GENETICALLY modified food should be grown and sold widely in Britain, according to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson.

In an interview with a national newspaper he accused opponents of GM technology of talking humbug and said it offered real benefits.

Advocates argue that the techniques increase crop yields, avoid the need for pesticides, and could be essential in assuring Britain’s future food security.

The Coalition has allowed small-scale cultivation trials for GM food but widespread use is effectively banned.

Some GM products are contained in imported foods, but most supermarkets have banned the ingredients from their own-brand products because of public unease.

However, the Government has recently run a consultation exercise about new agritech measures to increase the efficiency of British farms. A formal ministerial response is due next year.

A spokesman for the PM said that GM foods, as long as they were used safely and responsibly, could deliver benefits and help address the challenge of global food security.

The spokesman said the Government supported efforts to speed up the regulatory system which was run by the EC.

He said: “We think this should be based on the science and we need to ensure public safety. If we can speed up a slow system, we should do.”

However, the Soil Association said Mr Paterson was wrong to claim GM crops were good for the environment.

Peter Melchett, policy director, said: “The UK Government’s own farm-scale experiment showed that overall the GM crops were worse for British wildlife. US Government figures show that overall pesticide use has increased since GM crops have been grown there, because superweeds and resistant insects have multiplied.

“The recent British Science Association survey showed that public concern has not changed, and the number of people saying that GM food “should be encouraged”

dropped from 46 per cent in 2002 to 27 per cent in 2012.”