Europe could have been the world leader in genetically modified (GM) crops. The research was there in the 1980s, when Belgian scientists pioneered the introduction of foreign genes in plants. So much was still to be discovered, said Marc Van Montagu, an emeritus professor at Ghent University who is one of the architects of modern plant biotechnology. "Belgium was the place," said Van Montagu, who received the prestigious Japan Prize, which honors science and technology, in 1998 for his biotech work. "There were 50 different field trials." Then came the fear, the cries of "Frankenfood" and the public backlash against the European Union's approval of its first biotech crop, a pesticide-freighted corn known as "Bt maize," in 1998. Fresh from scares about mad cow disease, the public was in no mood to tackle more food safety issues, true or not. No GM crop has been approved for growing since.