Japan suspends certain US wheat imports

Japan has suspended certain wheat imports from the US after the recovery of genetically engineered wheat from a farm in Oregon.

Announcing the discovery, the agriculture department said no genetically engineered wheat had been approved for US farming.

Japan is one of the largest export markets for US wheat growers, and according to Katsuhiro Saka, a counselor at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, Japan had canceled orders of western white wheat from the Pacific Northwest and also of some feed-grade wheat. He added the country was waiting for more information from the agriculture department as it investigated the discovery.

According to Saka, in most countries the unapproved genetically modified wheat would be a target of concern and the Japanese people had concerns of similar kind.

According to USDA officials, 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 back but not approved. The testing of the product was stopped by Monsanto in Oregon in 2005.

According to the agriculture department, the genetically engineered wheat was safe to eat and there was no evidence that modified wheat had entered the marketplace. The department though was investigating how it ended up in the field, and whether there was any criminal wrongdoing as also whether its growth was widespread.

Meanwhile, Monsanto was conducting field trials of a new genetically modified version in two states, US data showed.

Last year, the world's largest seed company planted 150 acres (61 hectares) of wheat in Hawaii that was genetically modified to tolerate glyphosate weedkiller, which is being sold by the company under the brand name Roundup, according to a Virginia Tech database administered by the US Department of Agriculture. Another 300 acres of wheat engineered with Roundup tolerance and other traits were under testing in North Dakota this year.

The 29 May announcement of the discovery of unapproved Roundup Ready wheat in Oregon by the USDA, led to international concern, with Japan suspending imports of western-white wheat and feed wheat and South Korea increasing import inspections.

Meanwhile, St Louis-based Monsanto said the Roundup Ready wheat in the new field trials was ''an entirely different event'' than the escaped crop reported by the USDA.

According to Lee Quarles, a Monsanto spokesman, the research was still in the very early phases and at least a decade away from commercial approval. He added, the Roundup Ready wheat project that was the subject of the USDA report was previously discontinued.