From Bio Journal - May 2008
Food from somatic cell cloned livestock; advice of Food Safety Commission sought
On 3 April 2008, MHLW submitted a request to the Food Safety Commission for a judgement
on the safety of food from somatic cell cloned livestock (See BJ March 2008
and BJ December 2007
). The request will be handled by
the Food Safety Commission specialist panel on newly developed foods. Judging from similar
cases in the past, the result is likely to be "no problem", thus making the approval of
distribution and sale of such products simply a matter of time.
The contents of the request were extremely simple, the background being laid out on no
more than a single sheet of A4 size paper. As anticipated, the safety assessment trials
carried out by the MHLW and MAFF were indicated, and concerning somatic cell cloned cattle
the view was stated that, "It is hard to consider that there is any special factor causing
the safety of food to be compromised when compared with cattle bred using conventional
techniques... No significant biological difference was found compared to produce from ordinary cattle."
Further, in January 2008, the US FDA and the EU EFSA (European Food Safety Agency) both
published reports based on assessment results showing that food products from cloned cattle
were safe, and contained phrases such as, "Sufficient knowledge has accumulated concerning the
safety (of such foods)." However, there has been no mention of the inconvenient fact that
somatic cell cloned cattle show a large number of abnormalities.
Argument over production of reproductive cells from 'pluripotential cells' reignites
The movements concerning production of reproductive cells from 'pluripotential cells'
such as human ES cells have once again become very active. (See BJ March 2008
At the MEXT specialist panel
meeting on 26 March 2008, following a hearing with Professor ICHIKAWA Tomohiko of Chiba
University graduate school, a specialist in male infertility problems such as azoospermia
(inability to produce sperm), it was decided to establish a 'reproductive cell production
and use working group' under the specialist panel.
Four gene therapy patients die at Tokyo U Institute of Medical Science
A "serious situation report" submitted by a research group conducting gene therapy for
kidney cancer under NAKAOKA Takashi of the University of Tokyo Institute of Medical
Science was made public at a meeting of the science and technology subcommittee of the
Health Science Council of MHLW on 13 March 2008. According to the report, all four patients
undergoing gene therapy had died and that therefore the clinical research had effectively
come to an end. Concerning the cause of death, the report judges that "it is considered
due to the worsening" of the kidney cancer, and that the safety of the gene therapy "is not
problematical either in the short-term or long-term." However, in the recent past gene therapy
has been criticized for being unclear about the efficacy of the therapy, and as being a human
guinea pig experiment to carried out to check safety aspects. It would seem that this current
episode, in which four more patients have died, gives support to this criticism.
See BJ Feb 2008
MAFF publishes GM food ingredient analysis results
The National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO), an incorporated administrative
agency of the Japanese Government, has published on its website the
(in Japanese only)
of the ingredient analysis of food from GM crops resulting from the "Multidisciplinary Research
on Safety Assurance for the Industrial Use of GMOs" conducted by MAFF.
Meiji recalls chocolate manufactured with GM technology
The confectionary maker Meiji Seika Kaisha, Ltd. announced on 19 March 2008 the
voluntary recall of chocolate and other products containing the oligosaccharide "GF2".
The manufacturing process of the GF2 uses an enzyme produced through the application
of GM techniques, but the company had failed to apply for use of GF2. A total of 19
products are being recalled; five kinds of "GF2 chocolate" and two kinds of "GF2 granules"
which are being retailed; and nine kinds of products sold through mail-order, mostly
health foods such as "Diet & Collagen" or "Karadanabi Kassei Suppli" and so on. Further,
Fuji Foods Corp. has recalled a total of 12 products, nine kinds of kudzu yu (a hot
drink prepared from powdered starch of kudzu root) and three kinds of soy milk since
it purchases some of its raw materials from Meiji Food Materia Co., Ltd.
GM sugar beet cultivation to begin in US?
The cultivation of GM sugar beet is about to begin in the US, but in California and other
areas opposition is growing from family farms and environmental conservation organizations.
The variety to be planted is Monsanto's herbicide resistant sugar beet. Thus far, farmers
had been reluctant to plant because of the difficulties of selling the sugar produced from
the beet in European markets. However, since the recent boom in biofuels got under way,
the movement to use sugar beet as one of the raw materials has strengthened, and it is this
that has led to the decision to plant the GM beet. The pulp residue that remains after crushing
of the beet for the sugar (sugar beet pulp) is exported to Japan as animal feed, which means
that there will be no small effect on Japan of the introduction of GM sugar beet.
Hokkaido: Cross-fertilization found at 20 times the distances in MAFF guidelines
The results of a "cross-fertilization trial" carried out under Hokkaido's "Ordinance for
Prevention of Cross-fertilization Cultivation of GM Crops" were released on 13 February 2008.
Of the crops tested (rice, soybean, maize, sugar beet and rapeseed), cross-fertilization of
rice was confirmed at 600 m. The MAFF guideline for the buffer zone rice varieties is 30 m.
The unrealistic nature of the MAFF guidelines has been thrown into sharp focus. (More below)
Cross-fertilization by airborne pollen found at surprisingly large distances
According to Hokkaido's Ordinance for Prevention of Cross-fertilization Cultivation of
GM Crops, commercial planting of GM crops is banned in principle, trial cultivation is
allowed upon notification, in which case isolation buffer zones from conventional crops
on ordinary farmland are stipulated. The isolation buffer zone distances stipulated under
the Ordinance are quite severe, being at least twice those mentioned under MAFF guidelines.
For rice, for example, the MAFF guideline buffer zone distance is 30 m, but under Hokkaido's
Ordinance it is 300 m.
Hokkaido has carried out cross-fertilization trials for three years from FY 2006 to FY 2008
(See BJ April 2007
) in order to test whether the isolation
buffer zone distances stipulated in the Ordinance were meaningful or not. The results announced
on 13 February 2008 were the results for the trials in FY 2007.
The five crops covered by the trials were rice, soybean, maize, sugar beet and rapeseed. With regard
to rapeseed, only the kinds of insects that visited the flowers and the preventive effect of insect
nets were investigated. For soybeans, a similar investigation as that for rapeseed was carried out
in addition to the cross-fertilization trial. In the cross-fertilization trials, pollen collecting
pots were placed at various distances downwind, each grain being analysed after collection.
In the case of rice, since cross-fertilization had occurred in the FY 2006 trial at the maximum
distance stipulated in the Ordinance, 300 m, the trial was carried out using the distances of
450 m and 600 m in FY 2007. The result was that cross-fertilization occurred even at the 600 m distance.
Cross-fertilization was also found to occur for maize at the maximum distance of 1200 m, and at 990 m
for sugar beet.
As can be seen from the case of rice, it has been confirmed that airborne diffusion of pollen occurs
over surprisingly large distances. The view that the current buffer zone distances are insufficient
to prevent the occurrence of cross-fertilization is now becoming widespread.
|Table 1. Cross-fertilization Trial Results|
|Crop||Distance (m)||Cross-fertilization Rate|
|Source: Hokkaido Department of Agriculture, Food Safety Promotion Agency, Food Administration Section |
|Table 2. Isolation Buffer Zone Distances|
|MAFF Guideline |
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