Farmers and consumers have benefited from advances in agricultural technology for centuries, but the most recent innovation — transgenic modification of crops — has generated enormous controversy.

It is well known that whereas genetically modified (GM) crops have been grown extensively in Argentina, Canada, and the United States since 1996, environmental and consumer groups have largely blocked the GM crop revolution in Europe and Japan. It is less clear, however, what choices developing countries will make concerning the new technology.

In this discussion paper, Robert L. Paarlberg devises a system for classifying policy choices towards GM crops in the areas of intellectual property rights, food safety, biosafety, trade, and public research investment.

He then presents a snapshot and analysis of policies toward GM crops for four countries: Brazil, China, India, and Kenya. At the time of writing, of these four countries, only China had officially approved the commercial planting of GM crops.

Paarlberg seeks to explain the differences among the four countries in these policy areas, and he determines that international pressures — from, for example, international environmental and non-governmental organisations, international agreements, and donors — have discouraged GM crop adoption in Brazil, India, and Kenya. China has taken a different path in part because it is relatively insulated from such pressures.

This study should be of great interest to any one who follows the international debate over GM foods and crops, including policy-makers, researchers and students, and those in the international private sector.