From Bio Journal - April 2005

NIES publishes results on GM canola pollution

On 17 February 2005, the Ministry of Environment published a report, "Environmental impact monitoring regarding Genetically Modified Organisms (rapeseed)" written by NIES, which conducted the investigation under fiscal 2004 contract work with the Ministry. Areas around main import ports for western oil seed rape (canola) and riverside areas were investigated, and canola (B. napus) was found to be growing in some places. Among 27 samples, GM canola was detected in 11 samples. No GM canola was detected in two native rapeseed (Brassica rapa) and 15 brown mustard (Brassica juncea) from port areas, as well as 20 canola (Brassica napus) and 22 brown mustard (Brassica juncea) from riverside areas.

Codex Biotech Task Force re-opens in September

The Codex Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology will be re-opened in late September 2005, to develop standards for safety review of GM foods. Japan will be hosting the task force for four years just as the previous task force, which was held between 2000 and 2003. The potential areas for work are 1) Foods derived from animals (transgenic animals - including fish, cloned animals), 2) Foods derived from plants (plants expressing bioactive substances or nutritionally-enhanced plants, plants with "stacked genes", biopharming, plants expressing pharmaceutical or other non-food substance), 3) Low level presence of unauthorized genetically engineered foods in authorized foods, 4) Comparative food composition analysis.

MHLW says allergenic GM rice is a drug

On 14 February 2005, the MHLW articulated its opinion concerning the pollen allergy GM rice to MAFF by saying that the allergenic GM rice should be categorized as drug, and that the MHLW would not approve such GM rice as food. The MHLW repeated the opinion on the following day at the pollen allergy investigative commission under cross-ministry organization. MAFF, on the other hand, argued that the GM rice should be classified as a food. In the case of a food, commercialization is possible through a simple safety assessment, but for a drug, it is obligatory to go through three stages of animal testing and clinical testing, which would require considerably longer time for commercialization.

Tsukuba city to regulate GM crop cultivation

Tsukuba city in Ibaraki Prefecture is the centre of GM crop trials in Japan. In December 2003, a petition for demanding the restriction of GM crop cultivation was submitted, and adopted at the city council in March 2004. The city is currently working on formulating guidelines to regulate GM crop cultivation. On 23 February 2005, a public discussion meeting was held to discuss formulation of the guidelines. Researchers expressed their concern over R&D, and citizens demanded that prevention of natural crossbreeding, monitoring, and liability (compensatory responsibility) be specifically written into the guidelines. An agricultural producer said the city should make a strict regulatory bylaw rather than a guideline.

More food safety assessments for cloned cattle underway...

Food safety assessment tests are now underway for meat-producing cattle born from a somatic cell cloned bull (at Oita Prefecture Livestock Research Center) and dairy cattle born from a somatic cell cloned bull (at NLBC, the National Livestock Breeding Center). Tests for carcinogenic properties and effects on the immune system using mice have been underway at RIAS, the Research Institute for Animal Science in Biochemistry and Toxicology, since August 2004. The results of the tests are due to be submitted to the Food Safety Commission in 2007. (Nikkei Biotech 2005/02/14)

300,000 person gene bank to start distribution of blood and DNA samples

On 5 January 2005 the MEXT "Project to Actualize Order-made Medical Treatment", the main pillar of which is the 300,000 person gene bank (see BJ March 2004, and BJ October 2003), initiated the application procedures for approval to distribute blood plasma and DNA samples collected from 78,316 patients suffering from 46 diseases, with a focus on lifestyle-related diseases. The anonymous samples will be distributed to research institutes, including private establishments such as pharmaceutical manufacturers. The deliberations regarding the application will not be open to the general public. It looks as though blood and DNA samples collected from patients will be handed out to for-profit corporations free of charge.

