TOKYO -- Japan has suspended certain wheat imports from the United States after a genetically-modified crop was found growing in an Oregon field.
Japan, the second-biggest importer of U.S. wheat behind Mexico, canceled some orders while the U.S. tries to figure how the illegal Monsanto wheat got to the Eastern Oregon farm.
Other top Asian importers, like South Korea, China and the Philippines are closely monitoring the situation. Many countries won't accept imports of genetically-modified foods.
The European Union announced it's preparing to test incoming wheat shipments after the discovery.
Roughly 90 percent of Oregon wheat is shipped overseas, generating a half-billion dollars in revenue every year, said Oregon Dept. of Agriculture Director Katy Coba.
“There is not a food safety issue. There is not a human health issue,” Coba said. “We believe have very good high quality wheat, otherwise we would not be in these markets in the first place. And we want to work with the markets and we want to make sure we can maintain that access for our product."
Katsuhiro Saka, a counselor at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, said Thursday that Japan had canceled orders of western white wheat from the Pacific Northwest and also of some feed-grade wheat.
He said the country was waiting for more information from the Agriculture Department as it investigates the discovery.
"In most countries the unapproved genetically modified wheat would be a target of concern," Saka said. "The Japanese people have similar kinds of concerns."
U.S. consumers also have shown increasing interest in avoiding genetically modified foods. There has been little evidence to show that foods grown from engineered seeds are less safe than their conventional counterparts, but several state legislatures are considering bills that would require them to be labeled so consumers know what they are eating.
While most of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States are already modified, the country's wheat crop is not. Many wheat farmers have shown reluctance to use genetically engineered seeds since their product is usually consumed directly, while much of the corn and soybean crop is used as feed.
One market analyst told KGW Japan's suspension of wheat imports will be short-lived. He said if the USDA can establish that it was an isolated incident, the imports will resume within a few weeks.
Meanwhile wheat growers also hope that’s the case and that the growth is not widespread.
Japan is regularly the top buyer of Northwest wheat, said Blake Rowe, CEO of the Oregon Wheat Commission. He said reductions in wheat sales would affect farmers in Idaho and Washington as well as Oregon, because the wheat is blended together.
Oregon sold $492 million in wheat in 2011, the most recent data available, and 90 percent of it went overseas, Oregon Department of Agriculture spokesman Bruce Pokarney said.
KGW Reporter Kyle Iboshi contributed to this report.