From Bio Journal - June 2005

Trend - EU imposes de facto ban on GM maize from US

On April 15, 2005, the European Commission took a measure to ban the import of GM maize from the US unless no contamination of unapproved GM maize, Syngenta's Bt10, is guaranteed.

In the meantime, the Japanese MAFF expressed its opinion on Bt10 by comparing it with the already approved Bt11, which has the same insecticide-producing gene, saying "there is no problem with its safety" and also "there will not be much impact since the cultivation acreage was small".

On April 27, MAFF and MHLW answered a questionnaire written by the NO! GMO Campaign regarding Bt10. Their answers were; 1) Syngenta has apologized, 2) we do not have the ability to conduct tests, and therefore no test has been carried out, 3) we have demanded that the US and Syngenta conduct investigations before shipment, 4) we have demanded that Syngenta conduct a safety assessment for the Japanese government.

Due to the Japanese government's decision not to impose an import ban on GM maize from the US, there is a high possibility that Bt10 is still coming into Japan.

MAFF reviews GM rice inter-crossing distance

On 12April 2005, MAFF indicated in accordance with the domestic Cartagena Law - Law Concerning the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biological Diversity through Regulations on the Use of Living Modified Organisms (Law No. 97 of 2003) - that GM rice should be cultivated more than 26 metres away from other rice for the purpose of field trials, and also the timing of ear emergence should be more than two weeks from that of other rice. This review was made as a result of the field test conducted at the National Agricultural Research Center for the Tohoku Region in 2004. The result showed that crossing has occurred at distances up to 25.5 meters downwind.

Illegal GM mouse sold

On 20 April 2005, MAFF demanded suspension of breeding and sales of a GM mouse containing a monkey poliovirus receptor (PVR) gene illegally bred and distributed by the Experimental Animal Central Research Institute Foundation in Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture (just south of Tokyo), which had not registered the animal under the domestic Cartagena Protocol laws, and ordered the Foundation to submit a report outlining prevention of similar occurrences in the future and so on. It seems that the Research Institute had completely failed to be aware of its responsibilities under the law. Their largest customer was the NIID National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

Citizen's groups release statement on illegal mouse

The Civil Rights Campaigns against the Wrong Location of the Japanese National Institute of Health (JNIH) - (Yoken-saiban, JNIH was renamed the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) in 1997)@and the Citizen's Centre for the Prevention Biohazards have released a joint statement regarding the case (above) of the illegal mouse being used for experiments at the NIID National Institute of Infectious Diseases. In the statement, the groups state that although the illegal action of national research institutes constitutes a criminal act, the NIID National Institute of Infectious Diseases has always been an institute that ignores or has disregard for the law, and that if the mouse escapes into the environment there is a danger of the spread of the virus.

MLHW opens new research lab

In April 2005, in accordance with the restructuring of the national testing research laboratories that the MLHW has been working on since 1995, an independent administrative entity NiBio, National Institute of Biomedical Innovation, has opened in Saito International Culture Park, Ibaraki City, Osaka Prefecture. The staff will consist of 95 people and the general account budget will be 11.6 billion yen (approx US$110 million). With the Osaka Branch of the National Institute of Health Sciences as the base organization, many basic research divisions from all over Japan will be transferred to the new institute. Among the main departments to be transferred will be the three departments, gene bank (Division of Genetic Resources), development of experimental animals, and the Primate Center for Medical Science experimental animal centre from the NIID National Institute of Infectious Diseases, and the two divisions, cell bank, research centre for medicinal plant resources of the National Institute of Health Sciences. The intent appears to be that in the future the cooperation between the players in the industry-bureaucracy-academia nexus/complex will be strengthened and that together with basic research in drug development, the amassing of cells and genes will be carried out.

Non-approved GM rice cultivated and distributed in China

Discovery of the illegal rice

A press conference was held in Beijing by Greenpeace on 13 April 2005, at which it was announced that a non-approved GM rice variety had been cultivated and distributed in China, and may have been exported to other countries, such as Japan. Greenpeace requested that the Chinese government immediately recall the rice and investigate how the rice could have been distributed and the extent of genetic pollution.

The Chinese government finally promised that it would undertake an investigation based on the "Agricultural GMO Safety Law" promulgated by the State Council of China on 23 May 2001. On the basis of this law China has, on 5 January 2002, established the three guidelines, "Agricultural GMO Biosafety Assessment Management Guidelines", "Agricultural GMO Import Safety Management Guidelines", "Agricultural GMO Labelling Management Guidelines", which came into force on 20 March 2002.

The existence of the illegal rice variety was discovered by an Internet search. Using "insect pest counter-measure" as the keyword to find data on rice varieties, Greenpeace China found that a suspicious-looking variety known as Shanyou63 was on sale in Hubei Province. They immediately visited Hubei Province Agricultural Promotion Dept and bought Shanyou63 seeds, but found that there was no label to identify the variety as a GMO rice and that it had been sold to farmers without making it clear that it was GMO. The Agricultural Promotion Dept is an organization under the jurisdiction of the Chinese government, roughly the equivalent of the Japanese Agricultural Co-operatives.

Greenpeace also bought seeds from farmers, which were sent to a German company, Gene Scan for analysis.

