WASHINGTON — The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries on May 30 announced it would suspend imports of U.S. western white and feed wheat after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on May 29 confirmed test results of plant samples from an Oregon farm indicated the presence of bioengineered glyphosate-resistant wheat plants. Further testing by U.S.D.A. laboratories indicated the presence of the same bioengineered glyphosate-resistant wheat variety that Monsanto was authorized to field test in 16 states from 1998 to 2005.
“We have suspended imports of wheat produced in Oregon and surrounding areas as we cannot rule out the possibility that supplies containing unapproved crops may enter Japan,” said Hiromi Iwahama, director for grain trade and operation at the ministry of agriculture. “We can resume purchases after U.S. authorities establish testing methods to identify the unapproved variety.”
On May 30, Japan did not take any U.S. western white wheat in its regularly scheduled tender. Other key U.S. wheat buyers, including South Korea, China and the Philippines, indicated they were monitoring the U.S. wheat situation, according to trade reports. The E.U. Commission has asked the United States how to test for the unapproved wheat, and said incoming shipments would be tested and blocked if they contained any bioengineered wheat.
Indications were Japan will continue to import U.S. hard red winter wheat and hard red spring wheat.
APHIS launched a formal investigation after being notified by an Oregon State University scientist that initial tests of wheat samples from an Oregon farm indicated the possible presence of bioengineered glyphosate-resistant wheat plants. According to an APHIS fact sheet, the Oregon farmer noticed some volunteers, or plants that had germinated and developed in a place where they were not intentionally planted, in his wheat field, were resistant to glyphosate.
There are no bioengineered wheat varieties approved for sale or in commercial production in the United States or elsewhere at this time.
The detection of the wheat variety does not pose a food safety concern. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration completed a voluntary consultation on the safety of food and feed derived from the bioengineered glyphosate-resistant wheat variety in 2004. For the consultation, the developer provided information to the F.D.A. to support the safety of the wheat variety. The F.D.A. completed the voluntary consultation with no further questions concerning the safety of grain and forage derived from the wheat, meaning that the variety is as safe as non-bioengineered wheat currently on the market.
“We are taking this situation very seriously and have launched a formal investigation,” said Michael Firko, acting deputy administrator for APHIS’ Biotechnology Regulatory Services. “Our first priority is to as quickly as possible determine the circumstances and extent of the situation and how it happened. We are collaborating with state, industry, and trading partners on this situation and are committed to providing timely information about our findings. The U.S.D.A. will put all necessary resources towards this investigation. ”
The Plant Protection Act (P.P.A.) provides for substantial penalties for serious infractions. Should APHIS determine that this situation was the result of a violation of the P.P.A., the agency has the authority to seek penalties for such a violation including civil penalties up to $1 million and has the authority to refer the matter for criminal prosecution, if appropriate.