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Genetically Modified Wheat: Japan Postpones Order From Portland Grain Shipper, Investigation Continues

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page, Genetically Modified Wheat Resource Center page, Washington News page and our Oregon News page.

Japan, the biggest importer of soft white wheat grown in Oregon and Washington, postponed a 25,000-ton order from a Portland grain shipper Thursday, the first market fallout after the discovery of genetically engineered wheat plants growing in an eastern Oregon field where they shouldn't have been.

Officials at Columbia Grain, which ships from facilities at the Port of Portland, said Japanese buyers are simply being cautious and are waiting for results from an investigation underway by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.

It's not clear how the genetically modified plants ended up in the field or if they will be found on surrounding farms, too. The last field tests of this strain of genetically modified wheat in Oregon were in 2001.

But the discovery raised alarms on two fronts. Oregon's wheat crop is valued at $300 million to $500 million annually, and up to 90 percent of it is exported. State agriculture officials, growers and shippers are deeply concerned about market reaction in nations opposed to genetically modified, or GM, food.

Columbia River shippers, including Columbia Grain, export about 170 million bushels of wheat annually, including about 40 million to Japan. Asian mills use soft white wheat to make noodles and crackers. A bushel equals 60 pounds.

Meanwhile, food safety activists argue that the discovery demonstrates the danger of such genetically engineered crops and the difficulty of controlling them. News reports Thursday suggested the European Union will recommend that its member nations begin testing U.S. wheat for the presence of genetically engineered material.