From Bio Journal - December 2002
Commercialisation of GM wheat?
On Oct. 9, 2002, Monsanto's Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Dr. Robert T. Fraley told a press conference in Japan that Monsanto is on the way to submitting an application for its RoundUp Ready wheat both to the USDA and to the FDA before the year end, in order to gain commercial approval for its GM wheat. (Nikkei Biotech 2002/10/21)
Monsanto's plan to start marketing its GM wheat in the US by the year 2005 does not seem to have changed. They have already established an Advisory Committee, created by wheat related companies in June, 2001, aiming towards the marketing of GM wheat. In Japan, Monsanto has been conducting field trials of GM wheat in Hokkaido. Presumably, they will begin the commercialization process in Japan as soon as the US approvals have been given.
Wheat is the staple crop for many nations of the world, and a far more hostile reaction against GM wheat than against other GE crops thus far can be expected.
GM contamination in organic soy products occurred in factories
MAFF's General Food Policy Bureau has carried out inspections of the manufacturers' factories after suspicion of infringement of the JAS organic food production and labelling regulations. (See: GM soy detected in organic food)
MAFF announced after inspecting the factories that the commingling of GM soybeans into the organic and conventional soy products might have happened at the factories. MAFF has pointed out that two of the factories, Ohtaya (Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo) and Marusho-shoten (Machida City, Tokyo), have infringed the JAS law by labelling their conventional soy products as organic. Other producers' cases were treated as "unintended contamination", and no further investigation has taken place.
MAFF's new GM feed safety law
MAFF announced that its GM feed safety guideline will be tightened by issuing a new "Feed Safety Ministerial Ordinance" in 2002 as a step towards enforcement of the new law, which will come into force in 2003. The current guideline is only a theoretical regulation, which is a notice-based system, with no penalties involved. MHLW has already established a new law concerning the safety assessment, so this MAFF move is simply following in the MHLW's footsteps. However, the content of the new law is similar to the current guideline, and also allows up to 1 percent of unapproved GMOs in feed grains, thus taking into consideration the concerns of the feed industry.
Unapproved cultivation of GE corn at Tsukuba University
An unapproved cultivation of a GE corn is now known to have taken place at a field of the Tsukuba University Genetic Research Center. The variety was a Swiss company Syngenta GE corn Event 176, which contains genes for Basta herbicide tolerance and pest resistance. The variety has been approved for import as food and animal feed, but has not yet been approved for cultivation in Japan.
(Nihon Nougyou Shinbun [Japan Agricultural Newspaper], 6th November 2002, and others)
Biotechnology Strategy Council issues interim report
The Biotechnology Strategy Council, set up by the Japanese government to formulate an overall strategy for the biotechnology field at the state level, released its interim report on 18th October.
The report encourages further development in biotechnology saying that the domestic biotechnology market will grow to 25 trillion yen in 2010 from 1.3 trillion yen in 2001. The report gives concrete strategies for everything from basic research to biotechnology industrialization, the soliciting of the understanding of consumers, and so on. The Biotechnology Strategy Guidelines are due to be compiled by the end of this year (2002).
Disagreement over handling of deceased fetuses at MLHW
A meeting of the specialist sub-committee (under the MHLW's Health Sciences Council) considering clinical research using human stem cells, and which is preparing guidelines for clinical applications in regenerative medicine, was held on 31st October to go through the draft guidelines item by item. The work was going smoothly and without any particular problem until the committee reached the item on the sampling of human stem cells and so on and deliberations stopped dead when it became necessary to consider what to do with cells from deceased fetuses. Such cells are currently being used in research in Japan, but this is the first time that public discussion has occurred in Japan concerning their use. Unable to reach agreement, the committee decided to postpone decision on the matter to the following or later meeting when it would be determined whether to include the matter in the guidelines or create a supplementary provision for it.
MEXT moves towards approval of research on human ES cells
The 12th meeting of the specialist committee on research into embryos and human ES cells (a consultative body of MEXT) took place on 11th October, and the application of Keio University Faculty of Medicine's human ES cell utilization program was approved. Under the program, human ES cells imported from the USA and other countries will be used to produce neural stem cells, genetic engineering (recombination) being used to measure the efficiency of induction of differentiation. The inserted gene will be one of those concerned with differentiation in neural cells, such as Sox2. Two further applications from Tokyo University Institute of Medical Research and Tokyo University Faculty of Medicine for human ES cell utilization programs were also approved on the same day, bringing the number of such programs approved thus far to five.