Friday, May 31, 2013

GMO's unacceptable elsewhere, good enough for Americans: Japan Suspends Some Imports of U.S. Wheat

Most US corn, sugar, canola oil and soy produced and sold in the US is genetically modified. That includes most food for human as well as animal consumption.  Monsanto has had patents on GMO wheat since the 1990s.  

However, wheat is the US' largest export crop. Rather than being fed to livestock or unwary Americans, half is shipped overseas. Because importing countries (including Europe, China and Japan) don't want GMO wheat (it still isn't approved for consumption in a single country), it is illegal in the US to grow it, outside "highly controlled" test plots.  
From the NY Times came this clumsy statement, which implies that processed foods made from GMOs are not consumed by people.  Of course they are:  an estimated 70% of processed food in the US contains GMOs.  Widespread consumer resistance to GMOs in the US has failed to impact Monsanto's influence on lawmakers.  But consumer resistance outside the US means that US farmers can't sell Monsanto's GMOs overseas, and wheat exports are critical to the US economy.  This has spared US consumers from GMO wheat, so far.
While most American soybeans and corn are genetically modified, those crops are largely consumed by animals or made into processed foods. Wheat is consumed directly by people and there has been more consumer resistance. No genetically engineered wheat has been approved in any country. Indeed, one reason Monsanto dropped its development of genetically modified wheat in 2004 was concern from American farmers that it would endanger wheat exports.  
Monsanto has now resumed research into genetically modified wheat but says it will be at least a decade before any such crop reaches the market...
In 2006, after traces of an unapproved genetically engineered rice were found in the American harvest, rice prices dropped, at least temporarily, and exports slowed.Bayer CropScience, the company that developed and field-tested the rice, agreed to pay $750 million to settle claims with about 11,000 American farmers.
However, some (how much? enough to cause the price to plummet) Monsanto-bred, US-grown wheat found its way into farmers' fields.  And experts suggest it has probably been there for awhile.

US consumer product regulation is arguably the weakest among developed countries at this point.  Fortunately for the Japanese and most Europeans, their regulators are still on the job.  And in record time, Japan and the European Union told us we could put this American wheat where the sun don't shine.

American legislators and regulators have passed legislation banning the labeling of GMO products, because they know that Americans, if warned, will shun them too. From the WP:
... The United States already relies heavily on genetically modified crops. Genetically engineered corn, cotton and soybeans have gone from 5 to 17 percent of the U.S. market in 1997 to between two-thirds and more than 90 percent in 2012. By some estimates, more than 70 percent of processed foods sold in the United States contain ingredients and oils from genetically engineered crops. 
... Monsanto and other companies in the industry have been pressing members of Congress to vote against measures that would require disclosure for food made with genetically modified or engineered crops. Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, says that 64 countries have similar rules and that, this year, 37 bills have been introduced in 21 states proposing that genetically engineered foods be labeled in stores. 
Monsanto is also urging lawmakers to vote for a rider in the Senate continuing resolution that would strip federal courts of the power to provide injunctive relief to environmental and food activists seeking to stop the spread of such crops. 
Genetically modified crops have a history of provoking bans by trading partners. In 2006, the Agriculture Department announced that trace amounts of a regulated variety of genetically engineered rice had been commingled with supplies of conventional rice. That led several U.S. trading partners to refuse U.S. rice exports, causing losses for U.S. farmers and exporters.
And from Reuters:
... The discovery instantly roiled export markets, with Japan canceling a major shipment of wheat, a quick reminder of what is at stake - an $8 billion U.S. wheat export business. Many fear the wheat most likely has been mixed in with conventional wheat for some time, but there are no valid commercial tests to verify whether wheat contains the biotech Roundup Ready gene.  
"A lot of people are on high alert now," said Mike Flowers, a cereal specialist at Oregon State University. "We can't really say if it is or isn't in other fields. We don't know..." 
From RT:
Other major Asian importers like Korea, China and the Philippines said they were closely monitoring the situation, while the European Union is set to test any incoming shipments, saying it will block any containing GM wheat.  
Following the announcement, wheat for July delivery fell 8.25 cents to $6.945 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade.   
The wheat, created by Monsanto Co., appeared on an 80-acre farm in Oregon in April. On Wednesday, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said it had conducted a genetic test on the wheat and found that it was an experimental type created by the US agribusiness giant which had never been approved for sale.  
...The USDA has never approved any GMO strain of wheat to be grown in the US, but Monsanto field tested a genetically engineered variety from 1998 through 2005. It was never put into use however, due to global opposition to genetically engineered cereal grains. Wheat remains an exception however, as more than 60 genetically modified crops have been approved for US food and feed supplies.  
The top three GMO crops grown in the US are soy, corn and cotton, according to the USDA. Some Eighty-eight perc ent of corn and 93 pe rcent of soybeans grown in the US are genetically modified.   
Although the United States produces only 10 percent of world wheat it is consistently the world's biggest wheat exporter. With world trade in wheat greater than for all other crops combined, Wednesday’s findings could dent US export prospects at a time when the USDA is expecting record global production, boosted by a 48 percent hike in Russian output and a 40 percent gain from Ukraine.   
However, the USDA says US exports will likely fall 9.8 percent to 25.2 million tons in the year that starts on June 1, Bloomberg reports.     
This is not something we need to see when exports are suffering anyway,” Darrell Holaday, the president of Advanced Market Concepts in Wamego, Kansas, told the New York based agency in a telephone interview.

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