Individual EU member states should be allowed to make the decision on whether to adopt GM, according to DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson.

In a bid to pave the way for the UK to go it alone on the technology, he has begun talks on this “single state” approach with EU health and consumer policy commissioner Tonio Borg.

“He’s gone back to see how we can pursue this. We have to convince the commission that it is a route out,” Mr Paterson told Farmers Weekly at an NFU cereals development event in London.

The coalition cabinet was overwhelmingly supportive of the move, said Mr Paterson, who wants to see more decision-making at regional level. However this was not part of Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposed renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU.

“I’m on this case now. We can’t hang around for two years before the election. Every year we delay, Argentina, Brazil and Canada are getting further ahead of us,” he said. “We are mad not to seriously look at this technology.”

Consideration would have to be given as to how GM fitted in within a wider context and there would be work to do to reassure the public that it was a safe technology, he said.

Answering grower concerns about research and development spending, Mr Paterson said he had also recently had talks with science minister David Willetts about the agri-tech strategy budget.

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