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To date, most of the controversy and debate concerning the use of genetically modified (GM) plants in agriculture has taken place in the wealthy countries of the industrialized world. Based on previous technological advances, these countries now produce significant surpluses of high-quality food and are rich enough to spend the equivalent of hundreds of billions of dollars subsidizing the small percentage of their populations still dependent on agriculture for their incomes. In these countries, the debate over GM crops has raised a number of legitimate societal concerns, but how to meet the daily food and income requirements of a majority of their own populations has not been key among them

As the GM debate shifts to developing countries, however, food security and agricultural development should be two of the most important issues considered. Here, over 3 billion people – half the world's population – live in rural areas, and most are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. The vast majority of these rural people are poor farmers, many are undernourished, and their numbers are growing. The developing countries will need to draw on the best that science has to offer to help their farmers increase the productivity, nutritional value, stability of production, sustainability and profitability of their crops. By combining advances in ecological agriculture with advances in crop genetic improvement, significant progress is being made. Such progress will need to be expanded and continued for many years if food security and economic prosperity are to be achieved. In countries that are still primarily agrarian societies, making the wrong decision concerning new agricultural technologies may well have significant negative consequences.

The Special Issues on Plant GM Technology to be published by The Plant Journal should help to facilitate a more informed debate and decision-making process concerning use of new crop genetic improvement technologies in developing countries. They will also begin the process of documenting the results developing-country farmers attain with GM technologies, so costs and benefits can be assessed on the real-world experience of small-scale farmers.

I am sure everyone concerned with the application of GM technology and enhancing developing-country agriculture will find the GM Special Issues a valuable new source of reliable scientific information. We welcome them as an important addition to the literature and to the GM debate.