Japan halts US wheat imports

Published on: May 30, 2013

Japan became the first major U.S. trading partner to react to the news that genetically-enhanced (GE) glyphosate-resistant wheat was discovered in Oregon. The country said it was suspending imports of U.S. white wheat and feed wheat as of May 30, cancelling at least one tender already on the books.

Toru Hisadome, an official with Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestries and Fisheries (MAFF) told multiple U.S. news agencies that his country was in touch with U.S. officials to determine the “safety” of the country’s wheat exports, but would refrain from buying U.S. origin wheat for the time being.

Other southeast Asian countries, including significant importers South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines, said they were watching the situation but had announced no plans to halt imports.

Responding to the published reports of Japan's decision, U.S. Wheat Associates said they had received no official word from Japan of any formal suspension of imports. The group said in a statement that while MAFF did decide not to purchase U.S. white wheat in its regular tender because of the announcement the Ministry did purchase U.S. hard red spring wheat and hard red winter wheat in that tender.

"If, in fact, MAFF has established some official restriction on importing U.S. white wheat, that would be deeply disappointing, mainly because the U.S. Department of Agriculture made it clear yesterday that there is no evidence suggesting that this materials has entered commercial supplies and that there is no health risk associated with it," the organization said. "However, nothing is more important than the trust we’ve earned with our customers at home and around the world by providing a reliable supply of high-quality wheat. Japan is clearly a valued customer of the American wheat industry. We will cooperate with authorities in the United States and Japan to understand the facts surrounding this incident and we are now working closely with our valued customers to help them make informed decisions about wheat imports as the U.S. government shares more facts about this situation from their investigation."

The cancellation came just one day after the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it was conducting an investigation into the possible discovery of GE wheat in a field in Oregon. USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said it had confirmed the presence of Monsanto's Roundup Ready gene in samples submitted to the Department by an Oregon State University researcher, originally obtained from a single field in late April.