The UK's Co-operative Group, Britain's biggest farmer, has said it will reject any government proposals that allow the commercial planting of genetically modified crops in the UK.

The consumer-owned business, which sells £5bn (US$8.4bn) worth of food annually through its supermarkets and convenience stores and farms 85,000 acres of land, has also imposed its own GM ban across its businesses.

The Co-op said it will refuse to grow GM crops on its own land, sell GM food under its own brand and invest its Co-op Bank customers' money in GM technology.

The move follows an NOP World survey of Co-op customers and members which found that 55% of people were against GM with 38% yet to be convinced of its benefits. The survey found that 79% of those surveyed would not knowingly buy food containing GM ingredients, while 62% would not eat GM food even if it was proved safe to eat.

"We have listened to the experts on both sides of the debate. We have consulted our customers and members and evaluated available evidence. But, on the strength of current scientific knowledge, and the overwhelming opposition of our members, the Co-op is saying no to the commercial growing of GM crops in the UK," said Martin Beaumont, chief executive of the Co-operative Group.