Riken and National Research Institute of Police Science start joint research on DNA identification

On 26 January 2005, Riken (an Independent Administrative Institution under MEXT) and the Research Institute of Police Science of Japan signed a joint research contract for technical development of a DNA identification system. From Riken, researchers who are playing a central role in the 300,000 person gene bank project, such as Yuusuke Nakamura, Ohnishi Yohzoh, will take part in the joint project. Up to now the Research Institute of Police Science has used the repetition of specific bases on the DNA chain to make DNA identification assessments, but now, by introducing Riken's SNP sequencing technology, they would be able to upgrade their ability to narrow down identifications to specific individuals. The National Police Agency has made a database of data taken from crime scenes and a search/retrieval system for this database became operational on 17 December 2004. What is now under consideration is the formation of a database of DNA data taken directly from crime suspects.

Closeup: Bylaw regulating GM crop cultivation being debated in Hokkaido assembly

The draft bylaw regulating the cultivation of GM crops, the "Bylaw on prevention of crossbreeding etc. by cultivation etc. of GM crops in Hokkaido", which has been under consideration for some time (see BJ January 2005), was presented to the Hokkaido assembly on 23 February 2005. According to the draft bylaw, commercial cultivation of GM crops will require approval from the governor of Hokkaido, and farmers who plant without first receiving permission will be subject to "less than one year imprisonment or a fine of less than 500,000 yen". Field trials will require notification to the governor, and failure to notify will result in "a fine of less than 500,000 yen". The fine print will be developed as the assembly debates the draft bill and it is expected that the bill will pass the assembly in May or June this year.

On 17 and 18 February 2005, the Hokkaido No GM Rice Network and the No! GMO Campaign held a joint press conference, talks with the JA (Japan Agricultural Cooperatives), a public meeting, the presentation of a signature petition, and other events in Sapporo, administrative center of Hokkaido. A press conference by promoters of GM crops was scheduled to begin two hours before the joint press conference in a possible attempt to apply the brakes to the citizen's movements' activities.

Two JA organizations were involved in the talks; The Hokkaido Central Assembly of Agricultural Cooperatives, which oversees campaign activities, and Hokuren, which oversees distribution of farm produce. The citizen's movement representatives were interested to learn from a director of the Hokkaido Central Assembly of Agricultural Cooperatives, Norio Nagai, that the central board of directors had decided in November 2004 that their policy would be that GM crops should not be cultivated. The central board's decision contained the following four points: 1. Since consumer resistance is strong it was necessary to avoid losses due to consumer sentiment, 2. That cultivation of GM crops should be prevented, in line with the policy of the Hokkaido government, 3. Acceptance of GMO R&D in closed system facilities, and 4. Promotion of agriculture that will gain the understanding (acceptance) of consumers.

A petition containing 188,400 signatures of individuals was placed on a table at the public meeting. With 15,039 signatures that were submitted with the first petition the total number of signatures just topped the 200,000 mark at 203,3439. 54 organizations also signed up to the petition, in addition to the 504 that signed up to the first petition, to give a total of 556 organizations that have now signed up to the petitions.

When the petition was submitted to the Hokkaido government, Director of the Hokkaido Produce Safety Office of the Hokkaido Agricultural Policy Planning Department, Mr Shuji Azuma, revealed that if all continues to go well the new bylaw will come into effect on 1 January 2006. He also stated that the GM crop supporters were trying to water down the law by claiming that the penalty clauses were too severe, but that the clauses had been discussed with the Public Prosecutor's Office and there had been no problem. When the bylaw passes the Assembly it will be the first of its kind in Japan to regulate commercial cultivation and field trials of GM crops with punitive provisions.

In addition, the "Hokkaido Slow Food Friends Obihiro" held a symposium in Obihiro City (south central Hokkaido) on 27 February 2005, to which they invited Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food Movement and International President of Slow Food International. Speaking at the symposium, Mr Petrini called for solidarity in the opposition to GM food, which imposes on consumers a standardized food culture.

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