South Korea last month purchased its first GM corn for use in foods, citing rising prices of non-GM corn and dwindling supplies as the reason for the change in tack. Imported GM corn had previously only been used in animal feed. The move comes as food and farm industry voices from around the world push for similar changes. Dr Randy Hautea, global coordinator of the non-profit International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) based in Manila, said: "The same mood is growing in the UK and Europe as well as parts of industrialized Asia." Surging demand for soy, corn and other commodity crops in emerging economies like China and India has put pressure on global stocks at the same time as an increase in allocation of cereals to biofuel production. Wheat and rice prices are now at record highs while corn recently reached its highest price in 12 years at more than $400 per tonne. At the same time, farmers are increasingly planting more GM crops, reducing the availability of non-GM supply. A quarter of the world's corn acreage is planted with GM varieties and the area is likely to make up a growing share of the total as farmers seek higher yields to benefit from strong demand and good prices, said Dr Hautea. In some markets, such as the Philippines, biotech corn is sold at premium prices because of the higher grain quality, encouraging farmers to invest in GM seeds. In many others however, the dwindling supplies of non-GM corn is leading to a significantly higher price compared with GM corn, leading to complaints from millers and food producers over the higher costs. "The price differential between GM and non-GM is becoming so high that it could influence even conservative consumer behavior such as that in Japan," said Dr Hautea. Japan is one of the world's leading importers of GM crops for feed use and it has approved a large number of GM varieties but consumer attitudes have delayed commercialization of such crops. Consumer reactions to Korea's recent move could influence future policy in Japan. Korean imports of GM corn will be used in virtually all of the country's starch and sweetener production, ingredients that are widely used in a range of food products. GM crops covered 114m hectares around the world last year, an increase of 13 percent over the prior year, according to ISAAA. Twenty-three countries have approved growing of biotech crops while 29 countries are allowed to import them. The US is the largest exporter of GM crops. "Those countries will certainly be importing more," said Dr Hautea. "The fact that there are export restrictions on crops in many places now is a sure indicator that the market is very tight." Consumer and environmental groups have rejected the argument that higher food prices will force a re-think about GM products in places that have traditionally resisted them. Friends of the Earth recently told FoodNavigator-USA.com that there is no evidence to support the claim that GM crops have higher yields. Dr Hautea says "you just have to look at the figures" to see growing support for genetically modified crops. "You can't argue with the expansion."