The UK Government says it may be forced to allow farmers to grow genetically modified (GM) crops in Britain even if the public does not want them.
The UK Government is sponsoring a review of GM science
The environment minister Michael Meacher told the BBC a ban on GM crops would be illegal unless there is scientific proof that they harm people or the environment.
The latest polls show only 14% of people in Britain approve of GM food.
But Mr Meacher told BBC Radio 4's Farming Today that public opposition alone would not influence the government's decision.
"We have to act in accordance with the law," he said on Monday.
"The law at the present moment is set down in an EU directive and the key and sole criteria for taking action with regard to GM crops is: are they a harm or risk to the environment?"
Later this year the government will decide whether to license commercial GM crops.
Scientists investigating the effects of GM crops on the government's behalf have yet to find they cause harm.
Two weeks ago, the Royal Society said there was no evidence eating GM foods was any different from eating naturally produced food.
A senior member of the society said the public had been frightened by "unsubstantiated claims".
A widespread public consultation on the issue is due to begin in two weeks.
On Sunday, protesters cut down a GM crop in Fife. The rapeseed crop was the second in a week in Scotland to be attacked.
A spokeswoman for the protesters said: "It expresses people's serious fears for the safety of public health, for consumers' right to choose GM-free food and their fears of a long-term environmental catastrophe."
Environmental campaigners Friends of the Earth said Mr Meacher's comments showed the government would ignore the public "if it felt like it".