BUSINESS
06/18/2018 17:08 EDT | Updated 06/18/2018 17:21 EDT

South Korea Becomes 2nd Country To Suspend Imports Of Canadian Wheat

Japan also stopped imports after genetically modified plants were found in Alberta.

Tara Giles operates a combine as she harvests wheat on a 160-acre field located south of High River, Alta., in 2013.
MIKE STURK/Reuters
Tara Giles operates a combine as she harvests wheat on a 160-acre field located south of High River, Alta., in 2013.

CALGARY — South Korea has joined Japan in suspending trade in Canadian wheat following the discovery of a small number of genetically modified plants in southern Alberta.

It's standard protocol in both countries to temporarily close markets in such cases, Global Affairs spokesman Jesse Wilson said Monday.

"The Government of Canada is working with foreign trading partners to ensure they have all the necessary information to make informed decisions and limit market disruption," he said in an emailed statement.

Japan suspended imports of Canadian wheat on Friday after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced the discovery. South Korea followed suit on Monday.

I am confident that we have the answers that Korea is looking for.Cam Dahl

Japan is one of the top importers of Canadian wheat at around 1.5 million tonnes a year and tends to buy the highest-quality grain at premium prices, said Cereals Canada president Cam Dahl. South Korea imports around 235,000 tonnes a year.

"I am confident that we have the answers that Korea is looking for just as I'm very confident that we have the answers that Japan is looking for," Dahl said, adding he's hopeful the suspension won't last for long.

Dahl said there have been no indications so far that the European Union and China would be making similar moves.

A contractor spraying for weeds along an access road last year informed local authorities that a few plants were not killed by Roundup herbicide, the CFIA said in an incident report. Tests found the plants were genetically modified to tolerate the weed killer.

Genetically modified wheat is not allowed to be grown commercially anywhere.

Tests have concluded the wheat did not make its way into the food supply and was isolated to a few plants in the ditch where they were found. Health Canada said there are no safety concerns.

Wheat commission calls it 'an overreation'

"Personally, I just see it as an overreaction because there is no health risk even it was in the commercial system. There's no safety risk whatsoever," Alberta Wheat Commission chair Kevin Bender said of Japan and South Korea's actions.

"It's the world we live in and there's some that tend to be overly cautious."

The CFIA said the genetically modified plants in Alberta were not a match for any of the 450 registered wheat varieties in its database. It confirmed the Alberta sample was a match for a genetically modified wheat line used in research field trials two decades ago in Canada and the United States.

U.S. agriculture company Monsanto Co. did the tests between 1998 and 2000 on fewer than two hectares in Canada, making up 0.1 per cent of total Canadian wheat plantings at the time, said company spokesman Jeff Neu.

The trials were about 300 kilometres or more away from where the modified plants were found in Alberta, the CFIA said.

Benoit Tessier/Reuters
A woman uses a Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller spray without glyphosate in a garden in Ercuis near Paris, France, on May 6, 2018.

"Given the passage of time and large distances involved, there is no evidence that would explain how or if the current GM wheat finding is linked with a previous trial," the CFIA said in the incident report.

In 2013, several Asian countries temporarily banned U.S. wheat imports after genetically modified wheat was found unexpectedly in a field on an Oregon farm.

The wheat found in Alberta was not a genetic match to plants involved in any U.S. cases, the CFIA report said.

Deron Bilous, Alberta's economic development and trade minister, said Japanese scientists are en route to Alberta.

"We're working very closely with CFIA and are confident that similar to other examples in the past, that this will be resolved quickly."

With files from Bob Weber in Edmonton

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