Opposition to the growing of genetically modified (GM) crops on alleged scientific grounds was yesterday dismissed as "a form of madness" by the chief scientific adviser to European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

Prof Anne Glover, who holds the chair of molecular biology at Aberdeen University, was speaking after addressing a conference of top European soil scientists at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen.

The conference of the European Network on Soil Awareness was held to raise awareness of the importance of soil to the ecosystem and to encourage scientists to engage with the general public on scientific findings.

Prof Glover said "not a single piece of scientific evidence" existed to support claims food produced from GM crops is unsafe.

"No other foodstuff has been so thoroughly investigated as GM," she said. "No scientist will ever say something is 100% safe but I am 99.99% certain from the scientific evidence that there are no health issues with food produced from GM crops. Just about every scientist I know supports this view."

The European Commission and the Scottish Government are both opposed to GM and Prof Glover said she understood politicians had other considerations to take into account when determining policy.

"Part of the problem is public perception and the fact that the small minority of scientists who speak out against GM get the same credence in the media as the vast majority of scientists who support GM," said Prof Glover. "Consumers should at least have the choice and those who have other reasons for opposing GM can continue to do so. But don't put it down to science as the evidence in favour of GM is overwhelming."

The argument that adopting GM was playing into the hands of the big seed and chemical firms, such as Monsanto, was a different issue from the science. Prof Glover said, given the choice, she would opt for food produced by GM technology using less chemicals, fertiliser, pesticides and herbicides in preference to conventional food produced with all these chemicals.

Prof Glover said it was difficult to achieve a consensus on the adoption of new science in the EU because of the different views of the 28 member states.

It was "crucially important" to get improved awareness of the contribution of soil which underpinned all life support systems. It was at least as important, if not more important, than issues such as climate change.

Prof Colin Campbell of the Hutton Institute said raising soil awareness in the minds of the general public was vital to achieve a better basis for soil protection.