Former UK environment minister Michael Meacher has expressed his belief that the government will push back its decision on whether to commercialise genetically modified crops over concerns about the next general election.

Meacher, who served as a minister for six years until three months ago, commented: "I think the government is going to prevaricate. There will be no decision for at least a year, and by then you are getting close to the next likely election," said Michael Meacher, Blair's environment minister from 1997 to 2003.

The government's official line on GM is an oft-stated neutrality, but off-record it is thought to be largely in favour. However, opposition is thought to be so strong among the electorate that Meacher describes any decision to go ahead with GM in the short term as "an absolutely needless own goal," reported Reuters.

Meacher's comments come at a time when Prime Minister Tony Blair's popularity is on a sharp decline. Since the war with Iraq it has been falling even faster, and Blair will be at pains to avoid giving the public further reasons to turn against him.

With most of the support for genetically modified crops coming from the US, this could add a further reason why Blair would act with caution. Meacher commented: "Blair has already done a huge favour for Bush on Iraq and paid heavily for it. His political instincts will stop him doing Bush another big favour, especially as it is by no means clear that he is guaranteed re-election next year."