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WINNIPEG, Manitoba, May 31 (Reuters) - Importers of U.S. wheat are not yet turning to No. 3 exporter Canada for alternative supplies after news this week that an illegal strain of genetically modified wheat had been found in an Oregon field, a major merchant said on Friday.
Nearly a decade after a public uproar over development of GMO wheat forced seed giant Monsanto Co to shelve plans to create a new strain, any panic over the revelation that at least one of those seeds managed to survive for years may fade quickly, Richardson International Ltd Chief Executive Curt Vossen said.
"It's like the lights going out in the restaurant I was in last night. Nobody really expects they'll stay out for very long," Vossen said in an interview. "It might be five minutes, but they'll come on again fairly quickly."
He said that he has not seen any unusual buying interest in Canadian wheat from customers which normally buy from the United States. Earlier on Friday South Korea followed Japan in suspending imports of U.S. wheat over GMO concerns.
Privately held Richardson is one of Western Canada's two largest grain handlers, along with Viterra, which is owned by Glencore Xstrata PLC.
A decade ago, Monsanto's efforts to create a wheat strain that could survive its Roundup herbicide sparked a furious outcry from farmers, including those in Canada, who feared that foreign buyers would shun all North American wheat if GMO seeds were introduced.
Monsanto abandoned efforts for a herbicide-tolerant GMO wheat in 2005. Major export markets in Europe and Asia are particularly sensitive to concerns about GMO food.
The discovery of the unapproved strain of wheat developed by Monsanto occurred in an Oregon field last month. Field trials of GMO wheat have never taken place in Canada, Vossen said.
Vossen said that wheat buyers want clearer answers from the United States on the presence of GMO wheat, and there may yet be opportunities for Canada to step in to fill more wheat orders.
Canada has ample supplies of hard red spring wheat and Japan, which has canceled plans to buy U.S. wheat, is already a big Canadian customer, Vossen said.
Canada is projected to export more wheat than any supplier except the United States and the European Union in the current 2012/13 crop marketing year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Canadian farmers are all too familiar with the risks of a surprise detection of genetically modified materials. Canadian flax sales to the European Union came to a standstill in 2009 after GMO materials appeared in multiple shipments of the crop.