South Korea lifts restrictions on US wheat

By Bill Tomson

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 8, 2016 - South Korea has lifted its hold on stores of U.S. wheat after testing the grain for the presence of unapproved genetically modified organisms, U.S. government and industry officials said.

South Korea and Japan slapped restrictions on U.S. wheat after farmer recently discovered 22 unapproved genetically modified wheat plants growing in a field in Washington state.

“They tested all of the wheat that was in storage before going to the mills and they found no (genetically modified) wheat and that wheat was released to the mills,” said U.S. Wheat Associates spokesman Steve Mercer.

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That could be could news for U.S. exporters who had wondered what, if any, impact the South Korean restriction would have on purchases of U.S. wheat.

But now Mercer says the tendering process could proceed unaffected.

“Normal tendering could proceed,” Mercer said. “It looks like everything is going to be moving forward normally.”

South Korea received new materials for testing for the presence of GMO wheat last week and began using them on Wednesday. The country still has not scheduled its August tender.

“All future U.S. wheat and wheat flour shipments will be tested, and released if the result is negative,” a USDA official said.

South Korea's wheat imports from the U.S. have been weaker than normal this year and last year, but the country is still a major foreign market. South Korea bought about $309 million worth of U.S. wheat in 2015, down from about $412 million in 2014.

As to Japan, the situation has not been resolved yet, but Mercer said he expects that to be temporary.

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Japan is taking longer to lift its restrictions, which are on Western white wheat - a mixture of soft white and club wheat - that it buys from the Pacific Northwest. That's because the country wants to customize the testing protocols that were sent there by Monsanto and USDA, Mercer said.

“The materials needed to create the test assay are in Japan and it should only take two to three weeks for (Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) to implement the testing,” U.S. Wheat Associates said in a statement. “As we expect the testing will detect no GM wheat, the results will end the suspension very soon after it starts testing.”

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