Anti-GM campaigners reacted with fury last night after the Government backed an EU vote that could lead to weedkiller-resistant maize being sowed in England next year.
Other European countries can ban the so-called Frankenstein food after EU ministers said members could opt out of GM planting.
Critics said England’s first commercial GM crops would spell disaster for wildlife and contaminate conventional and organic crops, with ‘catastrophic’ consequences for farmers.
The Government position is also at odds with those of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, which have opted for a ban.
Controversial: The government has backed an EU vote which could see weedkiller-resistant maize being sowed in England next year. Critics say it could spell disaster for wildlife and other crops
The EU vote allowing the planting of two types of maize resistant to the weedkiller Roundup was passed by agriculture ministers in Luxembourg, although the European Parliament must approve it.
Dr Helen Wallace, of the campaign group GeneWatch UK, said: ‘The Government has colluded with commercial lobbyists to fast track Roundup Ready GM maize into England, despite the expected harm to British wildlife such as birds and butterflies caused by blanket spraying of these crops.
‘If some farmers in England press ahead with GM cultivation, conventional and organic farmers across the country will face the unnecessary risk of loss of markets due to contamination with GM.’
The Government’s pro-GM stance also flies in the face of public opinion, with most consumers saying they are concerned about the impact of the crops on the countryside, wildlife and their health.
The approval of commercial GM planting has been stalled for ten years because the EU needed all member states to vote for it.
Owen Paterson has been pressing for regulations that allow individual member states to plant GM crops once Brussels has approved them
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson – the Government’s cheerleader for genetically-modified crops – has been pressing for regulations that allow individual member states to plant them once they have been declared safe by Brussels.
He said the EU decision will fast-track them into farms and supermarkets, adding: ‘This is a real step forward in unblocking the dysfunctional EU process for approving GM crops, which is letting down farmers and stopping scientific development.
‘Farmers will have more power in deciding whether to grow GM crops that have passed a robust, independent safety assessment.’
But Peter Melchett, of organic industry body the Soil Association, said: ‘In future, a committed, pro-GM Secretary of State like Owen Paterson could take the decision to make England a “GM country”, and once that is taken it will be difficult for a future Government to adopt a different position. This will lead to farmers losing export markets to the rest of Europe and most of the rest of the world, which would be catastrophic.’
The EU vote is a victory for multi-national biotech firms, which have spent millions lobbying British ministers and officials to speed up the approval of GM crops. The Government claims there is no risk to humans or the environment.
But European and US research suggests there are health concerns and a threat to wildlife, and warns of the damage from ‘superweeds’ that develop a natural resistance to the pesticides used on GM crops.
Liz O’Neill, director of GM Freeze, said: ‘Even if a country or region does establish a ban, they will find it very difficult to protect their fields and food from contamination if neighbours start growing GM.’
However, the Government said safeguards would be put in place to protect conventional crops from GM contamination.