The discovery of unapproved genetically modified (GM) wheat in Oregon is unlikely to hit long-term U.S. wheat sales to Japan and could spark debate about whether importers should tolerate very low levels of “foreign material,” industry sources said on Tuesday.
News of the unapproved wheat growing in Oregon, reported on May 29, prompted Tokyo to halt all imports of U.S. feed wheat.
“We think there could be a short interruption (in U.S. wheat exports to Japan) and then they will resume again because there won’t be a problem,” said Ian White, CEO with CWB, the former Canadian Wheat Board.
White told an International Grains Council conference here that Canada was not looking at the issue as an opportunity to boost sales to Japan.
“The Japanese like to trade some Australian, some U.S. and some Canadian. They like that blend and I think that blend will probably continue,” he said.
Japan’s farm ministry said Tuesday it was looking to buy 120,000 tonnes of feed wheat, excluding U.S. supplies shipped from the Pacific Northwest. It did, however, accept offers of U.S. soft red winter, which is grown in the U.S. southeast and Midwest.
Alan Tracy, president of U.S. Wheat Associates, said so far the market had reacted to the news calmly, noting no GM wheat had been found in commercial channels.
“I’m obviously hopeful that we don’t find more and I would like to see the source discovered so it can be traced back and contained,” he said on the sidelines of the conference.
CWB’s White said trade protocols, which were tolerant of very low levels of “foreign material”, were necessary.
“There is a need for world trade to accommodate a low level presence of foreign material and we do think that is important for countries to bring in so the trade won’t be interrupted by a very isolated event,” he said.
Tracy said that Japan’s treatment of soybean imports from the U.S. could provide a workable model for future when eventually GM wheat is grown commercially.
Japan has a tolerance level for GM soybeans in non-GM shipments for human consumption.
“There are trace amounts of dust from (GM) soybeans and corn in wheat shipments today so it is probably impossible to meet a truly zero tolerance in wheat even today,” he said.
— Nigel Hunt is a Reuters correspondent based in London, England.