From Bio Journal - August 2002
Monsanto's GM cotton deferred
On June 11, 2002, the Pharmaceutical Affairs and Food Sanitation Council at the Department of Food Safety, MHLW examined the assessments of three GM crops. Two GMO crops passed the assessment, an Aventis Crop Science Shionogi Ltd. herbicide tolerant GM soybean (A2704-12 and A5547-127), and a Dow Chemical Japan Ltd. GM corn (Maize Line 1507) that is both insect resistant (Bt. Cry1F) and herbicide (glufosinate) tolerant. However, a Monsanto Japan Ltd. insect resistant GM cotton (15985) was deferred. The main reason was that this particular GM cotton has not yet received approval in any other country. Monsanto's GM cotton approval will continue to be discussed by the Pharmaceutical Affairs and the Food Sanitation Council.
GM contamination in non-GM food
On June 21, 2002, the Department of Food Safety, Pharmaceutical and Food Safety Bureau, MHLW announced the result of their survey of GM food labelling in Japan. The Labelling Standard for Genetically Modified Foods
(pdf file) went into force on April 1, 2001 . The survey was conducted to check 73 products that contain soybean (including green soybeans and soybean sprouts) and corn as their main ingredients (ingredients that are ranked within the top 3 constituents in terms of weight, and account for 5 percent or more of the total). In addition, all the products surveyed are in the category of "non-GMO" with regards to the labelling regulation. The result showed an extremely high amount of GM contamination. The result of 26 corn products in particular proved that contamination is increasing rapidly, presumably in the cultivation fields by pollen and adventitious commingling during the distribution process. The result for corn products was: 10 products did not contain GM corn, and 10 were contained with GM corn. In 6 products it was not possible to complete the analysis since the products did not contain any GMO protein or DNA. The Bureau commented that the result of the survey showed there was no violation of current regulations, which applies only to foods that contain more than 5% GMO material.
Consumers dissatisfied with GM food labelling regulations
On July 5, 2002, the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications announced the result of its public opinion poll (a total of 1336 people surveyed) on food labelling. 81% (1082 respondents) answered that in order to avoid confusion there should not be two different ways of labelling non-GM food products, i.e. either as "this product is not GMO" or no label at all. 84% (1123) answered that labelling is needed if a product is derived from GMO crops even when the amount is very small. 76% (1020) answered that labelling is needed if a product is derived from GMO crops, whether it contains GMO material or not, e.g. edible oil and soy sauce. 80% of Japanese consumers demanded clearer and stricter GMO labelling.
Food Labelling Conference goes for full legal integration
The Round-Table Conference on the Food Labelling System, an informal round-table conference of the Director-General of the General Food Policy Bureau of MAFF and the Director of the Department of Food Safety, Pharmaceutical and Food Safety Bureau of MHLW has been established to consider a revision of the food labelling laws, representatives from the Cabinet Office and the Fair Trade Commission also participating. The aim of the conference appears to be a complete overhaul of the labelling laws, in which confidence has badly eroded, and full integration of the resulting laws into MHLW's Food Hygiene Law and MAFF's JAS (Japan Agricultural Standards -- the Law Concerning Standardization and Proper Labelling of Agricultural and Forestry Products). Substantive work on this will begin after the conference produces its report at the end of July.
MHLW completes clinical research guidelines on xenotransplantation
Guidelines for xenotransplantation of cells and organs from pigs and so on into humans have been completed by the MHLW research team headed by Hiroshi Yoshikura, Director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, and were submitted to the science and technology sub-committee of the MHLW's Health Sciences Council on 6 June. The guidelines define xenotransplantation as "the transplanting, embedding or injection into a human of living cells, tissue or organs originating from animals other than the human." Further, contact outside the body between human cells and so on with material originating from an animal other than the human, with subsequent return of the cells and so on to the human body are also covered in the guidelines. With reference to xenotransplantations, the danger of viruses present in the cells of animals hurdling the species barrier and causing novel infections in humans was pointed out, but with the completion of these guidelines full-scale clinical research is expected to get underway in Japan.
Abnormalities continue with somatic cell cloned cattle
MAFF has published material on the current state of cattle cloning showing that up to the end of March 2002, 293 head of somatic cell cloned cattle have been born. Figures for still birth and post-natal death continue to be high. Still births are said to be 50, immediate post-natal death 43, and subsequent death from illness 68. Currently surviving animals in research establishments are therefore a low 132 head. In these distressing circumstances, animals that develop normally are said to be very few, and a call for cessation of this R&D work is beginning to be heard from even among the researchers themselves. Not only does the use of this meat for human consumption requires strict safety evaluation, we can say that the whole rationale for somatic cell cloning of cattle is being brought into question.