The European Commission yesterday [Monday] urged Tony Blair to do more to encourage the planting of GM crops across Britain.

The British Prime Minister, was meeting with the internal market commissioner Frits Bolkestein, has in the past defended the biotech industry, but such views have been staunchly opposed by other sections of government and many consumers.

Speaking before the meeting at Downing Street, Bolkestein stressed the need for greater European development of genetically modified crops. He is quoted in the Financial Times as saying: "It is a rather saddening spectacle to see that 0.03% of worldwide acreage producing GMO produce is within the confines of the EU.

"We want to hold our own, leading in new technology, and this is a new technology of prime importance."