We must bridge the knowledge gap so shoppers can base decisions on science, not scare stories, says Julian Little

As the chief scientific adviser to the government warned at a recent FSA board meeting, we face the perfect storm of a growing population, changing diets and the potential effects of climate change.

Unless we amend our agricultural production methods to reflect the challenges before us, it will be impossible to meet the demand for food. We have three stark choices: produce more food from the land we currently farm; bring more land into production and accept the environmental consequences; or allow people to starve.

The key is to produce more food on the same or less land - and the application of genetic modification will help us to enhance productivity, increase crop yields and reduce environmental impact. GM is not the only approach - there is no quick-fix and no magic wand, but it can help to stabilise food supplies and, as a result, the price of milk, meat and staple foods. GM can also help improve the environmental and carbon footprint of the food chain and 'climate proof' agriculture with crops able to survive drought. A recent report showed that in 2007 reduced ploughing facilitated by the use of GM crops was equivalent to removing more than six million cars from the road for a year.

Despite these benefits, we often hear from anti-GM campaigners that consumers don't want GM in their food. In reality, most consumers do not regard GM as a major concern - an FSA survey conducted in March showed that only 6% of those questioned expressed unprompted concern about GM food. Furthermore, those who are worried are often misinformed about what GM is and how it works. Indeed, a 2008 IGD survey found that only 3% of people could properly define the term 'genetic modification'.

It is clear more must be done to bridge this knowledge gap so that the decisions people make about the food they eat are based on sound science and not scare stories. More than two trillion meals containing GM ingredients have been consumed by people across the world without a single substantiated claim of harm to human health.

In fact, there is great potential for GM to provide us with healthier, more nutritious foods - GM soya beans containing omega-3 are one of many such products under development.

The use of GM technology in agriculture has been an astonishing success. Last year, 13.3 million farmers in 25 countries planted over 125 million hectares - more than four times the land area of the British Isles - with GM crops including maize, rice and potatoes. No agricultural technology in history has ever been so rapidly adopted.

We have not, unfortunately, seen the same uptake in Europe. The EU labours under a dysfunctional regulatory system for registering GM crops for cultivation. Without properly functioning European GM authorisation procedures, UK farmers will continue to be denied the opportunity of benefiting from agricultural biotechnology - as will shoppers.

Consumer choice is about ensuring people have the opportunity to buy the widest possible range of products according to their own tastes and requirements. It is time for retailers to allow shoppers to make up their own minds and vote with their wallets.

Julian Little is chairman of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council.