From Bio Journal - October 2003

GM crop R&D in Japan - Aichi pullback, Shimane starts trial on GM melon

There has been movement recently concerning R&D on GM crops by local authorities in Japan. Aichi prefecture, which formerly carried out joint R&D on a GM rice with Monsanto, has reduced its biotechnology related budget after terminating the GM rice project. Aichi spent 140,240,000 yen in 2001, and 154,650,000 yen in 2002, but in 2003 Aichi's biotech budget was 72,970,000 yen, which is half the previous year's. (Nikkei Biotech 2003/8/4)

Currently, Iwate Pref. and Shimane Pref. are the most active local authorities researching GMOs. Iwate has started a GM rice trial this year (See: BJ June 2003 & July 2003). People have been collecting signatures to halt the GE rice research, and there will be a nationwide gathering in Iwate scheduled for 28 November 2003.

In Shimane, the prefectural agriculture research center is conducting R&D on two types of GM melon. One is a fermentation-delayed melon and the other is a virus-resistant melon. These GM melons are being tested in a non-isolated greenhouse this year, and will undergo field trials next year.

The fermentation-delayed GM melon is designed to delay the natural decomposition of pyruvic acid in the fruit flesh into acetaldehyde and ethanol, which results in a strong smell and taste, by introduction of a pyruvic acid decarbonisation enzyme gene. The second GM melon is designed to be resistant against a melon gangrenous spot virus by introducing an anti-sense gene of the coat (tegument) protein of this virus.

Shimane's GM melon will be the third case of GM field trials in Japan conducted by a local authority following Aichi's GM rice and Iwate's GM rice.

Update on activities of the "Informal Council on Bio-crops"

As reported in the September 2003 issue, following the planting of GM soy in Yawara Village, Ibaraki Prefecture, it was also planted in Mizuho City, Gifu Prefecture, and Chuzu Town, Shiga Prefecture. In Mizuho City, the crop was voluntarily mowed on 2 August 2003 following a request by the Gifu prefectural government to do so. In Chuzu Town, the local agricultural co-operative, JA Ohmi Fuji, requested on 16 August 2003 that the crop be voluntarily mowed, adding that it had decided that in the event that the request was refused the union would not handle agricultural produce from Chuzu Town. The crop was mowed on 20 August following a request from the Shiga prefectural government. Further, on 19 August, the Governor of Shiga Prefecture, Yoshitsugu Kunimatsu announced that guidelines would be drawn up to ban the cultivation of GM crops in Shiga Prefecture.

Table 1: Areas planted to GM soy by "Informal Council on Bio-crops"
2001ha. 2002ha. 2003ha.
Fujishima T., Yamagata P.


Kitami C., Hokkaido


Yawara V., Ibaraki P.


Hotaka T., Nagano P.


Yawara V., Ibaraki P.


Mizuho C., Gifu P.


Kashiwazaki C., Niigata P.


Shintone T., Ibaraki P.


Chuzu T., Siga P.


Koshiji T., Niigata P.


Fukui C., Fukui P.


Shimo V., Toyama P.


Takatsuki T., Shiga P.


Takefu C., Fukui P.


Sikano T., Tottori P.


Matsutoh C., Ishikawa P.


Ohkawa C., Fukuoka P.


Miyazaki C., Miyazaki P.


P. = Prefecture, C. = City, T. = Town, V. = Village

GM natto sales postponed

Fusao Tomita, a former professor of Hokkaido University, together with others has set up a venture enterprise called A-HIT Bio in order to start selling GM natto named "Natto no Susume" manufactured using more than 95% Monsanto Roundup Ready soybeans as the main ingredient (see: BJ August 2003). The product has been available through mail order since July 2003, but given strong consumer rejection of GM food, natto makers have refused to manufacture the product, and the enterprise has suddenly taken the decision to manufacture the product by itself. (Nikkei Biotech 2003/09/01)

