Japan, South Korea halt wheat imports over G.M.O. concerns

by Eric Schroeder
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Wheat imports
Countries suspend new purchases of Western white wheat until detection assay test in place.

WASHINGTON — Japan and South Korea have temporarily suspended new purchases of Western white wheat following news that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating 22 bioengineered wheat plants found in a field in the state of Washington.

On Aug. 2, U.S. Wheat Associates, Washington, said it was informed that Japan and South Korea were being “cautious about some new purchases of U.S. wheat.”

U.S. Wheat said Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) plans to temporarily suspend new purchases of Western white wheat (soft white and 20% club wheat) from the U.S. Pacific Northwest until the agency is able to validate and start using a new detection assay test provided by Monsanto and the U.S.D.A. The bioengineered wheat found on the Washington farm was developed by Monsanto to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, also known as Roundup.

“There may be temporary suspension of domestic distribution of Western white that is already in-store Japan,” U.S. Wheat said. “The materials needed to create the test assay are in Japan and it should only take two to three weeks for MAFF to implement the testing. As we expect the testing will detect no G.M. wheat, the results will end the suspension very soon after it starts testing.”

When a similar finding of bioengineered wheat took place in 2013, a suspension of Western white wheat purchases was in place for two months.

In addition to Japan, the government of South Korea has temporarily suspended new tenders for U.S. wheat and is holding any U.S. wheat from mills until it can implement the test assay, U.S. Wheat said.

“We believe it will start testing U.S. wheat as soon as this week,” U.S. Wheat said on Aug. 2. “As we expect the testing will detect no G.M. wheat, Korea will likely end its suspension fairly soon.”

U.S. Wheat, along with the National Association of Wheat Growers and state wheat organizations, on July 29 issued a statement supporting APHIS’s ability to manage the situation.

“We are very confident that nothing has changed the U.S. wheat supply chain’s ability to deliver wheat that matches every customer’s specifications,” the groups said.

Grain import officials in Japan and South Korea have tested for the G.E. event identified in 2013 in virtually every load of U.S. wheat delivered to those countries since August 2013. The event has never been identified in more than 500 million bushels of wheat exported to Japan alone. In addition, researchers at Washington State University have been conducting routine phenotype screening for glyphosate tolerance in wheat since 2013. In each of the last three growing seasons, this field screening process has involved more than 80 varieties, 2,000 advanced breeding lines and more than 35,000 individual plots. 

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