The European Union has hit back at US President George W. Bush over his criticism of the EU's biotechnology policy.

Earlier this week, Bush claimed the EU's moratorium on GM foods was contributing to famine in Africa. "For the sake of a continent threatened by famine, I urge the European governments to end their opposition to biotechnology. We should encourage the spread of safe, effective biotechnology to win the fight against global hunger," Bush was quoted by Reuters as saying.

In response, a European Commission official said: "The suggestions made by the United States are simply not true. It is false that we are anti-biotechnology or anti-developing countries," reported the Financial Times.

EU trade officials say the decision by the US to launch a case at the WTO is unnecessary. They insist the EU will begin processing applications for new genetically modified organisms as soon as the European Parliament has passed new laws governing labelling and traceability of GMOs.

The Commission official also said the EU had a "much better record than the US" in providing development aid.

As well as the EU giving seven times as much aid as the US, the official pointed out that the EU's food aid often consisted of grants to allow countries to buy locally produced food. This is different to "other countries", which ship their domestic farm surpluses to provide food aid.

Bush's attack was not the first by a US official linking the EU moratorium to food aid in Africa. In response to previous such accusations, the European Commission said food aid to starving nations should be about meeting humanitarian needs rather than trying to advance the case for GM food abroad or finding outlets for domestic surplus.