Trials of GM crops are due to finish later this year
GM foods have never been shown to pose any risk to human health, according to new Environment Minister Elliot Morley.
He was speaking the day after his sacked predecessor, Michael Meacher, said studies on the effects of GM foods on human health had been "scientifically vacuous", and warned the government against rushing the debate.
Adequate testing, sound scientific conclusions and an understanding of the effects on people were still lacking, he said.
But Mr Morley told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There have been studies in this country, there have been studies in France, there's been studies by the food and agricultural organisations of the UN.
"There have been lots of studies in terms of toxicology, in terms of potential allergies, in terms of potent health risks, in any of the existing products there has never been any indication there has been a health risk."
Mr Morley conceded that Mr Meacher was "quite right" to raise health issues in the light of developments in the production of food.
"The issue of health is one which must be carefully examined and that is why all the science that we have on this work is going to be put into the public domain next month as part of the overall debate."
Weighing the arguments?
Mr Morley said his position on GM foods was that although care should be taken, both sides of the argument needed to be listened to.
Writing in the Independent on Sunday, Mr Meacher said the only human GM trial commissioned by the Food Standards Agency found genetically modified DNA did transfer to bacteria in the human gut.
Many scientists had denied this was possible.
Mr Meacher is unconvinced by GM crop tests
"But instead of this finding being regarded as a serious discovery which should be checked and rechecked, the spin was this was nothing new and did not involve any health risk," he said.
Mr Meacher - a veteran of the Wilson and Callaghan administrations - was widely believed to be at odds with the prime minister over his stance on GM foods.
In his article, Mr Meacher accused the government of deliberately undervaluing negative research findings on the safety of GM foods.
He said scientific reports indicating possibly damaging effects on humans had been "widely rubbished in government circles".
And the debate on GM foods had been deliberately stifled with pressure from bio-technology companies, he said.
He said a public debate on the GM issue was under way, and people were welcome to contribute views.
Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Andrew George said Mr Meacher's comments "blow a hole in any claims the government might make about their desire for an open debate on GM".
Anti-GM campaigners welcomed Mr Meacher's comments.
GM crops have attracted widespread opposition
Pete Riley, of Friends of the Earth, said they confirmed the fears of those who suspected the government-funded debate on the GM issue was a mere PR exercise aimed at getting the green light for GM crops to be grown in the UK.
Patrick Holden, the director of the Soil Association, which campaigns for organic food and farming, said: "Mr Meacher's comments are very worrying because they suggest the government has already made up its mind on GM."
But a farmer involved in GM crop trials claimed some of Mr Meacher's comments were "inaccurate".
Bob Fiddaman, who is also a board member of pro-GM group Scimac (Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops), said: "The GM foods that are released for human consumption have been tested and there are no known negative effects on humans."
Mr Meacher argued that some GM substances had already been found to cause allergic reactions, he said.
There were concerns the development pesticide-resistant GM crops meant consumers were being exposed to increasingly toxic residues, some of which could damage embryos in the womb.
Mr Meacher said the so-called rigorous testing of GM products only amounted to considering whether a crop was similar in composition to a non-GM crop.
The government launched a series of nationwide public consultations on GM crops earlier this month.