New Zealand risks damaging its "clean, green image" if it allows the commercial release of genetically engineered crops and animals, a survey has shown.

The Otago University survey of 17 major European food distributors suggested that New Zealand should delay the commercial release of GM crops and animals for several years until negative consumer attitudes toward GM foods in Europe die down, reported Dow Jones International News.

The survey was designed to assess whether the commercial release of GE organisms would damage New Zealand's "clean, green" image and affect demand for its food products, such as fruit and vegetables, in foreign markets.

A two-year moratorium on the commercial release of GM crops in New Zealand is set to end on 29 October.

The survey found no evidence that growing GM crops in a country causes negative perceptions of food from that country.

However, it found that in certain sectors, such as New Zealand lamb exports, the "clean, green" image is particularly important.

The EU is the biggest buyer of New Zealand lamb, importing 53% of the country's sheep meat exports.

"The prospect of genetic modification being used in farm animals that produce meat or milk for food received an almost universal highly negative reaction," the report said. 

"The prospect of genetic modification of pasture plants on which animals are raised for production of meat or milk also received a highly negative reaction," it added.