Japan halts some US grain imports after unapproved GM crops found

Japan has suspended some imports of grain from the US after the discovery in an Oregon field of gene-altered crops developed by Monsanto that never won approval for consumption.

Japan has halted imports of western-white wheat and feed wheat from the US, and cancelled a plan to buy 24,926 metric tons of western-white wheat in an import tender, said Hiromi Iwahama, director for grain trade and operation at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The action is aimed at preventing unapproved crops from entering the food chain, he said.

Scientists said the rogue wheat was a strain tested from 1998 to 2005 by Monsanto, the world’s largest seedmaker, which withdrew its application for approval amid concern buyers would avoid crops from the US, the world’s biggest wheat exporter.

“We have suspended imports of wheat produced in Oregon and surrounding areas, as we cannot rule out the possibility that supplies containing unapproved crops may enter Japan,” Mr Iwahama said.

“We can resume purchases after US authorities establish testing methods to identify the unapproved variety.”

Wheat on the Chicago Board of Trade fell, extending the biggest monthly loss since February. Futures for July delivery dropped as much as 0.9% to $6.9625 (€5.35) a bushel and were $7.0025 at one stage, extending this year’s losses to 10%.

The ministry controls overseas purchases and domestic sales of wheat to stabilise supply in Japan, which depends on imports for 60% of its food.

About 90% of wheat produced in Oregon is said to be soft-white wheat, which Japan also bought for livestock feed, he said.

Japan will continue importing hard-red winter wheat and dark-northern spring wheat from the US, as they are sourced from Montana, Washington, North Dakota and Minnesota states, he said.

“Japan is a key importer of wheat from multiple destinations, but they are renowned purchasers of US wheat, Australian wheat and Canadian wheat,” said Luke Mathews, a commodity strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

“Any disruption that occurs to US-Japan trade flows, for whatever reason, has the potential to be supportive for Australian exporters.”

Japan has stockpiles of wheat equivalent to 2.3 months of consumption. The ministry expects imports from the US to resume before the inventories are depleted, as the US government is acting to contain the problem.

The US Department of Agriculture said it is investigating how the unapproved seeds slipped out and were growing nine years after Monsanto ended its wheat programme.

The discovery may prompt foreign buyers uneasy with gene-altered crops to stop buying wheat from the US, according to critics.

If Japan discovers supplies containing modified crops that have not been confirmed safe by the health ministry, it orders importers to ship them back to exporting countries, or dispose of them.

Japan imported 5.62m tons of milling wheat last fiscal year, of which 3.26m tons or 58% was from the US.

Canada was the second-largest supplier to Japan, with 1.32m tons, while Australia was the third with 1.03m.

Japan imported 867,000 tons of western-white wheat from the US in the year ended Mar 31, data showed.

— Bloomberg


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