From Bio Journal - October 2005

Trend: GM rice suit in Joetsu, Niigata - Unusual court order

On 17 August 2005, the Niigata district court Takada branch turned down the provisional deposition for the discontinuance of open air field trials of the defensin-producing GM rice conducted at the Hokuriku Research Center, Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture. (See BJ August 2005) However, the court made an unusual order, described in the end of the verdict, that since the research center did not submit enough information to fulfill its responsibility for full explanation of the trials, the trials may have to be suspended if they become an obstacle to agriculture. This statement reflects the condition of the GM rice, which is currently cultivated using protective measures including dual control for pollen dispersal, virtually similar to glasshouse cultivation.

As soon as the court announced its decision, farmers and consumers immediately appealed the verdict. The case will subsequently be examined at the Tokyo High Court. The peremptory decree must be issued before the GM rice is reaped, since after reaping the rice will no longer be subject to a provisional deposition; the high court decision will therefore be the final ruling.

Additionally, Niigata Prefectural government is currently drafting a bylaw, "Niigata Prefecture Food Safety Regulations (tentative title)", which is expected to include safety measures to prevent intercrossing and interfusion from GM crops. Moreover, an "Exploratory Committee on GM Crops" has also been inaugurated in order to develop its own regulations to control GM crop cultivation. The Committee met on August 4 and on 31, and it will have 2 more meetings before finalising its regulation policy.

GMO Free Zone declaration - Tohoku Network

On 3 September 2005, farmers from Yamagata Prefecture and consumers from Miyagi Prefecture gathered in Sendai city in Miyagi, and set up the "GMO Free Zone Declaration - Tohoku Network" (Rep. Nobuyuki Nakagawa, Takahata Conference for Promotion of Organic Agriculture). It was the first fully-fledged trans-regional GMO Free Zone declaration in Japan. On the same day, the network adopted a protest appeal to oppose Tohoku University's iron-deficiency tolerant GM rice field trials.

Codex task force, unauthorized GMOs to be discussed

The Codex Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology 5th Session will be held in Makuhari, Chiba Prefecture, between 19 and 23 September, 2005 (See BJ Sept Closeup). At this session, the task force will discuss which topics are to be on the table for its work. The topic concerning "foods derived from GM animals" presumably will be on the table, since this topic was left over from the previous four years of the task force (2000-2003). Another topic that is drawing attention is "low level presence of unauthorized genetically engineered foods". The US government and biotech industry have commented that this topic is their first and foremost priority, whereas consumers groups are totally opposed to the introduction of any tolerance level for presence of unauthorized GMOs. A vigorous, head-on debate is expected concerning this topic.

Bt10 contamination continues

According to investigations by MAFF, the non-approved GM maize Bt10 was again detected in a maize shipment of 2,053 tons on board a ship that docked at Kagoshima Port on August 12. The shipment (as with all such contaminated shipments) has been disposed of. Table 1 is an update of the table of Bt10-contaminated shipments from BJ September 2005.

Table 1) Bt10 detection results
Date of arrivalDate of Bt10 detectionPort of arrivalAmount of grain
26 May 200531 MayNagoya, Aichi Prefecture390
30 May 20053 JuneTomakomai, Hokkaido Prefecture822
16 June1,170
10 June 200523 JuneShibushi, Kagoshima Prefecture4,170
20 June 20055 JulyTomakomai, Hokkaido Prefecture1,429
20 June 200511 JulyKashima, Ibaraki Prefecture3,880
30 June 200512 JulyKamaishi, Iwate Prefecture1,277
15 July 20054 AugustHakata, Fukuoka Prefecture7,674
28 July 200519 AugustHachinohe, Aomori Prefecture5,375
1 August 200519 AugustShibushi, Kagoshima Prefecture5,963
8 August 200524 AugustShibushi, Kagoshima Prefecture460
12 August 200531 AugustKashima, Ibaraki Prefecture2,053
Bt10 contamination-positive total34,663

Director of Kyoto University Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences criticizes MEXT policy

A meeting of the MEXT working group considering the production of clone human embryos, human embryos artificially produced outside the body using cloning techniques, was held on 28 August 2005, at which a hearing was conducted. (See BJ September 2005 and August 2005) Those invited to speak at the hearing were Professor Yasunori Yoshimura of the Gynecology Department of Keio University School of Medicine, and Norio Nakatsuji, the director of Kyoto University Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences, which was the first institute in Japan to be successful in producing human ES cells. Firstly, Professor Yoshimura gave an overview of the state of fertility treatment and human embryo research. Following that, Director Nakatsuji reported on the current state of the use of human ES cells in research and the outlook for the future. During his presentation, Director Nakatsuji criticised MEXT policies by saying that the reason why ES cell research was proceeding so slowly in Japan was that the current regulations, necessitating review of each and every research program using ES cells, were too strict. He also stated his opinion that this current state in Japan was dampening the enthusiasm of researchers who are trying to participate positively in human clone embryo research. However, Professor Fumitoshi Ishino of Tokyo Medical and Dental University countered Dir. Nakatsuji's comments by stating that, "The extremely large numbers of abnormalities in animal cloning would surely lead us to err on the side of prudence when it comes to human application." In reply to this, Dir. Nakatsuji simply stated, "Some people see it that way."

