Friday, 31 May 2013

A Country Where Food Really Matters

P.E.I. has a long and interesting relationship with Japan that continues to this day. There was always the fascination with the fictional Anne of Green Gables, a strong headed woman living in a sparsely populated bucolic setting, so different from the cultural and physical conditions in Japan. But there is real business that goes on too,  and Japan has always been a very exacting customer. I remember covering stories of the herring row industry where Japanese technicians would oversee the packing,  and demand extremely high standards. That has continued with the tuna fishery, blueberries and now soybeans and canola.  Farmer Raymond Loo has developed other markets for blackberries and even dandelion root.   It's an excellent working relationship with very strict standards: as long as PEI supplies excellent quality,  Japan will continue to provide a lucrative market. (yes there are times when the tuna market is oversupplied and prices fall, but when fishermen supply the market at a reasonable pace, prices tend to stay high.) 

There's one other important condition for selling to Japan, consumers there are not interested in genetically modified foods. It's provided PEI soybean growers a chance to grow what's called Identity Preserved (or IP, essentially non-gmo) varieities. This goes against the grain in North America where more than 90% of the soybeans grown are gmo's (most have been bred by Monsanto to tolerate a glyphosphate herbicide called round-up). 

A story today that should  worry a lot of people in the U.S. grain industry.  Monsanto has been trying to get genetically modified wheat on the market, but it hasn't been licensed yet. This week a commercial field in Oregon was discovered to have gm wheat, and Japan, one of the Americans most important wheat customers has suspended shipments. Europe will pay close attention as well.

The headline in this story is misleading, Japan would never have ordered GMO wheat in the first place, but there's some good information  in the story.

Japan Cancels GMO Wheat Order After Concerns Over U.S. Grain Developed By Monsanto

By Naveen Thukral and Risa Maeda

SINGAPORE/TOKYO, May 30 (Reuters) - A strain of genetically modified wheat found in the United States fuelled concerns over food supplies across Asia on Thursday, with major importer Japan cancelling a tender offer to buy U.S. grain.

Other top Asian wheat importers South Korea, China and the Philippines said they were closely monitoring the situation after the U.S. government found genetically engineered wheat sprouting on a farm in the state of Oregon.

The strain was never approved for sale or consumption.

Asian consumers are keenly sensitive to gene-altered food, with few countries allowing imports of such cereals for human consumption. However, most of the corn and soybean shipped from the U.S. and South America for animal feed is genetically modified.

"We will refrain from buying western white and feed wheat effective today," Toru Hisadome, a Japanese farm ministry official in charge of wheat trading, told Reuters.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday said the wheat variety was developed years ago by biotechnology giant Monsanto Co. It was never put into use because of worldwide opposition to genetically engineered wheat.

Wheat, long known as the staff of life, is the world's largest traded food commodity and it is used in making breads, pastries, cookies, breakfast cereal and noodles.

Asia imports more than 40 million tonnes of wheat annually, almost a third of the global trade of 140-150 million tonnes. The bulk of the region's supplies come from the United States, the world's biggest exporter, and Australia, the No. 2 supplier.

The USDA said there was no sign that genetically engineered wheat had entered the commercial market, but grain traders warned the discovery could hurt export prospects for U.S. wheat.

"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."

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 and sharply lowering market prices. The company agreed in court in 2011 to pay $750 million to growers as compensation.


A major flour miller in China, which has been stocking U.S. wheat in recent months, said importers will tread carefully.

China has emerged as a key buyer of U.S. wheat this year, taking around 1.5 million tonnes in the past two months. Chinese purchases in the year to June 2014 are estimated to rise 21 percent to 3.5 million tonnes, according to the USDA, with most shipments coming from the United States, Australia and Canada.

Japan's Hisadome said the government has asked U.S. authorities to provide more details of their investigation and Japan will stop buying the wheat concerned, at least until a test kit is developed to identify genetically modified produce.

There is no U.S.-approved test kit to identify genetically engineered wheat. The USDA has said it is working on a "rapid test" kit.

The Philippines, which buys about 4 million tonnes of wheat a year and relies mainly on U.S. supplies, is waiting for more details from the USDA before acting, an industry official in Manila said.

An agriculture ministry source in South Korea said the government is reviewing the discovery, adding the country thoroughly inspects products from the United States as part of safety checks.

"I won't be surprised if other countries start cancelling or reducing their purchases of U.S. wheat, particularly Asian countries, putting pressure on wheat demand," said Joyce Liu, an investment analyst at Phillip Futures in Singapore.

The benchmark Chicago Board of Trade wheat futures eased half a percent on Thursday after rallying in the previous session.

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.

Monsanto entered four strains of glyphosate-resistant wheat for U.S. approval in the 1990s but there was no final decision by regulators because the company decided there was no market.

The St. Louis-based firm downplayed the incident in a statement posted on its website. "While USDA's results are unexpected, there is considerable reason to believe that the presence of the Roundup Ready trait in wheat, if determined to be valid, is very limited," it said.

Still, importers are not in a position to shun wheat from the United States, which accounts for about a fifth of the global supplies, analysts and industry officials said. (Additional reporting by Karl Plume in CHICAGO, Niu Shuping in Beijing, Erik dela Cruz in MANILA, Jane Chung in SEOUL and Yayat Supriatna in JAKARTA; Editing by Amran Abocar and Richard Pullin)

EU recommends testing of US wheat after Japan finds GM grains, blocks imports

BERLIN — The European Union is urging its 27 member states to test certain wheat shipments from the United States after unauthorized genetically modified grains were found on a U.S. farm, officials said Friday.
The move came after Japan halted imports Thursday of some types of wheat from the U.S. following the discovery of an experimental strain that was tested by Monsanto but was never approved.
“The Commission is following carefully the presence of this non-authorized GM wheat in Oregon in order to ensure that European consumers are protected from any unauthorized GM presence and make sure that the EU zero tolerance for such GM events is implemented,” EU’s consumer protection office said.
The agency said it was seeking “further information and reassurance” from U.S. authorities and had asked Monsanto for help in developing a reliable test for GM grains in soft white wheat.
Shipments that test positive should not be sold, but current information from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration indicated the wheat posed no threat to human health, it said.
The European Union imports more than 1 million metric tons (1.1 million tons) of U.S. wheat each year. Eighty percent of that was soft white wheat, the majority of which is exported to Spain, officials said.
European consumers have generally objected more strongly to genetically modified foodstuffs than Americans.

1 comment:

  1. In a world so driven by export markets and global trading, I am continually stumped by the continued North American popularity and support for GMOs, when so many international markets refuse to accept them. Science or not, even international money can't defeat the Monsanto machine.