Japan ag official outlines plan for resuming wheat purchases
By RICHARD SMITH
For the Capital Press
TOKYO -- Japan's top agricultural official has offered a blueprint for resuming the importation of soft white winter wheat from the Pacific Northwest.
Conditions include the U.S. continuing its investigation into the discovery of genetically modified wheat while providing further information on the scope of its overall investigation plan, said Yoshimasa Hayashi, Japan's Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
A testing method for the presence of GM wheat must also be established, he said at a July 2 press conference.
MAFF will then send staff to the affected area in northeast Oregon to meet with the relevant experts, he said.
"After this has been done, export terms and an export inspection system must be set," he said.
"We will then consider the timing of purchase resumption," Hayashi said.
The USDA provided the ministry with a testing method for GM wheat, but Toru Hisazome, the ministry's grain trade and operation division deputy director, said the testing method's validity must be verified.
"We need to ascertain if it can be used in Japan and we can get the same results with it here," Hisazome said.
Specialists at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) are responsible for determining the testing method's validity. Assessment started May 30, immediately after receiving information on the testing method from the USDA, Tomonori Shiokawa, the safety monitoring division deputy director at MHLW's food safety department, said.
"Unfortunately, I cannot give a timetable for the duration of the assessment," Shiokawa
Hayashi acknowledged that he had received U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack's letter assuring him of the safety of Pacific Northwest wheat.
"I received the letter June 20 through the U.S. embassy in Tokyo," Hayashi said.
Hayashi noted three main points in Vilsack's letter outlining details of the USDA investigation into the discovery of GM soft white wheat in a field in Oregon.
First, the GM wheat was discovered in one lone field on only one farm, and no such wheat has been found in commercial circulation, he said.
Second, interviews have been conducted with about 230 area growers who purchased the same variety of seeds, and no other GM wheat discovery has been reported.
"Third, (Secretary Vilsack) firmly asks Japan to consider resuming bids for U.S. soft white wheat," Hayashi said.
MAFF purchases all wheat imports here, reselling them at a markup to bidders. Purchases of soft white winter wheat halted following the GM wheat discovery.