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S. Korea Boosts Inspection of U.S. Wheat Imports on Gene Concern

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May 31 (Bloomberg) -- South Korea, Asia’s second-biggest grain buyer, increased inspections of feed wheat imports from the U.S. after an unapproved, genetically modified strain was found growing in an Oregon field.

The government increased the amount of wheat samples taken from each vessel for inspection, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said in a statement. No unapproved gene-altered crops have been found so far. The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety will examine all wheat and flour shipments from Oregon and check products distributed in the domestic market and at inventories, according to a separate statement.

Scientists said the rogue wheat was a strain tested from 1998 to 2005 by Monsanto Co. the world’s top seed maker. The finding may hurt U.S. exports at a time when the nation’s Department of Agriculture is expecting record global production. Japan, the biggest buyer of U.S. wheat behind Mexico, suspended some imports of wheat from the U.S., the world’s top exporter.

“The government is increasing inspection of U.S. feed wheat imports in order to ensure safety,” the agriculture ministry said in the statement e-mailed late yesterday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said yesterday it was investigating how the unapproved seeds slipped out and were growing nine years after St. Louis-based Monsanto ended its wheat program. The discovery may prompt foreign buyers uneasy with gene-altered crops to stop buying wheat from the U.S., according to critics including the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Center for Food Safety.

The Asian nation shipped in 1.2 million metric tons of feed wheat from the U.S. in 2012, the agriculture ministry said. Imports of U.S. flour were 1,121 tons last year, the food safety ministry said.

Wheat on the Chicago Board of Trade fell as much as 0.7 percent to $6.9375 a bushel, dropping for a second day, and traded at $6.9750 at 12:22 p.m. in Seoul. Futures are down 10 percent this year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sungwoo Park in Seoul at spark47@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brett Miller at bmiller30@bloomberg.net

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