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Japan Wheat Buyers Warn US on GE Wheat

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Japan wheat buyers warn against biotech wheat in US
USA: September 10, 2003

WASHINGTON - The premier export market for American wheat could be destroyed if the United States approved production of a genetically modified variety of the commodity, a Japanese industry official said this week.

"If there is GM (genetically-modified) wheat, there is some potential for the collapse of the U.S. wheat market in Japan," said Tsutomu Shigeta, executive director of Japan's Flour Millers Association.

In the year that ended March 31, Japan bought nearly 2.5 million tonnes of U.S. wheat, slightly more than half of its import needs, according to the U.S. Wheat Associates, which promotes sales of American wheat abroad.

St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. MON.N has asked the U.S. and Canadian governments to approve a herbicide-tolerant biotech wheat hybrid. The company has estimated it could be at least two years before the first biotech wheat might be ready for market. American wheat farmers are deeply split over the idea.

Members of the Japanese Flour Millers Association are beginning a week-long visit to the United States to meet with federal regulators and to assess the quality of the U.S. wheat crop in North Dakota and Oregon. The group accounts for about 90 percent of the wheat milled in Japan.

Speaking through an interpreter, Shigeta told reporters that his association's opposition to biotech wheat is a "business matter" and is not based on an assessment of its safety.

In this case, the association's concern is widespread consumer opposition to biotech wheat.

Shigeta referred to a Japanese government-sponsored survey conducted a few months ago, which he said showed that almost 68 percent of consumers opposed a biotech variety of wheat.

In an attempt to soften opposition, Monsanto has begun meeting with food processors in Japan and Europe, a company official said recently.

In May, a group of South Korean wheat millers visited the United States and delivered a similar message in opposition to genetically modified wheat.

REUTERS NEWS SERVICE

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