Japan shuns white wheat for first time in 53 years

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Reuters – Japan recently offered to buy wheat used for making cakes that is not the U.S. western white variety for the first time in at least 53 years, seeking to avoid a shortage of confectionery flour after a scare caused by genetically modified wheat found in Oregon.

U.S. western white is a grade developed particularly for the Japanese market and is a mixture of soft white and club white both grown in the country’s Pacific Northwest. Japan imports around 800,000 tonnes of the grade annually.

The world’s sixth-biggest wheat importer allowed Australian premium white wheat, Canadian red winter wheat, soft red winter grain and club wheat from the United States, to be bought during a special dealing period that closed July 5, Toru Hisazome, a Farm Ministry official in charge of wheat trading said.

As much as 2,000 tonnes can be purchased during the period, Hisazome added.

Shipments of the western white grade have been stopped since last month and are not expected to restart until the conclusion of a U.S. investigation into how a GMO strain of wheat developed by Monsanto Co., but never put into commercial production, was discovered growing in April.

Japan has relied on western white to make cakes and other confectionery since at least 1960 and the country’s farm minister earlier this month sought to reassure picky consumers about possible shortfalls of the flour.

“We believe western white is the best for making cake and other sweets,” Masaaki Kadota, executive director at the Flour Millers Association of Japan, said, adding that it was the ministry which made these selections.

Japan is likely to ultimately resume western white wheat imports as mills will find it difficult to substitute origins, traders said.

“We don’t expect the ban to last too long,” said one Singapore-based grains trader. “They will resume U.S. wheat imports as mills in Japan are used to handling western white wheat, it is not easy to switch.”

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