More than fifty crops have now been genetically transformed – in the laboratory – in sixteen developing countries. However, regulatory approval and cultivation lags well behind the developed world, having only taken place in a handful of countries, and being restricted to just two crops – cotton and maize. This International Food Policy Research Institute policy briefing discusses some of the reasons for this.

In food safety assessment, developing countries face two problems: weak institutional, infrastructural and technological capabilities; and the lack of common international standards. This creates difficulties for developing countries in relation to their participation in international trade, particularly in terms of: operationalising the concept of 'substantial equivalence' (in which the novel characteristics of a GM product are evaluated against its non-GM counterpart); accessing safety data generated in other countries; building capacity to meet demanding international standards or importers’ requirements; and establishing food safety thresholds.

The authors note that safety assessment is not just about science, but about public perceptions and assuring importers about food safety. Nevertheless, they argue that credible science and reasonable international standards will "allow scientifically defensible decisions in the face of food safety questions coloured by each country’s perceptions and circumstances".