By: Sarah Knapton

Genetically modified crops could be planted in England this year despite widespread opposition, following a landmark ruling in Europe.

The European Parliament approved a deal on Tuesday which will let countries decide for themselves whether they want to plant GM crops.

British scientists are firmly behind genetic modification believing that it could help farmers produce plants which are healthier and need fewer pesticides.

The new legislation, which will be in place by Spring, could mean that commercial GM crops including maize and oil seed rape are grown in Britain from this year.

In the short-term the crops are unlikely end up on our tables. They will be sold for animal feed, and so enter food chain indirectly. However it opens the door for genetically modified fruit and vegetables to be sold in British supermarkets.

However a poll by YouGov last year found that 40 per cent of people believe that the government should not be promoting the adoption of GM, while just 22 per cent believed that they should.

And campaigners fear that disrupting the natural DNA of a plant could affect biochemical pathways leading to the production of toxins which could be harmful to health.

Sally Beard, one of the founders of Mums Say No To GMOs said: “Families throughout the country are not convinced by the assurances given by ministers and pro-GM researchers that there are no risks to our health and our environment.

“We have seen evidence of risk and can’t understand why it is not being investigated rigorously and why GM production is not halted in the meantime.”

Friends of the Earth Senior food campaigner Clare Oxborrow added: “Successive UK Governments have consistently championed GM crops and food – despite the fact that this technology has been hugely over-hyped and delivered little.”

Keith Taylor, Green MEP for South East England who voted against the new proposals, added: “I remain convinced that GMOs cause contamination of crops, are bad for our health and that small scale sustainable agriculture is the answer to solving future food shortages."

Under the new rules each European country will be allowed to decide for itself whether or not to grow GM, once it has been ruled safe by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the EU’s food safety body.

The deal has been engineered by the British government who are fed up that GM trials continue to be blocked by Germany, France and Italy.

The ruling was welcomed by the science community who said that countries who refused to move towards genetically modified crops would become stuck ‘in the Dark Ages of science.’

Professor Nigel Brown, President, Society for General Microbiology said: “GM crops will help feed a growing population and require fewer herbicides and pesticides. I would have thought that was a desirable outcome."

Crops are currently being trialled at Rothamsted Research, Hertfordshire and Norwich in Norfolk, but they will not be sold commercially. Wales and Scotland are opposed to the use genetically modified crops and have already said that they will not be growing them.

Genetically modified crops are plants where the DNA has been modified to introduce a new trait such as the ability to withstand drought or insects. Scientists "cut and paste" a gene from another organism with these capabilities and insert it into the genome of the plant.

They are already widely used in the US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina and India. Around 85 per cent of all corn crops in the US are now GM.

GM ingredients are already in food available on supermarket shelves, mostly in cooking oils containing GM soy or oilseed rape. However these will be labelled, according to EU law. Most supermarkets have banned GM ingredients in their own-brand products.