From Bio Journal - June 2004
The Situation with GM Wheat in North America (Part Two)
The situation in the USA
Compared with the situation in Canada, as related in the previous issue, where resistance to GM wheat is strong and there are sure to be many hiccups on the road to approval, the situation in the USA, where the Bush administration Secretary of Agriculture, Ann Veneman, is a former Monsanto executive, is that approval for GM wheat is practically assured.
Despite this, and because wheat is a staple food that is consumed on a daily basis, a different reaction to GM wheat is spreading around the country compared to the other GM crops that have been introduced thus far.
On 24 March 2004, our group traveled from Canada to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minneapolis is well known in food issue circles for being the place where the grain giant Cargill has its headquarters. As the leading grain merchant, Cargill controls much of the world's grain dealing. Cargill made its fortunes in wheat dealing, Minneapolis being in former days the focal point of the wheat trade in the USA. Granaries and flourmills lined the banks of the Mississippi River, as wheat transport used to take place by boat, only later to be replaced by railroad.
The largest exporters of wheat to Japan are North Dakota and Montana. In both cases the wheat is transported to the Pacific coast by railroad and then by ship to Japan. The relatively short distance to the Pacific coast is what gives these two states an advantage in the wheat trade with Asia.
On 25 March, after visiting the Mill City Museum in the morning, we paid a visit to IATP (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy; President, Mark Ritchie). In a discussion with Mark and the Institute's researcher on the GM wheat issue, Dennis Olson (Director, Trade and Agriculture Program), Dennis told us about developments at the federal and state level, and about the work that citizen groups are doing.
"We are working with wheat producers, and in North Dakota and Montana we have tried to introduce legislation to prevent the introduction of GM wheat, but have been unsuccessful. According to a study at Iowa State University, the introduction of GM wheat would result in a loss of export markets and a possible price drop of about 30 to 50%. The environmental assessment mandated under the federal Environmental Protection Law calls for an assessment of not only environmental impacts, but also social and economic impacts as well. We are now applying to the Department of Agriculture to have this carried out. If this comes about, it will take two to three years to complete and there will also have to be public hearings held on the issues."
Under the Bush administration, approval of GM wheat may be simply a matter of time, but if the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is carried out then the presidential election (November 2004) will be held before the GM wheat can be approved. If Bush fails to be re-elected then the situation becomes far more fluid. Democratic Party John Kerry has said that it is possible that an EIS could be carried out, and that also the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity might be ratified. For these reasons, citizen groups are paying close attention to the events surrounding the presidential election.
North Dakota State Government assumes GM wheat will be cultivated
On the afternoon of 25 March, the group traveled on to Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota. The capital is named after the famous Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor of Germany. It was given this name when the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad began in 1873, in the hope that investment and immigrants would be forthcoming from Germany, which they were, and now there are many descendants of German immigrants in North Dakota. Although it is the capital of North Dakota, Bismarck is a relatively small city of about 55,000 people.
We were met at Bismarck by the members of the Dakota Resource Council (DRC), who coordinated all our activities in Bismarck. DRC is a branch of WORC (Western Organization of Resource Councils), a group of seven such citizens groups. DRC, in turn, has seven branches active in North and South Dakota. WORC's activities are based on issues that arise from the local branches. At present, they are campaigning actively on four main issues, trade issues, reform of the livestock market, GE food, and energy issues. A preparatory meeting for the conference the following day was held with the DRC members.
At a breakfast meeting on 26 March, the Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson stated that, "The problem is one of the choice between scientific evaluation and the needs of our customers." The conference from 9 am to noon was attended by a large number of representatives from various organizations, probably from nearly every agriculture-related organization in the state, and also included the House of Representatives representative in person and a representative from the Senator's office. Many of those present were thought to consider the introduction of GM wheat as a given, such as the North Dakota Wheat Commission, although representatives from Monsanto and Syngenta, who were also due to attend, did not show up on the day.
Following a greeting by the Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson, a petition signed by Japanese consumer organizations was submitted and the views of Japanese consumers were explained. The Japanese group were introduced, and then all the American participants introduced themselves in turn. The stance of the North Dakota Department of Agriculture was then explained through a slide show. In the ensuing discussion, questions focused primarily on "what level of contamination would be acceptable" to Japanese consumers. We reiterated strongly that, "It is not possible to set a contamination rate, and therefore we ask you to completely refrain from the introduction of GM wheat." The change in the expression of the participants could be seen quite clearly. We felt that this reflected the fact that the discussion was based on the premise that GM wheat would be introduced, but that faced with the strong posture of resistance from Japanese consumers, the participants were at a loss to come up with a viable strategy for moving forward.
We would like to express our sincere gratitude for the help given to the group by the Council of Canadians in Canada and the Dakota Resource Council in the USA in arranging meetings and press conferences.
Note: On 10 May 2004, Monsanto announced that it was suspending development of its herbicide tolerant GM wheat variety.
