South Korea is set to increase GM imports from the US amid rising food prices and dwindling supplies, as four leading corn starch and sugar producers enter new agreements.
According to a report published today in The Chosun Ilbo, Daesang, Samyang Genex, Doosan Corn Products Korea and Shindongbang CP have signed joint contracts for importing 50,000 tons of GM corn genetically modified corn starting this May.
This will have a major effect on Korean starch and sugar production as the four companies together account for over 90 percent of Korea's of the market share.
"As starch products are commonly used in the production of confectioneries, beverages and ice creams, the decision to import genetically altered corn is expected to cause a ripple throughout the Korean food industry," said the Korean newspaper.
The move has been sparked by the continuing increase in global prices and diminishing supplies as a result of poor weather damaging harvests and the growing popularity of biofuels competing with supplies.
The US is the leading GM exporter, but has faced problems recently as importing countries have set up barriers through implementing regulations.
GM in Korea
The article in The Chosun Ilbo said: "Although Korea has been using genetically modified soybeans from the U.S. for making cooking oil, this has raised less controversy because only fat is extracted during the process. Starch and sugar products, in contrast, inevitably contain protein."
According to the paper, an official from Korea's starch industry said the country will limit the import to only 23 GMO varieties whose safety is guaranteed by American and Korean food authorities.
"A food industry official, however, expressed concern about the possible response of Korean consumers, given that some nations and territories, such as the EU, have imposed very strict constraints on the use of genetically modified ingredients," said the publication.
There have been particular disagreements between the US and Europe sparked by differences in international regulations.
The US claims the EU's more stringent labeling requirements violate free trade agreements, but EU member states maintain that informed consumer choice should constitute part of free trade.
At the moment, industry has been loosing millions because producers who use GM crops are restricted in exporting them to the EU, because of a moratorium on their use.
Following a complaint by the US in 2003, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruled that some European countries were breaking international trade rules by stopping the import of GM foods and crops.
The EU has still not complied with this ruling and has been granted even more time to bring member states in line. Its moratorium has reduced US exports of bulk commodities such as corn and soybeans into Europe.