News / Economy

After GMO Wheat Discovery, US Races to Reassure Global Buyers

Wheat is harvested on a farm in the midwestern United States, July 2009 file photo.Wheat is harvested on a farm in the midwestern United States, July 2009 file photo.
x
Wheat is harvested on a farm in the midwestern United States, July 2009 file photo.
Wheat is harvested on a farm in the midwestern United States, July 2009 file photo.
Reuters
Major global importers expressed alarm over U.S. wheat supplies on Thursday after the first-ever discovery of an unapproved strain of genetically modified grain in Oregon, as U.S. officials raced to contain the fallout.
 
Japan canceled a tender offer to buy U.S. western white wheat and the European Union said it would test incoming U.S. shipments and block any containing genetically modified wheat. U.S. wheat merchants did not report any cancelations of purchases on Thursday, but some analysts feared a potentially damaging blow to the $8 billion export business.
 
“Unless there's a quick resolution, this is not going to be good for the export market,” said Art Liming, grain futures specialist with Citigroup.
 
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said nine investigators were collecting evidence in and around Oregon, the West Coast state where the genetically modified, or GM, wheat was found growing. A USDA spokesman said the investigators are taking witness statements, records and samples.
 
“We have increased the number of investigators throughout this month to work quickly and carefully to cover as much ground each day to determine what we are dealing with, how it got there, and where it might have gone,” he said.
 
The USDA said the GM wheat found in Oregon posed no threat to human health, and also said there was no evidence that the grain had entered the commercial supply chain.
 
GM crops tolerate certain pesticides, allowing farmers to improve weed control and increase yields. Many consumers are wary of GM food, and few countries allow imports of such cereals for direct human consumption.
 
While most of the U.S. corn and soybean crops come from genetically modified plants, no GM wheat varieties are approved for general planting in the United States or elsewhere, the USDA said. The EU has asked Monsanto, the maker of the GM wheat, for a detection method to allow its controls to be carried out.
 
Scientists said the wheat found in Oregon was a strain field-tested from 1998 to 2005 and deemed safe before St. Louis-based Monsanto withdrew it from the regulatory process. On Wednesday, Monsanto said there was “considerable reason” to believe that the presence of its product was “very limited”.
 
U.S. wheat futures on the Chicago Board of Trade dipped on Thursday. CBOT wheat for July delivery closed 4 cents per bushel lower at $6.98-3/4 per bushel.
 
Asian wheat importers South Korea, China and the Philippines said they were monitoring the situation. The world's biggest wheat importer, Egypt, said it had no fears yet over supplies.
 
Found in Oregon
 
The wheat was discovered this spring in an Oregon field that grew winter wheat in 2012. USDA officials said that when a farmer sprayed the so-called “volunteer” plants with a powerful herbicide meant to kill off standard, unaltered wheat plants, some of them unexpectedly survived.
 
Environmental activists expressed alarm at the discovery.
 
“The developers of GE wheat have repeatedly said that GE wheat will not contaminate conventional or organic wheat because it is predominantly self-pollinating. Despite these empty promises, GE contamination has happened,” Greenpeace International scientist Janet Cotter said.
 
“The only way to protect our food and environment is to stop the releases of GE crops to the environment - including a ban on field trials.”
 
Past discoveries of unapproved corn and rice varieties in the supply chain have shuttered export markets for months and cost billions of dollars in lost revenue.
 
The latest finding revives memories of farmers unwittingly planting genetically modified rapeseed in Europe in 2000, while in 2006 a large part of the U.S. long-grain rice crop was contaminated by an experimental strain from Bayer CropScience , prompting import bans in Europe and Japan.
 
The company agreed in court in 2011 to pay $750 million to growers as compensation.
 
But some said the more apt precedent involved StarLink corn, a GMO variety not approved for human consumption that was found in a shipment of corn in Japan in 2000. Shipments to Asia were cut deeply for more than a year afterward.
 
Wayne Bacon, president of French-based grain trader Hammersmith Marketing said some consumers would have a knee-jerk reaction.
 
“We all buy things with GM products in it every day, we just don't know about it, but if suddenly we know that the loaf of bread we are buying is made from GMO wheat then it becomes a very negative thing with the consumer,” he said.
 
Asia Jittery
 
Asia imports more than 40 million tons of wheat annually, almost a third of the global trade of 140-150 million tons. The bulk of the region's supplies come from the United States, the world's biggest exporter, and Australia, the number two supplier.
 
“Asian consumers are jittery about genetically modified food,” said Abah Ofon, an analyst at Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore. “This is adding to concerns that already exist on quality and availability of food wheat globally.”
 
European traders said any buyers who grow leery of U.S. grain could opt for Black Sea and EU wheat.
 
China emerged this year as a key buyer of U.S. wheat, taking around 1.5 million tons in the past two months. Chinese purchases in the year to June 2014 are estimated to rise 21 percent to 3.5 million tons, according to the USDA, with most shipments coming from the United States, Australia and Canada.
 
The Philippines, which buys about four million tons of wheat a year and relies mainly on U.S. supplies, is waiting for more details before acting, an industry official in Manila said.
 
Genetically modified crops cannot be grown legally in the United States unless the government approves them after a review to ensure they pose no threat to the environment or to people.

You May Like

Cambodia Seeks Official UN Maps for Vietnam Border

Notice of request comes as 2 countries open border talks Tuesday after a clash last month More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
Maia Pujara
July 07, 2015 10:01 PM
A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbs

A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.9084
JPY
USD
122.73
GBP
USD
0.6431
CAD
USD
1.2639
INR
USD
63.444

Rates may not be current.