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Japan suspends imports after unauthorized GMO wheat found

By Mary Clare Jalonick & Nigel Duara

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 06:40 p.m. HST, May 30, 2013

WASHINGTON >> Japan has suspended some imports of U.S. wheat after genetically engineered wheat was found on an Oregon farm.

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

Japan is one of the largest export markets for U.S. wheat growers. Katsuhiro Saka, a counselor at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, said Thursday that Japan had canceled orders of western white wheat from the Pacific Northwest and also of some feed-grade wheat. He said the country 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."

USDA officials said the wheat was the same strain as a genetically modified wheat that was designed to be herbicide-resistant 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 Agriculture Department said the genetically engineered wheat is safe to eat and there is 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.

The mystery could have implications on the wheat trade in the U.S. and abroad, as evidenced by Japan's suspension of imports on Thursday.

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

U.S. consumers also have shown increasing interest in avoiding genetically modified foods. There has been little evidence to show that foods grown from engineered seeds are less safe than their conventional counterparts, but several state legislatures are considering bills that would require them to be labeled so consumers know what they are eating.

While most of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are already modified, the country's wheat crop is not. Many wheat farmers have shown reluctance to use genetically engineered seeds since their product is usually consumed directly, while much of the corn and soybean crop is used as feed.

The modified wheat was discovered when field workers at an Eastern Oregon wheat farm were clearing acres for the bare offseason when they came across a patch of wheat that didn't belong. The workers sprayed it and sprayed it, but the wheat wouldn't die. Their confused boss grabbed a few stalks and sent it to a university lab in early May.

A few weeks later, Oregon State wheat scientists made a startling discovery: The wheat was genetically modified, in clear violation of U.S. law. They contacted the USDA, which ran more tests and confirmed their discovery.

"It looked like regular wheat," said Bob Zemetra, Oregon State's wheat breeder.

The tests confirmed that the plants were a strain developed by Monsanto to resist its Roundup Ready herbicides and were tested between 1998 and 2005. At the time Monsanto had applied to the USDA for permission to develop the engineered wheat, but the company later withdrew its application.

The Agriculture Department said that during that seven-year period, it authorized more than 100 field tests with the same glyphosate-resistant wheat variety. Tests were conducted in in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming.

During that testing and application process, the Food and Drug Administration reviewed the variety found in Oregon and said it was as safe as conventional varieties of wheat.

USDA officials declined to speculate whether the modified seeds blew into the field from a testing site or whether they were somehow planted or taken there, and they would not identify the farmer or the farm's location. They said they had not received any other reports of discoveries of modified wheat.

Japan is regularly the top buyer of Northwest wheat, said Blake Rowe, CEO of the Oregon Wheat Commission. He said reductions in wheat sales would affect farmers in Idaho and Washington as well as Oregon, because the wheat is blended together.

Oregon sold $492 million in wheat in 2011, the most recent data available, and 90 percent of it went overseas, Oregon Department of Agriculture spokesman Bruce Pokarney said.

"If those markets are closed off — you can do the math," Pokarney said.


Duara reported from Portland, Ore.


Tim Fought and Jeff Barnard in Portland contributed to this report.

