Denying farmers the chance to grow genetically modified wheat is causing people in the developing world to die from starvation, the head of a global wheat research institute has told the news agency Reuters.

Resistance from public and consumer groups in rich countries to GM wheat has forced major wheat producers, such as Australia, the United States and Canada, to steer away from growing it.

But GM crops can boost yields and help poor countries feed their people at a time of food shortages and rising world prices, Thomas Lumpkin, head of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), said.

“Governments should try to help the public appreciate how much the high price of food affects the poor in developing countries,” he told Reuters. “By denying them this technology, you are keeping them hungry, they are dying.”

Countries that banned genetically modified crops were being short-sighted and “pandering to the fears of voters,” he said.

No commercial GM wheat is currently grown in the world due to the strong opposition by consumer and environmental groups. But several biotech crop developers, including Monsanto and Syngenta, have researched GM wheat with herbicide or disease-resistant traits