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Jonathan Knutson, Forum News Service, Published June 14 2013

Wheat industry worries about response to GMO controversy

Like just about everyone else involved in the U.S. wheat industry, Jim Peterson has many questions and few answers about the genetically modified wheat found in an Oregon field.

But Peterson, the veteran marketing director of the North Dakota Wheat Commission, says he’s sure of two things:

His industry is determined to retain the trust of its customers.

His industry needs to educate its customers that a zero-tolerance policy toward GMO wheat may not be feasible financially.

“One of the main areas the U.S. (wheat) industry is working on is developing some level of tolerance. Zero tolerance can be very costly,” he says.

With a zero-tolerance policy, even minimal traces of a genetically modified organism aren’t allowed in food shipments.

In late May, unapproved GMO wheat was found in a single Oregon field of soft white wheat. No one knows how it got there or whether GMO wheat got into the food supply or grain shipments.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is investigating. The discovery and ongoing investigation intensified attention on GMO wheat. The U.S. wheat industry stresses that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviewed the wheat in 2004 and found no safety problems with it. That doesn’t reassure GMO critics, including some foreign buyers.

Japan has said it won’t buy U.S. soft white wheat until the U.S. investigation into the unauthorized GMO wheat is concluded.

Hard red spring wheat, of which North Dakota is the leading U.S. producer, typically is used to make bread or to blend with other wheat to upgrade protein content or protein quality, he says.

So far, concern and uncertainty about soft white wheat haven’t had any discernible impact on hard red spring wheat prices, Peterson says.

Nor has he seen an impact from the Oregon GMO wheat controversy on the price of durum, of which North Dakota also is the nation’s leading producer. Durum is used to make pasta.