Consumers need clear information about genetically modified (GM) food, but tough European Commission proposals planning compulsory labels for all food products made from gene crops are unworkable, a UK parliamentary report said.
The report, published by the European Union select committee in the British parliament's House of Lords, recognised that the public had the right to choose whether to eat GM foods, but said detailed traceability plans would not be practical.
Public opinion in Europe, knocked by food safety scares such as mad cow disease in recent years, is wary about GM foods and there is a three-year de-facto ban in place in Europe on approvals of new gene-modified varieties.
Under the EU proposals, any food product made from a GM crop must be labelled as such, even if the genetic material is removed during manufacturing - as is the case with some vegetable oils.
"The committee recognises that consumers may wish to avoid products in which genetic modification has played a part - for health, environmental or ethical reasons," said the Earl of Selborne, who chaired an inquiry into the proposals.
"However, we do not think that the EU proposals are the answer - it is not practical to legislate for the degree of traceability envisaged by the Commission, particularly for bulk commodity imports such as soya and maize," he added.
Instead of the EU proposals, the committee recommended sticking by the current labelling regime, while developing existing schemes to meet consumer demands for products where GM technology has not been used.
It also said that the term "GM-free" should be restricted to products where the complete absence of GM material (including food from animals fed on GM feed or produced with GM processing agents) could be guaranteed at all stages of production.
It also called for clear labelling to be reinforced by information from company websites, pamphlets and helplines.
The committee's response to the proposals broadly echoed that of Britain's Food Standards agency, which gave evidence to its inquiry in March.
Environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth put its weight behind the EU plans and said they must be introduced to allow consumer choice.
"The public has a right to say no to GM foods, and politicians should help them to have the information they need to allow them to choose the food they eat," the group's GM campaigner Adrian Bebb said.
"New EU rules for better labelling of GM foods and animal feeds are perfectly workable, and employ the same procedures that most supermarkets already use. To say they are unworkable simply isn't true."
Britain is in the final year of a field trial programme designed to measure the environmental effect of releasing such crops into the environment.