Ethics workgroup set up for 300,000 people gene bank

On 5 August 2003, an ELSI workgroup to consider ethical, legal, and social implications was established within the "program for a bank of genetic information from 300,000 people", the national project which MEXT is promoting with a 20,000,000,000 yen budget (see BJ August 2003). The five members of the workgroup are Kazuto Katoh (Professor of the Institute for Research in Humanities of Kyoto University), Yutaka Hishiyama (Professor of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies), Eiji Maruyama (Professor of the Kobe University Graduate School of Law), Mitsuru Miyata, Director of the Nikkei BP Emerging Technology Information Center), and Kaori Mutoh (Lecturer of the School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Shinshu University). On 8 August, immediately after the establishment of the workgroup, it sent a recommendation to one of the medical institutions involved in the program, the Dental Hospital affiliated to the Dental College of the Matsudo Campus of Nippon University, concerning a defect in the procedures in the intramural ethics committee.

What the working group should really be turning its attention to is the way this program was set up through secret talks between the Cabinet Office Council For Science and Technology Policy and MEXT without any opportunity for discussion involving the Japanese public.

Closeup: Second-generation GM Hybrids (hybrid crop varieties produced by crossbreeding two GM crop varieties)

On 27 June 2003, the food sanitation sub-committee of the MHLW Pharmaceutical Affairs and Food Sanitation Council approved a large number of GM foods and additives by announcing that "their safety has been confirmed". As the deliberations move to the new Food Safety Commission on 1 July 2003, this is clearly a last-minute rush of approvals.

Among the approvals, for the first time, were six plant varieties produced by crossbreeding between two GM crop varieties. This approval of second-generation GM hybrids is not only the first in Japan, but is so far unknown in the whole world.

At first MHLW had demanded that second-generation GM hybrids not be allowed to undergo the simplified safety review procedure, but should be subject to a completely new assessment starting from scratch.

Subsequently, MHLW shifted its stance to say that the safety review could be simplified if various conditions were met, e.g. when one of the varieties was a GM variety and the other a conventional variety, and when the safety of the parent variety had been confirmed and "if there was no change in the new trait acquired through recombinant DNA technology." Further, the stance was also shifted to include cases where both parent plants were GM crops, in which case the review procedure could be simplified under the same conditions.

All of the varieties approved on 27 June were derived from crosses between parents with herbicide tolerance and insecticidal ability to give a resulting second generation variety expressing both traits.

On 1 August 2003, applications for two further second-generation GM hybrids were submitted to the Food Safety Commission. One of the varieties was a cross between parent varieties which both contained traits for herbicide tolerance and insecticidal ability. The other was a cross between a Dow Chemical variety containing traits for herbicide tolerance and insecticidal ability and a Monsanto variety containing a herbicide tolerance trait. All of these applications are for second-generation GM varieties whose possibilities for a successful crossbreed are extremely thin.

Currently, unintentional second-generation GM hybrids are appearing more and more frequently due to hybridization caused by wind distribution of pollen and so on. It is quite possible that these will enter Japan as unapproved varieties, and since a 0% tolerance level is being requested for contamination by unapproved varieties, shipments may be returned to the exporting country if such contamination is detected. The sudden rush for approval of second-generation GM varieties is thought to be a strategy designed to avoid such occurrences.

Table 2:
Combinations of parent varieties of the second-generation GM hybrids approved on 27 June
Monsanto h-t (GA21) × Monsanto i-p (MON810)maize
Monsanto h-t (NK603) × Monsanto i-p (MON810)maize
Monsanto h-t (NK603) × Monsanto i-p (MON863)maize
Monsanto h-t (1445) × Monsanto i-p (15985)cotton
Monsanto h-t (1445) × Monsanto i-p (531)cotton
BCS h-t (T25) × Monsanto i-p (MON810)maize (application submitted by DuPont)
Abbreviations: h-t=herbicide-tolerant, i-p=insect-protected, BCS=Bayer CropScience AG

Table 3:
Combinations of parent varieties of the second-generation GM hybrids for applications made on 1 August
DC h-t + i-p (281) × DC h-t + i-p (3006)cotton (both varieties are unapproved)
DC h-t + i-p (1507) × Monsanto i-p (MON810)maize
Abbreviations: h-t=herbicide-tolerant, i-p=insect-protected, DC=Dow Chemical

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