Wheat group hopeful about Japanese wheat buys

Wheat group hopeful about Japanese wheat buys
Wheat growing in Eastern Oregon. (Photo from Oregon State University)

PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) — With the harvest underway, representatives of Northwest wheat growers say they're optimistic, though cautious, about prospects for Japan to resume buying their grain.

Sales were suspended after an Eastern Oregon farmer found unapproved genetically modified wheat in a field.

South Korea and Taiwan also halted purchases, but they have resumed buying.

The Japanese government has tested 1.2 million metric tons of U.S. wheat for GMO material without finding any, said Steve Mercer, a spokesman for the trade group U.S. Wheat Associates.

And last week, Japan purchased more than 24,000 metric tons of club wheat, a subclass of western white wheat also grown primarily in Washington and Oregon.

"I think it's a good indication they're trying to find a way to become comfortable enough to resume (western white) purchases,"?Mercer said. "I think it will get to that point."

The northeast Oregon farmer who found the wheat modified to resist the herbicide glyphosate in a 130-acre fallow field remains unidentified. The variety, engineered by Monsanto Co., was field tested from 1998-2005 in 16 states, including Oregon, but never approved for commercial production.

Oregon exports 85-90 percent of its wheat, primarily to Asian markets that have made it clear that they do not want genetically modified food. The crop was valued at $472 million in 2012.

Last year, Japan imported nearly 39 million bushels of soft white wheat, South Korea about 26.3 million bushels and Taiwan nearly 4.8 million bushels.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture sent out 18 investigators to interview farmers and test samples across the region. The investigation continues but hasn't turned up further evidence of genetically modified wheat, said spokesman Ed Curlett for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.