South Korea import of GMO corn first for food use
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's planned import of 50,000 tons of U.S. genetically modified corn (GMO) would be its first intended for human food use, the agriculture ministry said on Tuesday.
"This would be the first time for South Korea to import GMO for food instead of animal feed," a ministry official told Reuters.
Earlier, the South Korean association for starch and sugar said that food manufacturers planned to import the corn in May.
Starch and sweeteners produced from the GMO corn could hit local stores as early as May, it said.
The four biggest makers of corn products in South Korea -- Daesung, Doosan Corn Products Korea, Samyang Genex and Shindongbang CP -- have signed a joint contract for the purchase.
The companies supply nearly 90 percent of corn starch and sugar consumed in the country.
An agriculture trade source said surging international prices for corn had forced food manufacturers for the first time to consider GMO grain.
He said that GMO corn currently trades at around a $50 per tonne discount to non-modified grain.
"They've decided to buy GMO for food to avoid an increase in prices for consumers," the source said, adding that the price issue could help neutralize criticism from anti-GMO lobby groups.
Corn starch and syrup, common ingredients in confectionery and beverages, rose in line with corn prices that have soared to a record in recent months.
The price of non-genetically altered corn was about $150 per ton on average in 2006, but rose to more than $400 in recent months, according to the association.
Critics have claimed that GMO crops could have a negative environmental impact and could pose a risk to human health.
(Reporting by Angela Moon and Jonathan Thatcher; Editing by Keiron Henderson)