While the May discovery of a small amount of genetically altered wheat in Eastern Oregon was likely an isolated event and no reason for Americans to be alarmed, the incident was received far differently in Asia. Consumers in Asia, as well as Europe, are suspect of any genetically modified food.
As a result, wheat buyers in parts of Asia were concerned and closed their markets to U.S. growers.
Much of the soft white wheat grown in Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington is sold in Asia. If sales remained blocked, it would likely have forced down the price of wheat and hurt farmers (and communities) in Walla Walla and Umatilla counties.
So this week’s announcement by the Oregon Wheat Commission that South Korean mills will resume buying wheat from the Pacific Northwest and lift the restrictions was welcome news.
Japan, South Korea and Taiwan quickly suspended imports of white wheat after genetically modified wheat was discovered in May. The wheat seems to have come from seed produced by Monsanto to be resistant to its herbicide, Roundup. The motive is not known, but it is suspected seed could have been spread by a person or group seeking to discredit genetically modified food.
The concern has waned, and the Asian markets are starting to reopen.
South Korea will test wheat shipments for the presence of transgenic material, but will not limit purchases of Oregon-grown wheat, said Blake Rowe, chief executive of the Oregon Wheat Commission. And Taiwan had already resumed Pacific Northwest wheat purchases.
The wheat industry, from growing to marketing, have handled this unfortunate incident well. As a result, it looks as if wheat sales will recover.