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1local wrote:
more wheat to feed US citizens
on May 30,2013 | 09:47PM
Aquarius1 wrote:
The whale and dolphin meat eaters don't eat GMO products. How ironic.
on May 30,2013 | 10:01PM
st1d wrote:
fortunately, for japan, this story deflects interest in japan's systematic kidnapping and imprisonment of captured women to be used for "comfort" by hirohito's military during the second world war.
on May 30,2013 | 10:46PM
mitt_grund wrote:
Shucks, the Japanese have discovered Monsanto's secret plot to test GMO's on Asian country populations. If nothing happens, well and good - more profits. If people get sick and die, fewer of them to worry about.
on May 31,2013 | 05:51AM
cartwright wrote:
...and this, my ignorant scientists and lobbied politicians, will be the future for your failed GMO policies. Situations like these send ripples down the whole supply chain in the food production and marketing with disastrous economical consequences. And blaming the results on banner waving hippies won't help. Farmers, grain processors, whole sellers, grocery chains, supermarkets, distributors, institutional buyers will stay away from GMO now even more. The commodity trade of wheat is in shambles for right now. This case is big--we are talking billions of dollars here. Wheat, a top export of the USA, will be damaged for years. Events like this change the competition of the international wheat trade right away. Ukraine will be a winner, so will be other countries who'll get into it. Food safety, the main selling point of US wheat, lost. Adhere to capitalist rules of a free market economy: Don't patronize consumers, but inform them. Mandatory GMO labels on EVERYTHING.
on May 31,2013 | 06:06AM
false wrote:
This is an example of how Monsanto has corrupted the US justice system. Finding genetically modified wheat in this field has caused substantial financial losses. Yet Monsanto managed to get state legislatures, including Hawaii's, to immunize them for any damages caused by the escape of their GE DNA.

But if the farmer were deriving economic benefit from the escaped DNA, the courts would allow Monsanto to bill the farmer for back royalties. There is no equal justice. Heads Monsanto wins, tails the farmers lose. If the escaped DNA has an economic effect, positive or negative, the responsibility of Monsanto should be recognized in BOTH cases. Not just where it benefits them.

on May 31,2013 | 07:03AM
ellinaskyrt wrote:
on May 31,2013 | 10:47AM
Ronin006 wrote:
GMO wheat is not a chemical; its wheat that has been cross-bred with genes from different types of wheat to make it disease resistant. Hybrid fruits and vegetables have been sold in grocery stores for years with consumers suffering no ill effects. So what’s the big deal about GMO wheat or GMO anything else?
on May 31,2013 | 08:36AM
Kuihao wrote:
The creation of hybrids through cross-breeding is not the same as creating a GMO. The seed corn companies on the mainland have been developing hybrids for decades by cross-pollinating. A GMO, on the other hand, is created by the direct manipulation of an organism's genome using biotechnology. New DNA may be inserted in the host genome by first isolating and copying the genetic material of interest using molecular cloning methods to generate a DNA sequence, or by synthesizing the DNA, and then inserting this construct into the host organism. The process is very different from creating hybrids.
on May 31,2013 | 08:53AM
ellinaskyrt wrote:
Would a good analogy be that cross breeding via cross-pollination is to normal sexual reproduction or even infertility treatments where one person's egg is joined with another person's sperm for humans? But GMO is like assembling pieces of DNA taken from different people to create a whole new zygote to be inserted into a woman's womb--a woman who may not even be one of whom the DNA was taken?
on May 31,2013 | 10:52AM
cartwright wrote:
EU to check US wheat for GM contamination - Japan suspends US wheat import over GM find - Roiled by mystery GMO wheat, US races to reassure buyers - South Korean millers to halt US wheat imports - GM wheat find threatens economy -Taiwan Buyers Shun US Wheat - US Wheat Futures Slip as Asian Customers Halt Purchases------ These headlines are not caused by banner waving hippies. But by corporations who lobbied politicians.
on May 31,2013 | 08:42AM
cartwright wrote:
on May 31,2013 | 08:43AM
cartwright wrote:
Taiwan, South Korea, EU, Japan...all stopped buying US wheat already. More to come. The wheat futures already drop. We are talking of billions of damage to the US economy here. This is not to be blamed on banner waving activists. But on our politicians alone.
on May 31,2013 | 08:47AM
juscasting wrote:
Sooner or later they will succumb to their senses or starve to death, then they will come begging to buy wheat. All these countries don't have the natural resources to self sustain themselves, they depend on imports.
on May 31,2013 | 11:36AM
pueouhane wrote:
This is about the possible cancellation of $450 million in WHEAT export sales, not sushi, fish, or tofu, wheat, kabish (capisc). A major screw-up by arrogant US officials and a careless science industry, irresponsible. "The wheat was genetically modified, in clear violation of U.S. law. They contacted the USDA, which ran more tests and confirmed their discovery."
on May 31,2013 | 08:49AM
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