From Bio Journal - December 2003

Iwate Prefecture announces that it will not commercialize GM rice

On 27 October 2003 a circular signed by the director of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Iwate Prefecture and entitled "Concerning the Genetic Engineering Research at Iwate Biotechnology Research Center" was sent to all administrative districts, cooperative unions and so on in the prefecture. The prefecture's position on GE research in general is that it will not carry out the development of GE (GM) foods. The position on the Iwate Biotechnology Research Center (an independent research establishment established in April 1992 with 100% funding from Iwate Prefecture) isolated fields trials for GE rice is that this rice variety will not be commercialized for food, and that the trials fields are 120 meters from ordinary rice fields and that therefore cross-pollination by wind-blown pollen will not occur. MORE...

Resolution opposing GM rice trials passed by Setana Town, Hokkaido

On 30 September, the town council of Setana Town, Hokkaido approved a statement opposing GM rice trials, which was subsequently forwarded to the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The statement criticizes the GM rice trials carried out at the Hokkaido Agricultural Research Center as "self-righteous," and calls on the Center to cease all GM rice trials immediately and not carry out trials on ordinary rice fields until it has gained the understanding of the population to do so.

Statement by Shimane Prefecture regarding GM melon

Shimane Prefecture has announced its position regarding research on the GM melon.

Regarding the development schedule, 2005 is the target for completion of safety trials in isolated fields and the start of human consumption safety trials, as set out in the "Plan for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Research" published by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Shimane Prefecture in March 2002.

Concerning the research, while stating that, "Melon is predominantly self-pollinating and the pollen will not spread far" it also states that, "Bees will be used to pollinating medium. The bees may enter and exit the greenhouses. They fly several kilometers," thus not denying the possibility of genetic pollution through the spread of pollen by the bees. The spread of pollen by insect pollination is not predictable.

Further, the statement says that since it is the flesh of the fruit that is eaten and not the seeds, even if cross-pollination occurs, "genetic pollution will not occur as the genes producing the first generation of fruit belong only to the seedling." Disregarding the fact that the concept of genetic pollution is used mistakenly here as genetic pollution refers to the spread of recombined genes through pollen, the statement that there is no problem with the fruit is a contentious issue. That the fruit is the product of the "seedling" is not problematic, but honorary professor of Tsukuba University, Hyoji Namai points out that there is a phenomenon known as metaxenia - the direct effect of the genes of the pollen source on the seed coat and fruit of the mother plant. It is true that there would be no recombined genes in the fruit, but it is possible for some effect of the recombined genes to be present.

Applications made to Food Safety Commission for two GM foods

On 30 October 2003, the section for health measures for newly developed foods of the MLHW Department of Food Safety submitted two GM foods and five GM food additives to the Food Safety Commission for safety review. The two foodstuffs were a second generation GM hybrid (GMO-GMO hybrid) of the two varieties of Monsanto insect-protected corn MON810 and MON863, and a Bayer CropScience herbicide tolerant cotton variety LL Cotton25. The specialist panel for GM foods of the Food Safety Commission is currently formulating standards for the safety review, and this is being watched closely to see what sort of criteria the panel will come up with for the safety review of GMO-GMO hybrids.

Entangled discussions over the handling of human embryo

Discussions concerning the handling of human embryo in the specialist panel on bioethics in the Council for Science and Technology Policy of the Cabinet Office are reaching their closing stages. The time limit is June 2004 since the Law Concerning Regulation Relating to Human Cloning Techniques and Other Similar Techniques stipulates that conclusions concerning the handling of fertilized human embryo must be reached within three years of its enforcement. An interim report due to be finalized at the meeting on 28 October 2003 had to be held over until the next meeting because differences of opinion between the panel members could not be resolved.

The draft report defines a human embryo as a transitory "germ of life," and confirms current arrangements for the handling of embryos. Concerning the production of cloned human embryos, the report simply states the two preferences for a continuation of the moratorium and for a lifting of the ban.

Many of the panelists have objected to this situation, which they characterize as one of deliberations being both too shallow and insufficient. In particular, Professor Susumu Shimazono of the Graduate School of Tokyo University has maintained a consistent posture of opposition. Prof. Shimazono states that, the report "does not touch on 'the use of human body as a tool or its industrialization' and stresses only its medical utility for research." He also refused to allow the inclusion of his contribution to the draft report, a section on religious viewpoints which he was asked to submit by the chairman of the panel Hiro'o Imura.

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