The result of the analysis was that modified DNA was detected in 19 of the 25 samples tested. Of these, the proteins of two samples were analysed in detail and found to contain the insecticidal toxin CrylAc, thus identifying this variety as a Bt GMO rice variety.

Possibility that this rice has been exported to Japan

Interviews with the GM rice seed retailer and the farmers revealed that the seeds had been on sale for the previous two years. Further, based on information from the Agricultural Promotion Dept, calculating from estimates of the amounts of seed sold and the general production situation for the rice, it seems that 950 to 1200 tons of the rice may have found its way into the rice market last year.

As well as being the world's largest producer of rice, China is also a major rice exporter. According to the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture trade statistics for 2003, the Ivory Coast was the largest importer of Chinese rice, followed by Russia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and then Japan at 121,721 tons. As the exported rice was Indica (long-grained) rice and not the shorter grained Japonica that is generally consumed in Japan, it is possible that the rice was imported as rice for processed food manufacturing.

The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) has expressed the opinion that the possibility of contamination by the GM rice is low because rice imported to Japan from China does not include rice harvested in Hubei Province. According to Greenpeace, however, that statement may be invalid since there is a possibility that the GM rice is being grown in provinces adjacent to Hubei from which rice is exported to Japan. Further, MAFF has announced that because genetically modified DNA was not detected in rice samples imported from China that were subjected to protein analysis, the GM rice has not been imported into Japan, but given the absence of accurate genetic data, the possibility that the GM rice may have entered Japan cannot be denied.

The problematical Bt rice

Bt rice, developed by researchers at the Agricultural University of Wuhan, Hubei Province, possesses resistance to insect pests. Shanyou63 is a hybrid line created from the Bt rice Minghui63 line, developed at the same university, and is thought to be effective against yellow stem borer pest, and the borer pest, which is a vector for the leaf curl disease.

It is possible that the toxin (CrylAc) produced by the Bt rice may allergic reactions, and ecological impacts and food safety aspects have not been assessed. Further, the insect toxin is harmful not only to insect pests, but also to beneficial insects such as the honey bee and lady bugs (ladybirds). The insect toxin has harmful effects on soil microbes when secreted into the soil and may lead to irreversible soil contamination if cultivated for long periods of time.

Impacts on biodiversity

Rice has its genetic centre in the region of Yunnan Province in the south of China, Laos, northern Thailand, and the Assam region of India. The genetic centre is the area where the organism originally flourished, and so this area is a treasure chest of wild rice varieties.

The wild ancestor of maize (teosinte) in Oaxaca Province in Mexico was contaminated with the modified genes of GM maize resulting in the danger of a loss of biodiversity. Now the possibility has arisen that China's wild rice plant relatives will be exposed to the dangers of genetic contamination from GM rice.

Closeup - Recent hearings held for open-field GM crop trials

This spring, hearings (explanatory meetings) for open-field GM crop trials, carried out since last year (2004) under MAFF guidelines which state that such hearings must be help prior to open-field trials, have been held in four locations.

On 9 April 2005, a hearing was held at Tohoku University, Miyagi Prefecture, for an "iron deficiency resistant rice" to be grown in an isolated field. It is thought that this rice variety, developed by Tohoku University, can be grown in soil which is nutrient-deficient.

On 23 April 2005, a hearing was held at the NIAS (National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences, Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture) for a "semi-dwarf rice", a "erect-leaved semi-dwarf rice" to be grown in ordinary fields, a "cedar pollen allergenic rice" to be grown in an isolated field, and additionally, a GM soy and a GM maize to be grown for inspection tour purposes. The cedar pollen allergenic rice is the is the same one for which open-field trials were suspended at the JA fields in Hiratsuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture last year (see BJ July 2004 Trend and Closeup), and these trials are designed to harvest some of the rice in order to carry out animal testing to confirm the efficacy of the rice.

On 26 April 2005, a hearing was held at National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science (Nasu Shiobara City, Tochigi Prefecture) for a "herbicide resistant soy" to be grown in an ordinary field, an "insect protected maize" and a "heat-resistant alpha-amylase-producing maize" to be grown in isolated field, this latter maize variety being developed for possible use in ethanol production.

Finally, on 29 April 2005, a hearing was held at the NARC (National Agriculture Research Center) Hokuriku Research Center (Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture) for a "multi-resistant rice containing anti-bacterial protein from mustard" to be grown on isolated field. The variety is supposed to show an sensitivity to consumer awareness by using a marker gene from rice instead of an antibiotic resistant marker gene.

This year's hearings were characterized by rigid procedural methods and scrupulous advance preparation, showing that the lesson from last year, when several hearings turned into fiascos, resulting in the suspension of some cultivation trials, had been learned. Further, with the exception of Tohoku University, all the hearings were held at Independent Administrative Entities (formerly MAFF research institutes), showing as usual a conspicuous trend for public organizations as proponents of innovation. In addition, the ethanol-use maize, which was due to be tested at Syngenta fields in Shimada City, Shizuoka Prefecture, was suddenly suspended, but as mentioned in this month's "Trend", this is thought to have been part of the fallout from the Bt10 contamination scandal.

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