision disregarded scientific recommendations from the EFSA and its French equivalent (EFSA) inciting accusations of abuse of scientific reports on political grounds (EU regs). Similar politically-motivated bans on MON 810 are also in place in Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Luxembourg (BBC news??).

Europe's largely anti-GM stance looks unlikely to change in the near future. A 2010 proposal outlining plans to place more decision-making power over GM cultivation in the hands of member states has been met with strong opposition (EU Business, 2010) by key member states who remain wary of the potential for wider use of GM technology in supportive countries.

New EU guidelines may also see assessment procedures for biotech companies (which must be satisfied before application submission) become more stringent (EFSA, 2010) due to pressure from member states. This would increase the considerable costs of compliance with EU regulations further. Consequently only the large international biotechnology companies will be able to afford authorisation in Europe (Dav), encouraging an unhealthy oligopoly on GM providers to Europe and potentially preventing innovations from reaching Europe.

It is questionable that politicians should act as gatekeepers for products entering market when the issue of ascertaining their safety is purely scientific. A greater weighting should arguably be given to the scientific opinion in the decision-making process.

Public Opinion

Consumers have always been wary of new food technologies (Young, 2003). Accordingly, public support of GM crops is unlikely to be forthcoming when people are infrequently exposed to the technology. Data on public opinion is sporadic and predominantly gathered through surveys (report). This has created a static picture of public opinion and may not be an accurate indication of consumer behaviour (European Commission Framework study 2008).

It appears that the majority of people are aware of GM but have insufficient understanding of the technology to explain it to another (report). At best people are ambivalent towards GM crops, at worst there is total rejection of the technology. Though there has been no significant a change in opinion in recent years, there seems to be a downward trend in support.

In the Eurobarometer Survey 2010, 61% of Europeans opposed the technology an increase from 57% in 2005. Respondents cited safety concerns, a perceived absence of benefits and general unease as reasons for their negative attitudes. On average opponents outnumber supporters by three to one, and in no country is there a majority of supporters (Eurobarometer). The public majority clearly has a negative perception of GM crops.

Since the majority of the public have only a vague understanding of GM technology, education may help to shift misconceptions. However reports suggest that knowledge has little impact on support amongst the public (Euro2010, Gaskell 2006), though the supportive attitudes of the majority of scientists (Costa-Font et al, 2008, Euro2010) suggest that clear understanding leads to acceptance.

The media often paints a negative picture of GM crops. Recently 'superweeds' were cited as an example of GM crop failure (articles), an exaggeration of an issue equally prevalent in conventional agriculture. Since the only exposure to GM crop news many people will have is through the media, to sway public opinion coverage needs to be fair and rational with appropriate emphasis on the benefits of GM crops. Labelling regulations, under which crops with transgenic AP of >0.9% must be marked as GM, retain freedom of choice between GM and non-GM products which may make some more amenable to the technology. However a GM label may also be viewed as a warning, implying the product is contaminated by the transgene presence and hence less safe than the equivalent non-GM product.

The popularity of the organic movement is also a stumbling block for transgenic crops. The European organic market is the largest in the world, estimated to be worth $26 billion (USDA). The organic movement also has the support of the EU, as demonstrated by its agreement to put £1 million towards a UK campaign highlighting the benefits of organic farming (EU). A similar campaign explaining the benefits of GM crops could begin the process of shifting the negativity around the technology, particularly if it was supported by leading educational bodies, the most trusted source of scientific information (Eurobarometer 2010).

Consequences of Europe's anti-GM stance

Europe has a zero tolerance policy towards imported crops containing traces of unauthorised transgenic material, a policy far more stringent than applies to traces of arsenic in food imports (Wager & McHughen, 2010). It is probable that sellers will increase the price of imports to Europe to offset that risk (Wager & McHughen, 2010). Given the ever growing number of asynchronously approved crops between Europe the rest of the world, and the impossibility of preventing gene flow, this is a questionable policy and one which has already caused trade disputes. In 2009 a shipment of GM soy was refused entry into the EU as traces of unapproved maize from a previous shipment were detected (Wager & McHughen, 2010). The incident is alleged to have reduced soybean trade with the US and resulted in an increase in the price of animal feed. Trade disputes in the future are highly probable; a recently leaked cable reveals advice from the Parisian US embassy that the US should penalise the EU in a trade capacity due to their anti-GM position (Stapleton, 2010).

In 2010 the EC presented recommendations that impurities of <0.1% should be permitted in imports of animal feed (compass) however such a proposition is likely to meet with fierce opposition from member states and the view that traces of transgenic material are contaminations will continue to be perpetuated by government policy.


That health and environmental concerns over GM crops should act as a barrier to their adoption in Europe appears unjustifiable based on the current evidence. In each capacity, GM crops are substantially equivalent to non-GM crops. However this is not a view shared by the majority of the public. Public rejection of transgenic crops is understandable given the lack of understanding and exposure to contradictory or negative media coverage. The lack of public support is perhaps the greatest barrier to the success of GM crops in Europe. It is likely to be the motivation behind many of the decisions by politicians to refuse the approval of GM crop varieties for cultivation.

Since the public still view health and environmental impacts of GM crops as concerns, they cannot be dismissed. One issue is the lack of long-term studies undertaken on human subjects. The undertaking of longitudinal monitoring the impact of GM crops on both human health and the environment is advisable. Whilst these studies are unlikely to reveal unexpected information with regards to the safety of GM crops, they may go some way to assuaging public concerns over potential health and environmental risks.

Reform of the regulatory system would also be a significant stepping stone in seeing GM crops adopted in Europe. Detailed safety assessment of applicants for approval should continue to be carried out, however the resulting scientific opinion should carry more weight in the subsequent decision-making process. A chiefly science-based, rather than politically-influenced decision would be logical and more efficient. Any committee or member state against the authorisation of a GM should be able to state a scientifically-justified rationale behind the decision.

There appears to be no justifiable reason why GM should not be more widely cultivated in Europe. Over-caution may see the benefits of the latest agricultural advances bypass Europe and an increase in the frequency of trade disputes. The majority of Europeans appear to underrate the benefits and overrate the risks of GM crops. Shifting public misconceptions is an important step that may be necessary if GM crops are to be successfully cultivated in Europe.