US deputy commerce secretary Samuel Bodman has criticised a recent shift in the stance of the European Union towards GM organisms.

Earlier this month a new EU directive came into force that gives member states guidelines on how to handle requests by biotech companies to market GM food. Seven EU countries have banned the introduction of GM organisms since 1999, namely Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg. These governments can use the directive as the basis for a decision on whether to lift the ban.

Speaking to reporters during a visit to Brussels, Bodman said the new directive was not strong enough to impact the US' threat to file complaints with the World Trade Organisation, reported AFP.

"I guess I would say no to that," he said, continuing: "We respect the rights of the European Union in general and European countries in particular to make judgements on what foods they choose to make available to their citizens."

But he added: "We believe that the current restrictions will call for a significant readjustment of the entire food distribution network of the United States. The idea of traceability for example of particular products is simply not something that we in the United States undertake."

The United States has said it is especially disturbed that the European policy on GM products could potentially result in starvation in Africa. Several southern African countries, particularly Zambia, have refused genetically modified US corn to help millions of famine-threatened people. Washington says their stance has been influenced by the European stance on GM food, as they feel their export markets could be in peril.