The manipulation of genes in a wide range of organisms, from microorganisms to higher plants and animals raises many questions. These include the viability of the genetically modified organism itself, ecological and health issues, social and economic issues.
There is already modification of a number of the world's major food crops. Soya, maize and canola have been modified for herbicide and pest resistance, and constitute the bulk of commercially grown and traded GMOs and GM products.
However, there has been no commercial approval of GM wheat in any country because of growing awareness of biosafety, increasing consumer preference for non-GM food, as well as fears of field and trade contamination that may adversely affect the wheat market.
Research and field trials on GM rice are taking place in some countries but again there is great caution and even resistance against commercialization, on the basis of insufficient scientific certainty on the environmental and health impacts. The impact on rice biodiversity is also a major concern for many Asian countries since the region is the centre of origin and diversity of rice. Associated with rice is the region's rich cultural diversity.
Bt cotton, the other commercialised GM crop, has become controversial with reports of inconsistent yields and other problems in China, India, the Indonesia and South Africa.
While there has been public attention on some of the major crops (including crops engineered for pharmaceutical production), there is far less awareness on other GM plants (including ornamental plants and flowers), trees, animals, fish and microorganisms.
There is considerable research on and field testing of many GMOs that are taking place without public knowledge, and often, without the knowledge of all relevant parts of a national government. Thus very few countries, especially developing countries, have had the opportunity to consider and weigh all aspects of gene technology and GMOs. This is necessary and urgently needed if the appropriate policies on science and technology, agriculture, forest management, biodiversity conservation and health are to be in place under the rubric of sustainable development.
[Note: In a separate page on this website, entitled "Traits in Agriculture" we post articles and reports that provide information and discussions on specific traits in agricultural GMOs.]