- Two types of GM crop are currently authorised for cultivation in the EU: an insect-resistant maize and a potato with modified starch content for industrial use.
- Neither of these is relevant or suitable for production in the UK.
- In 2011, the maize was grown on 114,490 hectares in 6 EU countries and the potato was grown on 17 hectares in 2 countries.
- Worldwide, in 2011 GM crops were grown by around 16.7 million farmers in 29 countries.
- The area grown has increased steadily year-on-year, reaching about 160 million hectares in 2011.
- This represents an 8% increase in the number of farmers and the area grown since 2010.
The coalition has allowed small-scale cultivation trials for GM food but widespread use is effectively banned.
Some GM products are contained in imported foods, but most supermarkets have banned the ingredients from their own-brand products because of public unease about the material.
Former prime minister Tony Blair retreated in the face of public scepticism during the 1990s after initially seeming well-disposed towards the technology.
However, the Government has recently run a consultation exercise about new "agri-tech" measures to increase the efficiency of British farms.
A formal ministerial response is due next year.
Genetic modification is a biotechnology that is being used to make new products, in particular new types of crop plant.
Under European Union (EU) legislation, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), including GM crops, can only be released into the environment if a science-based risk assessment shows that safety will not be compromised.
GM normally involves the insertion of genes carrying a specific trait (eg pest resistance) from one organism into another, although other GM techniques are possible. The result is a genetically modified organism (GMO).
No GM crops are being grown commercially in the UK, but imported GM commodities, especially soya, are being used mainly for animal feed, and to a lesser extent in some food products.
The Government will only agree to the planting of GM crops, the release of other types of GM organism, or the marketing of GM food or feed products, if a robust risk assessment indicates that it is safe for people and the environment.
Genetically modified food should be grown and sold widely in Britain and opponents of the technology are talking "humbug", according to the Environment Secretary.
Owen Paterson made the remarks amid speculation that ministers are ready to relax controls on the cultivation of GM crops.
Advocates argue that the techniques increase crop yields, avoid the need for pesticides, and could be essential in assuring Britain's future food security.