From one end of Europe to the other consumers are in open revolt over the prospect of a future in which nature has somehow been altered by people holding test tubes. Throughout the world last year, more than 30 million acres of commercial farmland were planted with genetically modified seeds - 10 times as much as the year before. But not one of those acres was in the 15 countries of the European Union.

Norway no longer accepts U.S. soybean imports because more than one-third are genetically modified to ward off pests. Austria and Luxembourg have totally banned genetically modified food.In France a "citizens conference" released an ambiguous statement of "cautious" support for such crops. In Britain vandalism has become so common at sites where genetically modified crops are tested that the government is now considering concealing their locations.

The debate says much about the cultural and philosophical differences between pragmatic and risk-ready America, where genetic technology that focuses on food has largely been accepted, and the far more reticent people of Europe.

What happens to crops from Bialystok to Bruges will have major consequences not just for farmers but also for industrial policy and for fields like medicine, agriculture and pharmaceutical research.