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U.S. anxious about Korea's possible halt to wheat imports

All Headlines 09:47 May 31, 2013

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON, May 30 (Yonhap) -- The U.S. government said Thursday it was quick to brief South Korea on the detection of unapproved genetically engineered wheat in Oregon, an apparent effort to avoid Seoul's halt, at least temporarily, to imports of American wheat.

"Once the detection was confirmed, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officers overseas met directly with appropriate government officials in key markets to inform them of this issue," a department official told Yonhap News Agency.

The official was responding to a question about whether the U.S. is in consultations with South Korea on the matter.

"USDA will continue to update our trading partners on the progress of the investigation and will continue to work closely with our trading partners to ensure continued market access for this safe product," added the official.

South Korea is among major importers of U.S. wheat, along with Japan, Mexico and several other nations. Wheat is a popular staple in South Korea used to make breads, noodles and a number of other foods. Some 90 percent of wheat produced in Oregon is exported. Last year, South Korea purchased 2.4 million tons of wheat from the U.S.

On Thursday, USDA said it found an Oregon farm growing genetically modified wheat not approved for sale or consumption.

"At this time, we have no information that this wheat variety has entered commerce," the official said.

Even if it did, the official said, it would pose no risk to health since the Food and Drug Administration completed the voluntary consultation for this kind of variety and determined that it has no safety problems.

But there are worries that the Oregon case may damage exports of the grain.

South Korea has a record of suspending imports of American beef and other products when safety concerns are raised.

The South Korean authorities said they have intensified quarantine measures against U.S. wheat.

Japan has suspended certain wheat imports following the Oregon case.



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