From Bio Journal - September 2001

GM Rice - The Main Market will be Asia

The day when GM rice enters the world market is expected to be soon. There are many GM rice varieties that have been approved for field cultivation and also for import to Japan by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). It is thought that applications for 11 GM rice varieties for human consumption will be presented to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. These are 6 varieties of Monsanto's herbicide tolerant California Rice, 2 varieties of Aventis' herbicide tolerant rice (also known as LibertyLink Rice), Orynova's low gluten "Koshihikari" rice (for Sake brewing), and a rice stripe tenuivirus tolerant "Kinuhikari" rice developed in a joint project between MAFF and Mitsubishi Chemical, as well as a herbicide tolerant "Matsuribare" rice developed in a joint project between Monsanto and Aichi-ken Agricultural Research Center.

Up to now the Japanese government has approved many GMOs such as GM soya, GM canola and GM maize for food (mostly for food oil use) and feed, but since the self-sufficiency for such crops is very low, it has been possible to avoid the cultivation of such crops inside Japan. However if GM rice varieties are approved, it will be very difficult to prevent domestic cultivation from taking place, since rice is a staple food of the Japanese and Japan's self-sufficiency in rice is very high.

There are already more than 200 GM rice varieties that have been developed by transnational agro-corporations (TNCs) in the US. Their plan is to sell GM rice to Asian countries. In Japan, MAFF and corporations are on the march to develop further GM rice varieties. We suspect that the first GM rice varieties will be the herbicide tolerant rice, vitamin A enhanced "Golden Rice" and bacterial blight rice (often called BB Rice). The MAFF's R&D body is taking an active part in the development of these GM rice varieties.

Monsanto's preferred GM rice option is Koshihikari?

Monsanto together with Aichi-ken Agricultural Research Center are developing a herbicide tolerant japonica rice "Matsuribare". The reason is that the herbicide RoundUp is not effective in paddy field rice farming, which is the common rice farming method in Japan. Matsuribare, however, can be grown by dry-field farming (known as the "Aichi method"). In recent years, Koshihikari rice cultivation is becoming more popular than Matsuribare in Aichi prefecture, so it seems that Monsanto is moving towards Koshihikari. In the US, Monsanto has acquired Agracetus, which developed herbicide tolerant Koshihikari rice.

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