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3-Food: Little appetite seen for non-GM grains in Korea

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TITLE:  Little appetite seen for non-GM grains in Korea
SOURCE: Reuters, by Cho Mee-young
DATE:   August 18, 2000

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Little appetite seen for non-GM grains in Korea

SEOUL - Most South Korean grain importers are expected to show little 
interest in non-genetically modified soybeans and corn next year 
though consumer concerns are likely to boost imports of non-GM edible 
soybeans, industry sources said. South Korea is one of the world's 
biggest importers of soybeans, with foreign purchases totalling some 
1.44 million tonnes last year, up from 1.41 million tonnes in 1998, 
the Korea Trade Information Service (KOTIS) data showed. Of the 
total, around 1.2 million tonnes of soybeans are usually crushed to 
produce soyoil and soymeal.

South Korea will require labelling of GM corn, edible soybeans and 
bean sprouts from next March, to be followed by GM potatoes in March 
2002. Processed foods containing GM corn, soybean or bean sprouts 
will have to be labelled from July 2001. Soyoil, however, is exempt 
from the GM labelling regulations and soybean crushers will likely 
stick with genetically modified U.S. supplies if the price is right, 
industry sources said.

Soybean crushers are unlikely to segregate non-GM soybeans from GM 
soybeans because they are not required to label GM material, sources 
said. Soyoil is exempt from GM labelling because it is made from 
vegetable fat and a solvent process used during crushing removes 
proteins, an agriculture ministry official said. "However, we are 
concerned about consumers groups' reaction," a senior official with a 
soybean crusher in Korea said.

Korea's major environmental group the Korea Federation for 
Environmental Movement (KFEM) said it would press harder on the 
government and business groups to segregate non-GM from GM grains 
before the labelling starts. KFEM official Choi Jun-ho said the group 
would also pressure the government to include soyoil in GM labelling.

The state-run Agricultural and Fishery Marketing Corporation (AFMC), 
citing strong consumer concerns over the safety of genetically 
altered foods, said almost all of its edible soybean imports next 
year would be non-genetically modified (GM). The AFMC buys around 
275,000 tonnes of edible soybeans a year, primarily from the United 
States, but U.S. grain growers said on Wednesday that segregating non-
GM supplies from an increasing amount of modified material was a 
daunting task. "We will buy non-GM soybeans from any supplier, who 
segregates non-GM soybeans from GM soybeans, via international 
tenders," an AFMC official said. AFMC officials said they would buy 
soybeans elsewhere if U.S. sellers could not guarantee non-GM 
material, but added they expected little difficulty in finding such 


Korean corn buyers are less likely to buy non-GM supplies as the bulk 
of their purchases are used for animal feed. For edible corn, Chinese 
varieties will likely have an edge over U.S. supplies given a hefty 
price difference. "Most buyers in Korea are likely to import cheaper 
Chinese non-GM corn than U.S. non-GM corn, if they have to," one 
trader said. South Korea imported over 8.1 million tonnes of corn 
last year, up from over 7.1 million tonnes in 1998. About a quarter 
of the total is consumed by humans.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have became a controversial 
issue in Korea and elsewhere. Some groups have raised concerns that 
they might be harmful to the health and the environment. 
Manufacturers of the foods say they are safe and say restrictions on 
GMOs could violate fair trade agreements. "Consumers will make a 
final decision whether to buy GM-crops or not after the labelling 
starts," a South Korean agricultural ministry official said.


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