From Bio Journal - November 2005

Trend: Codex agrees to work on GM animals and GM plants

Between 19 and 23 September 2005, the 5th session of the Codex Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology was held in Makuhari, Chiba, Japan, and defined the agenda for its work for the coming four years (2005 - 2008).

The Codex Secretariat prepared a list of prospective areas for discussion: 1) GM animals (including fish) and cloned animals, 2) bioactive GM plants or nutritionally modified GM plants, such as iron enriched GM lettuce and GM rice containing vitamin A, 3) GM plants with "stacked genes", 4) Biopharming (drug-producing GM plants), 5) GM plants producing pharmaceutical substances or other non-food substances, 6) low level presence of unauthorized GMO events, 7) Comparative food composition analysis.

The task force agreed to work on 1) GM animals including GM fish, and 2) GM plants with bioactive substances or nutritionally modified GM plants. Cloned animals were excluded from its work. Related to 1), there was a discussion about whether or not the issues relating to environmental impact (prospect of potentially GM animals escaping into the wild), ethical concerns as well as animal welfare, which constituted "other legitimate factors", should be included. This issue will continue to be discussed in the coming sessions.

Also under the work area of 2), the task force agreed to include 7) comparative compositional analysis of GM plants including staple crops, such as papaya, cassava, sorghum, lentil, in order to provide food composition data particularly for developing countries since there is no information storage of such crops. In the future this information will be used for comparisons with GM crops.

Concerning 3), Japan suggested that no separate safety assessment is need for GM plants with several GM traits obtained through conventional crossing, whereas the EC's position was that all stacked genes must go through a premarket safety assessment. The task force decided not to take a decision this year in this area.

4) and 5) were removed from the agenda since they are not considered to be "foods".

Concerning 6), the EC and the US had completely different positions on how to deal with unauthorised GMOs, the task force decided not to start working on this for now. However, it seemed that this discussion will be continued in the next session.

The task force agreed to establish a working group on GM animals and the group will meet in Japan sometime between February and April 2006 in order to make a proposed draft guideline. The next session of the task force was scheduled to be held between 27 November and 1 December 2006.

GM alfalfa approved for feed use

On September 21, 2005, the specialist panel for GM foods presented its discussion conclusion concerning the safety evaluation on GM alfalfa for feed use to the Food Safety Commission: "safe." The panel has already presented its conclusion for Monsanto's herbicide resistant alfalfa (J101 and J163) as safe for food use on March 31, as well as a crossbreed of J101 and J163 as safe on April 24, 2005. However, the safety assessment for feed use had not yet been finalised. The reason for approving these GM alfalfa varieties (that are actually for animal feed) for food use, is to prevent problems concerning unauthorised GM alfalfa contaminating food products. In the discussion conclusion, there was an additional cautionary statement addressed to authorities concerned with risk management that the test results showed herbicide residues far above safety standard levels.

Joetsu, Niigata GM rice - silent harvest

On October 3, 2005, the defensin-producing GM rice being produced in an open-air trial at the Hokuriku Research Center, Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture (See BJ October 2005) was harvested without public announcement. The primary batch of the GM rice had been previously harvested before ripening on August 1. The second batch of the GM rice was planted on June 29, and it was intended that its disease resistance be evaluated, as well as seed rice harvested for next year.

24,136 individual signatures to oppose the GM rice open-air trial were handed in to the Hokuriku Research Center on the day by a citizens' group called Preserving Rice and Nature in Niigata, together with an open questionnaire for demanding disclosure of information on the GM rice. One of the questions concerned a false description in the official application to the Japanese government. In the application document, the base sequence of komatsuna (Brassica camperstris var.peruviridis) was used instead of the leaf mustard (juncea Czern) sequence, which is the one actually used in the GM rice. This has cast doubt on the validity of the application.

Cedar pollen allergenic GM rice to be tested on humans

On September 14, 2005, an open-air trial cedar pollen allergenic GM rice (See BJ August 2005) was harvested. This GM rice was cultivated in an isolated field at NIAS in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture (See BJ February 2005). This GM rice originally was planned to have undergone open-air trials last year at the JA fields in Hiratsuka City, Kanagawa, however due to opposition from producers and consumers, the plan was switched to hothouses, and therefore the NIAS field was used this year. The harvested GM rice will be first tested on monkeys, and if safety is confirmed, it will be tested on humans as early as next year. (Yomiuri Shimbun 2005/09/14)

Suntory Ltd. applies for GM blue rose open-air trial

Suntory Ltd. (See BJ February 2004) has exhibited its GM blue rose at the Bio Japan event in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, as well as at the Island Hana-Dontaku event in Fukuoka Prefecture. The company is currently applying for an open-air trial of the GM rose to the Japanese government. Since roses can be grown from cuttings, there are concerns about propagation in the wild environment.

