Japan and South Korea suspended some imports of American wheat, and the European Union urged its 27 nations to increase testing, after the United States government disclosed this week that a strain of genetically engineered wheat that was never approved for sale was found growing in an Oregon field.
Although none of the wheat, developed by Monsanto Company, was found in any grain shipments — and the Department of Agriculture said there would be no health risk if any was shipped — governments in Asia and Europe acted quickly to limit their risk.
South Korea, which last year purchased roughly half of its total wheat imports of five million tons from the United States, said Friday it would suspend purchases until tests were performed on arriving shipments. Results of the tests, by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, were expected in the first week of June, according to local media.
Seoul also raised quarantine measures on wheat for livestock feed, while Thailand put ports on alert.
The European Union, which has a “zero tolerance” approach to genetically modified crops, said through its consumer protection office Friday that if any shipments tested positive, they would not be sold.
It also said it was seeking “further information and reassurance” from Washington and had asked Monsanto for help in developing a reliable test for the genetically modified strain.
The United States is the world’s biggest exporter of wheat. While genetically engineered corn and soybeans are routinely grown, they are largely consumed by animals, while wheat is consumed directly by people and has faced more consumer resistance.
The strain of wheat was developed by Monsanto to resist its Roundup herbicide, but the company ended its field trials in 2004. How it came to be growing in Oregon was not clear.
Japan and Mexico are among the biggest importers of American wheat. The European Union imports more than one million tons each year, mostly to Spain.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report from NYTimes.com