Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth (FoE) called for a moratorium on the growing of genetically modified (GM) crops following today's [Friday] announcement at the Earth Summit of a World Bank-funded initiative to review the use of GM foods and farming.

The process, announced by the World Bank at a press conference in Johannesburg, is chaired by Robert Watson, former chair of the Inter-government Panel on Climate Change and chief scientific advisor to the World Bank, and aims to include views from all sides on the impacts of agricultural science. It is scheduled to meet in Dublin in November.

The process will be responsible for looking at the impacts of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as well as other agricultural science over the next three years.

In a press release, FoE said that it cautiously welcomed the review, but sounded a note of caution over its independence, given the involvement of the World Bank. The issue of GM food and farming is different to climate change, and it is questionable whether a top-down review of this controversial science is appropriate. The group warned that the review could play into the hands of the US and biotech industry rather than ordinary people, who should be making the decisions about how they farm and what food they eat.

The first meeting will be crucial in ensuring that any process includes all stakeholders and covers all relevant issues.

Adrian Bebb, speaking for FoE, said: "By the time this review is finished the choice of many farmers and consumers around the world will already be removed as GM crops continue to contaminate our environment, conventional crops and food. A moratorium should immediately be implemented."