Japan suspends US wheat imports after genetically modified crop found on farm

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 June, 2013, 5:35am


Japan has suspended some imports of American wheat after a genetically engineered version of the grain was found on a US farm.

The Agriculture Department announced the discovery of the modified wheat on Wednesday. No genetically engineered wheat has been approved for US farming.

Japan is one of the largest export markets for US wheat growers.

Katsuhiro Saka, a counsellor at the Japanese embassy in Washington, said on Thursday that Japan had cancelled orders of western white wheat from the Pacific Northwest and also of some feed-grade wheat.

He said Tokyo was waiting for more information from the Agriculture Department as it investigates the discovery.

"In most countries the unapproved genetically modified wheat would be a target of concern," Saka said. "The Japanese people have similar kinds of concerns."

US agriculture officials said the wheat was the same strain as a genetically modified wheat that was designed to be herbicideresistant and was legally tested by seed giant Monsanto a decade ago, but never approved.

Monsanto stopped testing that product in Oregon and several other states in 2005. The mystery could have implications for the wheat trade in the US and abroad, as evidenced by Japan's suspension of some imports.

Many countries will not accept imports of genetically modified foods, and the US exports about half of its wheat crop.

Japan imports 90 per cent of its wheat, or about five million tonnes annually, including three million tonnes from the US, according to Toru Hisazome, an official with the Ministry of Agriculture in Tokyo. Japan, which bans the import of genetically modified foods, suspended a tender for 25,000 tonnes of western white wheat, mainly used in Japan for making cakes, he said.

South's Korea agriculture ministry said it would increase inspections of wheat imported from the US.

The Agriculture Department said the genetically engineered wheat was safe to eat and there was no evidence that modified wheat entered the marketplace.

But the department is investigating how it ended up in the field, whether there was any criminal wrongdoing and whether its growth is widespread.