Environment Minister Ian Pearson said: "Our top priority is protecting consumers and the environment. We have a strict EU regime in place which ensures only GM crops that are safe for human health and the environment could be grown in the UK.
"No GMs suitable for UK conditions have met this requirement so far, and today's proposals are not a green light for GM crops.
"But we have a responsibility to be fully prepared if crops which meet the safety criteria are developed and grown here in future. That's why strict separation distances will be enforced so that organic and conventional farmers don't lose out financially and people can make a choice between GM and non-GM products."
Pearson said that Defra wanted to hear people's views on the wider issues raised in the consultation paper, which will inform further thinking of the department.
The main points of the consultation include:
Under current EU rules, no GM crops can be grown in the UK unless scientific evidence shows they are safe for human health and the environment.
To date, only two crops, Bt11 sweetcorn from Swiss agrochemicals firm Syngenta whose approval broke the EU ban, and NK603 maize designed by biotech giant Monsanto, have been approved under regulation (EC) No 97/258 on novel foods, in May and October 2004 respectively.
However, the maize is said to be unsuitable for UK conditions. Experts estimate that no commercial GM crops are expected to be grown in the UK before 2009 at the very earliest.
The deadline for responses to Defras proposals is 20 October 2006.
EFSA also recently launched an open consultation on the approach of its panel on GMOs in assessing hybrid genetically modified (GM) crops.
The deadline for submissions is 10 September 2006.