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by Carey Gilliam
23-Apr-2001 Reuters
KANSAS CITY, Mo., April 23 (Reuters) - Japanese wheat industry players remain adamant in their stance against genetically modified (GM) wheat, a team of U.S. wheat industry leaders learned on a trip to Japan last week.

A report on the April 15-20 series of meetings with the Japanese wheat industry was issued by U.S. Wheat Associates on Monday, and stated that "the Japanese industry leaders have indicated that they will purchase non-GM wheat from U.S. competitors if the U.S. cannot ensure that Japan will receive 'GM-free' wheat." "The Food Agency (FA), which is the sole government wheat buyer, emphasized that even if GMO food safety is certified by Japanese health officials, the FA could not purchase biotechnology-derived wheat due to consumer concerns," the report said.

A team of five U.S. wheat leaders traveled to Tokyo to discuss the ramifications of plans by biotech agricultural giant Monsanto Co. to release a genetically modified spring wheat sometime between 2003 and 2005. St. Louis, Missouri-based Monsanto has said it will release the variety, which would be the world's first genetically modified wheat, in the U.S. when it receives government approvals in the U.S. and in Japan.

But U.S. wheat producers are worried that they might lose market share when the GM spring wheat is introduced because Japan, the European Union, and other key markets, have expressed reluctance to buy GM wheat due to consumer concerns about the safety and environmental impact of genetic modification of food grains.

Last week's meetings in Japan, which included discussions with flour millers as well as government officials, underscored the concerns.

"Officials over there believe there is going to be a future for biotechnology, but a number of events have happened there that have made the consumer less willing to accept biotechnology," said Darrell Hanavan, who chairs a joint biotechnology committee of U.S. Wheat Associates and the National Association of Wheat Growers. "They want us to really be aware of their concerns."

Hanavan said despite the Japanese views on biotech wheat plans, he was optimistic.

"The Japanese flour millers have indicated a willingness to work with the U.S. to evaluate an IP system for GM wheat," Hanavan said. "I view that positively that they are willing to work with us. I think we just need to keep an open dialogue with them."
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