U.S. seeks source of errant gene altered wheat as importers flee
The United States is still racing to determine how unapproved genetically modified wheat was found growing in an Oregon field, a discovery that continued to roil global wheat markets on Friday as South Korean buyers stepped aside.
A top official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture said investigators are "pursuing many avenues" to determine how the wheat - which carries a gene making it resistant to herbicide applications - popped up in late April.
"At this point we have not ... eliminated any" potential causes, Bernadette Juarez, deputy director of the investigative unit with USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
South Korean millers suspended imports of U.S. wheat on Friday and some Asian countries increased inspections after the discovery of the unapproved wheat, but stopped short of imposing import bans.
U.S. officials are attempting to tamp down global alarm about the wheat, developed by biotech giant Monsanto Co more than a decade ago but never put into commercial production. Field tests on GMO wheat were last conducted in 2005.
The discovery of the long-forgotten strain prompted major buyer Japan to shun wheat from the Pacific Northwest at its weekly tender on Thursday, while the European Union said it would step up testing.
So far, rival exporter Canada has not seen any benefit from the incident, a major Canadian merchant said, predicting that the nervous response from buyers might soon fade.
"It's like the lights going out in the restaurant I was in last night. Nobody really expects they'll stay out for very long," Curt Vossen, chief executive of Richardson International Ltd told Reuters. "It might be five minutes, but they'll come on again fairly quickly."
In that vein, wheat futures prices in Chicago were higher on Friday, more than retracing Thursday's small decline.
The impact of the GMO wheat find has been felt mostly on cash prices in the Pacific Northwest, a key market for Asian buyers to purchase supplies of white wheat.
Still, South Korea - which last year sourced roughly half of its total wheat imports of 5 million tonnes from the U.S. - has also raised quarantine measures on U.S. wheat bought to feed livestock, while Thailand put ports on alert.
Its scientists had conducted weeks of quiet field work and complex tests before the bombshell news was announced this week.
To pin down the origin of the wheat, USDA extracted DNA from the tissue of wheat plants collected by its investigators from the Oregon field, and sent material to three facilities.
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