Five representatives of the U.S. wheat industry traveled to Japan recently to discuss implications of genetically modified wheat with Japan's industry leaders, according to U.S. Wheat Associates.

The primary purpose of the trip was to listen to Japanese concerns and to assess market ramifications of commercialization of wheat derived from biotechnology.

The team stressed to the Japanese industry that a biotechnology-derived wheat is not expected to be commercialized in the U.S. until 2003-05. The Japanese industry and other cooperator groups appreciated the team's visit and the candid and open discussions that took place.

The team found that, in Japan at this time, there is no market or consumer acceptance for wheat derived from biotechnology. The Japanese industry leaders told the U.S. team 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 because of consumer concerns. Further, they stated the wheat millers won't use biotechnology-derived wheat even if it is approved.

The Japanese processing market does not see biotechnology as a safety issue, the U.S. team was told, but consumers have human health and environmental concerns with biotechnology products. The industry leaders indicated that they don't oppose biotechnology, per se--in fact, many recognize the future potential of these products--but "consumer acceptance is not there yet."

The team discussed the development of an identity preserved (IP) or closed loop system. Although it was clear that the creation of an IP system is not enough to protect U.S. market share, as the Japanese are skeptical of the reliability of any IP system, the millers agreed to work with the U.S. to review a proposed system.

Even with a viable IP system, costs in Japan will be increased because of the mandated labeling and testing requirements, and flour millers expressed very strong objections to absorbing any increased costs. Under the new Japanese law, they will need certification at all steps of the production and processing chain.

The U.S. wheat team was given a strong exhortation that it is important to consider the additional cost of testing all wheat--including non-genetically modified wheat--once biotechnology-derived wheat is commercialized in the U.S.

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