Genetically modified (GM) crops can contribute substantially to improving agriculture in developing countries, an independent scientific think-tank has concluded.
By Pallab Ghosh
BBC Science correspondent
In a discussion paper out on Tuesday to coincide with a national GM debate in the UK, the influential Nuffield Council on Bio-ethics says the technology has the potential to increase crop yields and improve the livelihoods of poor people.
Controversy reigns over GM crops' potential in developing countries
The need to feed an ever-increasing global population is the GM lobby's most powerful argument for why European nations should invest in research into GM and open up their markets to GM products.
Many aid agencies, though, have voiced scepticism, arguing that such "technical fixes" take the focus away from the structural problems that cause poverty.
The six-month Nuffield study by senior scientists and economists has concluded that the technology has the potential to substantially improve the lives of the world's poorest people, and it should be given a chance.
More controversially, it says that the effective European ban on GM products will slow the possible benefits of the technology in developing countries.
The study does, however, say that much of the privately funded research into the area will help rich farmers get richer.
It therefore recommends that European governments should spend more public money on research, specifically to help those most in need.
Nuffield Council director Sandy Thomas said the council recognised it was discussing only part of a much larger picture.
"Food security and the reduction of poverty in developing countries are extremely complex issues.
"We do not claim that GM crops will eliminate the need for economic, political or social change, or that they will feed the world.
"However, we do believe that GM technology could make a useful contribution, in appropriate circumstances, to improving agriculture and the livelihood of poor farmers in developing countries."
Commenting on the Nuffield report, Matthew Lockwood, ActionAid's Head of Policy, said: "The UK public should not be duped into accepting GM in the name of developing countries.
"GM does not provide a magic bullet solution to world hunger. What poor people really need is access to land, water, better roads to get their crops to market, education and credit schemes."