From Bio Journal - January 2005

New developments in GM soybean cultivation in Hokkaido

The possibility of GM soybean cultivation is becoming stronger in Hokkaido. The first to indicate an intention to cultivate GM soybeans, Yoshimasa Miyai of Seinan Farm in Naganuma Town, has announced cancellation of the cultivation, but there are several other farmers which have shown interest in cultivation of GM soybeans (see below and BJ December 2004). The identity of one of those farmers has come to light.

At the beginning of December 2004, a farmer in Tokachi who farms potatoes on 80 hectares of land announced that he is planning to cultivate GM soybeans, as a way of preventing problems caused by continuous monocropping, at the same time that Monsanto-Japan's briefing is held in Tokachi. The farmer intends to purchase the GM soybean seed directly from Monsanto's HQ in the US, and sow the GM seeds on 5-10 hectares in the spring, marketing the product directly without involving Japanese agricultural cooperatives.

In mid-November 2004, Hokkaido presented proposals for a "Food Safety and Security Bylaw" (tentative title) and a "Bylaw on GM Crops" (tentative title). These bylaws will come into effect at the earliest in Autumn 2005, therefore in the meantime GM crop cultivation will be regulated by rather weak guidelines, thus leaving an interval during which the GM soybeans can be cultivated. There are a few other farmers who are planning to cultivate the GM soybean. (*Additional information: On December 8, the Tokachi farmer cancelled the cultivation.)
(Hokkaido Shinbun 2004/12/06)

Monsanto plans trials for GM lawn in Japan

On 2 December 2004, Monsanto-US announced that it will start open-air field trials of its GM lawn at a Monsanto trial field in Kawachi, Ibaraki Prefecture. If approved, it will be the first non-food GM crop in Japan.
(Japan Agriculture News 2004/12/03)

MAFF approves six new GM crops

On December 10, 2004, a plenary meeting of the Biodiversity Impact Assessment Commission was held and 6 varieties of iron-deficiency tolerant GM rice developed by Tohoku University were approved. Monsanto's herbicide resistant GM soybean will be carried over to the next session. A report on the GM soybean from the subcommittee concluded finally that the GM soybean has no impact on biodiversity However, the report pointed out a possible crossing with wild soybean, and thus a need for environmental monitoring.

Lifting of ban on sale of somatic cell cloned beef postponed

On 2 December 2004, MAFF postponed the decision to allow the sale of somatic cell cloned beef for human consumption (see BJ Feb 2004). The reason for the postponement was that there was not yet sufficient safety data concerning the cattle which have been produced using the sperm from cloned bulls. MAFF now intends to collect the necessary data over the next two years before making a proposal to the Food Safety Commission, thus putting off the lifting of the ban on the sale of the beef until 2007 or later. (Kyodo Tsushin 2004/12/3)

Data for somatic cell cloned beef had been announced prior to this, on 18 November 2004, but it was clear that abnormalities are still very frequent. Further, 81 somatic cell cloned pigs have also been produced and it is possible that the ban on the sale of the pork from these pigs will be lifted at the same time as the ban on the beef is lifted.

Table 1: State of Livestock Clone Research in Japan
(as of 30 September 2004)
Germ-line clone cattleTotal Number of Births691
In research facilities, testing55
Being raised on farms6
Post-natal death30
Death from sickness, etc98
Meat production286
In uterus3
Somatic cell clone cattleTotal Number of Births425
In research facilities, testing112
Post-natal death66
Death from sickness, etc89
Death from other causes93
In uterus34
Somatic cell clone pigsTotal Number of Births81
In uterus8
Somatic cell clone goatsTotal Number of Births5
In uterus1

Strong opposition to enactment of personal genetic data law

The tri-ministry (MEXT - Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, MHLW - Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare), and METI - Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) joint committee looking into the handling of genetic data (see BJ Dec 2004) met on 25 November 2004 to discuss the personal genetic data protection law. The revised version of the human genome ethical guidelines is due to be publicized in December 2004, and just as the discussions leading up to enactment of the new law look set to get seriously under way, it looks as if there are storm clouds gathering up ahead. In the memo setting out the arguments for and against, prepared by the committee secretariat, the following kinds of arguments against were put forward by committee members: "Legal enactment is premature," "A wait-and-see posture using guidelines is appropriate," "This will put the brakes on research," and so on. The final deadline for the conclusion is 1 April 2005, when the Law on Protection of Personal Data comes fully into force, but the possibility is now strong that the committee will disband after fudging the issue and making do with the revised guidelines.

Closeup: Update on Hokkaido bylaw on GM crop cultivation

The final stages are being reached in the establishment of a new bylaw in Hokkaido to regulate the cultivation of GM crops (see above and BJ Closeup Dec 2004). As reported in the previous issue (BJ December 2004), the complete draft bylaw was presented at the final meeting of the investigative panel. It was originally intended for inclusion in an overall bylaw, tentatively entitled the "Food Safety and Security Bylaw", but will now become a separate bylaw tentatively entitled the "Bylaw covering GM Crop Cultivation and so on".

In the draft bylaw, there are punishment clauses concerning commercial planting, but the detailed contents have not been made clear. Cultivation trials are permitted in principle, the previously stated "assessment committee" having been abandoned, applications would now be made to a specialist panel who will judge each case and then report to the "Food Safety and Security Committee". This committee is a pro forma body which will meet only about three times a year and which is very unlikely to reject any decision by the specialist panel. One of the most watered down points is that provided certain conditions are met it will be possible to carry out trials of GM crops on ordinary farmland.

The draft was published and public comments were solicited up to 25 December 2004. The draft bylaw will be finalized by the middle of January 2005 and forwarded to the legal committee for discussion in early February. If the draft passes this committee without any problems, it will be discussed at the regular session of the Hokkaido assembly, which opens in late February. At the same time, deliberations will take place to formulate the detailed contents of the clauses. The plan is to have the bylaw come into effect on 1 October 2005, and until that time the rather ineffective "guidelines" will be used to regulate GM cultivations.

After the bylaw comes into force, commercial cultivation of GM crops will be banned in principle, and because there will be punishment clauses for any cultivations carried out without permission, Hokkaido government should be aware of all planned and actual cultivations taking place. However, it appears that several loopholes exist.

The purpose of the bylaw is to prevent cross-breeding and contamination of conventional crops, not to regulate the actual cultivation and distribution of GM crops. Thus, provided certain conditions are fulfilled, greenhouse (hothouse) cultivations fall outside the regulatory scope of the bylaw. For example, cases such as cultivations carried out with the support of corporations in large-scale farm factories would not be regulated under the bylaw.

Further, concerning GM trials on ordinary farmland, provided the application procedures are carried out, as far as the Hokkaido government is concerned permission must be granted. For example, regulation would be problematical in the case that a biotech corporation like Monsanto and so on were to rent farmland for agricultural trials.

On these points, the Director of the Hokkaido produce safety office of the Hokkaido Agricultural Policy Planning Department, Mr Shuji Azuma, stated that, "There is a limit to the regulation that the administration can implement, and in the final analysis probably the only power that can regulate the cultivation of GM crops is coordination between agricultural producers and consumers."

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