From Bio Journal - March 2003

Somatic Cell Cloned Beef for Human Consumption

It has now become a strong possibility that somatic cell cloned beef will be allowed to enter the human food chain in Japan this spring. The basis for this is the report published by MAFF (see the October 2002 issue - article not translated into English), which stated that "cloned beef is safe to eat." However, according to the MAFF publication "Current State of Research in Livestock Cloning", as of the end of September 2001, of 318 somatic cell cloned cattle born, still births were 55, immediate post-natal deaths 43, subsequent deaths from illness 52 and accidental deaths 27. That leaves few currently surviving animals being raised or experimented on in research establishments.

With respect to the large number of abnormally early deaths from still births, immediate post-natal deaths, and subsequent illness, it cannot be said that the causes of death have been fully clarified. As reported in the November 200 issue (not translated) the research team at the Center for Genome Research at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, has reported multiple irregularities in the genomes of somatic sell cloned mice. The short lifespan of such animals is also underlined by the death of Dolly the cloned sheep on 14 February 2003, at six years of age - approximately half of the normal lifespan for a sheep.

Further, the British scientist Richard Gardner has also pointed out that the mother of a somatic cell cloned animal is more likely to suffer cancer of the womb (June 2002 issue - not translated). The birth of cloned humans has been in the news recently, but the risk is not simply to the baby born.

If the numbers of cloned cattle are allowed to increase in this manner, the number of cattle which are biologically weak and liable to illness will increase. Further, how can it be said to be safe to release milk and meat from cloned cattle to consumers before the problems have been properly clarified? It seems as if the government is determined to push for human consumption of cloned animal products while many doubts still remain.

Links to information relevant to this article

Richard Gardner ... an interview with Richard Gardner

Death of Dolly the sheep

Center for Genome Research at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

Increased inflow of GM crops into Japan

Since the GMO cultivation acreage has increased among the countries which Japan is depends on for food, the amount of GMO on our dinner table has increased. For example, GM maize has increased 3%, GM soybeans and GM canola have increased by more than 5%. The half of food oils in Japan might have been produced using GM crops. The only comfort is that the self-sufficiency rate of soybeans has been increasing.

Table 1: GM crops cultivation acreage ratio (%)
GM maize (US)33252634
GM soybean (US)57526875
GM canola (Canada)50556164
GM cotton (Australia)152742?
GM potato (US & Canada)4110

Table 2: GMO derived food on the table ratio (%)
 2002 GMO
acreage %
% Import into
Japan, 2001
Self-sufficiency in
Japan, 2001, %
Maize (US)34From US:
Soybean (US)75From US:
Canola (Canada)64From Can:
Cotton (Australia)42*From Aus:
* 2001 acreage

GM cyclamen developed by Hokko Chemical

Hokko Chemical Industry has manipulated the pigment gene of cyclamen and has developed GM cyclamen with different colours. The colours are white, red, pink and a mixture of red and white. Currently, Nara prefecture Agriculture Technology Centre, Izumi Nohen, Suntory and a Kagawa University Research team are breeding cyclamen by using genetic manipulation to produce disease- resistant and heat resistant cyclamen. Suntory's GM blue carnation has become a hit, and therefore the development of GM flowers has speeded-up.

Unstoppable StarLink contamination

On 27 December 2002, MHLW confirmed that contamination by the controversial StarLink corn, which is not approved in Japan, was discovered again at Nagoya port during its regular inspection. MHLW ordered disposal or reshipment of the contaminated corn for cornstarch production from US.

In Japan, it is not permitted to use unapproved GMOs for food. However since the guideline was amended last year, less than 1% contamination is accepted for feed use. Thus if the StarLink contamination is less than 1%, the above measures will not be taken by the government in future.

According to MAFF, the StarLink contamination ratios were; 66.7% in the first half of 2000, 47.2% in the second half of 2000, 15.0% in the first half of 2001, 11.1% in the second half of 2001, and 10.0% in the first half of 2002. The StarLink contamination is still continuing.

