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

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7798
JPY
USD
106.41
GBP
USD
0.6203
CAD
USD
1.1242
INR
USD
61.430

Rates may not be current.