Abstract It has been predicted that by 2025 there will be an annual shortfall of cereals for feeding the human population of 68.5 million tonnes. One possible solution is the use of genetically modified (GM) crops, which are already grown extensively (59 million ha of GM crops were planted in 2002) in the USA, South America, Africa and China. Nevertheless, there is considerable disagreement about the advisability of using such crops, particularly in Europe. Obviously, the safety of the food derived from the GM crops is a primary consideration. Safety assessment relies on establishing that the food is substantially equivalent to its non-GM counterpart and specific testing for allergenicity of proteins and toxicity of metabolites and the whole food. There appears to be international agreement on the principles of safety assessment. Safety to the environment is equally important, but will not be covered in this presentation. The public's perception of the risk of new technology is critical to its acceptance. Perception of risk, in turn, depends on the credibility of the source of the information and trust in the regulatory process. In many countries, the public appears to have lost its trust in the scientists and government dealing with GM food, making the acceptability of GM crops uncertain. Of equal importance are the socio-economic factors that impinge on the viability of GM produce. These include intellectual property protection, trade liberalisation (through subsidy and tariff barriers in developed countries) and the intensity of bio safety regulations. The socio-economic interests of developed and developing countries may diverge and may even be contradictory in any one country. Acceptance of GM crops will thus depend on detailed issues surrounding particular crops and economies.