The environment minister Margaret Beckett gave the government’s approval for the first commercially grown crop in Britain.

After four years of farm trials, the government has sanctioned the growing of GM maize while ruling out the planting of GM sugar beet and oilseed rape, which scored worse than conventional versions during the trials.

In an attempt to safeguard existing non-GM crops the industry and not the taxpayer will have to pay compensation for any GM contamination.

However, environmental groups have reacted angrily to the government’s decision. Tony Juniper a spokesperson for Friends of the Earth said that the government had totally disregarded public opinion.

He said: “The government has given the thumbs up to GM maize, and shown two fingers to the public.”

Sarah North of Greenpeace warned of potential opposition to the plans. She said: “Downing Street should know that there are thousands upon thousands of people ready to fight on this. The end result could be chaos in the countryside during an election year.”