GM crops will have a growing influence on the food industry in Europe over the next decade, according to a leading academic.

European consumers have hitherto been opposed to the widespread use of GM but Dr. David Hughes, emeritus professor of food marketing at Imperial College London, said "the tide had turned" in the debate.

Dr. Hughes told the Healthy Foods European Summit in London that consumers would become "more acceptant" of GM crops amid growing concerns over rising food prices.

He said GM could be used more widely to make crops more resistant to drought and also to boost corn supplies amid the growing use of corn for biofuels. Droughts in Australia and rising biofuels production have been blamed for pushing up commodity costs and for rising food prices across Europe.

"Five years ago, I would have said that you would not see GM in Europe for a decade - that's not the case now," Dr. Hughes said. "I would be surprised not to see GM have a significant impact in our industry over the next decade."

The issue of GM crops has sparked fierce debate. Supporters say GM crops will increase yields. Opponents argue that the use of GM crops could have unforeseen health risks.

Julian Hunt, director of communications at the UK's Food & Drink Federation, said there had so far been "real resistance" from UK consumers to the use of GM.

"We need to explain the benefits [of GM] to them," Hunt said. "Europe has become an island that is refusing to engage on GM. It is time for a sensible, grown-up debate."