In GM Plants: Questions and Answers, society president Prof Venki Ramakrishnan said GM food was widely misunderstood and the crops it produced should be assessed on a case by case basis
“GM is a method, not a product,” he said.
"Different GM crops have different characteristics and it’s impossible from a scientific point of view to make a blanket statement that all GM is good or bad.
The guide stated half the UK population did not feel well informed about GM crops. A further 6 per cent have never heard of them, it said.
It answered 18 common questions identified by a focus group, including how genetic modification is done, were GM crops safe to eat, could they harm the environment and could there be unexpected side effects in the long term.
It also acknowledged areas of uncertainty and some of the technology’s drawbacks.
It said: "There is no evidence that a crop is dangerous to eat just because it is GM".
But it acknowledges that GM plants can cross breed with non-GM varieties, which could lead to side effects in the long term.
In an interview with BBC News, Prof Ramakrishnan said the European ban on GM crops should be reassessed. It was inappropriate to ban an entire technology, he said. "You should regulate each product, which should be properly tested for its health and environmental effects."
He also acknowledged that without proper regulation multinational corporations could monopolise food production, leading to the loss of thousands of varieties of fruits, vegetables and cereals.
"We shouldn’t conflate the issue of GM’s reputation with its potential," he said.
"I hope the whole thing gets put on a more rational footing. With a projected need for 50 per cent more food by 2050 I don’t think we can afford to give up on useful technologies."
The Soil Association said the guide was not as neutral as it claimed.
“The scientific establishment in the UK seems incapable of following normal scientific practice when dealing with GM crops," it said in a statement.
“Scientists with differing views are excluded from the production of documents of this sort, dissenting views are ignored, and inconvenient facts are either omitted completely or misrepresented – or as a last resort, blamed on farmers not GM.
"Everyone knows that there are at least some scientific controversies and disagreements about evidence concerning GM crops. None of these are mentioned in the Royal Society document. This may not be surprising, given that there are no scientists who have consistently expressed scepticism about the application of GM technology to agriculture listed among the authors.
"The Royal Society’s involvement in GM has been consistently one-sided, ignoring scientists with dissenting views, and overlooking facts which do not fit with the views of supporters of GM crops.”