The European Union has launched a study into whether a large-scale expansion of genetically modified crops would curb soaring global food prices.
Gordon Brown backed the move after the European Commission said GM crops could "play an important role in mitigating the effects of the food crisis". Jose Manuel Barroso, the Commission president, warned that the EU's current obstacles to GM products could result in higher food prices in Europe than the rest of the world. EU leaders endorsed the plans to review the complex system of approving GM licences, which is split between the EU and national governments. It could be streamlined to make the approval process easier.
Mr Brown told a press conference in Brussels that decisions on the issue should be driven by science. He said: "In the end, the attitude to GM crops and GM food taken by consumers in our country and in any country is going to depend on the scientific and medical advice. That is what we are looking for from the work of this review group. Scientific advice is going to be the key to the future. It is very important that we see the results of that review before we come to firm conclusions."
The push for an expansion of GM crops comes as British ministers consider plans to relax the Government's controls over their cultivation, as The Independent revealed on Thursday.
In a report to EU leaders, Mr Barroso said the food price rises had added "a new dimension" to the public debate on GM crops. He admitted people were worried about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food and farming, but he said the EU was probably one of the largest importers of GMOs as its livestock industry was highly dependent on imported plant proteins.
He added: "The recent surge in agricultural commodity prices could be exacerbated by trade obstacles related to GMOs, thus resulting in an increase of [animal] feed and food prices in the EU higher than in other parts of the world."
Plans by the Commission to give "pre-marketing authorisation" to 16 GMOs have been blocked by the Council of Ministers, which is the EU's main decision-making body. The Commission has urged member states with national bans on GM crops to lift them, saying that they are not "scientifically justified".