Investigative commission begins work on GMO cultivation regulations for Tsukuba

An Investigative Commission on Policy for Cultivation of GMOs held its first meeting in Tsukuba City on 26 September 2005. A petition concerning regulations for GMO cultivation was adopted by the city council last year, and the commission was able to start up due to a revised budget appropriation made in June 2005. According to the city's agricultural department, the main purpose of the commission is to prevent problems caused by public anxiety over GMO cultivation. They are negative about passing a by-law with punitive clauses, stating their opinion that they do not wish to go any further than producing guidelines.

JA Chiba requests prefecture to prevent genetic pollution and contamination by GM crops

On 21 September 2005, the central office of the Chiba Japan Agricultural Co-operative Association (JA) requested Chiba prefectural government to include clauses to prevent genetic pollution and contamination by GM crops in the Food Safety Bylaw (tentative title) that Chiba Prefecture, just northeast of Tokyo, is now considering. It is quite exceptional for the JA organization to express such an opinion concerning GM crops.

Shimane Prefecture freezes research on GM crops for human food

It was made clear at the Prefecture Council Agriculture and Fisheries Commerce and Industry Committee on 4 October 2005 that research on GM crops for human food would be frozen. The grounds for this were the results of a survey the prefecture had sent to 600 residents in the prefecture, conducted over a period from last year to this year, which showed that many people were concerned about safety aspects. The opinions of experts were also taken into account. Shimane Prefecture, in the western part of Honshu, had been developing a GM melon, but strong opposition from farmers and consumers has caused the research to be suspended. The Prefecture has said that it will no longer carry out any research on GM crops for human food, but that development of GM flowers, such as the tree peony, will continue. (San-in Chuoh Shinbun 2005/10/05)

Tokushima Prefecture enacts GM crop cultivation regulatory guidelines

Tokushima Prefecture (on Shikoku island) made clear on 3 October 2005 that it would produce GM crop cultivation regulatory guidelines before the end of this fiscal year (i.e. before 31 March 2006). At the Prefecture Council Economic Committee. This was made clear by the director of the prefecture's food safety promotion office, Mr Ryo Ohnuma, in an answer to a question from Councillor Kazumi Toyo-oka of the Kenmin Net (Prefectural People's Network). The reason for this is growing concerns over genetic pollution and contamination.

Japan moves towards signing of the plant genetic resources treaty

Although MAFF had previously been quite negative about the signing of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, it has now started to move in the direction of signing the treaty and has earmarked budget for that purpose for the first time. This international treaty, which came into effect in November 2001, among other things calls for the protection of diversity of plant genetic resources, including those of crop plants, the effective use of plant genetic resources, and the return of profits from them to the original resource country. Japan and the USA have, however, been refusing to sign the treaty from the viewpoint that this would make it impossible to claim intellectual property rights. (Nikkei Biotech 2005/09/12)

MAFF requests large budget increase for promotion of GM crops

MAFF has requested a large increase in budget appropriations for its "Agribio Application and Commercialization Research" project, which it has established for support of second and third generation GM crop development such as the "cedar pollen allergenic rice" (a GM rice designed to be effective against cedar pollen allergy in humans). The project began in 2005 and is mainly for the purpose of finding practical applications of research findings of the NAIS (National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences) and other independent administrative entities. Its budget appropriation request for 2006 is 2.8 billion yen, 2.8 times larger than fiscal 2005. (Nikkei Biotech 2005/09/12)

MHLW begins discussions on human embryo use

On 29 September 2005, the MHLW established a specialist committee to develop its strategy towards production and use of human embryos for research purposes. The human embryo is the group of cells that exists after the ovum has been fertilized and is continuing to divide, but the cells have not yet begun to differentiate into recognizable organs. In the final report on the human embryo produced by the in the specialist panel on bioethics of the Cabinet Office Council for Science and Technology July 2004, although respecting the human embryo as the bud of life, endorsed a policy of approving production and use of the human embryo for research purposes. On this basis, the MHLW has now initiated discussions. Hitherto, the use of the human embryo has been limited to the exceptional cases of fertility treatment and human ES cell research, but the purpose now is to make the human embryo available for any kind of research. The new committee is expected to meet about once every two months and complete a set of guidelines by about the summer of 2006.

