In its first major report devoted to the controversial issue of biotechnology and food, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said this week that genetically modified crops benefit poor farmers and, so far, they have been found to be safe.

The U.N. says the biggest problem was that the technology had not spread fast enough to poor countries and small farmers, and had focused mainly on big commercial crops: cotton, corn, canola and soybeans.

The U.N. report says scientists generally agree that the food derived from transgenic crops is safe to eat; though they recommend more study on the long-term effects on humans and the environment. The U.N. also says GMO crops offer advantages that can greatly help farmers and consumers, such as improved nutrition and resistance to insects and drought.

In related news, the European Union lifted its 6-year-old ban on biotech products by approving imports of an insect-resistant strain of sweet corn for human consumption.

The EU is under pressure from the United States and other major agricultural exporters, which charge the ban is unscientific and thus illegal under international trade rules, to lift the ban.

U.S. officials say they will press ahead with their complaint at the World Trade Organization despite the announcement. The genetically modified corn would only be imported and not grown in Europe, although an application for cultivation is pending. Any biotech corn sold — canned or fresh — would have to be labeled under strict new rules that took effect last month.

Drovers, Associated Press