Trend: GM crops field trials begin in various locations
In accordance with the domestic laws concerning biodiversity, which came into force in February this year, GM crops field trials for investigating ecological impact have began in several locations in Japan. Moreover, there have been some briefings held following the introduction of official guidelines concerning GM crop cultivation by MAFF's research institutions.
This year's field trials are different from past ones. The experimenters and the growers are not the same, and the same variety of GM potato (high-yield) will be tested in two different locations; one is in Tsukuba (ecological impact test) and the other is in West Tokyo City (basic test). Most of the planned field trials will be conducted in Ibaraki Prefecture, with some being carried out in Hiratsuka (Kanagawa Prefecture) and West Tokyo City. In Ushiku (Ibaraki Prefecture), large-scale GM maize trials will be conducted with 300 GM maize plants developed by Syngenta, and a further 100 GM maize plants developed by DuPont being tested there.
Recently, one of the planned GM potato trials in West Tokyo was called off. Mr. Ohsugi, the director of the University of Tokyo farm, was not able to answer questions regarding the GM potato at several briefings, twice at the University of Tokyo and once at the Tokyo metropolitan assembly. It seems that it is only Monsanto that did not hold any briefings regarding its GM crop field trails.
Table 1 Field trials of GM crops
Abbreviations and links:
The Japan Association for Advancement of Phyto-regulators
|Insect resistant GM maize||JAPR (Ushiku, Ibaraki)||Syngenta Seed|
|Herbicide tolerant GM cotton||Monsanto (Kawachi, Ibaraki)||Monsanto|
|Erect-leaved semidwarf GM rice||NIAES (Tsukuba, Ibaraki)||NIAS|
|Semidwarf GM rice||NIAES (Tsukuba, Ibaraki)||NIAS|
|Herbicide tolerant & insect resistant GM maize||NIAES (Tsukuba, Ibaraki)||NIAS|
|Herbicide tolerant & insect resistant GM maize||JAPR (Ushiku, Ibaraki)||DuPont|
|Tryptophan high-accumulation GM rice||NARC (Tsukuba, Ibaraki)||NICS|
|High-yield GM potato||NIAES (Tsukuba, Ibaraki)||NIAS|
|High-yield GM potato||Field Production Science Center in Graduate School of
Agricultural and Life Sciences in the University of Tokyo (West Tokyo, Tokyo) **Cancelled**|
|Cedar pollen allergenic GM rice||JA (Hiratsuka, Kanagawa)||NIAS|
National Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences
National Agricultural Research Center
National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences
National Institute of Crop Science
Field Production Science Center in Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences in the University of Tokyo
Closeup: National Institute of Animal Health (NIAH) Prion Disease Research Center Holds Open Day
On 29 April 2004, the first day of Golden Week (a week of national holidays in Japan from 29 April to 5 May), the National Institute of Animal Health (NIAH) Prion Disease Research Center (one section of the Independent Administrative Institution, The National Agriculture and Bio-Oriented Research Organization [NARO]) located in Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture, held an open day for local residents to inspect its newly-built Research Center. This was a very unusual case as it is almost totally unknown in Japan for a new research institute to open its doors to the general public in this way even before research work begins. The Center is the hub organization of the MAFF "Big Project" (began in 2003 and to run for five years) named "Technological Development to Control BSE and Other Animal Prion Diseases". The Center cost 7,100,000,000 yen to construct, the funds having been allocated in MAFF's second revised budget of 2001. The Director is Professor Morikazu Shinagawa, from Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine (Hokkaido), and the Center will be staffed by 17 researchers in four teams.
The most important feature of the Center is that large animals such as cattle can be raised in a level 3 facility. In this setting, research will be carried out with a view to artificially infecting animals with the abnormal prions in order to discover the mechanism of BSE occurrence, and to develop new diagnostic tools for the disease. The Center is housed in a 3 story steel-reinforced concrete building (one part below ground, total floor area 11,400 sq m), the first floor (ground level) being the research area, comprising of six rooms for large animals (for a total of 30 animals), 4 rooms for small and medium-sized animals (for a total of 32 animals), and five rooms for mice and so on (for a total of about 5,000 animals). The Center is segregated into laboratories for level 1 to level 4 research, depending on the degree of safety management required. Level 3 requires very strict measures such as air-locked entrances and exits, and requirements that personnel change all their clothing when entering the lab and shower when leaving. Air pressure in the labs is reduced so that air can only flow in from the outside, exhaust air being cleaned by a high-performance filter, and waste water being heat sterilized before being flushed from the lab. Further, dissected cadavers will all be incinerated within the facility. Nevertheless, however good the high-performance filters may be, one cannot completely rule out the possibility that abnormal prions may escape into the environment when air is flushed from the research labs. This point was brought up by Hideo Arai (former senior researcher at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases) at the question and answer session at the end of the inspection tour. He emphasized the need for environmental monitoring, but Director Shinagawa replied that monitoring was not necessary since the Center was being very thorough in the area of safety management.
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