MEXT discusses pros and cons of ovum donation fees

A meeting of the MEXT working group considering the production of clone human embryos, human embryos artificially produced outside the body using cloning techniques, was held on 27 September 2005. Asst. Prof. Yukiko Saitoh of Kitazato University Faculty of Medicine, Ryouko Suzuki of the Finrrage Association (Finrrage no kai, a self-help organization for people concerned with infertility problems), and obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Katsuhiko Takahashi, Director of the Hiroshima HART Clinic were invited to speak at a hearing held at the meeting. Asst. Prof. Yukiko Saitoh reported on the results of an interview survey of women who had been selected as possible ovum donors, including women with gender identity disorder. Ryouko Suzuki expressed her opinion concerning ovum donation from the viewpoint of a woman who had personally experienced fertility treatment. Dr. Takahashi argued that in order to carry out solid research, "fees should be paid" for ovum donation. However, donations have hitherto been carried out on a gratis basis due to fears concerning the further commercialization of life. The committee members' reaction to the idea of fee payment for ovum donation was described as "sluggish".

MAFF approves new GM rapeseed variety

On 29 September 2005, a general review session of the biodiversity impact assessment investigative commission (jointly hosted by the Environmental Ministry) was held, at which the commission approved a Monsanto Japan application for a herbicide resistant rapeseed (Brassica napus) variety, RT73, under the Type I usage rule. The Type I usage rule means that the GM crops are evaluated as having no impact on wild fauna and flora in accordance with the domestic Cartagena Law and are therefore approved for cultivation in open fields.

Table 2) GM crops approved for open field cultivation (Type 1 usage)
(Biodiversity Impact Assessment Investigative Commission)
NameApproval Date*
RapeseedHerbicide ToleranceMonsanto JapanRT7327 Sept. 2005
* Technically, approval is granted after public comments have been accepted.

Closeup: Australian State Government sticks to non-GMO rapeseed

Recently, GM rapeseed contamination has been discovered in batches of non-GMO rapeseed exported from Australia to Japan.

The trigger for this discovery was the Australian Barley Board (ABB), which obtained a positive result for Bayer Cropscience herbicide resistant rapeseed "Topas 19/2" in batches of Victoria-grown rapeseed in tests prior to export. Following that, it was suspected that non-GM rapeseed for export from Western Australia to Japan was also contaminated with GM rapeseed. Greenpeace also announced that it had discovered contamination in rapeseed from southern Australia, and genetic pollution was also confirmed in cultivation trials in New South Wales, where the plants were disposed of.

Consumer organizations and others visited the Australian Embassy in Tokyo on 21 September 2005, and the office of the Representative of the Government of Western Australia in Japan on 22 September, where they requested the maintenance of non-GM product, investigation into the causes of the GM contamination, and preventive measures against GM contamination in the future. They were met at the embassy by the attache for agricultural affairs Bill Withers, who stated (translation from Japanese)

"At present two kinds of GM crops, cotton and carnations, are being cultivated in Australia. The government has approved many GM crops, including rapeseed. However, even though the crops are approved by the federal government, they have not been approved by each state government, and it is up to the state governments to decide whether they want to approve the crops for production. We are taking very seriously the issue of GM contamination of rapeseed because GM rapeseed is not produced in Australia. Federal and state government investigations have shown that cultivation trials are not the cause of this contamination. We believe that it is possible that the GM rapeseed was included in seed imported from the USA or Canada for plant breeding purposes."

The delegation was met at the Representative of the Government of Western Australia in Japan in Japan by the Director of the Business Development Section, Hiroshi Takahashi. Western Australia is the largest rapeseed producer in Australia. Mr. Takahashi stated that, "Western Australia is blessed with many resources and agricultural crops, and our largest export partner is Japan. Rapeseed is the second crop only to wheat, and our state produces 40% of all rapeseed grown in Australia. The GM crop free area law was enacted in 2003, the State Secretary of Agriculture banned all commercial GM crop cultivation in 2004, and field trials of (GM) rapeseed have also been banned. Currently field trials of (GM) rapeseed are only permitted in exceptional cases for research purposes. Further, the supposed contamination of rapeseed from Western Australia has been shown by a secondary test to have been negative."

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