Japan Buys Oregon Wheat as Checks Begin for Modified Crops


Japan bought 89,579 metric tons of western-white wheat from the U.S. today, the first purchase since the government banned the grain on May 30 after the discovery of an unapproved gene-altered variety in Oregon.

The government resumed purchases after it established a system to detect the genetically modified strain before shipment, said Sunao Orihara, director for grain trade and operation at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The health ministry will also test U.S. cargoes upon arrival to confirm supplies aren’t tainted, he said. The gene-altered wheat by Monsanto Co. was found on a farm in Oregon.

Japanese purchases may support wheat futures in Chicago, which have lost 14 percent this year on prospects for abundant global production. The resumption also eased food industry concerns about short supply, as the country depends on imports for almost 90 percent of its wheat. Western-white wheat is used in Japan for production of cakes and cookies.

The country’s food-safety law bans sales of food containing GM crops that haven’t been confirmed safe by the nation’s health ministry. Contaminated supplies must be shipped back to exporting countries or disposed of.

Wheat for September delivery on the Chicago Board of Trade gained 0.4 percent to $6.675 a bushel at 5:39 p.m. in Tokyo after declining as much as 0.3 percent. Prices advanced 1 percent in July for the first monthly gain since April.

The risk of short supply prompted the agriculture ministry to buy 23,963 tons of club wheat grown in neighboring Washington state last month, along with 1,710 tons of U.S. soft-red winter and 1,497 tons of Australian premium-white as alternatives to the Oregon wheat.

South Korea, Taiwan

Monsanto and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are investigating how a gene-altered plant that hasn’t been approved for commercial use was found on the Oregon farm eight years after nationwide field tests ended. After the USDA’s May 29 announcement, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan suspended some U.S. wheat purchases. South Korea and Taiwan have resumed buying.

The experimental wheat, designed to survive a weed killer called Roundup, may have gotten into an Oregon field by an "accidental or purposeful" act, Monsanto’s Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley said in June.

The agriculture ministry controls overseas purchases and domestic sales of wheat to stabilize supply in Japan, which depends on imports for about 60 percent of its food. The U.S. is the world’s biggest exporter. The Consumers Union of Japan on June 4 asked the government to ban imports of all U.S. wheat to ensure food safety.