MAFF approves 5 items of 2 new GM crop varieties

On 9 September 2005, a general review session of the biodiversity impact assessment investigative commission (jointly hosted by the Environmental Ministry) was held, at which the commission approved five items of two new GM maize varieties, including Bayer CropScience's application for a herbicide resistant GM maize, under the Type I usage rule. The Type I usage rule means that the GM crops are evaluated as having no impact on wild fauna and flora in accordance with the domestic Cartagena Law and are therefore approved for cultivation in open fields. Among the five items approved this session, four were GMO hybrid varieties, including a GMO maize hybrid containing three traits (Lepidoptera resistance, Coleoptera resistance, herbicide tolerance - 1507 × 59122 × NK603), developed by DuPont.

Table 2) GM crops approved for open field cultivation (Type 1 usage)
(Biodiversity Impact Assessment Investigative Commission)
NameApproval Date*
MaizeHerbicide ToleranceBayer CropScienceT145 September 2005
Herbicide Tolerance & Insect ResistanceMonsanto JapanMON88017 × MON810
Insect Resistance & Herbicide Tolerance (2 kinds)DuPont59122 × NK603
Insect Resistance (2 kinds) & Herbicide Tolerance (2 kinds)DuPont1507 × 59122 × NK603
CottonHerbicide Tolerance & Insect ResistanceMonsanto JapanMON88913 × 15985
* Technically, approval is granted after public comments have been accepted.

Closeup: Crime suspect DNA database becomes operational

On 1 September 2005, the National Public Safety Commission began operation of its DNA database, into which DNA data from crime suspects and so on will be registered and stored. (See BJ April 2005) DNA data storage and handling regulations have been formulated and as much DNA data as possible will be collected in the database.

When DNA identification is necessary in the course of an investigation, police are now able, with the court's permission, to take a sample from the suspect's oral mucous membrane. Because the definition of the word "scene" (i.e. "scene of the crime") is unclear, a wide interpretation would allow the police to take DNA data from body fluids, hair and so on from a variety of locations. In the case of the "Ashikaga Incident", where the suspect in a child murder case received a lifetime sentence, DNA identification was carried out on body fluids found on a paper tissue thrown away in a rubbish can.

The current state of DNA identification is that it is not possible to identify specific individuals, but only that someone is of a particular group, such as with blood group identification. Increasing the number of locations sampled on the DNA molecule makes it easier to narrow down the number of suspects, but that does not change the fact that there are a large number of people who have the same DNA type. Mistaken identification is also possible through DNA contamination.

According to a National Police Agency survey, the number of countries which now operate a DNA database is 41 out of the 127 survey answers received. Of the 26 of these countries in Europe, the country with the largest database is the United Kingdom, whose database began operation in 1995 and which now contains 2.5 million entries. The USA is second to the UK with 1.52 million entries.

In the UK, with the inception of the database a system for compulsory DNA samples to be taken from men who claimed not to be the father of a child was introduced, and it is now becoming policy to take compulsory cell samples from arrested suspects. In the case of the murder of a girl in January 1995, the only evidence available was the semen of the assailant. DNA identification was carried out on approximately 2000 men, which made it possible to narrow down the number of suspects until it was possible to arrest the assailant.

DNA identification is moving in the direction of having the potential to identify specific individuals, from for example the ongoing sequencing on SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism) in the current 300,000 people gene bank project (link) and so on. SNPs are the parts of the DNA which make it possible to decipher individual differences, and it is highly likely that this information will be inputted to the database in the future.

Among local authorities there are also some places which are building up DNA databases, for example Settsu City, Osaka Prefecture, which is building a database for identification of corpses and so on following disasters.

Further, in step with the sequencing of the human genome, searches are being carried out for genes which indicate. As this trend intensifies it is possible that there will be a re-emergence of the "eugenic" myth of identifying people and families with "a propensity for criminal behaviour," leading to surveillance of those families and then on to compulsory sterilization.

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