largely identified with applications in medicine and agriculture based on our knowledge of the genetic code of life. Various terms have been used to describe this form of biotechnology including genetic engineering, genetic transformation, transgenic technology, recombinant DNA technology, and genetic modification technology. For the purposes of this report, which is focused on plants and products from plants, the term genetic modification technology, or GM technology, is used.
GM technology was first developed in the 1970s. One of the most prominent developments, apart from the medical applications, has been the development of novel transgenic crop plant varieties. Many millions of hectares of commercially produced transgenic crops such as soybean, cotton, tobacco, potato and maize have been grown annually in a number of countries, including the United States (28.7 million hectares in 1999), Canada (4 million hectares), China (0.3 million hectares), and Argentina (6.7 million hectares) (James 1999). However, there has been much debate about the potential benefits and risks that may result from the use of such crops.
The many crucial decisions to be made in the area of biotechnology in the next century by private corporations, governments, and individuals will affect the future of humanity and the planet's natural resources. These decisions must be based on the best scientific information in order to allow effective choices of policy options. It is for this reason that representatives of seven of the world's academies of science have come together to provide recommendations to the developers and overseers of GM technology and to offer scientific perspectives to the ongoing public debate on the potential role of GM technology in world agriculture.