THE UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has cautiously endorsed genetically modified crops, reports The Independent and the Financial Times.

In its report, Agricultural Biotechnology: Meeting the needs of the Poor, the FAO urged governments to increase investment in biotechnology research to benefit the world‘s poor.

But the organisation stressed that a crop-by-crop approach should be adopted.

The Independent reports that this view is at odds with many of the leading aid agencies which maitain such claims about GM are misleading.

The FAO said GM crops currently on the market are safe to eat, but admitted that scientists disagree on their environmental impact.

The organisation said that scientists differ on whether ‘gene flow‘ is a bad thing or not, but accepted that more research is needed to assess the risks posed by gene transference.

The report added GM crops had “demonstrable health benefits” for farm workers in China.

Dr Harwig de Haen, assistant director-general of FAO‘s economic and social department, said biotechnology was not a panacea to fight world hunger.

“But it could help in three major ways: by raising farmers‘ production and incomes, by increasing feed supplies and thus reducing prices, and by contributing to the nutritional quality of crops.”

He also said that the industry required greater regulation and that governments must be more involved in the research to ensure that the poor benefit.

This point was suppoerted by FAO director-general Dr Jacques Diouf who said no one had invested significantly in genetic technologies for crops such as cowpea, millet, sorghum and tef.