* Japan cancels tender to purchase some U.S. wheat
* EU preparing to test incoming shipments
* Importers to seek details from U.S. government
(Adds NGO, international trade quotes)
By Risa Maeda and Charlie Dunmore
TOKYO/BRUSSELS, May 30 Unapproved genetically
modified wheat found growing in the United States is threatening
U.S. exports of the world's biggest traded food commodity, with
Japan stopping a purchase against a backdrop of high consumer
sensitivity to gene-altered food.
Japan cancelled a tender offer to buy U.S. western white
wheat, while other top Asian wheat importers South Korea, China
and the Philippines said they were closely monitoring the
"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 world's biggest wheat importer, Egypt, said it had no
fears yet over supplies.
The European Union is preparing to test incoming shipments,
and will block any containing GM wheat. Chicago
Board of Trade wheat futures were down around 1 percent.
GM wheat was discovered this spring on a farm in the west
coast state of Oregon, in a field that grew winter wheat in
2012. USDA officials said that when a farmer sprayed the
so-called "volunteer" plants with a glyphosate herbicide, some
of them unexpectedly survived.
Scientists found the wheat was a strain field-tested from
1998 to 2005 and deemed safe before St. Louis-based biotech
giant Monsanto withdrew it from the regulatory approval
process on worldwide opposition to genetically engineered
GMO crops tolerate certain pesticides, allowing farmers to
improve weed control and increase yields.
No GM wheat varieties are approved for general planting in
the U.S. or elsewhere, the USDA said. The EU has asked Monsanto
for a detection method to allow its controls to be carried out.
With high consumer wariness towards genetically-modified
food, few countries allow imports of such cereals for direct
"The developers of GE wheat have repeatedly said that GE
wheat will not contaminate conventional or organic wheat because
it is predominantly self-pollinating. Despite these empty
promises, GE contamination has happened," Greenpeace
International scientist Janet Cotter said.
"The only way to protect our food and environment is to stop
the releases of GE crops to the environment - including a ban on
However, the bulk of U.S. corn and soybean crops are
Wayne Bacon, president of French-based grain trader
Hammersmith Marketing said there would be a natural knee-jerk
"We all buy things with GM products in it every day, we just
don't know about it, but if suddenly we know that the loaf of
bread we are buying is made from GMO wheat then it becomes a
very negative thing with the consumer."
The latest finding revives memories of farmers unwittingly
planting genetically modified rapeseed in Europe in 2000, while
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.
The company agreed in court in 2011 to pay $750 million to
growers as compensation.
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."
European traders said Black Sea and EU wheat was well
positioned to benefit in any displaced demand for U.S. grain.
But some were more pragmatic on the overall impact.
"Japan is in a position to be selective and to react
sharply. It has other suppliers and the financial means to be
choosy and pay more if needed. This is not necessarily the case
for Egypt which is in a difficult financial situation," a
European trader said.
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.
The Philippines, which buys about 4 million tonnes of wheat
a year and relies mainly on U.S. supplies, is waiting for more
details before acting, an industry official in Manila said.
"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.
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 in a statement posted on its website said: "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."
(Additional reporting by Naveen Thukral in Singapore, Niu
Shuping in Beijing, Erik dela Cruz in MANILA, Jane Chung in
SEOUL, Yayat Supriatna in JAKARTA, Valerie Parent, Michael Hogan
and Sarah Mcfarlane; writing by Veronica Brown; editing by
Richard Pullin and Keiron Henderson)