Professor Sir David King (pictured) believes that many poor nations are avoiding using GM technologies for fear of being shut out of potentially lucrative EU export markets.
Giving the Institute of Food Science and Technology 2011 lecture at the Royal Society last month (sponsored by Food Manufacture), King said: "Because we in Europe decided not to choose GM foodstuff and set the gold standard for the rest of the world, GM has been banned in many countries.
Today [GM] food production is still largely limited to North and South America. Most countries in Africa banned it, and countries elsewhere won't grow it for fear of not being able to put their products into the market."
Submergence tolerant rice
King, formerly the UK government's chief scientific adviser and now director of the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford, cited GM variants such as such as drought-, disease- and saline-resistant crops and 'submergence-tolerant' rice as GM technologies that would benefit developing nations. Submergence-tolerant rice prevents crop loss when there are early monsoon rains.
"Had we moved quickly to introduce submergence-tolerant rice in the 1990s this could have been in the marketplace 10 years ago and the number of lives lost as a result of malnutrition would have been very substantially reduced," said King.
"We made what is maybe a lifestyle decision in a part of the world where choosing whether or not to eat a GM tomato is a real choice. In other parts of the world whether you have enough of anything to eat is the choice. And we were impacting on that decision- making process."
King added: "The scientific community needs to ... inform public debate in a rational, easily assimilable manner. We just haven't managed this well at all."
George Freeman, Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk, believes the public will accept the need for GM if the benefits are clearly shown. "I intend to carry the flag for GM and try to sell it in parliament," he said at a Crop Protection Association debate last month.