Transgenic plants with important traits such as pest and herbicide resistance are most necessary where no inherent resistance has been demonstrated within the local species. There is intense research on the development of resistance to viral, bacterial, and fungal diseases; modification of plant architecture (e.g., height) and development (e.g., early or late flowering or seed production); tolerance to abiotic stresses (e.g., salinity and drought); production of industrial chemicals (plant-based renewable resources); and the use of transgenic plant biomass for novel and sustainable sources of fuel. The benefits from transgenic plants under study include increased flexibility in crop management, decreased dependency on chemical insecticides and soil disturbance, enhanced yields, easier harvesting and higher proportions of the crop available for trading. For the consumer this should lead to decreased cost of food and higher nutritive value.

A large proportion of developing world agriculture is in the hands of small-scale farmers whose interests must be taken into account. Concerns regarding GM technology range from its potential impact on human health and the environment to concerns about private sector monopolies of the technology. It is essential that such concerns are addressed if we are to reap the potential benefits of this new technology.

We conclude that steps must be taken to meet the urgent need for sustainable practices in world agriculture if the demands of an expanding world population are to be met without destroying the environment or natural resource base. In particular, GM technology, coupled with important developments in other areas, should be used to increase the production of main food staples, improve the efficiency of production, reduce the environmental impact of agriculture, and provide access to food for small-scale farmers.

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