EU proposals to allow countries to reject genetically-modified crop technology to prevent civil unrest could encourage violence and crop vandalism, DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman has warned.

Mrs Spelman joined a number of EU environment ministers who said they were unconvinced about draft European Commission rules that would allow member states to decide for themselves whether they would allow GM plantings.

While the draft report called for farmers to have a say on whether to use GM technology, MEPs said countries should be allowed to prohibit GMs to maintain public order.

But at a meeting in Brussels last week (17 March), Mrs Spelman said using public order as a possible reason to opt out of growing GM crops would set a dangerous precedent.

Backed by France’s environment minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, Mrs Spelman said the clause might encourage violence or lead to more militant anti-GM campaigners damaging crops or property.

Germany’s environment minister Norbert Roettgen also raised doubts, claiming the opt-outs proved the proposals were not compatible with EU or World Trade Organisation rules, while delegates from Belgium and Austria also expressed concerns.

Rejecting criticism of the report, EU health commissioner John Dalli told ministers work was already underway between the legal services of the Council and the Parliament to “make clearer why the proposed legal basis is appropriate” ahead of a working party meeting on 30 March.