The European Union's high court has ruled that Italy and other EU member states can place temporary bans on genetically modified foods if they suspect the foods pose a threat to public health or the environment.

A European nation "can as a preventive measure ... temporarily restrict or suspend the marketing of those foods in its territory," the court was quoted by the Associated Press as saying. There should be no "relaxation of the safety requirements that must be met by novel foods."

The ruling stems from a dispute between the Italian government and biotech giant Monsanto.

The court ruled that Italy was entitled in August 2000 to ban certain foods, notably flour made from genetically modified maize, from Monsanto Europe, Syngenta AG and Pioneer Hi-Bred International.

The court added, however, that Italy must provide evidence of the suspected risks in order to sustain a ban, reported AP.