Side-effects of gene therapy force temporary suspension of program

The 12th meeting of the science and technology sub-committee of MHLW's Health Sciences Council was held on 29 January 2003 and hear a report on the result of deliberations that have taken place in the gene therapy working committee. Based on the fact that two patients have developed leukemia as a result of the gene therapy carried out in France against the X-SCID* disorder (see January 2003 issue), it was decided to suspend temporarily all gene therapy using retrovirus vectors in Japan, whether planned or in progress. Institutions affected by the temporary suspension are Tohoku University Hospital, Hokkaido University Hospital, the hospital of the Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research. The Tohoku University Hospital was due to carry out gene therapy using exactly the same vector as that used in the problematic therapy in France. For some time, there have been doubts about the effectiveness of gene therapy, and now since it seems that its safety has now been shaken it is perhaps time for a thorough-going review of this medical application of biotechnology.

* X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency (XSCID or X-SCID)

Links to information relevant to this article

Gene Therapy Advisory Committee (GTAC)

National Human Genome Research Institute

Preparing the ground for the lifting of the ban on human cloning?

The 5th plenary meeting of the Society for the Support of Self-determination in Pregnancy and Birth* was held at Yotsuya in central Tokyo on 2nd February 2003. (*A direct translation of the organization's Japanese name. The organization also uses the English anagram "FROM", which stands for "Fertility Rights of Mothers")

This society is a not-for-profit organization founded in 2001 for the purpose of solving various problems of infertility treatments through the self-determination of the people involved, and is made up largely of gynecologists and lawyers. The chairman is the honorary professor of Keio University, Rihachi Iitsuka, and one of the officials of the organization is Yahiro Nezu (Director of Suwa Maternity Clinic) who was expelled from the Academic Association of Gynecology of Japan for going ahead with the first Japanese IVF (in vitro fertilization) to use a third-party donated ovum.

One of the themes of the recent meeting was the issue of cloning, and a panel discussion entitled "Thinking about cloning technology as an infertility treatment" was held. As can be seen from the statement of the discussion facilitator that, "This is a session to discuss whether or not it (cloning) really is not acceptable, even though it is illegal in Japan at present," it does seem that there is more than a hint that the ground is being prepared for the lifting of the ban on human cloning. "Birth of the world's first clone baby" was an important news topic at the end of last year, and now it seems that the discussion has started in Japan for the production of individual cloned humans under the rubric of infertility treatment.

MLHW solicits public comments on reproductive assistance medicine

The sub-committee on reproductive assistance medicine (under the MHLW's Health Sciences Council) which is preparing standards for infertility treatments, has published its findings and called for public comment during the approximately two weeks from 14 to 31 January 2003. Despite the short period for comments, a total of 51 comments were received; 44 from individuals and 7 from organizations. These comments were appended to the materials circulated at the 23rd committee meeting held on 6 February 2003, and apart from a brief explanation from the secretariat, that was that. There was simply a statement from the committee chairperson that "committee members should use them for reference in the upcoming discussions". It is all very nice for public comments to be solicited in the process of policy making, however their handling this time can only be described as extremely shabby. The sub-committee is due to complete its deliberations by the end of March.

Closeup: GM crops acreage in 2002

On 15 Jan. 2003, International Services for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) announced the global GM crops acreage in 2002. According to the announcement, GM crop acreage reached 58.7 million hectares globally in 2002, 6.1 million hectares more compared to the previous year.

The major countries of GM crop cultivation are US (66%), Argentina (23%), Canada (6%) and China (4%), however India, Colombia and Honduras have started cultivation this year. The major GM crops are commercial crops; soybeans (62%), maize (21%), cotton (12%) and canola (5%). There is only one type of GM soybean existing and that is Monsanto's herbicide-resistant variety. Monsanto also monopolizes the GM cotton market. In China, cultivation acreage of GM cotton exceeded half of the total cotton acreage. 75% of those GM crops have a herbicide resistant trait, 17% have an insect resistant trait, and 8% have both herbicide and insect resistant traits. Almost none of the so-called second-generation of GMOs, which are supposed to have some consumer benefits, have been developed yet.

ISAAA (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications)

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